Technical Writing and User Experience

Hand-drawn website layouts.
Photo by Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

My reflection guided by this week's readings on technical writing in a digital space and its application to my interest as a digital writer.

Before I began the assigned readings for this week, my comprehension of technical writing was that it is written communication that presents complex instructions or information in a way that a nontechnical reader could digest. My understanding of technical writing was not entirely incorrect; however, this week’s readings showed me that it was far more nuanced than solely written communication. Technical writing delves into my field of study of visual communication. When you place written content in a digital space, you must combine written and visual communication effectively to present information or instruction that is user centered.

Discovery of Discourse Communities

We create effective communication when we write for an intended audience. While writing to a specific audience or reader is not a new concept for me, perceiving that audience through the lens of a distinct professional community, or discourse community, was. Each community has developed its own specific terminology and preferred communication that we must consider, along with the backgrounds and education of individuals who make up that community.

Studying the discourse a professional community uses is necessary. It allows effective communication, and the professional community will view the information as credible. As one begins to understand the intricacies of the specific professional community, you will create content that fits the needs of that community in the form in which they prefer to receive the information. The language will be familiar grounds for the reader, and their understanding of the content will be easier.

The reverse is necessary as well. Understanding the community and the discourse used is also required when a technical writer needs to translate the technical language for a nonexpert audience. Understanding the intended goals and projects of a professional community allows one to write content that will be accurately understood by those not within that discourse community.

Writing in a Digital Landscape

When you place technical writing into the digital space, there are new ways we can communicate an idea, give directions, or answer questions that are not available in a print format. We can add audio and video content along with the text for a more rounded explanation. This multimodal approach allows a broader audience to access the information. You can also connect ideas and content with hypertext and guide the user quickly to the information they need.

In a digital landscape, clear and precise written content is not enough. The technical writer must consider and construct the entire digital experience so that the design enhances—not hinders—the user’s experience. How the digital space is created, from correct color contrast to the type of font used to the page layout, shapes how the user will interact with the content. While it might seem repetitive or uncreative, there are user experience standards that digital content adheres to so that the design elements do not take away from what the text is communicating. The design should support the text. These standards also increase the usability and accessibility of the digital platform.

User Experience Shapes Everything

Well-written communication presented in the incorrect digital—or printed—format is prone to miscommunication. Poorly written content on an easily navigable digital space is also liable for miscommunication. The reader or user should be able to understand the written content and navigate the designed space. Everything should be created from the user’s viewpoint. Does it supply the information they need in a manner that is understandable to them?

Writing content for the audience and then presenting that content in a space that adheres to proper user experience design is the driving force behind my desire to complete studies in technical and professional writing. A well-designed environment cannot be effective without clear and concise written communication. My interests lie in combining these two forms of communication and directing a business’s communications to be created for the consumer.

As a consumer, I have too often come across content that was unfortunately not written for a nonexpert customer. Or the content was presented on a digital platform that was difficult to navigate, and I could not find the answer I needed. As a graphic designer in the marketing department of a higher education institution, I see where skills as both a written and visual communicator could help direct the entire student experience, making sure the process is accessible and easily understood. Since the department only offers online classes, the digital experience will shape how students perceive the department and courses.

Kimberly Myers

Kimberly Myers

A graphic designer in higher education specializing in print design working towards a master’s degree in technical and professional writing to produce user-friendly content and designs.
Carrollton, Georgia