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A Love of the Arts Can Help Sharpen Technical Communication Skills
2008, Q4 (March 11, 2009)
By Monique Cobb, Carolina Chapter Secretary

Monique Cobb
Monique Cobb
I’m currently waiting to go on stage to sing in our church Christmas program. I love singing, acting, writing, and art. As I'm waiting, it occurs to me: a strong background in and a love of the arts can help us excel as technical communicators.

Lessons Learned in Anthropology

At one point during my education, I turned my focus to studying anthropology. "How can anthropology help a technical communicator?" you may ask. Yes, it may be a struggle to figure out how to tie together anthropology and writing. My father told me, "You can always write for the National Geographic." That is true. However, anthropology, like many of my other subjects, brings new perspectives to writing. Studying anthropology, you learn that you can write about topics that you have never heard of until you research them. I brought this lesson with me in my first job as a technical writer and graphic designer for a sensors company.

Bringing Creativity to Technical Design and Writing

From a creative standpoint, technical communicators who have a background in the arts are able to bring knowledge of color to projects. For example, I assisted in creating a non-profit brochure for a drug rehabilitation program. I chose the paper, a recycled green stock. My choice was based on the thought of a non-profit helping with the environment, just as they are helping their cause. I chose green for emphasis on a “new, fresh, and clean” approach.

The ultimate tie-in to technical communication from the arts in general is creative writing. Creative writing might involve sitting in circles in poetry groups or classes, working on your inner expression with rhyming words and iambic pentameter. This work may pay off when writing technically. Rather than writing blandly, you bring a creative approach to the wording and pay special attention to how words sound together and flow as a group. Also, you learn to be comfortable writing from your heart, instead of just your brain, and in doing so bring a creative approach to writing.

Theatre and Technical Communication

Theatre teaches you to learn from others and to work both individually and as a team. These traits are also essential in technical communication. Though some may think that writing is a lonely job, those who have a theatrical background can appreciate working individually and collaboratively. You must strengthen your individual skills — need they be acting, singing, writing, software, or graphic skills. These skills are brought as a whole to the group atmosphere and are a requirement in reaching goals.

Improv theatre, in particular, teaches us to be resourceful and creative. Technical writing and graphic design projects need such skills. Sometimes clients only have specific software programs; we have to be creative and/or technical with what we have available. We often must think out of the box. With a new perspective, we can bring a new way of looking at a project, but keeping it consistent in the look and feel of the branding.

Art School: Design Techniques and Software

Art school not only teaches you the basics of drawing and painting, it teaches the software programs that the marketing industry requires: QuarkXpress, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. It also teaches skills for layout, such as typography, fonts, the grid, picas, and points.

As a technical communicator trained in graphic design and desktop publishing, you can bring such skills, plus knowledge of Microsoft PowerPoint and writing, to local companies. You can successfully design and lay out presentations, especially within e-Leaning environments. Layout capabilities, creativity, consistency, and eye for details will open doors of opportunity beyond brochures, specification, and installation sheet layouts.


By education and trade, I am a writer and graphic designer. I’ve created from as early as I can remember. My father, who was also an artist, gave me a kid-friendly drafting table in our in-house studio. We spent Sunday afternoons working on projects at each of our tables. Saturday afternoons I spent time with Mom in reading circles at a local library. I would sit with her and listen to the daily reading. These small efforts were the introduction to the arts by both my parents.

Though I grew my love of the theater, writing, and designing throughout the years, I wanted a career that I could enjoy, and technical communication lets me combine all of these interests. I’ve been able to cross over much of my love of the arts to technical communication. It is funny how what we really have a passion for always seems to find its way into every aspect of our lives. We find that we are comfortable in the "familiar," although the "familiar" may come in different forms, and those forms for me are both the arts and technical communication.

Monique can be reached at monique_stcjobs at yahoo dot com. End of article.

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