Why do we need technical communication?
We all deal with a host of complex systems at home and at work – from computers to cars, consumer products to business procedures – and the need for accurate and accessible documentation to explain them has never been greater.
What do we mean by technical communication?
Technical communication is a type of communication, and the best definition I have seen for ‘technical’ is from Oxford Dictionaries. It is appropriate because it encompasses topics that may not be thought of as ‘technical’ by some people:
Relating to a particular subject, art, or craft, or its techniques
The boundaries – as with many things – are blurred. For example, a lot of marketing material is not technical communication unless the subject matter, content and audience are.
Technical communication tends to answer the six important questions: what, when, why, where, who and how – and often with an emphasis on the ‘how’. It may be provided as text, images, video, simulations, online help or in a number of other formats. The information in technical communication is targeted to the needs of the people using it to complete a task.
Why is this important?
Communication is an essential ingredient for the success and quality of any product, service or business. If people cannot use something, or cannot find out how to solve problems they might come across, they are less likely to use or buy your product or service.
In certain industries technical documents are a legal requirement. Many countries have their own regulations which define the technical information that must be included in user documentation. For example, medical device manufacturers must conform to the Medical Device Directive (2007) which states that
“each device should be accompanied by the information needed to use it safely…”
From the perspective of an organisation thinking of investing in a new product or service, a consideration is how much time their staff are going to have to spend trying to work out how to do something. Time spent on the phone to a help desk, or asking colleagues for help, is not productive time. Although there is a learning curve with anything new, good supporting documentation makes learning new ways of doing things as quick and easy as possible.
We all want to use a product or service to achieve something. No-one randomly downloads apps to their mobile phone just to fill up the available space: people choose what to download by looking for something to fulfil a specific purpose. The same principle can be applied to good documentation. People have questions, and they want the answers right now – sometimes even the answers to questions they haven’t thought of yet. That’s the purpose of good documentation.
Contributors to this article
Alison Peck, Clearly Stated