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By underlining the importance of technical communication education at august MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Sam Shames (“Opinion: Beyond technical communication“) has made an important point that we as technical writers should also pay attention to: Technical communication is not only the art of writing reports, emails, memos, and similar “business items” to our colleagues but also to explain science in a simple manner to the general audience. That’s a special responsibility that we, as lovers of technology and science, must bear in our technical writing careers.
As the proverbial question goes: “If not us, then who” will explain science and technology to the next generation in a manner that they can understand and remember?
What this opinion piece makes clear is this: the audience really does matter in technical writing and there are two main ones:
1) The audience of our professional peers, those who are equally if not more qualified to discuss our content matter. When we are writing for such an audience, we don;t need to explain every fundamental concept and idea. We can fly straight at out target like a lean arrow, saving time, energy, and perhaps also a few brain cells in the process.
2) The second audience is a non-technical audience, a group made of people (end users or consumers) who are not familiar at all with our service or product but who would like to use it and benefit from its functions. That kind of audience needs a lot more thinking since complicated concepts must be explained smoothly, by using concepts and images that the audience is already familiar with. Yet, while doing that, we must not dilute the facts and ideas in a way that would do injustice to them. We have to convey complicated ideas without putting our audience to sleep. That;s the art and responsibility of technical documentation and communication.
I heartily support Mr. Shames in his appeal to have MIT give more emphasis to the kind of “technical communication” education that spreads the good word around about science and technology to an audience who are not scientists by training. I like that approach to technical communications a lot.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)