Technical Writing in the Digital Age

From LitWiki
Book cover for "Digital Writing" by Dan Lawrence

Technical Writing in the Digital Age represents the dynamic and evolving discipline of creating written, visual, and interactive materials that convey complex information, instructions, and technical concepts in the context of contemporary digital technologies.

Technical writing is a specialized skill that requires technical knowledge and well-developed communication skills. It involves explaining complex information in a clear, concise, and accessible manner. Through the evolution of technologies like the Internet and smartphones, technical writing has evolved from traditional printed formats to more digital-oriented media. Today, users expect content to be available on various platforms and devices, providing up-to-date information on demand. Technical writers have adapted to these changes by creating compelling, concise, SEO-friendly content in various forms, such as infographics, e-books, podcasts, videos, blogs, GIFs, memes, and other interactive content.

Key factors include integrating multimedia elements, user-centered design principles, and ethical considerations like accessibility and inclusivity. This discipline also extends to collaborative writing processes and version control systems, acknowledging the necessity of teamwork in producing accurate and up-to-date technical documentation. Multimodality and the interfacing of multiple media platforms and sources also play a role in digital technical writing.


Goal of Technical Communication

Technical communication is a discipline utilized by various fields such as education, business, and science. In any domain, technical documentation shares a common objective: assisting the audience in achieving a task or goal.[1] This common objective is achieved by the technical writer communicating complex and technical information to the audience in a way that's easy to understand.[2]

Importance of Research

Research plays a vital role in technical writing. The main purposes of research are to inform action, gather evidence for theories, and contribute to developing knowledge in a field of study.[3] Research helps build knowledge and facilitate learning, helps society understand issues and increase public awareness, and aids in supporting truth.[3] Proper research provides a strong foundation for efficient technical writing.

Major decisions are often based upon results from research. Technical communicators often work with subject matter experts but can also conduct in-depth independent research to produce a technical document. The stages of critical thinking in the research process are[4]:

  • Asking the right questions. The right questions help define the research problem. The answers found in research are only as good as the questions asked.
  • Exploring a balance of views. This provides a broad range of evidence. Ask: What do informed sources say about the topic? On which points do sources agree or disagree? Which sources carry more weight than others?
  • Providing adequate depth into the topic through thorough research. Surface level is reached through popular media. The next level is reached through trade, business, and technical publications. The deepest level is reached through specialized literature such as peer-reviewed journals, government sources, and corporate documents.
  • Evaluating the findings. Search for bias in the research. Look for the accurate answer.
  • Interpreting the findings. Ensure the final report answers the original research problem.

The ability to adequately, accurately, and completely research a subject prior to writing technical communication dictates the writer's success.


Technical Writing Profession

Joseph D. Chapline

Joseph D. Chapline is considered to be one of the first technical writers, having written in 1949 the first-ever user manual for the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC), an early personal computer.[5] In the 1950s, technical writing as a distinct profession began to take shape when technical writers founded formal organizations, academic programs, and conferences dedicated to the art. One of these key writing associations was the Association of Technical Writers and Editors, also formed in the 1950s. Several of these groups eventually merged, forming the Society for Technical Communication (STC) in 1960.[6] The STC is the world's oldest professional association dedicated to advancing the field of technical communication. The STC promotes adherence to a list of ethical principles. They are legality, honesty, confidentiality, quality, fairness, and professionalism.[7]

The need for paperwork ushered in by World War II served as the driving force for the technical writing profession in the United States.[8] This was years before the computer and photocopier became standard office equipment. During this period, the role of the technical writer revolved solely around words, and their primary work tools consisted of either a pencil or ink pen and paper. The technical writer would draft the document by hand, and a typist or clerical worker would then use a typewriter to transfer the writer's words into a finished document.[9]

Advances in technology thrust the technical writing profession into a new era. The technical writer's work may now include not only text but also images, drawings, and computer-based media. The modern technical writer may also be involved in research and information-gathering, speaking with subject matter experts, and selecting document media and project tools.[10]

The projects of today's technical writers range from writing instructions to assemble a living room chair to creating websites.[11] The titles of today's technical writers may vary as well, such as Information Architects or Documentation Specialists.[11]

