TecCOM - Profession of Technical Communication

Academic perspective

Academic research

Academic research helps to professionalise a field of practice. Research findings inform many aspects of practice for technical writers. Knowledge of academic research topics and methods enables technical writers to approach their work strategically.

Technical writers need to understand the types of academic research methods and approaches that are typical in their field. For strategic reasons, they need to understand new developments in technical communication research. They may need to use existing research to justify and explain writing and design decisions to colleagues and managers.

This topic covers academic research concepts (like reliability, validity and triangulation) and typical methods (including quantitative and qualitative methods such as interviewing, usability testing, content analysis, and surveys), and outlines the research and publication process.

Concepts in research
  • Understand differences between academic and other types of research
  • Recognise the systematic nature of academic research (e.g. validity, reliability, triangulation)
Research in technical communication
  • Identify important concepts in research (e.g. usability and user experience, adoption and appropriation of technologies, document/video design, intercultural communication, the changing job of technical writers)
  • Recognise the importance of research in technical communication (e.g. information design theories such as minimalism; information processing theories)
  • Outline research topics in technical communication (e.g. survey, focus group, interview, ethnographic study, usability study, content analysis, experimental study)
  • Classify theoretical concepts in technical communication
  • Understand the range of methods and instruments
  • Understand the purposes of different research approaches
  • Understand the limitations of each approach
  • Understand populations and research sampling

see also evaluation and user experience

Methods and instruments
  • Distinguish among different research methods
  • Design and distribute a survey
  • Set up and run a focus group
  • Write interview questions, organise and conduct research interviews
  • Set up and run user tests
  • Design and implement a content analysis
  • Set up and run an experimental study
  • Use heuristics
  • Set up and run a cognitive walk through test
  • Do an ethnographic study

see also evaluation and user experience

The research process
  • Choose approaches to academic research in technical communication (e.g. theoretical, empirical, qualitative/quantitative)
  • Identify research goals, questions and hypotheses
  • Review the literature
  • Select an appropriate research method
  • Consider ethical topics in research (e.g. confidentiality, data protection)
  • Conduct a study
  • Gather and store data
  • Analyse study results, using the appropriate techniques (e.g. statistical tests to analyse quantitative data, coding qualitative data)
  • Interpret data -- particularly selecting different and effective theoretical models to guide the analysis and interpretation processes


see also information mining

Diffusion of findings
  • Report a study
  • Select the best channels for diffusing the research


see also communication theory and models