Technical Communicator

Media Job with a Bright Future

For the safe and efficient use of products – whether devices, machines, software, entire production plants or service provider products – users require information. The manufacturers or providers of the products are obligated to make this information available across the entire product life cycle in a suitable media format. The creation of information in turn requires specially trained and qualified personnel called "technical communicators" ("Technische Redakteure" in Germany). tekom has developed the job profile "Technischer Redakteur" (technical communicator) and widely publicized it in the German-speaking region.

Job Title

The job title "Technischer Redakteur" goes back to the Anglo-Saxon denotations "Technical Writer", "Technical Editor", "Technical Author" and "Technical Communicator", which are used more or less interchangeably. In Germany, job titles like "Technical Editor“, "Technical Author" or "Information Developer" are also used. In Switzerland the term "Technikredaktor" (Technical Editor) is used.

Area

In the field of technical writing and editing, the term "technical communication" has been accepted globally. tekom uses a more specific job description, “Multilingual information development along the value-added chain", since most information products are created in multiple languages. This also illustrates the fact that information products constitute a part of the entire value creation.

Information Products

For each phase of the product life cycle, technical communicators create the related information products in various media. Below, a few typical examples based on ISO 9004-1:

Phase titleInformation products
Product observationService bulletins
Product specificationInformation concept
Product developmentDevelopment documention, circuit diagrams, hydraulic diagrams
VerificationRelease documents
Packaging and storageStorage advice
SalesProduct catalogues and websites
DistributionTransport instructions
AssemblyAssembly instructions
Initial operationCommissioning instructions
OperationInstruction manuals, operation manuals, software help, support websites
Technical supportSpare parts catalogues
MaintenanceMaintenance plans, supply lists
Disposal (or reuse)Un-installation instructions
MarketingSales documentation

Media

The most common media for creation of information products is still paper or, alternatively, PDF documents. For interactive screen displays, the information is created as software or web content. The latest trend is information products for all types of smart phones or tablets, also called "mobile documentation".

Activities

Technical writers develop concepts for documentation, research important product information, define the information needs of the target group, ensure that legal and normative requirements are met, author texts, create safety instructions, coordinate the translations and check the quality of the documentation.

To create technical documentation, multifaceted tasks must be performed. Operative core areas along the process chain are:

  • Project and process management, service provider management
  • Concept creation, development of layout and design
  • Information search
  • Editorial activities
  • Content development, development of text
  • Authoring in the area of graphics
  • Terminology work
  • Quality management
  • Localization, translation, translation management
  • Manufacturing, production
  • Publication
  • Data maintenance, content management and archiving

Technical documents are created in various media, predominantly as print documents and PDFs but also increasingly as HTML documents, web pages, online help, multimedia documentation or mobile applications ("apps"). Technical documentation is international: 94% of all technical documentation must be translated. Already a quarter of all technical documentation is translated into more than 15 languages.

Tools

Information products are created and managed using software programs. Special text-based or graphic-based editing systems are deployed for creation; linguistic software is used for quality control. The information is translated using automation software and its management is handled by component-based content management systems.

Competencies

Technical communication combines technology and language. The profession is characterized by its versatility. It integrates various specialist fields. Technical communicators therefore have to possess versatile competences, especially in:

  • Legal and normative requirements
  • Processes and methods of information development
  • Professional, target group specific writing
  • Visual design and layout
  • Creation of illustrations, image presentation
  • Structuring and standardizing
  • Content management
  • Editing systems, XML
  • Project and process management

Beyond these requirements, there are other areas of activity that are specializations within technical communication. These include:

  • Multi-lingual documentation creation and localization
  • Translation management
  • Terminology management
  • Quality management
  • Usability
  • Mobile documentation, multimedia documentation, online documentation
  • Training development, e-learning
  • System installation, system administration

Important key qualifications and soft skills of technical communicators are:

  • Technical understanding, analytical thinking
  • Verbal competence, knowledge of foreign languages, particularly English
  • Software and data processing competence
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Precise, careful working style
  • Time management skills

The following areas are closely related to technical communication:

  • Specialised communication, translation, localization
  • Terminology
  • Media development

Industries

The majority of technical communicators works in the industry as individual writers, in editing teams, in independent departments (technical documentation) or as part of a different department (e.g. development, construction, marketing, training). In the following industries, the creation of technical documentation is indispensable:

  • Plant engineering/power station construction, drive and conveyor systems
  • Manufacturing of machine tools: special purpose machinery manufacture; manufacturing systems engineering; robotics; automation
  • Manufacturing of drive and control technology
  • Manufacturing of combustion engines; turbines; furnaces; burners
  • Manufacturing of sanitary engineering; building and industrial fittings
  • Manufacturing of cold and heat technology; fuel cells; pumps; compressors; pressure equipment
  • Software consultancy and development
  • Hardware consultancy / databases
  • Manufacturing of measuring, test, control, navigation devices; clocks
  • Manufacturing of consumer electronics
  • Manufacturing of domestic appliances / electric devices and tools for  handymen and craftsmen
  • Manufacturing of other electric equipment and devices
  • Manufacturing of radiation and electrotherapy devices
  • Manufacturing of medical and dental instruments; laboratory systems; orthopedics
  • Manufacturing of motor vehicles and vehicle parts
  • Other vehicle manufacturing (shipbuilding, railway vehicle, air and spacecraft manufacturing,  armored fighting vehicles)
  • Manufacturing of electronic components, conductor boards, switchgear, regulators
  • Manufacturing of  data processing equipment and peripheral systems
  • Manufacturing of devices and  telecommunication equipment
  • Manufacturing of electric motors, generators, transformers, electrical drives
  • Manufacturing of other electronic and optical products
  • Manufacturing of weapons and ammunition
  • Power and energy supply

There is a separate service sector for the area of technical communication in which technical communicators are active. They provide various services and software offerings for technical editing:

  • Service companies and freelancers who create technical documentation on behalf of companies
  • Software manufacturers of special systems for the creation of technical documentation such as editing or content management system or for translation
  • Service providers for translation and localization of technical communication
  • Consulting companies with consultancy services involving technical communication such as system installations, process optimization or concept development
  • Seminar and training providers