Future Trends

Between 2022 and 2032, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 7% job growth for technical writers.[2]

Job growth for tech writing projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Technical Communication Strategies

Characteristics of Technical Communication

Technical communication is meant to guide an audience and must be easily understood. Successful technical documentation is accurate, logically sound, and appropriate.[12] Communication can be accurate in description and content. Accurate descriptions are easy to understand. Accurate content provides for the intended result. Communication delivered logically is well-organized, clear, and will be coherent for most users. Appropriate technical information contains elements and steps suitable for the intended purpose and audience.[12]

Standards Compliant

Many technical fields have industry-specific regulations and guidelines determined by governing bodies that impact their technical communication. Furthermore, many organizations may have a style guide that outlines preferred language usage, tone, and formatting.[13]


Technical communication should be detail-oriented and free of errors and inconsistencies. Accurate information delivered with precision and specificity is essential for unambiguous and discrepancies-free communication.[13]


Objective communication is presented in an unbiased and impartial manner and is free of personal opinions. It relies upon facts and evidence and avoids an overly emotional tone. This approach is particularly important in fields where accuracy and impartiality are essential.[14]

Clear and Concise

Technical communication includes a well-structured document. Technical communication should be logically organized, straightforward, and easily understood by the target audience. Planning the document structure allows the technical writer to define the purpose, scope, and main points of the document. The language used should avoid needless jargon and be written in a manner that avoids redundant word usage and/or excessive explanations. [15][16]

Formatted and Organized

Technical documents should be formatted in a way that is consistent with the norms and standards of applicable professional fields. Additionally, formatting should adhere to guidelines that enhance usability. Information should be logically organized for easy reading comprehension. This may involve using headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbered lists. Formatting details should remain consistent throughout the document.[13][15]


Technical communication utilizes visuals strategically to facilitate understanding of textual content. Visuals such as diagrams, charts, graphs, or images can enhance understanding of a technical document. When presented properly, visuals can explain difficult concepts and make material accessible to a more diverse audience.[17]


Technical communication should be customized to align with the knowledge and needs of its audience. Communication style and tone should be tailored to match the audience's level of expertise. Factors such as the users' technical background, familiarity with the subject, and specific requirements should be considered.[18] The tone sets the overall mood for the piece.

Document Design

Plan the structure of a document so that it is easy to follow and understand. Planning the document structure includes defining a purpose, breadth, and main subjects. Organize the document into a logical and clear order that maintains the purpose of the article. Headings, subheadings, and lists provide coherence to a technical paper. [19] The appropriateness of documents requires readers to understand the document's message quickly. The document should be of appropriate style and length for the readers' needs.

Examples of Technical Documents

Technical writing encompasses various genres and styles influenced by the information and discourse communities. Not all technical documents are produced by technical writers, as many professionals create various technical documents.[20]

Common types of technical communication include:[21]

Case Studies

Case studies are a form of empirical or observational research that consists of in-depth examination of distinct individuals, groups, events, or scenarios. This research can be used to generate qualitative or quantitative data.[22]

Data Sheets

A data sheet, also known as a technical datasheet, is a document used to describe and summarize the characteristics of a product, material, component, or technology.[23]


Descriptions are concise explanations of procedures and processes that assist readers in understanding how something works. Product descriptions and process descriptions are the two main types of technical descriptions.[24]

  • Product: provides detailed information about a specific item, including its features, specifications, and benefits.
  • Process: provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform a particular task or achieve a specific outcome.


