Professional and Technical Writing/Rhetoric/Subject

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The Special Nature of the Subject in Technical Communication[edit]

There are a couple of important factors that distinguish the subject of technical communications from those of an academic or social nature, and these are worth touching on.

The Subject of Technical Communication is Reader-Centered

• All written communication can be said to be reader-centered to some extent. Unlike academic or social communication however, technical communication is unique in the fact that it exists to help its readers perform a specific and practical task. Whether these tasks are physical (such as assembling a bicycle or bookshelf) or mental (such as operating a computer program), technical communications must be centered entirely around their readers and the translation of often complex subjects into clear and simple language. These documents must be both usable and persuasive to succeed.

• Usability is paramount to a technical document because this document exists solely to assist a reader in performing a task quickly, easily, and with a minimum of effort. The less clearly a document presents information, the less successful it becomes. Persuasiveness is equally essential, as every technical document is at the core, an attempt by the author to convince a reader to behave in a certain way. Persuasiveness can also help to offset the impatience and carelessness with which end users often approach instructional documents.

The Subject of Technical Communication is Dynamic

• As typified with the "Rhetorical Triangle" model, the interaction between an author, audience, and document is often dynamic. In order to improve usability and persuasiveness, authors will frequently change documents to reflect audience feedback. As a result of the reader-centered nature of technical communication, the subjects of technical documents are frequently open to change as a result of input from their reader base. If a set of instructions is unclear, they may be revised or enhanced with a visual aid to improve usability. This dynamism often extends beyond technical documentation to the processes themselves. User feedback in the business or commercial word often results in changes to an item or process that is the subject of a technical document. Revisions and upgrades to computer software is a good example of this process. Changes to the item itself will then require changes to the technical document regarding the item, and the process begins anew.