section builds on the general definition of professional communication
as "communication in professional contexts" to help readers understand
the basic framework for UNI's Professional Writing curriculum
and the courses in it.
technical communication is listed in US News and World Report as
one of the best careers in the United States, most people don't
really know what technical communication means. Is it the same
as professional communication? as business communication? Does
communication mean writing? speaking? web design?
In this section,
I address some of these questions. In doing so, I create
a framework for understanding communication in contemporary
society from a variety of perspectives.
A big part of the confusion about professional communication
results from the wide range of terms people use to describe
similar activities. I suggest one
simplification to help us begin; by professional communication I mean "communication
in professional contexts." We will see as the semester rolls along how this
definition is too simple in some ways, but it is a good place to begin.
Table 1 provides
a sample of terms used to describe communication in professional
settings. As you look at them, see how some terms are very
general and others are more specific.
1: Communication terminology
At root, all
of these terms describe some sort of communication in professional
settings; here professional settings must be understood
to be relatively broad, including science (e.g., metallurgy
and materials science, mathematics, physics), industry (e.g.,
automotive, computer, aerospace), business (e.g., banking,
insurance, medicine), marketing, government, and entertainment
(e.g., fiction, poetry, film). This is a wide range of work
contexts. And within each, there are people who have clearly
defined communication specializations as well. Some people
specialize in editing, for example, and others excel at visual
is more unity to the profession than the list of terms in
Table 1 might suggest, it is also good to realize that there
is tremendous variety represented among professional or technical
communicators. There are some core elements to successful
communication regardless of the context, but the work people
do often puts unique demands on their knowledge and creativity.
you might think, you could not pick someone out of their
professional context and put them in a new context and expect
them to succeed completely or immediately. A good professional
communicator is much more than someone who understands how
to string words together into clear thoughts or who understands
grammar. Successful communicators are people who make it
their job to understand how to be succesful in the setting
they work; that takes a lot more than good writing or speaking
As you can probably
imagine, if people in a profession cannot agree on what to
call themselves, they begin to wonder if they are all really
part of the same profession. Although a technical writer
in one company may serve the same function as an information
manager in another company, on the surface you would probably
guess that they do very different things. And sometimes that
is a good assumption. You just never know until you look.
There are a lot of people in communication areas who use the terms listed in
the top of Table 1 to distinguish one professional focus from another. For
example, some people suggest that scientific communication focuses only on
science documents and issues, technical communication focuses on heavy industry
documents and issues, business communication focuses on business and marketing
documents and issues, and that professional communication is anything else
that qualifies as professional communication. All of these categorical definitions
systematically exclude creative writing of any kind. The longstanding belief
has been that workplace writing of any kind cannot be creative.
I suggest a less
rigid use of the terms, although I agree that sometimes boundaries
are useful things to help start conversarions. Again, I suggest
that we take professional communication, as I said before,
to be any communication that people do in professional contexts.
Another way of saying that is communication that people specialize
in professionally. That way of thinking allows professional
communication to be an umbrella term that finds common
ground between a lot of different areas, and so I think it
is a useful way to use the phrase.
communicators versus communicating professionals
One more level of complication with defining and understanding professional
communication comes from the simple fact that all professionals communicate.
If we all can and do write, then what makes a professional communicator a professional?
and other professionals have for a long time relied on the
efforts of specially trained communicators to help them express
their ideas to others. At first, these relationships were
taken to be little more than scribes serving thinkers--the
real work was in the science, technology, or other expertise
that made up the content. However, these relationships have
evolved over time. In the most progressive and successful
companies, professional communicators are recognized for
their expertise at developing information as a product in
and of itself.
communicators are often well versed in communication theory
and practice, communication technology, document design--expertise
we might expect them to have. But they often have experience
in organizational theory, sociology, psychology, computer
science, statistics, and other areas as well--such knowledge
that often proves useful in their work with others.
Just as engineers
apply knowledge gained from the long-term study of certain
technological processes in their own profession, professional
communicators are specialists because of their deep focus
on communication issues. And just as engineers draw on developments
in other professions (e.g., mathematics, computer science,
medicine), so too do professional communicators. A good communicator
is someone who continues to learn throughout his or her career
about anything that might be relevant to the daily work of
being a professional communicator.
writing at UNI
Here at UNI, we have several programs that help students develop along similar
professional pathways. There is some overlap among Professional Writing in
English; MIS, Business Communication, and Public Relations in Business; Communication
Studies; CIS in Computer Science; Graphic Design in Fine Arts; and Graphic
Communication in Industrial Technology. To say that graduates of these programs
are carbon copies of one another would be a gross misstatement. However, to
say that there are no similarities between these programs would also be wrong.
Many of the graduates of these programs will compete with one another for jobs.
But each program is based in philosophies of communication that differ on many
from each of the programs listed above frequently enroll
in this and other professional writing courses here at UNI,
these courses are also attended by almost every major across
campus. That makes for a strange blend of insights, goals,
and expectations in the courses.
You should always be engaged in the ongoing activity of understanding your
professional goals and expectations, but it is especially important that you
consider how the courses you take build on one another. Some wil complemtn
each other in obvious ways. Some will not. You may not be able to make connections
between some courses or concepts until long after you graduate and move on
from here. But if you engage in the process of making connections between courses
that should be related, you will be more successful in the long run as a professional.
But it often
pays off to make connections between the courses that have
no obvious common ground. For example, engineers have been
taking my courses for years, and it never fails that I need
to convince them that their problem solving tools from engineering
are excellent tools for solving communication challenges
as well. And it also never fails that English majors fell
they have no place to contribute ideas to technological innovation,
when in fact writers and editors are responsible for many
of the desktop publishing innovations we take for granted
We all contribute
in our own. We all bring our unique strengths to the table.
Figure out what your strengths are and draw on them in this
course. Develop new ones. You can't do that without being
here as a conscious, conscientious learner. Do that, and