Documentation comprises various texts that allow users to accomplish tasks or gain information. It generally falls into three categories, which can be defined as follows:

  • Instructions: Text that describes how to complete a task, often offering numbered steps. Examples include how to download software or assemble a product.[25]
  • Specifications: Communications that deliver technical details on how a product is put together or a specific operation is executed. Also known as "specs," these texts may be written by engineers or technicians.[26]
  • Procedures and Protocols: Guidelines to ensure consistency, quality, and safety in the workplace. For example, a hospital may provide staff with procedures on how to adapt operations during an emergency, such as a power outage.[26]


Image of an email

Emails are the primary form of communication in the workplace, used for both internal and external communication. They facilitate information exchange, idea exchange, and activity coordination.[27] Emails should be brief, concise, readable, and targeted to specific audiences with specific subject lines.[28]


Letters are a traditional form of communication most often used by employees to communicate with individuals outside of a company or organization. They are typically written on company letterhead. Today, letters are sent either by U.S. mail or electronically.[29]


A memo (short for memorandum) is an official communication, usually a message from the company, a manager or director, or another person or group acting in an official capacity, used to communicate with others within the same organization.[30]

Press Releases

A press release can be an organization's announcement or latest news distributed to media outlets with information for the public. A press release can be called a press statement, news release, or media release.[31]


A proposal is a document that identifies an existing problem or opportunity and outlines a comprehensive strategy for addressing it. Organizations create internal proposals to describe programs and projects that meet specific operational needs, such as a plan to replace an outdated software system. Companies develop external proposals for potential customers or clients. These documents detail new products, services, or initiatives that a company will implement to address a specific customer concern.[32]


A report is a concise, easily understandable document that presents technical information in a clear, organized format, allowing readers to access varying levels of information. Reports are categorized as informal, such as briefs, and formal, such as research, scientific, and completion reports.[33]

Informal or Brief Reports

Informal or brief reports provide an objective overview of an organization's current state, past events, and future plans, ensuring that readers are well-informed about the organization's operations. Some examples include[34]:

  • Progress reports are used to inform management about the progress or status of a project.
  • White papers and briefings educate management or clients about important issues.
  • Incident reports objectively focus on presenting facts relating to an accident or irregular occurrence.
  • Laboratory reports describe experiments, tests, or inspections.
Formal Reports

A formal report is a factual and data-driven response to a research question.

  • Research reports present the findings of a study.
  • Scientific research reports outline the process, progress, and results of technical or scientific research or the current state of a research problem.
  • Completion reports assess the outcomes of a project or initiative and provide feedback to management or the client.


Resumes offer an overview of an individual’s educational credentials and professional experience and often are used to demonstrate an applicant’s qualifications to potential employers.[35] They may be organized in various ways, but two common approaches are chronologically and by skills.

Chronological resumes demonstrate the sequence of education and employment history and detail a person’s tasks, responsibilities, and achievements in each successive role.

Skills resumes provide employment history, but the primary focus is to highlight how an individual applied distinct skills and experiences across various professional positions.[36]

User Guides

A user guide is an instructional manual created to help consumers use the product, service or system. A user guide typically includes step-by-step instructions.[37]

Digital Writing Strategies

Characteristics of Digital Documents

Electronic Format

Digital documents exist in electronic formats, which means they are stored and transmitted as binary data. This format allows for efficient storage, retrieval, and transmission of information via electronic devices.[38] Digital documentation is the only method to meet a critical challenge of the relatively new concept of "knowledge management" that applies to all organizations. A digital knowledge management system is crucial to an organization so everyone can access information created by employees who are no longer with the organization or to allow cross-referencing with other seemingly unrelated departments.[39]


Unlike paper documents, digital documents lack physical presence. They are intangible and exist as electronic files, residing on devices or in the cloud.[38]


Website content should be designed in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to access the same information as those without disabilities.[40] It is both ethically imperative and a legal requirement to include accessibility features in website design.[41]

There are four different types of impairment that can affect how a user interacts and perceives digital documents: vision, mobility, auditory, and cognitive.[42] Digital documents will need to be optimized so that information can be accessed by hardware and software tools used by people with disabilities.[43] Designing accessible digital content increases the technical writer's ability to engage with a broader audience base.[44]


From "Writing for the Web" by Lynda Felder: This pyramid explains how to best display information in a paragraph quickly for readability and scannability

Digital documents rely on the "Seven Cs" of precise writing to be effective and increase readability. Forms of technical writing must have readability. Readability is a term used to determine whether the content has clarity, conciseness, and courtesy.[45] The other four Cs are coherent, concrete, correct, and complete.[46]


