Information Processing and Technical Writing: The Importance of Optimizing Users’ Working Memory

Mélanie PIERRE, Amélie CARON, Coline MAGNIER, Margaux ZANINI

Paris Diderot University, July 15, 2021

Abstract

The simpler the better, you have probably heard this sentence many times. It is  particularly true in technical writing. It has been proven that having more than seven chunks  of information or using useless information in a technical document can affect users working memory as well as an unstructured document. However, there is little research on the nature of the link between working memory and technical writing.
Our article examines the correlation between cognitive psychology and technical writing and more especially the importance of optimizing the user’s working memory when writing technical documents. To understand the impact of an altered procedure on the realization of a task, we conducted an experiment which consisted of a comparison between two drawing procedures: one which aimed at optimizing working memory and the other which aimed at altering it. Participants shared their drawings and told us the difficulties they faced for eachof the procedures.

Our research and the analysis of the conducted experiment allowed us to draw the conclusion that technical writers should always consider their user’s working memory to ensure that the instructions are easy to follow for every age and capacity range. The structure and content of documentations can help users to group information together and thus help improve their working memory while reading instructions.

Read the full article in PDF: Information processing and technical writing

The adaptation of e-learning to the learner’s preferences: What are the benefits and the limitations of personalized e-learning environments?

Inès Lavandier, Julie Jacquelin and Héloïse Huet

July 2021

Abstract

This study explores the personalization of e-learning environments. The main
question we would like to answer in this research article is: What are the benefits and the limitations of personalized e-learning environments? This question encompasses both ends of the spectrum. The results of our research suggest that personalized e-learning environments should provide a better learning experience because it encapsulates the learner’s preferred methods of learning. While traditional e-learning focuses on mass-learning, standard methods with few variations and interactions, the personalization of e-learning should facilitate knowledge retention and be more user-centric.

Read the full article in PDF: The adaptation of e-learning to the learners preferences

Action in E-learning

Clothilde BASCOU, Tingting JIANG, Sofia MOISEYEV, Adeline RITO

Paris Diderot University, July 14th, 2021

Abstract

To have a qualified workforce, companies invest in new digital strategies to develop their employees’ skills. The effectiveness of the training content is at the heart of their concerns. Contractors sell them interactive training content with the argument that it is indeed effective for knowledge retention and skills development. But companies need to know the validity of that argument to invest in the right direction.
This research evaluates the impact of action in e-learning processes on the effectiveness of online training. The data was collected through the completion of two e-learning modules (action-oriented and actionless), and surveys. Kirkpatrick’s training evaluation model was used to measure the results.
The study results suggest that the effectiveness of e-learning can be improved through the use of neurosciences, personification of training, application of e-doing, eye tracking and social learning.

Read the full article in PDF: Action in E-learning

 

 

 

What have they become? Career evolutions after graduating in technical communication at Université de Paris

As part of the theme for the 9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Evolutions of the Discipline, we have ctarried out a short study to find out what technical communication graduates had become. Here are the insights we gathered from this study.

The study

A survey was sent to alumni of Master and License Pro alumni at Université de Paris. We received:

  • 15 responses from License alumni
  • 60 responses from Master alumni

We received more responses from alumni who had recently graduated:

  • 38 graduated between 2020 and 2015 (within 5 years)
  • 23 graduated between 2014 and 2007 (within 10 years)
  • 14 graduated in or before 2006 (within 15 years)

The survey ran throughout January 2021 and was communicated to Université de Paris alumni through the alumni association ATCDIL, and through LinkedIn groups.

What have they become?

We have grouped job titles into 6 categories:

  • Data: Business analyst
  • Direction: Manager, Director, Product manager, Product owner, VP, CEO
  • Design: Technical architect, Learning Experience designer, Curriculum architect, Content designer, UX writer, Instructional designer
  • Development: Copywriter, Scientific writer, Technical writer, Translator, Proposal writer
  • Delivery: Content manager, Documentation engineer, Project manager
  • Dialogue: Consultant, Knowledge manager, Support engineer

The categories apply across business functions, such as documentation, training and digital learning, change management, operations, technical support, or marketing.

The following chart shows the percentage of respondants for each job title within 5, 10, and 15 years or more after graduation.

Only 2 respondants took a job outside of the technical communication field after graduation, and were not included in this chart.

Evolution of tech comm job titles

We can see that within 10 years, jobs become more diverse, and then consolidate into leadership roles within 15 years and more. A quarter of alumi still hold Development roles after 15 years.

Initial skills applied in current position

We asked participants to list the skills that they had acquired during their training at Université de Paris, which they were still applying in their current position.

