Week 1: The Digital Age and Technical Writing

Week 1: The Digital Age and Technical Writing
Photo credit: Me!!!

This week served to reaffirm what technical writing is and what it means to be a technical writer. Furthermore, this week's readings reinforced what it means to be a technical writer in the digital age. The digital age being the era of online platforms, social media and web-based communications, to name a few. We (the class) also were introduced to a "transformative" teaching style that aims, per class professor Dr. Gerald Lucas, to provide its students with the necessary skills to "excel in conveying complex technical concepts through various digital platforms."

Liaison

As someone who took his first technical writing class in the early 90's, it was ingrained in me that the true purpose of the technical writer was, essentially, to serve as the liaison between the subject matter expert (SME) and the end-user. The other aspect to this was ensuring no matter the complexity of the SME's verbiage, the content had to be relayed in layman's terms. This was the charge for the technical writer of the 20th century moving into the 21st century.

Fast forward some fifteen years from my initial technical writing class to my first job employed with the title "technical writer," and the responsibilities remained the same- "take these complex instructions and make it make sense to the end user!" This was before the explosion of social media, of course. Back then, technical writing seemed tame, mundane and straight forward due to where we were in society technologically, perhaps. And this "mundane" style of technical writing would continue for the next few years.

End-User Considerations

I offered the above text not as a bio, but as an observation and to segue into what I have learned this week juxtaposed to my time in the field of technical writing. It has become apparent that audience/end-user considerations have become paramount. This includes creating material that may be heavy on visuals to further support what the writer is trying to convey. I feel this is due, in part, to the "microwave-style" society we live in today where information needs to be easier to digest and consumed in bite-sized pieces. Yet, as Jon Balzotti notes in Technical Communication A Design-Centered Approach, "writing stands out when the end user has been taken into account beforehand." Balzotti, Jon. (2022). Technical Communication A Design-Centered Approach (p.13). Routledge. So, while my technical writing work in the late aughts seemed to consist of reams and reams of text broken down to ensure that a five year-old could make sense of it, the gist of this week's readings highlighted the convergence of technical writing in this digital age, and what it means to be inclusive while considering the end user.

Today

Now, obviously, we are well into the 21st century and digital media has exploded. The technical writer has at his/her disposal the ability to interact with the consumer like never before. Today there are videos, audio components, hyperlinks, info-graphics and other technical elements that can be embedded into documents that will enhance the content, thus making it more palatable for the user. Examples of this include, at my employ, a document explaining a "Basic 10" tactical maneuver to prospective law enforcement candidates. As opposed to simply giving candidates a sheet of paper detailing the tactical maneuver, we embedded a PowerPoint video link within the document that clearly breaks down what the subject matter expert and technical writer were trying to convey. So, in essence, this is what I took away from this week's readings on Technical Writing in the Digital Age. In today's world of technical writing and the user experience, I feel it is imperative to exploit as much of the user's senses as possible, thus making for better overall engagement.

Final Thoughts

What I gathered in this week's readings was the evolution of technical writing from the ubiquitous method of taking complex technical documents and translating them into simple terms, to utilizing various technological advancements to craft interactive pieces of information for target audiences. It is imperative today that the technical writer embrace the digital era that he or she is in. I personally realize now that I need to continue to be more inclusive for my audience and incorporate as many multimedia elements as possible to create engaging and explosive content. I also discovered, moving forward, that I would be wise to include more multimedia elements in my technical writing as it continues to intersect with digital writing.

Calvin Green

Calvin Green

Calvin works as a Technical Writer for ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) creating tactical training programs for prospective law enforcement candidates. He loves to cook, travel and the outdoors.