Answer: Technical communication is a term that encompasses the strategies used to convey complex information about technical services, products, systems, or processes to targeted audiences. It includes various forms of communication, including specialized information and instructional materials for technical and scientific items, such as computer hardware and software, and manufacturing or research equipment. Individuals with bachelor’s and/or master’s in technical communication can find employment in information technology, health care, market research, digital publishing, human resources, public relations, business-to-business marketing, and other related fields.
Technical communication is a practice-oriented field that emphasizes detailed, cogent, and informative writing, and often requires skills in analysis, research, and design, as well as knowledge of editing and publication processes. Technical communication is integral to fields such as scientific research, health education, scientific and medical policies, environmental communication, and computer software, just to name a few. Examples of technical communication include instructions on how to use a particular appliance or technological device, pharmaceutical pamphlets that explain a particular medication’s mechanisms, scientific research and grant proposals, instructions on how to troubleshoot a particular technical issue, and internal resources such as online wikis and training programs that help employees during onboarding.
Due to the many different ways in which technical communication is employed across diverse fields, technical communication professionals can expect to engage in a variety of tasks, including technical editing/writing, instructional design, training, translation, information architecture, user experience design, document design, and more. Technical writers, document specialists, instructional designers, and other professionals utilize technical communication strategies to create a range of detailed informational products, including, not only the examples outlined above, but also technical project documents, product catalogs, product release notes, scientific journal articles, reference guides, and other forms of content used to convey technical information to internal and external audiences.
Bachelor’s in Technical Communication Programs
For current and prospective undergraduate students who are interested in stepping into entry-level roles in technical communication, there are bachelor’s in technical communication programs that can give them the essential skills to realize their goals. Bachelor’s degrees in technical communication typically have courses in areas such as rhetorical analysis, business and/or scientific writing, user experience, multimedia production, grant and proposal writing, visual communication, instructional writing, technical editing, and digital media production management.
Due to the broad nature of the field of technical communication, and the fact that technical communication intersects with so many other disciplines, there are bachelor’s degree programs that offer a major in technical communication combined with another related field. Below are a few examples of several such majors:
- Bachelor’s in Technical Communication and User Experience Design
- Bachelor’s in Technical Communication and Business Writing
- Bachelor’s in Professional and Technical Communication
- Bachelor’s in English and Technical Communication
Some undergraduate programs in technical communication also require students to fulfill an internship in a technical communication-related setting, and/or to complete a capstone project that entails developing a technical communication artifact (such as a research proposal, white paper, or online reference guide) that they can include in their portfolio.
|Featured Online Bachelor's in Technical Communication Programs|
|Arizona State University||Online Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication||Program Website|
|Arizona State University||Online Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication - User Experience||Program Website|
Master’s in Technical Communication Programs
Master’s degree programs in technical communication cover both foundational and advanced rhetorical principles and theories of the field, as well as effective strategies for technical writing and editing in areas such as computer science, information technology, healthcare and medicine, environmental science, and more. Courses in these programs discuss central concepts of content organization and presentation, along with industry practices for writing and editing technical documents, such as information architecture, writing for the computer industry, rhetoric of science and technology, publication management, usability research, visual design theory, technical styles and editing, wiki-based documentation, prototyping, structured documentation, and more. Students can also expect to gain skills in areas such as audience analysis, manuscript development, field testing, documentation creation, document usability, and publication management.
While some courses in master’s in technical communication programs may overlap with courses students take in an undergraduate program in technical communication, the master’s degree is nevertheless distinct from the bachelor’s degree. The master’s in technical communication is comprised solely of courses in technical communication and generally offers both a wider variety of courses in the field and more specialization options relative to the bachelor’s degree (which has general education requirements in addition to major requirements). As a result, master’s degrees in technical communication are offered with a wider range of specializations, including:
- Master’s in Science Communication
- Master’s in Public Communication and Technology
- Master’s in Technical Communication Management
- Master’s in Technical Communication and Information Architecture
- Master’s in Scientific and Technical Communication
- Master’s in Technical Communication with an Emphasis in Medical Communication
Master’s programs in technical communication typically require students to complete a culminating experience, usually in the form of an applied research project or professional project. Students may also have the option of completing a master’s thesis, which is a more formal, five-chapter research document. In addition, some master’s programs in technical communication have an internship requirement. For more information about master’s in technical communication programs, including example class plans and degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Technical Communication Programs page.