A document's scannability is determined by the ease in which it can be scanned to determine meaning. Readers often scan pages for words and phrases that align with their task or interests, as well as for trigger words that are deeply ingrained.[47] The most effective web content is concise and simple to scan, making it easy for users to find the important information. Breaking up text into interesting, easy-to-read sections helps users quickly find information.[48] Ways to improve a document's scannability include implementing visual elements, white space, concise language, highlighting, and emphasis.[49]

Ease of Reproduction and Distribution

Digital documents are easily copied and distributed. They can be duplicated without any loss of quality, making it simple to share information widely and at minimal cost.[38]


Hyperlinking is a quick and efficient method for directing readers to relevant information in digital documents, facilitating seamless navigation between sections, references, and external resources.[50] Hyperlinking also allows readers the opportunity to do further research by reading where the information originated.


Digital documents can incorporate multimedia elements like images, audio, video, and interactive content, enhancing engagement through visual and auditory elements. Multiple media formats work best when sharing new, complicated ideas.[51] Increasing multimodality on a website improves engagement, usability, and accessibility. This can improve the impact of the website's standings in search engine results pages (SERPs).[52]

Version Control

Version control is a characteristic of digital documents that allows for the tracking of edits and revisions to digital documents. In collaborative writing, version control helps maintain the document with accountability and transparency.[53]

Remote Collaboration

One form of collaborative technical writing is a wiki, a "website developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content."[54] One of the predominant elements of a wiki is that it is defined as being open source. As a result, anyone can modify it regardless of their geographic location.

Security Measures

Digital documents can be protected with encryption, passwords, and access controls to safeguard sensitive information. These security measures enhance data protection and privacy.[38]

Environmental Impact

Digital documents have a smaller environmental footprint compared to paper documents, as they reduce the need for paper production, printing, and transportation.[38]

Dynamic Updates

Online digital documents can be updated dynamically, ensuring that users always have access to the most current information. This is particularly valuable in fast-changing fields.[38]

Global Accessibility

Digital documents can be shared globally, transcending geographical boundaries and time zones. They support international collaboration and the dissemination of knowledge on a global scale.[38]

Data Integration

In business and research settings, digital documents can integrate with databases and data analysis tools. This integration streamlines data collection, analysis, and reporting processes.[38]

Data Analytics

Digital documents can be subjected to data analytics techniques, allowing organizations to extract valuable insights from large volumes of textual data, which can inform decision-making and strategy.[38]

Examples of Digital Documents

Digital documentation is the conversion of physical documents into digital files, enabling easier access, retrieval, and sharing of information. It includes features like searchability, version control, and security measures to ensure data integrity and confidentiality.[38] In technical and professional writing, digital documentation takes various forms. These methods streamline the sharing of technical information, enhance collaboration, and ensure easy accessibility within professional settings, contributing to efficient communication and knowledge dissemination.[38]


Infographics, shared as digital documents, typically combine text, graphics, and illustrations to convey complex concepts or data in a concise and visually appealing format. Infographics are often used to simplify information, making it more accessible to a broader audience, and are found in presentations, reports, websites, and educational materials.[55]


Logo for Microsoft PowerPoint

Presentations created with PowerPoint or Google Slides are vital for professional communication and knowledge sharing. They condense complex information into visually appealing slides for effective presentations by using photos, videos, graphics, charts, and graphs.[56]


A blog, short for "weblog," is an informational website organized into short articles called posts, typically a chronologically ordered series of website updates written and organized like a traditional diary.[57] They are regularly updated, providing readers with insights on a specific topic or subject. Blogs serve various purposes, including sharing opinions, providing news, offering educational content, and documenting personal experiences.[58]


Forums are an example of a digital document that allows users to seek and provide information within a community. Forums are gathering information points users provide instead of technical writers. Companies can utilize forums as part of their technical communication with consumers in the digital environment, expanding past the traditional technical communication of a user manual.[59]

Personas in Digital Writing

Personas in the context of digital writing, which is writing composed, created, and read in digital environments, refer to semi-fictional characters that encapsulate the characteristics, behaviors, and needs of target audience segments. They align closely with the principles of user-centered design (UCD).[60] There are myriad ways to integrate user-centered thinking into the creative process of user experience (UX) design, and personas are one of the most effective ways to empathize with and analyze users.[61]

Personas may guide the creation of documentation and tutorials catering to different user needs. It is crucial to adjust the language and tone to match the persona's preference. Different personas can influence and guide the design of the project.

