What does a technical communicator do?
Technical communicators translate complex technical product or service information into understandable and accessible user information. They act as mediators between product developers and users. Auntie Else’s conclusion was not that far-fetched, after all. We are translators. However, we do not translate from one language into another but from one specialist language into a non-technical and clear language. That’s often not as easy as one might think, initially.
Technical communicators create technical documents for various industries. We write operating and user manuals, but also online tutorials. We write software documentation for developers as well as safety guidelines for technicians. We structure information. We define target groups. We analyze and document business processes. We advise companies in specific knowledge-based areas, such as developing sustainable information strategies, holistic knowledge management systems, or terminology databases.
We compose and publish product catalogues, training materials, and online tutorials. We document agile development processes. We are experts in digital communication and that implies XML expert knowledge, specialized knowledge of semantic web technologies and semantic analysis, conceptual and technological Wiki knowledge, and thorough DITA knowledge – based on many years of hands on experience.
We research and investigate. We interview and we document. We engage in localization projects and do terminology management. We code and we train. We consult and conceptualize. We manage your documentation needs. We are your jack of all documentation trades or – if you like – your “Everything documentation”-service partner for all your information and documentation needs.
Naturally, hardly any technical writer can offer a diversified service portfolio all by himself. That’s why many specialize to join an interdisciplinary documentation team. They form a multifaceted, competent, and experienced expert team that can meet todays complex technical documentation demands.
Technical communicators have a high command of their mother tongue – and any other language they use for writing technical documentation. Many are fluent in at least one more language; and are also technically inclined. We structure documents in more than one way. We might use markup language like XML. We might separate the wheat from the chaff by using intelligent filter methods and tools. We might classify and structure your content.
We are a highly communicative team of independent and inquisitive technical communicators and consultants. We investigate functionalities. We tackle issues. We do thorough follow-up. We cultivate exchange of communication in its various forms. Every once in a while, we are creative. That’s when we treat technicians and developers to some sweets, hoping that that will motivate them to pass urgently needed information on to us.
Some of us, who write software documentation, can write code too and adapt to new coding challenges really quickly. We are well informed about the newest standards and tools for technical documentation: XML, semantic technologies, and Wikis. We know how to work with various operating and editing systems (CMS); and we can also work with Help Authoring Tools (HATs). And last but not least: We have learned to get familiarized with new specialist subjects fast.
Norms, regulations, and directives are an important foundation of our work. To protect manufacturers from liability charges, we need to ensure their manuals are legally watertight. We write security and warning messages in alignment with norms and regulations currently in force. We comply with DIN norms and other specific institutional regulations, like the tekom directive, for instance.
Where We Come Frome
„Most people involved in documentation tasks […] have another main job to do. For this reason, many companies are not acquainted with the job profile of a technical writer.”*
Technical communicators come from various industries and professions. Some are professional translators, IT specialists, or linguists. Others have studied international communication with a technological or scientific focus. And yet again, other technical communicators may have studied media design.
Moreover, engineers and developers with high-level language and writing skills get to be very successful technical communicators, too. Meanwhile, you can study technical writing at various universities. Scroll down to read the information on technical writing studies we provided further down below.
Where We Work
Technical communicators either work independently – and often as lone fighters inside a company – or are part of a documentation team under the wing of the department that they work for; in machinery and plant engineering industries or medical technology industries, for example.
Sometimes they are part of other departments, such as development, production, or marketing. Technical communicators also work for specialist magazines or newspapers. They might also work for technical service providers or for translation agencies who provide technical communication services as well. Some are freelancers. They mostly work on projects; either to meet a specific company’s need or in connection with other communication service agencies.
How To Become A Technical Writer
University Studies: Technical Communication
The German Association for Technical Documentation tekom e.V. published a list of universities and colleges (in German) that offer a specialization in technical communication. Additionally, other study programs exist, which are closely related and, in some cases, are offered as distance learning or weekend courses – especially aimed at employees who want to study on the side.
Training And Certification For Technical Communicators
TCTrainNet is an international training and certification program in Technical Communication, designed and managed by tekom, the German professional association for technical communication. It provides technical communicators online training on entry and advanced level which can also be used as a preparation course for the international tekom certification.
* Excerpt from https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technischer_Redakteur and translated from the German.
This article was translated by Saina Veigel, parson AG
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