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Guest editorial: Scientific technical communication

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2005. Guest editorial: Scientific technical communication. Intercom March:4.

When most STC members think about technical communication, the first thing that comes to mind is writing related to computers. Indeed, the majority of the articles in Intercom and Technical Communication seem to focus strongly on tools and techniques designed to help us produce better documentation for computer products—whether those products are hardware, software, or online information itself. But there's also a significant group of STC members with different interests. In this special issue of Intercom, we'll focus on just one of those other interests: scientific communication.

Membership in STC's Scientific Communication special interest group fluctuates, but has averaged between 600 and 800 members (roughly 5% of total membership) during the time I've been manager of this SIG. As is true of most communities within STC, scientific communicators are a diverse group, with a wide range of backgrounds and specialties. Many of us come from science backgrounds, and work with laboratory researchers in fields ranging from basic sciences such as the physics and chemistry underlying the high-tech devices that many other members document, to applied or field research in more concrete, tangible fields of applied science such as environmental management and clinical medicine. Others work for governments and public education agencies, striving to clearly communicate the essential information citizens need on how science affects their daily life. We are writers, editors, translators, and educators.

How do scientific communicators differ from other STC members? In fact, we're probably more alike than different. We use the same skills to understand our audiences and learn how best to communicate with them, and the same software to transfer the information we develop. But the differences can prove enlightening, as I illustrated in my November 2004 article on the rhetoric of scientific journal articles. The goal is the same (communication), but the standard models that guide our communication may differ quite significantly. In those differences lies an opportunity to learn from each other.

In this special issue, I've provided a sequel to that first article that looks at how the scientific method can inform the practice of technical communication. Other contributors have taken a different tack:

So welcome to our community. By reading this special issue, you'll have a chance to see some different aspects of the broader profession of communication and perhaps even gain some new insights into the aspects you're already familiar with. If you're interested in learning more about STC's Scientific Communication special interest group, please visit our Web site (http://www.stcsig.org/sc/index.htm).


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