Core Competencies

The core competencies required of technical communicators are constantly evolving, and professional and academic journals frequently contain articles on this topic. A good place to begin learning about core competencies is on STC’s Web site, where the Our Story section includes a short article on “Technical Writer – Which Skill Sets are Important?” The article describes the skills needed in the areas of writing, technical, tools, interviewing and listening, design, and usability and testing.

For more in-depth information, Technical Communication, STC’s journal, contains a number of articles on core competencies. Electronic versions of the articles are archived at

Two articles in Technical Communication are especially noteworthy:

Do curricula correspond to managerial expectations? Core competencies for technical communicators, by Kenneth Rainey et al, August 2005.

According to the results of a survey conducted by Rainey et al in 2005, “the most important competencies for technical communicators are:

  • Skills in collaborating with both subject-matter experts and coworkers
  • Ability to write clearly for specific audiences directed by clearly defined purposes
  • Ability to assess and to learn to use technologies
  • Ability to take the initiative (be a self-starter) and to evaluate one’s own work and the work of others

Secondary competencies include skills in using technologies to accomplish documentation work in various media and the ability to write, edit, and test various technical communication documents.

Tertiary competencies include skills in usability testing, single-sourcing and content management, instructional design, budgeting, oral presentations, research, multimedia, and awareness of cultural differences.”

Core competencies: The essence of technical communication, by George Hayhoe, November 2002.

According to Hayhoe, core competencies include:

  • Creating and managing knowledge -Technical communicators must be more than “packagers of information for the technically uninitiated.” Instead, they must be masters of the technical domains they write about.
  • Designing information that readers need – Technical communicators must “provide information that users need by carefully selecting the right mix of content and then developing, arranging and presenting it effectively for the audience.” A technical communicator’s primary goal is to make the user successful.
  • Communicating fluently in various media – Technical communicators must be fluent not only in writing, but in any other media they work in, such as video, animation, photography, or illustration.
  • Being part of a learning community – Communities such as the Society for Technical Communication (STC) enable technical communicators to acquire and maintain essential skills and knowledge in their profession.


Rainey, K.T., R.K. Turner, D. Dayton. Aug. 2005. Do curricula correspond to managerial expectations? Core competencies for technical communicators. Technical Communication 52 (3), 323-352.

Hayhoe, G. Nov. 2002. Core competencies: The essence of technical communication. Technical Communication 49 (4), 397-398.

Hayhoe, G. 2000. What Do Technical Communicators need to Know? Technical Communication 47 (2), 151-153.