Introduction: About Technical Communications, TCM1603, and the Author

TCM1603, Introduction to Technical Communications, is the introductory course in the Technical Communications Program at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas. This course introduces you to some of the most important aspects of writing in the world of science, technology, and business--in other words, the kind of writing that scientists, nurses, doctors, computer specialists, government officials, engineers, and other such people do as a part of their regular work.

To learn how to write effectively for the world of work, you'll study common types of reports, special format items such as lists and headings, simple techniques for putting graphics into reports, and some techniques for producing professional-looking final copy.

This course builds on what you've learned in other writing courses. But there's lots that is new to learn! If you currently have a job in which you do some writing, you'll discover that you can put what you learn in this course to immediate use.

About Technical Writing

You're probably wondering what this "technical writing thing"is. Someone may even have told you, "it's this course where they make you write about rocket science and brain surgery." Well, not really . . . . Actually, the field of technical communications is a fully professional field with degree programs, certifications, and--yes!--even theory. It's a good field with a lot of growth and income potential; and TCM1603 is a good course to begin with if you are interested in a career in this field. Austin Community College has a strong Technical Communications program; contact its director, Dr. Katherine Staples at (512) 832-4831 or, for further information.

However, the focus for TCM1603 is not career but an introduction to the kinds of writing skills you need in practically any technically oriented professional job. No matter what sort of professional work you do, you're likely to do lots of writing--and much of it technical in nature. The more you know about some basic technical-writing skills, which are covered in this guide and in this course, the better job of writing you're likely to do. And that will be good for the projects you work on, for the organizations you work in, and--most of all--good for you and your career.

Technical communications--or technical writing, as the course is often called--is not writing about a specific technical topic such as computers, but about any technical topic. The term "technical" refers to knowledge that is not widespread, that is more the territory of experts and specialists. Whatever your major is, you are developing an expertise--you are becoming a specialist in a particular technical area. And whenever you try to write or say anything about your field, you are engaged in technical communications.

Another key part of the definition of technical communications is the receiver of the information--the audience. Technical communications is the delivery of technical information to readers (or listeners or viewers) in a manner that is adapted to their needs, level of understanding, and background. In fact, this audience element is so important that it is one of the cornerstones of this course: you are challenged to write about highly technical subjects but in a way that a beginner--a nonspecialist--could understand. This ability to "translate" technical information to nonspecialists is a key skill to any technical communicator. In a world of rapid technological development, people are constantly falling behind and becoming technological illiterates. Technology companies are constantly struggling to find effective ways to help customers or potential customers understand the advantages or the operation of their new products.

So relax! You don't have to write about computers or rocket science--write about the area of technical specialization you know or are learning about. And plan to write about it in such a way that even Grandad can understand!

About This Course

In TCM1603, our main focus is the technical report, due toward the end of the semester. Just about everything we do in the course is aimed at developing skills needed to produce that report. Of course, we begin with a resume and application letter (often known as the cover letter), but after that you plan the technical report, then write a proposal in which you propose to write that report. Then you write short technical papers where you get accustomed to using things like headings, lists, graphics, and special notices--not to mention writing about technical subject matter in a clear, concise, understandable way that is appropriate for a specific audience.

Warning: You should be aware that TCM1603 is a writing-intensive course. You will probably write more for this course than for any other course you have ever taken. If you are taking physics, calculus, intermediate accounting and are expecting a baby this semester--well, this may not be exactly the right semester for TCM1603.

About the Computer-Assisted Part

A series of programs, that are written in Visual basic and that run on Microsoft Windows or IBM OS/2, are available to give you extra practice with the concepts that we'll be covering in this course. They are not required work, but the program does keep records on what you do (so that you can show your instructor your extra effort). The programs guide you through the typical elements of proposals, instructions, formal reports, and other such documents. They give you practice learning about headings, lists, graphics, and other formatting elements.

You can download or FTP these programs from the link provided just above. These programs can also be made available at ACC computer labs; contact your instructor about which lab you'd prefer to use.

Note: To copy the TCM program, take one 3.5-inch, 2MB (double-density) diskette to any ACC computer center where the program is loaded, start the TCM program, and look for the Copy Program menu option. The program provides instructions from that point onward.

About the Instructor and Author

Return to the table of contents for the TCM1603 Course Guide (the online textbook for Austin Community College's online technical writing course).

This information is owned and maintained by David A. McMurrey. For information on use, customization, or copies, e-mail or call (512) 476-4949.