When is technical writing used?
You are 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 is a good field with a lot of growth and income potential; and this introductory technical-writing course is a good way to start learning the skills for technical writing.
The focus for technical-writing courses is not necessarily on a career as a technical writer, but on 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 are likely to do a lot of writing--and much of it will be technical in nature. The more you know about some basic technical-writing skills, the better job of writing you are likely to do.
How does technical writing differ from other uses?
Technical communications--or technical writing--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 non-specialist--could understand. This ability to "translate" technical information to non-specialists 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 do not 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 Granddad can understand!