Technical innovation: what impact on quality in technical writing?

Deepa HANS, Cécile LEANG, Anne RIVIÈRE
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

Nowadays, innovation is considered as a race for companies. Companies need to win this race in order to stay ahead of the game. In this frantic pursuit of innovation, it is important to keep in mind that innovation for innovation’s sake is pointless. To bring value to companies, innovation must lead to quality improvement and cost reduction. Like any other profession, technical writers are compelled to innovate in order to stay relevant. The most obvious expression of innovation lies in the introduction of new tools in the documentation process.
This article explores the impact of technical innovation on the documentation process and product. To be valuable, technical innovation needs to enhance the quality of the process or the product. This article aims at answering the following question: to what extent does technical innovation impact the quality of the documentation process and product? To a lesser extent, we also analyze the role of innovation-driven companies in fostering innovation for technical writers.
In addition to reading articles on innovation, quality and the relationship between the two, we also carried out a survey aimed at technical writers. From the results, we found out that while technical innovation improves both the documentation process and product, the most significant impact may actually come from rethinking information flows and team organization.

Read the full article (PDF): Technical innovation: what impact on quality in technical writing?

CDMM Research: A seminar with Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald

Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald are leading professors and experts, with multiple-decade experience in the fields of technical communication and information. In 2016, they joined forces to create a consortium, aiming to promote “information 4.0”, a reading grid to the accelerating evolution of information.

Students of CDMM Master 2 have been familiarized with Ray and Andy’s presentations at Paris’ 2017 Documation Data Intelligence Forum, and they met again on May 31st, to discuss information 4.0 and elaborate around it, in the context of their technical communication, information architecture and content management program.

CDMM: What is information 4.0?

Ray Gallon and Andy McDonald: Our research revolves around the general theoretical question of the role of information in the context of technological progress.

On a practical level, information 4.0 aims at ensuring we take this evolution into account.

In other words, it provides help to anticipate the evolution of the technical communication industry, and it outlines reasons why this industry needs to evolve.

For example, software developers think around functions or groups of functions, while users are concerned only with the tasks they have to carry out. The role of technical communicators can therefore be broadly described as translating an approach by function into a logic of tasks: it is obviously much wider than designing user manuals.

Information 4.0 also takes into account and capitalizes on the rapid growth of chatbots, augmented reality (AR) devices and applications, the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Is AI truly intelligent?

As of today, even the most powerful AI, such as the ones that beat chess or go masters, only simulate intelligence: they do not begin to approach consciousness, which is a prerequisite to “human-style” intelligence.

Current AI can accumulate data and use it in the most relevant way, in relation to a particular task or series of tasks, however complex, but they cannot learn: they are not able to perform a task they have not been designed to perform, nor to take initiative outside of their functional envelopes.

However, AI is already very useful, notably to carry out repetitive actions, better than humans – for a cost that is quickly soaring.

What are the risks of AI?

The main risk of AI is for humans to give up control over tedious and recurring tasks, without a possibility to go back – just because we might soon forget how to perform them. In general terms, AI obviously raises numerous governance, interoperability, and ethical issues. To maintain control over AI, its very concept and the questions it poses must be well understood, and the aim of each AI solution has to be precisely defined. For example, don’t pretend you are trying to build an intelligent city if what you are actually working on is a bandwidth wide enough to accommodate three interoperating networks…

How do you see technical writing evolving?

It is evolving quickly and deeply, around the issues we have already been talking about, which will become ever more present.

The emergence of the agile method of code maintenance is a good example of ongoing changes: pseudo-real time adaptation is an actual goal for many companies. Information is becoming obsolete much faster already, which emphasizes the need for contextualization and interactivity, notably with regards to the development of IoT and machine-to-machine communication.

In the span of five to ten years, from writing instructions, procedures or manuals, the role of the technical writer will continue to evolve towards information retrieval, sorting, filtering and distribution, in relevance to the needs of the target audience. As very important vectors of information, you need to embrace this evolution to prepare for it.

