Monday, July 09, 2012

Technical Communication and Training: How Similar Are They?

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.)

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