A quote by David N. Dobrin in his piece What’s Technical about Technical Writing? was very interesting to me. He states that teaching technical writing should not be described as teaching students to write manuals or technical prose. Rather, it should be described as teaching students how to make their work useful to the people they work with. I found this quote to be especially useful in my understanding of technical writing. If all you had to do was write, I believe that a fair number of engineers are literate and there shouldn’t be any reason that I have a job. There’s a lot of effort, thought, and consideration that goes into creating a piece of technical writing. Russell Rutter in History, Rhetoric, and Humanism: Toward a More Comprehensive Definition of Technical Communication argues that technical communication should be more closely associated with liberal education and humanistic rhetoric, and I find this to be true for a number of reasons.
Why Should Tech Comm Be Considered Humanistic Rhetoric?
It is clear technical communication can be found in many areas—science and tech fields, even in warfare. Combine with these fields with the need for people to instruct, explain, and relay information, and that’s where the technical writers come in. The ability to write is, of course, fundamental of technical communication, but it’s more than just writing grammatically correct instructions in standardized formats. A liberal education is significant to the technical communicator because it enables the person to think outside the box, as well as learn to understand other perspectives, ideas, and people.
Mastering collaboration and an understanding of culture are undeniably some of the most crucial qualities of a technical writer. Having a grasp on how to work with people and the culture of the people that you are working with is necessary to produce work that is useful and relevant. For example, linemen that I work with have slang terms for equipment that I, when editing a document, come across. Sometimes I think it’s a misspelled word, but I learn that it’s meant to be spelled that way, and I don’t need to change it.
I enjoy learning new things, working with others, thinking critically and finding solutions. Technical communication holds these qualities, which is why I chose the field in the first place. It focuses on helping people understand new things and explaining ideas in ways that are appropriate to the audience. The reader-centered aspect is essential to the humanistic aspect of technical communication because in order to write something that is specific to a certain reader, a person should be able to consider that reader’s perspective. How they learn, how they think, their own experience level, their background.
Tech Comm and the Concept of Mediation
Technical communication is based in human knowledge and should be regarded as humanistic rhetoric for that very reason. A technical communicator is almost like a mediator between many different types of people. An engineer invents something complicated. The technical communicator consults with the engineer to understand how to work the product and works to create simple instructions—for example, how to turn the product on—for the everyday person to understand. These are two very different types of people that a technical communicator would work with in order to create instructions. Of course, it is a very general example, but it is clear that technical communication is people-oriented and, therefore, should be viewed in terms of humanistic rhetoric and liberal education.