1 – Introduction

What is Technical and Professional Communication?

Cassandra Race; David McMurrey; Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Claire Carly-Miles; Matt McKinney; Kalani Pattison; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Gia Alexander

Like many technical disciplines, technical communication has an international professional organization, The Society for Technical Communication (STC). They characterize technical and professional communication as either “about technical or specialized topics,” communication that “us[es] technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites,” or communication that “provid[es] instructions about how to do something.”[1] In other words, technical and professional discourses involve communicating complex information to a specific audience who will use that information to accomplish some goal or task in a manner that is accurate, useful, and clear. Based on this definition, technical and professional communication can be described as:

  • Purposeful
  • Goal oriented (in terms of both hard goals like project deadlines and soft goals like rapport-building and maintaining)
  • Aimed at audiences of stakeholders with agency and/or relevant credentials
  • Shaped by the discursive conventions of a professional community.

When you write an email to your professor or supervisor, develop a presentation or report, design a sales flyer, or create a webpage, you are engaging in technical and professional communication. Along those lines, “technical” and “professional” are used interchangeably throughout this textbook when referring to writers and/or writing produced by them. In this textbook, the word “document” refers to any of the many forms of technical writing, whether it is a web page, an instruction manual, a lab report, or a travel brochure.

Technical writing courses build on what you have learned in other writing courses. But there is plenty new to learn! If you currently have a job in which you do some writing, you will discover that you can put what you learn in your technical writing course to immediate use.

About Technical and Professional Writing

While technical communication is essential in a wide range of fields and occupations, technical writing is also a fully professional field of its own with degree programs, certifications, and theory. An introductory technical and professional writing course is a good way to start if you are interested in a career in technical communication or any career in which writing is a component. Many students in technical and professional writing courses, however, are not necessarily planning for careers as technical writers. That is why this course provides you with an introduction to the kinds of writing skills you need in practically any technically-oriented professional job. No matter what sort of professional work you do, you are likely to be required to write—and much of it may be technical in nature. The more you know about some basic technical writing skills, the better your writing is likely to be, which will be good for the projects you work on, for the organizations you work in, and—most of all—good for you and your career.

Where Does Technical Communication Come From?

According to the STC, technical communication’s origins have been attributed to various eras dating back to Ancient Greece (think Rhetoric!)[2] and to the Renaissance, but what we know today as the professional field of technical writing began during World War I, arising from the need for technology-based documentation for military and manufacturing industries.[3] As technology grew, and organizations became more global, the need and relevance for technical communication emerged, and in 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recognized Technical Writer as a profession.[4]

How “Technical” Writing and “Professional” Writing are Related and How they Differ

Technical communication—or technical writing, as this course is often called—is writing about any technical topic. The term “technical” refers to specialized knowledge that is held by experts and specialists. Whatever your major is, you are developing an expertise and becoming a specialist in a particular technical area. And whenever you try to write or say anything about your field, you are engaged in technical communication.

Professional (or business) writing, on the other hand, covers much of the additional writing you’ll be doing in your profession. Professional writing includes correspondence such as emails, memos, newsletters, business letters, and cover letters, as well as other documents such as résumés, social media posts, blogs, and vlogs. While professional writing may convey technical information, it is usually much more brief and targets an individual or small group of readers who may or may not be experts in the field.

Importance of Audience

Another key part of the definition of technical and professional communication is the receiver of the information—the audience. Technical communication is the delivery of technical information to readers (or listeners or viewers) in a manner that is adapted to their needs, level of understanding, and background. In fact, this audience element is so important that it is one of the cornerstones of this course: you are challenged to write about technical subjects but in a way that a beginner—a non-specialist—could understand. This ability to “translate” technical information to non-specialists is a key skill to any technical communicator. In a world of rapid technological development, many people are falling behind. Technology companies are constantly struggling to find effective ways to help customers or potential customers understand the advantages or the operation of their new products.

This text was derived from

Reardon, Tiffani, Tamara Powell, Jonathan Arnett, Monique Logan, and Cassandra Race, with contributors David McMurrey, Steve Miller, Cherie Miller, Megan Gibbs, Jennifer Nguyen, James Monroe, and Lance Linimon. Open Technical Communication. 4th Edition. Athens, GA: Affordable Learning Georgia, n.d. https://alg.manifoldapp.org/projects/open-tc. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Gross, Allison, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva. Technical Writing. Open Oregon Educational Materials, n.d. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


  1. Society for Technical Communication, “Defining Technical Communication,” accessed August 14, 2020, https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication/.
  2. Rhetoric in this context refers to the study and art of effective communication, specifically the Greco-Roman rhetorical tradition. It focuses on how and why the communicator crafts their message, how the message is transmitted, and how and why the audience engages with it. See Chapter 2: The Rhetorical Situation for a more detailed discussion of rhetoric.
  3. Society for Technical Communication, “Defining Technical Communication,” accessed August 14, 2020, https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication/.
  4. Society for Technical Communication, “Defining Technical Communication,” accessed August 14, 2020, https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication/.

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by Cassandra Race; David McMurrey; Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Claire Carly-Miles; Matt McKinney; Kalani Pattison; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; and Gia Alexander is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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