Domain knowledge

Have specialised knowledge in at least one major business area, for example:

  • IT
  • Finance/banking
  • Engineering (civil, electrical, mechanical, aerospace)
  • Marketing
  • Commercial
  • Industrial
  • Defence
  • Training
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Medical.

The value of existing domain knowledge

Technical communication is about presenting complex or technical information by written, oral, or visual means to audiences of varying levels of technical understanding. To do this, technical communicators must have the ability to understand and explain complex information (for example: technical specifications; financial, academic or commercial information, technical drawings, program code).

Technical communicators may also have specialist knowledge in one or more business areas (as listed above). This knowledge may come from previous career experience, but can also be developed during each project. Having existing domain-specific knowledge can certainly help provide insight into terminology, concepts or processes, giving the technical communicator a head-start when it comes to gathering information from subject matter experts.

However, while domain-specific knowledge can be helpful, as the technical communicator will have a better idea of what to ask and where to focus – it can also be a disadvantage. This is because the technical communicator has to work as an advocate for the reader of the document that he or she produces. If the technical communicator is already very familiar with the domain, this may reduce their ability to see the topic from the point of view of the reader, who does not have that knowledge. This suggests that in some case domain knowledge may be valuable, but also that extensive knowledge may interfere with the technical communicator’s advocacy for the reader. Conversely, if the technical communicator needs to produce complex technical material for an audience that already has a good understanding of the general field, extensive domain-specific knowledge may be of significant advantage.

In summary, the level of domain-specific knowledge required of a technical communicator will vary depending on the project, the complexity of the material under consideration, the purpose of the information being produced and of course the audience.

Any comments? (and please tell us where you are writing from)