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May 11, 2012

When perceptions bite tech comm’s backside

It can be a mightily sucktacular experience when you discover what other people think technical communicators do.

Case in point: a blog post from a college student came up in my Google feeds about tech comm. The post (to which I won’t link because it’s not fair to the author) was about word choice and how the author doesn’t understand why so many writers use big words when smaller words suffice. Yep, I’m with him on that.

OUCH! (flickr: ansik)

That’s when the author threw a punch right into the face of our profession without even knowing it. In a nutshell, he said that technical writing is exempt from the requirements of using basic language.

I think I know what the writer was trying to say: technical writing can require the use of advanced terminology. He meant no intentional malice or disrespect. Even so, his post made it clear he does not entirely understand what we do in tech comm, particularly now that the field has changed so much in past decade or so.

This lack of understanding on one student’s part generated many questions in my mind:

  • How many of our colleagues in other departments think we spend our lives stringing together fancy words?
  • Even worse, how many of those in upper management have the same thoughts?
  • What are we all doing to end these perceptions?

Truly good technical content requires us to break out of our cubicles and collaborate with other departments. Our professional well-being also depends on that collaboration to dispel myths about what we do—and to reinforce the value we provide.