Technical communicators face many of the same challenges that confront information professionals when it comes to staying Future Ready in a profession that changes constantly. We reached out to a group of prominent movers and shakers in the profession and asked how they manage their careers, and these are their stories.
by Tracy Dillon
Information professionals aren’t the only knowledge workers concerned with keeping up and staying Future Ready. As a program director for a technical writing program at a major university, Dr. Tracy Dillon is constantly seeking new ways to make the next generation of students ready for the future. In this case, it means focusing on international markets…
As the director of the Technical and Professional Writing program at Portland State University, I am constantly challenged by students to keep the curriculum relevant. As the program has matured, we have balanced at least three conflicting vectors:
- Less money, due to budget cuts from the state legislature
- Rapidly changing technology, leading to student demand for updated offerings
- Institutional tradition, requiring great effort to make minor changes
Emotionally, I am always drawn to keeping the students happy, as they can be vocal and persistent. But they are also energizing, and their passion is very motivating. In preparing this blog post for Cindy, I also suddenly realized that what the students are clamoring for is simple: they want to be Future Ready. So let me talk briefly about a new course offering we recently added that I think helps in that regard.
It’s not news that globalization continues to drive cultural evolution and business applications. We want our undergraduate engineers and graduate technical writing students to thrive in the expanding transnational environment. Just conquering the rules of style and grammar isn’t enough anymore. We needed a course to draw together all of the skill sets to address this growing challenge.
WR 410/510: International Technical Writing discusses the strategies for conducting effective transcultural exchanges, addresses the challenges of conveying technical information across regions, and familiarizes students with global communication strategies.
In contrast to the technical writers of yesteryear, who were hard-pressed to include simple graphics and illustrations in their text, today’s documentation is full of complex art. That means the words are even more important, and they are likely to be translated into a growing number of languages. Mistakes in context or phrasing can be magnified exponentially, and we knew that our students had to understand this.
The key message for success in international technical markets today and in the future is content localization. So our new offering, which is online and available to students around the world, focuses on ways to reach a global audience and the importance of adapting writing style, tone, and diction to match the specific cultural expectations of clients and end users. This is in contrast to “pan-” approaches that assume all markets in a given region are the same. We get into the nuts and bolts and provide students with a solid grounding. And the bottom line is that our program is just a little more future ready. As much as that makes me smile, I already started making plans for more new courses next year. The train never seems to stop…!
If you are interested in reading about internationalization as a key component of making yourself “Future Ready,” check out Geert Hofstede’s Cultures and Organizations: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival (McGraw Hill, 2005) and John R. Kohl’s The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market (SAS Press, 2008).
W. Tracy Dillon, PhD, is Professor of English and Director of Professional and Technical Writing at Portland State University in Oregon.