Along with adjusting tone and language to suit the desired user, personas can be used to ensure the purposed digital document properly informs the reader with the correct and accurate information the user seeks.


Rhetoric is a communication strategy whose primary goal is to persuade an audience. It is grounded in three foundational concepts first defined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. These concepts are logos, which engages with the reader’s sense of logic or reason; pathos, which appeals to the reader’s emotions; and ethos, which addresses the audience’s values and the writer’s credibility. Within this framework, writers utilize specific techniques or devices to influence and engage readers. Examples include appealing to an audience’s sense of logic by using factual examples to support a point or evoking emotion through descriptive visual language.[62]

In today’s digital age, writers can use digital technologies as rhetorical devices to influence the reader. Electronic images and informational graphics can be incorporated into digital and online documents to illustrate or reinforce points made in the text.[63] Hyperlinks can provide access to additional information that supports authors’ ideas and enhances their credibility.[64] Nevertheless, the writer's basic task of informing and persuading an audience is the same in digital communication as in other forms of writing.[65]

Digital writers must therefore consider specific elements that compose the rhetorical context in which texts are created and delivered. Such elements may include evaluating the demographics, habits, and needs of an intended audience; determining the overall objective of the communications; and deciding what technologies will be used to create the content. Together, this analysis allows writers to craft messages that both appeal to and inform the target audience. In the digital age, such rhetorical messages may be conveyed through websites, social media, and other digital platforms.[66]

Tools for Digital Technology

With the rise of digital technology, technical writing has had to adapt to the needs of a digital era. Technical writers can use various tools to author and present their documents.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

A content management system (CMS) is a software application that allows users to create, manage, and modify digital content on a website. It provides a user-friendly interface and tools to easily organize, publish, and update content, including text, images, videos, and documents. Additionally, CMSs often offer features like user permissions, version control, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to enhance the overall website management experience.[67] Some popular examples of CMS include WordPress, Wix, and Blogger.

Image Processing Software

Image processing software plays a valuable role in technical and digital writing by facilitating the creation and enhancement of visuals. Documentation and tutorials help optimize images to convey processes or procedures effectively. Whether for screen captures illustrating software interfaces, data visualizations, or graphics for digital content, image processing tools contribute to creating clear and visually appealing materials.[68] These tools, such as Adobe and Canva, enhance the visual impact of technical and digital writing, ensuring that images are optimized, informative, and engaging for the audience.

Word Processors

The logos of popular word processors: (L-R Clockwise) Apple Pages, Google Docs, SharePoint, Microsoft Word.

Word processors are software applications designed for creating, editing, and formatting documents on a computer. They provide many features, such as spell-checking, checking grammar, and inserting images and tables. These programs are typically used for writing essays, creating reports, or drafting professional documents.[69] Some popular software applications are Microsoft Word, Google Docs, SharePoint, and Apple Pages. These programs allow documents to be readily disseminated. Comment capability enables audience members to interact about a document with one another and the author.

Text Editors

Text editors are fundamental technical and digital writing tools, offering a platform for creating and manipulating plain text files. They are indispensable for programming tasks, providing syntax highlighting and code folding features. Text editors are commonly used to write code, markup languages (HTML, XML, Markdown), and edit configuration files.[70] Notable examples include Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (macOS), and Notepad++. Whether for programmers, writers, or system administrators, text editors play a crucial role in content creation and technical work.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO refers to the practice of optimizing online content to enhance its visibility and ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs), making it a crucial skill for digital writers.[71] To optimize content for SEO means to have the goal of SEO in mind at the time of designing, creating, and writing a web page for publication. Using keywords and alt text are two examples of optimizing content for SEO.[72]


Keywords are the words that search engines scan a website for and index as the page's most important words. Based on other pages using the same keywords, the website is added to the search engine results pages from best matches to worst matches. The position of a website in search results is influenced by where it ranks on a scale determined by the keywords that a user searches for.[71] To optimize a website's keywords, you should begin with researching keywords on your own website and ensure that you have an XML sitemap so search engines such as Google can scan your web pages for updated information. In addition to using keywords, updating a page's metadata information can also help with showing up on SERPs. Using title and header tags as well as meta descriptions for content also helps optimize a website's ratings in SERPs.[71]

Alt Text

Alt text (alternative text), or alt attributes, is a practice that increases the usability and accessibility of a web page for users. Alt text is often used for visual elements that cannot be displayed in a different format but still provides description of the element for screen readers or users that may have a disability. Alt text also improves a website's SEO as a form of content optimization.[71]

Social Media Presence

Facebook Logo

Sharing content from a website across different social media platforms is another way to create SEO optimization. This technique can help with being seen as legitimate and improves the visibility of the website overall. Additionally, it can drive traffic and enable backlinking, where other websites can link to the website.[71]

Goals of Searching: The User's Perspective

A user of search engines formulates queries by using keywords or posing questions. One of the most important elements of building an SEO strategy for a website is developing a thorough understanding of the psychology of your target audience and how they use words and concepts to obtain information about the services and/or products you provide. Once you understand how the average search engine user—and, more specifically, your target audience—utilizes query-based search engines, you can more effectively reach and keep those users.[73]

User Experience

User experience (UX) is how a product works and is experienced from the user's perspective.[74] By creating a positive user experience, technical writers can ensure the intended message is effectively communicated and retained. UX design methods include user-centered design, information architecture, responsive design, multimodality, and usability.

User-Centered Design

User-centered design (UCD) is implemented by considering the user and their needs throughout the entire development of a product.[75] The approach of UCD in technical writing consists of the following methodologies:[76]

  • User Research: the act of conducting thorough research through surveys, interviews, and usability testing to gain a better understanding of user needs and experiences when using a digital document
  • Ideation and prototyping: the process of creating digital designs and prototypes to assist with exploring possible solutions to meet user needs
  • Usability testing: the act of having users interact with digital document designs and then adjusting the design based on user feedback
  • Implementation: the stage in which the design is implemented after adjusting from prior testing
  • Evaluation: the stage in which the digital document is assessed to ensure that it is meeting user needs
  • Maintenance and updates: to maintain a digital document based on user feedback and changing needs

Information Architecture

To ensure a digital document has effective UX design and accessible information, technical writers must construct a clear and organized information architecture (IA). IA is a design principle that organizes information so that it is easily found and understood by users, prioritizing their needs and reducing information overload. A design challenge is making IA understood across multiple digital experiences, changing the navigation structure to fit different media while staying logical and consistent for the user.[77] IA that is not constructed well can confuse the user and could cause them to give up their search of information in frustration.[78]

The architecture components of IA can be divided into four different categories:[79]

  • Organization systems: how information is categorized and organized for user understanding
  • Labeling systems: how information is represented
  • Navigation systems: how users browse information and navigate between pages
  • Searching systems: how users search for specific information

Responsive Design

Responsive design is a strategy that appropriately updates the layout and content of a website or document in relation to the screen size, device, and/or orientation, allowing the site or document to be easily viewed and navigated regardless of the device used. With the increased use of mobile devices, web content should be constructed with proper responsive web design (RWD) to ensure effective UX and usability on those devices.[80]

There are several design strategies that can be implemented that will increase the success of RWD:[81]

  • Fluid layout: Responsive sites can be constructed using a fluid layout (or flexible grid) system that will allow content to adjust and flow according to the available screen space.
  • Flexible and responsive images: Images and other embedded media can be instructed to fit their containers instead of remaining at a fixed size. Images with varying resolutions can also be swapped according to screen size to avoid high-resolution images on smaller devices.
  • CSS media queries: Media queries can be written into the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet), instructing the site's construction according to screen width and orientation. Adding breakpoints for several screen sizes allows pages to be designed for specific devices.
  • Content hierarchy: Carefully constructing content that is organized for the user and creating a hierarchy of content that prioritizes user needs is necessary to ensure effective user experience and navigation across multiple screen sizes.[82]


