You Can’t Live Without Them

Technical communicators help you every day; most times, you don’t even realize it.

Last night, just before dark, they arrived at my house in Essex, Vermont. Raymond and Leah. They delivered two cords of fire wood from their business property in Glover, a distance over back roads of about 70 miles. Now Glover truly qualifies as being in the middle of nowhere, however, I live on a dirt road that isn’t all that easy to find either.

When Leah and I made the arrangements for the firewood, I asked if she needed directions. After all, they had never been here before. But she demurred. “We have GPS,” she said. “Raymond relies on it, so I’m sure we won’t have any difficulties.”

tulipsAnd so, through the help of their GPS device, they arrived. Leah got out of the truck first, introduced herself, and shook my hand. She had a kind face, a quiet confidence about her, and was clearly in charge of the financial aspects of the business—she had a standard invoice form in her hand with the details of our transaction hand printed clearly. Raymond, a tall, slightly gangling man, ebullient by nature with a winning smile, came around the side of the truck and held out his hand. “This is Raymond,” Leah said. We shook hands. Firmly.

“So Raymond,” I asked, “Did you have any trouble finding my house?”

“Oh no,” he said with that Vermont drawl. “My GPS gets me anywhere.” He pulled the device out of his pocket and began showing me how he used it for directions from Glover to my house. The device was well labeled, with a clean interface and clear maps that directed him, without misadventure. Raymond was very proud of this GPS, and his ability to use it.

I thought, “Raymond. Thank a technical communicator.”

For it was a professional technical communicator who designed the interface, the buttons, the labels; who wrote the on-screen wording, the tutorial; who made the device easy to use and valuable to Raymond, and to Leah, while they deliver firewood all over the state of Vermont. And if was a technical communicator who designed and wrote the words on the standard invoice form used for the firewood purchase.

So, during your day, how often do you rely on the services of professional technical communicators? Many, many times. Think for a moment about your day. From the rudimentary (the dials and labeling on your toaster), to the simple (laundering instructions on your business clothes), to the sublime (the dashboard of your car), to the routine (the signage and information boards on your drive and in the subway and airport), to the commonplace (every web site, photo site, and video site you browse), to the complex (the tutorials, instructions, guides, and online help for the hardware and related software you use daily), to the complicated (the buttons and instructions on a digital SLR camera), to the useful (a GPS device). The list is virtually endless.

Take a look around you right now. You encounter many instances of technical communication, constantly, throughout your day. After all, if it isn’t fiction, then it’s nonfiction; in other words, it’s technical communication.

When you find any of these situations difficult or can’t figure out how to use something, realize that it isn’t you. More than likely, the people in charge of these kinds of things didn’t exhibit the foresight to engage professionals. And the results, to be polite, are less than stellar.

On the other hand, when you are able to successfully and easily navigate all of these items and situations, without misadventure, thank professional technical communicators. You can’t live without them.

–Rich Maggiani

5 Comments, RSS

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rich Maggiani, STC Tech. Edit. SIG,, STCSoCal, Rick Sapir and others. Rick Sapir said: RT @stc_rochester: The importance of technical communicators #techcomm […]

  2. Barrie Byron 13 August 2010 @ 3:04 pm

    Rich, your personal story highlights our mission of making effective communication a reality. This personal encounter story is so true! We should all “thank a technical communicator” when we encounter efficient and effective user interfaces.
    Thanks for sharing. The world is indeed a better place with you in it.

  3. Meredith Kinder 16 August 2010 @ 10:12 am

    This article simplifies what technical communication is. It does a great job of breaking it down to its purest form. Sometimes as tech commers, we get too close to ourselves and our work to realize that it is pretty simple to describe what we do. And not everyone needs to know (or wants to know) the details in order to understand what we do. Thanks for pointing this out. We’re everywhere! :)

  4. Karl Schweitzer 17 August 2010 @ 11:06 am

    Uggg. Uggg…. Yes technology and technical communicators affect our everyday lives in positive ways, yet so many of us depend on technology to solve our problems. In today’s gadget world, we can lose our ability to problem solve and effectively communicate one on one as individuals.

    Although I would not like to live without electricity which heats my bath water, refrigerates my food, and allows instant cooking on a stove, I find it necessary to get out and connect with nature, wildlife, and humankind. The connecting with technology grows exponentially while connecting with humankind (such as our neighbors one on one) is disappearing. We work 2 jobs to buy a bigger home, yet seldom if at all connect with neighbors, our neighborhood, and nature. We drive our car to go a 1/2 block to buy milk, but God forbid we walk and wish a stranger a good day.

  5. Deborah Doyle 8 September 2010 @ 11:49 am

    :) This certainly makes me smile. Thank you! Indeed, when we look around us–really look around us–we can so easily appreciate technical communicators, and for that matter we can appreciate architects and engineers who design our cities and the paths we use to traverse them. The Internet was around a long time before we got hold of it to the point it could become a household word, and technical communicators made that happen by bringing humanity into the technology. Your real-life GPS example is a marvelous story that really drives the point home (puns intended).

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