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What is technical communication and writing?

The Society for Technical Communication defines technical communication as “communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications medical procedures, or environmental regulations.” Correlated is technical writing, defined by Techwhirl as “simplifying the complex” with the end result being “relevant, useful, and accurate information geared toward specifically targeted audiences in order to enable a set of actions on the part of the audience in pursuit of a defined goal.” Programs within this field of study aim to provide students with the skills they’ll need to communicate and deliver messages in both print and electronic media. If you’re interested in the more practical and specialized side of writing, while not necessarily aspiring to write books or interpret literature that may be required for an English major, technical communication and writing may be for you.

Writing vs. communication…what’s the difference?

Blatantly stated, when used together there is a small difference. Some universities will offer majors in either writing or different divisions of communication. Writing is used as a term that is more centered in a school’s English department, referring to the written word. Communication is a department of its own, and can refer to both oral and written word. Most writing classes will delve into rhetorical concepts and grammar; technical writing classes will teach about publication, editing, and software. Communication classes will guide you in delivering clear and accurate information to the target audience. Essentially, all writing is communication, but not all communication is writing. If your school has a program that combines the two, you have the best of both worlds.

What sort of careers is the major useful for?

One of the best things about this major is that almost every professional industry can use someone from this field. Here’s some examples of career paths that technical communication and writing may take you on:

• General technical writing/editing
• Copywriting
• Public relations/affairs
• Legal writing/paralegal
• Publication management
• Scientific editing/researching
• Web designing/publishing
• Proposal writing
• Speech writing
• Program development
• Health communication/medical writing
• Business computing
• Journalism
• Usability engineering
• Freelance writing

The Society for Technical Communication laid out a 2012-2013 info graphic determining the top areas for technical communication employment, with average salaries being $48,000 at the lowest, and $115,000 at the highest. Naturally, salaries will depend on the company you work for, your level of employment, and the fields within technical communication or writing that you’ve studied.

What kind of classes do you take?

After completing your general education requirements, you will likely be required to take introductory courses (intro to communication, intro to technical writing, etc.) for the major. Upon completion of these, you can cater your classes toward whichever field interests you most. Your courses could include classes like professional editing, intercultural professional communication, computers and writing, document or online design, publication management, usability testing, writing in legal professions, writing for government,  scientific or medical writing, or writing for business and industry.

A major in technical communication and writing allows you to cater your classes to your interests, so that you can really pinpoint and get early training wherever you wish to seek a career. Most undergraduate programs require you to have at least one internship before you graduate, either set up by the school or found independently. Internships for technical communications and writing may include anything from web design to data entry to research via job shadowing someone in a specialized field.

Opportunities for the future

As you can see above, technical communication and writing is a broad field with professional opportunity at every corner. The degree really is what you make of it because it doesn’t restrict you to one particular area of study. The technical side of the major combined with the technological needs of the 21st century are making people with experience in this field in demand, and according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job market for technical writers is growing faster than the average pace.

My experience and plans

As a rising junior at James Madison University, I couldn’t be more thrilled with my experience so far in this program. My full major title is writing, rhetoric, and technical communication (WRTC), with a concentration in technical communication, and a minor in health communication. This year I’m taking courses such as writing about science and technology, health and culture communication, computers and writing, publication management, and research methodologies. Ultimately I’d like to use my degree to obtain a career in pharmaceutical writing and technical editing.

My favorite thing about the major thus far is the amount of opportunity I’ve heard about. Excuse my repetitiveness, but the program’s broadness and ability to allow students to match it to their interests really separates it from other areas of study—I cannot emphasize this enough. Technical communication and writing can allow you to hop between the medical, business, government, legal, environmental, nonprofit, and computer science fields, all with the same degree title. I feel confident that I’ll be able to find a career after graduation, which is the best security blanket a college student can hope for!

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the author

Allison Capley is an editor, college life writer, and a member of James Madison University’s class of 2016 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. At JMU she studies Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, with a minor in Health Communication. Allison’s favorite hobby is horseback riding. In the future, she aspires to live life to the fullest and obtain a career in medical and pharmaceutical writing.

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