While responsive design focuses on the system or interface response to user inputs, multimodality refers to integrating multiple modes of communication to evaluate how effective communication can be in the digital age.[83]

There are essential elements to multimodality that improve the UX experience for readers in digital documents:

  • Accessibility: Documents that contain multimodal, or multimedia elements, allow for diversity in obtaining information to cater to diverse learning styles and abilities. For example, a slideshow presentation that contains audio will help aid those with visual impairments.
  • Engagement: Combining static information with visuals, such as images, videos, or interactive modules, can create a more engaging experience for readers in the digital age.
  • Clarity and Comprehension: Jargon-heavy text and complex ideas are able to be showcased in charts, diagrams, and infographics that are easily able to clarify concepts better than text.
  • Persuasion: Combining the elements listed above may allow for the creators to influence their audience.


Technical writers must create documents and websites that meet the expectations of their readers and users. In doing so, writers increase the usability of their site or document.[84] Usability consultant Steve Krug considers the most important rule for ensuring a site or document is usable is by making pages self-evident and allowing the user not to have to think about actions.[85] A website that is well designed for usability means that the users will not have any questions about the content or functions of the site. The site will have a clear hierarchy, use standard web design principles, have well-defined content areas, include noticeable and simple links, and limited distractions.[86]

A document or website written for usability can be easily scanned by using the following concepts:[87]

  • Highlighting keywords
  • Writing descriptive headings and subheadings
  • Incorporating bulleted list
  • Constructing shorter paragraphs
  • Implementing an inverted pyramid writing style by beginning with the most important information
  • Decreasing the word count of traditional writing
  • Using clear and concise language and, when appropriate, visual aids


Remediation is the process through which new media forms borrow elements from older media forms and transform and re-contextualize them. As media evolves, so do the ways users can consume it. When first introduced, remediation was described as a type of reformation, such as taking a paper letter and turning it into an email.[88] Today, remediation of a digital document often adds to the user experience by enhancing the document. An example of remediation is making a document more accessible by adding a text-to-speech feature for users with poor vision or adding a tutorial to an electronic manual.

This can be simplified into two key principals:

  • Immediacy and Hypermediacy: Immediacy refers to the desire to transcend a medium, while hypermediacy takes the medium and infuses it through the new medium.[89][90]
  • Transparent and Opaque Media: Transparent media allows the content to take center stage, while opaque media makes users aware of the medium's presence.[89][90]

Overall, remediation is necessary to create a multimodal document in the digital age.

Pedagogical Approaches

Writing Styles

Informal writing, such as some emailing, instant messaging, and texting, has crept into academic writing. In a study conducted by the Pew Internet & America Life Project, almost half of the respondents admitted to omitting proper punctuation and capitalization in their schoolwork. Others even used emoticons. Colleges and universities must now educate students on the different forms of written communication and when best to employ them.[91]

Multimedia Writing

Best practices for tone, grammar, and style can vary depending on the form of media (auditory, visual, print, etc.), and many digital writings will combine two or more of these media formats. Students of technical writing may be taught specific techniques for different types of media to become proficient multimedia writers.[92] In their book Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen introduce the concept of visual grammar, which relates to multimodality that helps with complex ideas in visual grammar. Kress and van Leeuwen suggest that visual elements should follow a set of grammatical rules to construct visual designs.[93]

Breaking and Building

Breaking and building is a method of teaching effective writing that can be applied to technical and digital formats. It asks students to curate collections of digital media by comparing and contrasting ("building") and to critically analyze these collections and attempt to reason out the decisions behind them ("breaking").[94] Each process has a set of targeted learning outcomes. Learning outcomes for "building" include making and reflecting on choices to find, group, present, and compile digital content. Learning outcomes for "breaking" include identifying and critiquing decisions in curating existing digital content, such as where the content originated, how it is grouped, and how it is presented.[95]

Challenges and Ethical Considerations


Barriers to teaching technical communications include the speed at which digital tools evolve, the complexity of software,[96] and the dependency on input information accuracy. Outdated, incorrect, or inconsistent data delays the publication, requires more reparative efforts, and decreases productivity.[97] Also, technical writers often have to contend with complex, outdated or unsuitable tools. This can make their job more difficult and time-consuming, and can lead to frustration and errors.[97]

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence programs, utilizing natural language processing, are capable of producing technical writing and have advanced in recent years becoming more adept.[98]

Logo for ChatGPT - an open AI that has rose in popularity.