Within 5 years, top initial skills are:

  • Writing
  • Website development
  • Information architecture

Within 10 years:

  • Writing is by far the top skill that prevails above all others.

Within 15 years:

  • Writing
  • Website development

Initial skills

Skills acquired since initial position

We asked survey participants to list any additional training they followed after landing their first job.

Added skills

It seems like people currently in Direction roles are the ones who have acquired most skills since their initial training, followed by people in Development roles.

New skills to acquire in current position

We asked survey participants to list any new skills they thought they needed to acquire in their current position.

Within 5 years:

  • Programming languages
  • Video production
  • Domain knowledge

Within 10 years:

  • Domain knowledge
  • Project management
  • Business management, customer relations
  • UX Design

Within 15 years:

  • Content management (XML, CMS, LMS)
  • Management
  • Change management

New skills

Evolutions of the discipline

We asked survey participants to share their thoughts about the future of technical communication as a discipline. They listed the following points:

More varied media formats, more tools

Only evolution possible is to move to a management position

Responsibilities become more varied (jack-of-all trades)

APIs and docs as code, Git

Data analysis, to elaborate a strategy based on facts

Agile methodologies (Scrum) and Design Thinking

Evolution towards roles in quality testing, editing, or project management

More user centricity : UX design and content strategy

AI-generated text involves a move towards domains where human interaction remains crucial (education, health, Human Resources, crafts…)

Better recognition of the profession, improvements in tools for user research and information architecture

Process automation coupled with content management

More online training

 

 

9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Thank you!

It’s a wrap! This year’s International Conference on Technical Communication was a special one, as it was the first time we were holding it online. From this constraint came a fantastic opportunity, with an amazing panel of speakers, great interaction between attendees worldwide, and insightful discussions about evolutions of the discipline.

A lot of fun was had by all at the event, and to keep the momentum going here are the much awaited conference takeways:

Developing a network for professional development when STC or other organizations aren’t available

It’s important to have conversations with tech comm practitioners in different contexts/spaces. We can learn so much from each other that way

Listening to what’s happening in Europe in terms of research and industry was great!

Updating a layer instead of adding a layer = minimalism well defined

Rething what you’re going to create and design it in a smart way.

Alexandre’s notion of recycling.

It is great to bring together our research findings

I liked the concept of information literacy. We may not think of it whenever we’re crafting content.

How will technical communication careers evolve?

During a networking session at the 9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Evolutions of the Discipline, we asked attendees to discuss how technical communication careers will evolve. This is what they said.

Dissolution: a core competency for many different careers

Product Manager, Consulting (e.g. tooling), support positions, UX positions, Education, Management and Leadership

More e-learning

Technical writing becomes a core competency

Tech Writing is design and the positions are absorbed by design groups

The careers may become even more multifaceted, involving UX, customer-support.

Or technical communication may become an extra skill for engineers, in a cost-cutting, systemic crisis context.

Testing (product, data…?)

Consolidation: acknowlegement as a competitive advantage

More direct-to-consumer communication (back and forth commenting/updating)

Better acknowledgment of the profession among other teams

It will be more about the way we interact with the user, the techniques we’re using to help the end-users assimilate content just-in-times support.

Tech wirting is a competitive advantage

More collaboration with other disciplines like marketing and development

More collaboration and integration

Technical writing will become more present in all companies, mostly because data is increasingly easy to handle and also because people are specializing a lot, so I don’t think an engineer could craft a better job than a technical writer (but that’s just my point of view).

Apocalypse: the bots take over

Writing for bots

Worst case scenario : a software is designed to enable technical data extraction. Engineers and technicians are trained to use it. Technical communicators disappear per se, superseded by low-cost technical communication made by outsiders: it follows the same fate as translation.

Technical communication apocalypse

We still need to train the robots

We’ll be writing the human conversations and figuring out tools that we’ll need to write for machine learning applications and automation

Extension: fact-checking for a society in need of information literacy

Pam and Alexandre brought up something really interesting on how TW could help providing information to people who are less at ease with traditional media

Checking the validity of data as a profession

Specialization: domain-specific branches

Supervising of Distributed contributors around the world (increase)

Continuing need for domain-specific writing skills – for developers, for healthcare etc

What brings technical communicators together?

During a networking session at the 9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Evolutions of the Discipline, we asked attendees to discuss what brings technical communicators together. This is what they said.

Community

The struggle ! 😉

Joining professional organizations such as the STC.

Team cohesiveness

Newsletters, meetings

A shared sense of community as we are a reduced group of professionals

Culture of humanities

Background

Many of us come from different backgrounds such as language, art, archeology. