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Overview of Professional and Technical Writing

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    Professional writing refers to writing that takes place in a business or other professional setting. In essence, professional writing describes all workplace writing. Much of professional writing can be identified as business writing. Business writingis writing done to external or internal audiences. A memo, for instance, is always a document written to an internal audience. A letter, on the other hand, is often written to external audiences. Technical writing falls under the umbrella of professional writing, but typically uses a bit more precision in terms of tone, syntax, and diction than business writing, which at times can carry an informal tone. Technical writing refers to writing that requires specific instruction, definition, or explanation that is commonly needed in technical fields. For example, the writing in a car manual is a form of technical writing because it gives instructions and identifies key terms regarding vehicle ownership. It is also important to note that technical writing is often written toward general audiences because you are trying to teach someone how to do something or explain something to them. You would not need to write the same documentation to someone else in your specific field, as they should already understand how to do the process you are describing.

    Technical writing does not just include instructions, however. Technical communication is all around. If you consider technology as anything that applies scientific findings, then you will start seeing it everywhere. While high technology like smart phones is becoming ubiquitous, low technology has been around since humans began crafting utensils. Because technologies are created in certain contexts and often distributed to much wider contexts, it is important for their creators and advocates to communicate a product’s intended use to prevent mishandling and also to promote ethical distribution. Technical writing might be the prescription written on the inside of frame of your eyewear, the label inside your shirt, or the caution sign outside of a construction site.


    Any text that serves to communicate information about how to use a technology is considered technical communication. Meanwhile, any text circulating in professional settings for the purpose of getting work done is considered professional communication.

    Texts within professional environments are often called “deliverables”because they deliver the research and information in tangible artifacts (and usually in common genres) such as internal memos, reports, proposals, presentations, etc. To understand which text is most appropriate for a certain task, writers need to consider concepts of rhetoric like audience and contextual analysis as well as design principles.


    Yes and no. It is important to realize that there are often values and tones that are not explicitly stated in any piece of communication. Knowing what these not clearly stated values and ideas are is part of understanding rhetoric, which will be described in the next chapter. You must always remember that bias exists in all communication. As a reader and a writer, it is your job to be aware of your own biases, as well as the biases of your audience, or your readers. Writing is always also situated, meaning it is created for a particular context, place, and time and so it carries with it the values and culture of that place and time. A way to better understand this is to think about things you would tell your professor as compared to things you would tell your best friend. You would likely tell your best friend about the events of a college party you attended the other night, but you likely would not confess all these details to your professor. This is an example of how communication is situated and carries with it biases because you choose what information to share and withhold based on your audience. In other words, the relationship between the writer and the audience influences who has access to the information.


    You will likely find yourself working in a collaborative environment. Within this environment, you will have to communicate with fellow employees, clients, and customers. Because of the wide array of audiences, you will have to communicate with, you have to understand concepts of professional and technical writing.

    Because you will likely work in a collaborative environment, documents, particularly for external audiences, will be produced and/or approved by a team. Multiple moving parts means that learning skills in working within groups and staying organized are important for getting and maintaining a career within an organization. Whether you are an automotive technician, a business consultant, a mechanical engineer, or a technical analyst, you will need to understand good communication practices. These environments often include people from all sorts of different backgrounds, cultures, and ideas. Avoid unnecessary and time-consuming conflict by approaching projects with an open mind and with an awareness of your own biases, which might be different from not only those of your readers but also of your colleagues.

    Collaboration tactics like project management will also benefit you. Currently, much technical writing happens through remote work, and as such, professional writers often work for multiple clients concurrently. In fact, one can make a pretty good living by working from home on a number of contracted or part-time jobs, but to be successful means to constantly balance tasks by developing a system for organizing them. Gaining multitasking capabilities will transfer to any job where you’re required to report to different stakeholders about the same or similar projects.

    Because of the collaborative nature of this work as well as the natural process of writing, document review and revision are integral parts of producing written communication.


    No. A portion of professional and technical communication includes understanding how to design a document for the intended audience. Design is a component of this course that will be covered in a separate set of documents and in class, but note design is an important concept to cover because design and content are complementary considerations. Sometimes, space limitations will mean that the writing needs to be extremely concise and stripped of all detail. On the other hand, sometimes it’s important for legal or other reasons to include a lot of information, no matter how much space it takes up. In either case, writers must consider their purpose and audience.

    When considering purpose with design, you have to know how much content is needed to relay the specific meaning of the text. If creating a set of instructions, for example, creating visuals for illustrating each step of the process will be important to your audience who likely does not know how to that task. In this case, incorporating enough design to illustrate each step will be key.

    Space isn’t the only limitation that determines design and content. Writers have to consider audience values, the rhetorical situation they are in, and institutional constraints like cost and formatting, as well as accessibility. Different audiences will have different interpretations of texts based on their culture, priorities, and relationship to the topic. Therefore, before beginning the task of writing, the composition process requires writers to consider for whom they are writing. In the workplace, there are often two audiences: internal, or inter-organizational, and external, which is often the public. Sometimes, internal documents end up in external venues (and vice-versa), particularly with the proliferation of social media, so it’s important for professional communicators to consider potential secondary audiences.

    Questions for Reflection
    1. What experiences have you had as a professional or technical communicator?
    2. How do you envision this course being helpful to you?
    3. Describe one way I can help you learn as your teacher of this course.
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