When do Technical Details Need a Public Face?
A sharp friend and colleague asked my opinion on what blogging has to do with technical writing. Both of us teach professional writing classes to upper-level college English majors. Her technical writing students recently opted to deliver assignments as single files rather than modifying them to fit a blog format. I see why: blogging requires a further step of engagement with a wider set of audiences. Blogging has a public face that is wide of the mark for writers who usually compose directly for audiences with specific technical motivations.
Blogging Is The Nonchalant Public Face
In some ways, blogging is a perfect venue for technical communication: the communicator can be as specific as she desires without worrying about capturing audience attention because the audience will find the information. Or not. While blogging must never be boring, the right audience will find details and specifics as scintillating as any steamy romance novel. But I applaud the instincts of my friend’s students. In true college student fashion, why do more work when less will suffice?
Blogging is the more spontaneous and casual cousin of technical writing that allows for quick and specific responses to real questions. Blogging allows more free-form communication about timely issues and provides room, resources and the expectation of responses from an engaged audience—all of which scares lawyers and regulators in a regulated industry. Blogging also makes information and specific insights searchable by a wide variety of people. In a college writing assignment, that public face is not needed and simply represents another process for the writer.
But there may be good reason for writing teachers to find ways to make blogging a more attractive part of the technical writing assignment.
Detail-Delivery Is Changing
For a long time the forms of technical communication have been stable: manuals, instruction sheets, assembly instructions, monographs and the like. We wrote these forms for the reading pleasure of the poor soul faced with a bag of parts or the new customer opening a new piece of software. But today audiences are using technical details in all sorts of new settings. Plus: my technical clients want very much to join the social media frenzy. They just don’t see how they can, given the narrow technical audience they cater to. What they don’t notice is that the very technical resources in their company that have focused on the traditional forms of communication could actually be repurposed for delivery of technical information outside the usual forms. This information could be loaded into a blog-type form that has the advantage of being searchable. The point: let customers find you.
Why go to this extra effort? Simple: no one likes being sold. Finding new forms for communicating technical detail may well be the best marketing investment your company can make. That’s why I think academics and industry, English professors, communication managers and marketers all need to open fresh ways for technical communicators to speak to wider audiences. The future I see has technical and promotional walking hand in hand to satisfy the human need for specificity.