Technical writing, sometimes called business writing, is writing for a specific purpose and with a specific goal. Usually its goal is to inform/instruct or persuade/argue. Technical writing can really be considered transactional writing because there are two people or groups involved in the communication. One party has a clear goal to inform or persuade the other party. This is real-world writing in every sense. You may not be aware of how much it already impacts your world through textbooks, instructions, web sites, and communications from many businesses and service organizations. There are professional technical communicators but only large organizations have them and even then they are not there to do your daily work for you and that is why it is so helpful for many to take at least an introductory technical writing class.
Why is technical communication important and what will you use it for? Actually, technical writing will be used by most college graduates as a regular part of their work. It is much more likely that you will use technical writing than either academic or creative writing unless you specifically enter those fields. A few examples of why you will likely need these skills include: getting a job - preparing a resume or curriculum vitae, cover letter, application, and portfolio; doing your job - preparing memos, letters, reports, instructions, case reports, reviews, assignments, descriptions, etc.; and keeping your job - communicating with management, co-workers, peers, patients/students/public.
What separates technical communication from other forms of writing, such as academic writing? Technical communication has a specific audience and is purposeful, usually intended to solve a problem for that audience. One area that really sets technical communication apart is that it is quite often collaborative. Technical communication is also focused on readability issues, not only the use of clear writing, but also page design and graphics. The excellence of technical writing is judged by clarity, accuracy, comprehensiveness, accessibility, conciseness, professional appearance, and correctness.
There are seven principles to guide technical writing: remember your purpose (to inform or persuade), remember your audience (their concerns, background, attitude toward your purpose), make your content specific to its purpose and audience, write clearly and precisely (active voice, appropriate language to audience), make good use of visuals (good page design and graphics), and be ethical (truthful, full disclosure, no plagiarizing).
Technical communication serves both explicit, or clear, and implicit, or implied, purposes. Explicit purposes include to provide information, to provide instructions, to persuade the reader to act upon the information, or to enact or prohibit something. Implicit purposes include establishing a relationship, creating trust, establishing credibility, and documenting actions. Most technical communications are based on a problem statement which gives your document a clearly stated objective for your benefit as well as your reader's. The problem statement defines the problem, by doing more than simply stating your topic, it goes on to explain what about that topic is at issue. For example, if your topic is career guidance then your problem could be the fact that many adults need help identifying a career that suits their strengths and abilities and the solution that your document will present is to create a comprehensive clearing house that helps people identify career paths through military, vocational training, and higher education.