One such program is ChatGPT, which uses machine learning to produce texts with human-like style and tone.[99] Another leader in this area, Contentbot, uses a WordPress plugin which gives blog writers ideas to enhance their posts which are shared via email.[100]


Because of the ability of chatbots to imitate human-like language, some education administrators have taken precautions to minimize the occurrence of students passing off artificially generated texts as their own. In some instances, educators have taken the view that material drawn from artificial intelligence software must be handled in the same way as sources from human authors.[101] In such cases, students who incorporate artificially generated text into their work have been made to denote credit for the artificial intelligence program utilized.


The advent of chatbots has complicated the issue of credit where creative work is concerned. Because chatbots can simulate human speech, their ability to create cinematic dialogues and other types of creative writing have threatened the credits and financial condition of professional writers. According to an article by Aaron Mok and Jacob Zinkula on Business Insider, writing jobs are among the top 10 roles that AI is most likely to replace.[102]

Ethical Considerations

Technical communicators:

  • Observes laws, regulations, and fulfil contracts.
  • Further the public good.
  • Respect the confidentiality of clients.
  • Produce quality products.
  • Embrace fairness with respect to cultural diversity.
  • Pursue professional self-improvement and education. [103]

The concept of ethics involves decision making based on value systems. Value systems are based on societal norms of acceptable behavior. Ethical dilemmas are decision opportunities in which value systems do not provide clear instruction for the appropriate course of action.[104]

Technical communicators also have to be careful to avoid plagiarism, or taking ideas, thoughts, or words from someone else and passing them off as one's own.[52]

Technical communicators have to abide by ethical standards. The standards are divided into three primary categories. They are the employer, the public, and the environment.[105]

The Employer

Obligations to one's employer include competence and diligence, honesty and candor, confidentiality, and loyalty.[105] The technical communicator must adhere to these obligations so that he/she does not harm the reputation or operation of the employer.

Technical communicators may occasionally work for an organization with strict privacy policies that prohibit them from using the documents they create outside of the organization. It is important for ethical communicators to follow the privacy policy for their organization because unauthorized release of information could lead to consequences up to and including termination.[106]

The Public

Organizations are obligated to treat customers fairly. Technical communicators must convey that the products or services an organization sells are safe and effective.[105]

The Environment

Technical communicators have an obligation to the environment. This obligation includes alerting their supervisors, managers, and executive leadership to products or processes that are detrimental to the environment. Protecting the environment can be costly, however, and organizations may consider ignoring legal guidelines to save money.[105] Yet, failure to adhere to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations also has financial implications. For example, the penalty for mishandling hazardous waste is five years and/or up to $50,000 for each day of the violation.[107]


One primary ethical concern in all forms of writing, especially in digital writing, is the creation and spread of disinformation. Disinformation, often called "fake news," is information that is purposefully spread as false or misleading and is a sub-type of misinformation.[108] Modern communication technologies allow the spread of information to occur quickly. Social media is one area where the spread of disinformation occurs regularly.

Some social media sites, such as Facebook, have begun to flag certain articles posted on the site as being questionable in their representation of facts or occurrences. Despite the widespread understanding and use of disinformation available today, digital writers need to be aware of their intent and the audience's needs and wants from their digital communication.[109] Ethical considerations regarding citing sources, cross-referencing information, and using primary sources are good practices for maintaining ethical standing and credibility as a digital writer.

Technical writers should utilize gatekeepers to help mitigate the problem of disinformation. These individuals verify the accuracy of the information before it is distributed to primary readers. This helps protect the author from any ethical and legal issues.[106]



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