Technical Communication and Training: How Similar Are

How similar are technical communication and training?  Although some characterize the two as nearly identical, a closer look at their occupational cultures suggests several subtle, but significant, differences exist.

My recent article, Different Approaches to Similar Challenges: An Analysis of the Occupational Cultures of the Disciplines of Technical Communication and Training, published in the second quarter 2012 issue of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, explores these differences.
Here’s the abstract of the article:

Problem:  Perhaps it is presumptuous of Technical Communicators to assume that, because some of their skills that might be employed in developing and delivering training materials, that those skills alone are qualifications to work in training, much less the source by which the processes of Training might be examined.  Using data from one survey and one interview-based studies of the work of Technical Communication and Training groups, as well as participation on committees responsible for certification examinations for Technical Communicators and Trainers, this tutorial analyzes differences in the occupational cultures of the two fields.

Key Concepts:  The work differs: Technical Communicators produce content that explains how to perform tasks; trainers produce programs that develop skills that a third party can verify.  To do so, Technical Communicators follow a process that emphasizes writing and production; Trainers follow a process that emphasizes the analysis of intended goals and evaluation of whether those goals have been achieved.  The guiding philosophy of Technical Communication is usability; the guiding philosophy of Training is performance.  Although both disciplines are rooted in cognitive psychology, the primary intellectual roots of Technical Communication are in rhetoric and composition, while the primary intellectual roots are in education.  The preferred research methods of Technical Communication are critical; the preferred research methods of Trainers are empirical qualitative and quantitative methods.

Key Lessons: As a result, Technical Communication professionals and researchers who want to work in Training should approach the field in a culturally appropriate way by (1) recognizing distinctions between a communication product and a training program, (2) recognizing distinctions in work processes, (3) recognizing distinctions in language, (4) recognizing differences in values and (5) acknowledging that an academic discipline of training exists.

To see the complete article, visit  (Note: Only free to members of the IEEE Professional Communication Society and to those entering through university libraries with a subscription to IEEExplore.)

Differing Attitudes Towards Professionalization

Check out, The Three Approaches to Professionalization in Technical Communication, one of the articles in the special issues on professionalization in the journal, Technical Communication.    

The article explores internal divisions within the profession by exploring a spectrum of attitudes towards professionalization.  At one of the spectrum is professionalization, which seeks to formalize the practice and preparation for the profession. At the other end of the spectrum is contra-professionalization, which actively resists efforts to professionalize.
Here is the abstract of the article:

Purpose:  Explores internal divisions within our profession by exploring one particular type of tension that exists: that technical communicators do not have a unified view of professionalization for the field.

Methods:  Proposes that prevailing approaches to professionalization are rooted in theories of occupations, the exclusive right to perform a job. Trueoccupations have such rights legally; aspiring occupations like ours areprofessions.  Common components of an infrastructure for occupations includes professional organizations, bodies of knowledge, education, professional activities, and certification.

Results:   Professions often establish these in anticipation of becoming an occupation, but some practicing professionals interpret and use them differently, resulting in a spectrum of approaches to professionalization.
At one end of the spectrum is formal professionalism, which views professionalization as a stepping stone to full occupational status. It is rooted in a worldview that values expertise and sees the infrastructure of an occupation supporting the development of expertise and controlling access to the profession.

In the center of the spectrum is quasi-professionalization, in which individuals participate in the activities of the occupational infrastructure but without the expectation of exclusive rights to perform the work. Quasi- professionalization is rooted in professional identity.

At the other end of the spectrum is contra-professionalization, which refers to initiatives that offer or promote professional services outside of parts or all of the infrastructure, sometimes circumventing it completely. This world view is rooted in market theory and characterized by  concepts like Do-It-Yourself (DIY), user-generated and Subject Matter Expert (SME)-provided documentation.

Conclusions:  The differing views suggest tensions regarding support for specific efforts to professionalize technical communication, including formal branding of the profession, establishment of certification, and support for professional organizations.

To see the complete article, visit  (Note: Only free to members of the Society for Techincal Communication and to those entering through university libraries with a subscription to IngentaConnect.)

How Should You Continue Your Learning Journey in Technical Communication? A Self-Assessment

Are you interested in training in technical communication? A bachelor’s degree? A master’s degree? A PhD?

Although all of these options exist for continuing your learning about technical communication, each type of education addresses a different need.

So which educational option best meets your needs? That depends—based on your goals, personal situation, finances, and how independently you want to study.

The interactive article How Should You Continue Your Learning Journey in Technical Communication? A Self-Assessment in the July/August 2012 issue of Intercom helps you to assess your needs and suggests the type of program that might meet them. In it, you answer a series of questions, calculate a score, and, in the score, learn which option might best meet your needs. Following that, this article describes the learning options available, for whom each is intended, and how they differ from one another.

To see the entire article, visit: (Note that a membership in the Society for Technical Communication is required to view the article.)

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