|Online Master's in Technical Communication Programs|
|Arizona State University||Online Master of Science in Technical Communication||Program Website|
|Arizona State University||Online Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication||Program Website|
|Johns Hopkins University||Online Master of Science in Science Writing||Program Website|
|Johns Hopkins University||Graduate Certificate in Science Writing (Online)||Program Website|
Skills for Graduates with a Master’s in Technical Communication
The table below lists a number of professional skills that students may develop through a bachelor’s and/or master’s program in technical communication.
|Advanced writing and editing||Research and analysis|
|Document design||Technical knowledge comprehension|
|Digital and technical media||Visual communication|
|Organization and project management||Teamwork and collaboration|
Careers in Technical Communication
A degree in technical communication can lead to employment in nearly any industry, including health care, graphic design, manufacturing, software development, information technology, publishing, public relations, information design, online media, and more. Professionals with an education in technical communication might pursue careers with manufacturing firms, software and hardware development companies, engineering firms, logistics organizations, environmental agencies, hospitals, insurance companies, or any other employer requiring accurate technical documentation of their products and services.
With their skills in writing and editing, technical communicators may take on a variety of duties, such as improving training programs to build efficiencies in product development, creating more effective information architectures for websites to improve user satisfaction, drafting technical illustrations to clarify assembly instructions for a product (e.g. furniture), writing clear medical instructions that help health care providers better communicate with patients, or crafting software instructions that allow users to fully leverage the program’s value. Although technical writer/editor is a common career path, individuals with a master’s in technical communication might also work in project management, or pursue one of the career paths listed below:
- Technical Writer or Documentation Specialist: Technical writers and documentation specialists create instructional and educational content for both consumers and company employees. They might create and publish software instruction manuals, internal wiki pages and terminology glossaries for companies, equipment operation instructions, or articles in technology and science-related journals, to name just a few examples. These professionals also write documentation for companies that need to record their development of software, software updates, and/or other technological innovations.
- Medical Writer: Medical writers specialize in creating documentation and instructional materials about health-related topics, medications, and medical procedures. They may write articles, medical journal abstracts, press releases for medical centers, or patient education materials (such as medication or pre-surgery instructions). Depending on its target audience, the content they create could aim to help health care providers better serve their patients, keep the medical community informed of the latest technological and scientific advancements in their field, or educate the public about developments in health and medicine.
- Training Consultant: Training consultants specialize in creating training materials and other educational content for employees of businesses and other organizations. They write the materials used to assist employees in the onboarding process, and familiarize them with the company’s internal systems and procedures. These specialists may create the content for training presentations and pamphlets, instructions for how to use an internal content management system, or surveys that measure the efficacy of a company’s training program.
- Science and Technology Journalist: Science and technology journalists specialize in translating complex technical and medical concepts into content that the general public can understand and act upon. They write articles on topics like new health and scientific studies, medical issues such as environmental factors that impact community health, and the latest developments in technologies across industries, from computer hardware and software to virtual reality.
- Researcher: Graduates of master’s in technical communication programs can also apply their communication skills and knowledge of technical concepts to research in a variety of fields, including medicine, technology, the natural sciences, and sociology. Researchers design and implement research studies, document their findings, and translate the results for various publications, including scientific journal articles and content for the wider public.
Note: Current and prospective students should keep in mind that while many technical communication roles do not formally require a master’s degree in the field, a graduate degree in technical communication may help one become more competitive for advanced positions, such as those in technical publication management or higher-level technical communication strategy. On the other hand, career advancement in this field is also obtainable through several years of professional experience instead of a master’s degree. Expectations with regards to candidates’ educational and professional preparation vary from employer to employer, and therefore individuals should thoroughly research their desired positions in order to determine how to optimally prepare. Furthermore, while technical communication is primarily an industry-focused field, positions in academia, including scientific and technical communication research and pedagogy do exist; for these roles, a master’s degree or higher is the general expectation for candidates.