Skip to content


The field of technical communication has been around as long as people have used processes, procedures, products, and services. But recently, the field has been evolving more and more quickly, as new technologies and new ways to reach our audiences have become available.

I recently said to my wife, I linked our Nest with Alexa. I didn’t need to explain that I had linked our Google Nest thermostat with our Amazon Echo voice-recognition device, allowing us to control our home temperature with voice commands. This sentence, which would have been complete nonsense five years ago, is perfectly meaningful now, because the Internet of Things has become ubiquitous in our daily lives.

We are continually reminded of the power of devices that sense and interpret context. My phone knows where I am. It knows when I’m leaving work to drive home and reports my expected commute time. It knows what sports teams I follow and what companies I like, and it knows when I’m traveling.

These technologies grant amazing new capabilities for understanding and reaching our audiences. The best customer experiences occur when documentation anticipates needs, context, and goals, and these technologies, many of which are discussed in this book, make it easier for us to create those kinds of customer experiences.

The terms defined in this book range from basic terminology that most of us know to the latest concepts pushing the boundaries of the discipline. Do you need a refresher in basic and invariant technical communication concepts? Consider the Core Concepts section. Want to dive deeper? The Technical Concepts section will ground you in approaches for creating, managing, and delivering your content using proven processes.

The Standards and Conventions section will bring you up-to-date on the latest standards-based approaches, which will help you manage your content more effectively, especially in the face of changing tools and technologies.

Would controlled language and structured authoring help to improve the consistency of your content and decrease translation costs? Would topic-based authoring help to improve the readability of your content? Are you collecting and making appropriate use of metadata? What is content? Why is localization not enough? Why should technical communicators also have business analysis skills?

How are you and your organization responding to changes in the outside world? Take a look at the Future Directions section, where you can read about topics such as wearables, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

How do you deliver content? The Deliverable Presentations section may provide new ideas for serving an increasingly mobile audience that expects information on demand, in the appropriate form, targeted for their situation, and available on any device. This audience also expects information to be more interactive, to actively respond to context, and, as always, to address their needs in the most concise, direct manner possible.

As technical communicators, we seek a user-centered approach that provides the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive. Part of our tool kit for implementing a user-centered approach is the vocabulary we use with our colleagues.

If we have a common understanding of the language of technical communication, we can be more effective and efficient in our interactions with our colleagues. Whether you are a newly hired trainee or a seasoned professional, understanding the body of terms in this book will make it easier to work together.

While our methods and techniques may be changing, the mission of technical communication remains unchanged: explaining processes, procedures, products, and services. And helping make people successful. This book can help you be more effective in carrying out that mission.

Alan Houser

Photo of Alan Houser

Alan Houser is president of Group Wellesley, Inc., a Pittsburgh, PA-based company that provides authoring, content management, and workflow services to technology-oriented businesses. Alan has nearly 30 years of experience in technical writing and publishing. Alan is a distinguished consultant and trainer in the fields of XML, XML technologies, publishing workflows, and authoring and publishing tools. Alan is a Fellow and former President of the Society for Technical Communication.

Term: Foreword



Twitter: @arh