Technical Communication

  • 55

Course Category: Master and Master of Science

Course Description
Course Description
  • Focus of Study

    This specialization belongs to the master’s programme Communication Studies.

    Technical Communication prepares students for a range of professions which involve the relationships between people and technical systems, such as technical communication and information design.

    A technical communicator acts as an intermediary between the developers of technological products and their (potential) users. Technical communicators act as the user’s advocates in technological development processes and are responsible for user support in the shape of interface design, manuals, online help, user alerts, instruction videos, promotion strategies and help desks. They are specialized in anticipating the user’s perceptions of technology, the adoption and appropriation of new products, and the strategies users employ in learning how products work. Usability and user experience are keywords in the daily practice of technical communicators.

    Technical communicators also need to demonstrate a mastery of written and visual communication strategies, and an ability to function in a highly technologized work environment, where document-management strategies such as single-sourcing and online collaboration have a prominent place. Given the global market for technical products, they are sensitive to the intercultural aspects of communication, as well as to localization and translation issues.

    Technical communicators combine a thorough understanding of technology with knowledge of the user, and affinity with documents and other types of communication. They are experts in making complex matters simple, and as such also function in professional contexts such as medical and legal communication.

    Course Description

    Core courses

    • Essentials in Technical Communication
    • Research Topics in Technical Communication
    • User Support
    • Philosophy of Technology
    • Authoring and Collaboration Tools

    Specialisation courses (at least 2)

    • Designing Learning & Performance Support
    • Human Computer Interaction
    • User Centred Design of New Media

    In detail

    1. Essentials in technical communication

    This course provides a research-oriented introduction to technical communication. In a series of eight lectures, the key theories, concepts and methods in this field will be discussed. You will start by reflecting on the central concepts of usability and user experience, before shifting your focus to design processes, the life cycle and development of technical devices, the development of user support, and the interplay between these factors, including design-supporting research. You will go on to discuss the adoption and appropriation of technology, document design and instructional design, the technologized environment of the technical communicator, intercultural communication, channels and media, and translation and localization. The course lays a solid foundation for selecting other Master’s courses in this specialization and for a final thesis that corresponds to your individual interests.

    2. Research topics in technical communication

    This course gives you the opportunity to take a deeper look at a particular research problem or issue within a specific topic or theme in technical communication. You will do this by developing and writing an academic research proposal, which is based on the current literature. The aim of the course is to equip you with specialist knowledge on technical communication, an understanding of the development of academic insights in the field, and the practical skills involved in grant-proposal writing. You will identify a gap in the existing body of knowledge and formulate a research proposal optimally designed to fill it. In groups of 5 to 6 students, facilitated by a lecturer who specializes in the specific topic, you will write, read and comment on draft versions of each other’s research proposals. The final product will be a proposal for a four-year research project using the format prescribed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The resulting proposal may (but does not have to) serve as the basis for your Master’s thesis.

    3. Philosophy of technology

    In this course, you will receive both a historical and a thematic introduction to the philosophy of technology. It will examine the emergence of the philosophy of technology as an independent field of philosophical inquiry and the (social) problems that are key to this field, and introduce you to the main philosophers, developments and trends in the field. The major themes you will discuss include technological determinism, the nature of technological knowledge, the normative dimensions of technology, and internalism versus externalism. A number of these themes will be elaborated on in courses in the second semester of the first year, including Social and Political Philosophy, Epistemology, Ethics & Technology, and Philosophical Anthropology. The core theories are phenomenology and postphenomenology, mediation theory and analytic philosophy.

    4. Authoring and collaboration tools

    The working context of technical communication professionals is becoming increasingly technologized. A wide range of software tools are used to optimize the development process of documents. In this course, you will focus on knowledge and document management, single-sourcing, text formatting, and online collaboration platforms. You will have the opportunity to practice using the tools available, reflect on their possibilities and drawbacks, and analyse their effects on technical communication design processes.

    5. User support

    Each week, we will focus on a specific topic related to user support, such as usability testing, minimalism, and persuasive and motivational aspects.

    6. Designing learning and performance support

    In this course you will engage in a challenging design task: creating effective instructions that enable people to do things quickly. You are free to select your own task, such as using a cash register, carrying out a web search or designing online help. In seminars, you will be introduced to the three main components of the course: (a) theories & design guidelines, (b) exercises, and (c) student progress reports. You are expected to have regular individual meetings with your instructor. During the final session, your product and that of your fellow students will be displayed and your design trajectories will be presented and discussed. You will work in pairs on the design task, establishing a clear division of roles, both in creating your end-product and completing the design report.

    7. Human-computer interaction

    The course gives you a thorough introduction to traditional and recent topics in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). HCI is a member of the ‘human factors family’ and is about designing interactive products that best suit the human user’s mind. The focus is primarily on research in HCI. Together we will read and discuss a number of seminal and recent research papers, and you will be continually encouraged to transfer this knowledge to real-world design problems, such as:

    1. How do people find information on the web? And how can the design of search engines, web browsers and navigation structures provide optimum support for this process?
    2. What are the advantages of aesthetically pleasing design?
    3. How can we design e-government services that are genuinely inclusive, so that people with impairments can use them with ease?
    4. How do users learn to use new products and how can we ensure that they keep up with the rapid pace of change?