You have been stressing the need for information contextualization. Can you elaborate on this?

Context is key, indeed. Information is only valid in a certain context, and contexts change in an increasingly fast manner. Hence, in some companies, personas are designed, only to be used for a single hour. Other contexts are already tracked and even materialized by RFID beacons, which directly link information to its potential user; the aim is to offer information, rather than deliver it.

Imagine you are in Cairo. Your need for information will change considerably, depending on the fact you are a tourist, a local, or an Egyptologist. Ideally, offered contextualized information addresses your specific needs – which raise the issue of context granularity, a whole other challenge in itself.

In that respect, adopting the molecular information approach we are advocating with our information 4.0 logic can be helpful.

What is molecular information?

We believe breaking down information into molecules facilitates information reuse.

Molecules of information are autonomous, self-sufficient, fundamental blocks of content. In that logic, the sense and nature of a document depends on the way its information molecules are assembled.

However, just like in the field of chemistry, in that of information, mixing molecules can carry surprising outcomes. It can even be dangerous. That is why information molecules need to be precisely organized, defined, and tagged to ensure their sensible use and to avoid meaningless or erroneous documentation.

Bearing this paramount rule in mind, information molecules can prove a powerful tool in tackling the issues of contextualization and context granularity. Molecules can indeed be used in a great variety of contexts, providing they are governed by a clear and precise editorial policy.

As a summary, what is your vision of the current work of a corporate information specialist?

In a context where, as we saw, the value of information becomes increasingly doubtful, an information specialist’s main task is definitely to maintain and increase the value of the company’s information base.

Information is, indeed, one of the most precious intangible assets of any company. It needs to be retrievable, organized and up to date.

Information specialists therefore have to force their way into scrum and marketing meetings, for example: wherever they are located in the organization chart, they literally stand at the center of any firm that values its history, its products and services, and its customers.

Finally, information specialists need to adapt to the idea of a world where, in the foreseeable future, software will be able to read users’ facial expressions, and to respond to them.

Digitalization in professional learning and education

Jennifer Frederic, Blandine Paulet, Manon Di Vozzo, Austeja Varvuolyte

Paris Diderot University, July 2016

Abstract

Nowadays, new technologies play a fundamental role in industrialized  societies and have become essential in everyday life. They also have a growing impact  on education and training, insofar as they have revolutionized the way people learn. However, some areas of knowledge seem to be incompatible with this new learning path. Therefore, we asked ourselves if every area of knowledge is suited for digital broadcast, and whether or not traditional education can be replaced with digital teaching methods. This article questions the influence of technology on education and comments on how electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers can help the learning process. Our findings confirm that new technologies have an increasing impact on education and training strategies both in the professional and educational field: e-learning represents a significant share of training solutions in large companies, and digital trainings help increase productivity as they are more accessible and contribute to saving time.

However, the efficiency of IT is limited in practical fields in which virtual training is impossible, as they require manual practice or application in everyday life.

Read the full article (PDF): Digitalization in professional learning and education

Innovation and training: Targeting, designing and broadcasting

Alizée Caudron, Auriane Desbois, Samantha Neller, Julia Ory

July 2015

Abstract

This article deals with how innovation has revolutionized current teaching methods, especially from the point of view of the people creating educational content. There are three main steps to creating good training materials: targeting, designing and broadcasting. The first step, targeting, consists in analyzing the training project before its conception, by targeting the audience and preparing the content, in order to set up the best learning strategy. The second step is designing. Today’s technology gives instructional designers an array of different ways to create and present learning content. In addition to the attractiveness and the physical aspect of training materials which is now crucial, technologies such as 3D, games or Big Data also influence training designers’ work as well as learners’ opinions on learning. The final step is broadcasting. This part of the training material producing process is probably the most innovative of all. Indeed, nowadays new broadcasting methods keep appearing every single day. From Learning Management Sytems to the “Bring Your Own Device”, connected learners have a multitude of ways to access the educational material at their disposal.

Read the full article (PDF): Innovation and training: Targeting, designing and broadcasting