Technical/Professional Communication Summary

by John December (john@december.com)

This is a summary I presented to my class as a handout, Fall 1993.


In this document, I summarize some principles and ideas that we have discussed in class. I first focus on technical communication as a process of shaping information. Then, I review the process of information development and techniques to shape information. Finally, I describe techniques for learning and teaching technical communication.

Technical Communication is Shaping Information

Whenever you communicate, you convey information. How you shape this information is the key to technical communication.

To create a message, you might use many media: written text, pictures, speech, computer-mediated communication, or other media to create or store information. Whatever medium you use, the message of the communication takes some form---a pattern that reveals the order, amount, and kind of information presented to the audience. Ordering and patterning messages so that they have an effect on an audience that is at the heart of communication.

Focus on Audience Needs

An audience wants to match the message it receives with its need for information. Creating a message that perfectly matches an audiences needs is never possible, but centuries of thought and practice in communication have established techniques that have proven to be effective. The ancient Greeks developed rhetoric to discover the means of persuasion. Industry and academia have worked together to develop techniques for technical communication.

Shaping communication to meet audience needs largely depends on understanding the audience (audience analysis) and the purpose of the communication. In audience analysis, you try to find out what the audience knows, why they are encountering your message, and their concerns and preferences. In addition, you need to recognize that an audience:

Shape Information to Meet Audience Needs

Creating messages that meet an audience needs involves a process of information development. This process includes creating, drafting, testing, and revising the message so that it meets the audience needs. Ultimately, the communicator seeks to create a message that matches a given purpose, audience, and medium. Often, a communicator will create a store of information during this information development process that can be used for other audiences and purposes.

This figure illustrates the information development process. The words around the oval, starting clockwise from objective represent steps in the process. These steps might not be followed in this exact order, and often steps are revisited one or more times before moving on to the next steps (the example dotted ovals). This figure illustrates that information development is a process---not a single act---in which the communicator seeks to refine the information so that it fits the audience needs. Moreover, this process does not involve a lone communicator; rather, it happens in a social and cultural context, and it involves many people working together.

Use Techniques to Shape Information

During the information development process, a communicator can use techniques to shape information for the audience.

Learn to Communicate through Experience or Forms

In order to learn how to become a better technical communicator, you can learn: An instructor in technical communication can emphasize the:

Learn by Doing Applications

You can learn how to communicate more effectively in a technical or professional environment by doing exercises which touch on many of the topics described above. In this course, we have done (or will do) the following exercises:

Assignment     Principles                     Medium
----------     ----------                     ------
Resume         layout, chunking information   paper
CMC            locating Net resources         computer-mediated
Instructions   sequence, chunking information paper
Proposal       persuasion                     paper
Written Report explanation                    paper
Oral Report    presentation, sequencing       oral
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Copyright © 1994 John December. All Rights Reserved.

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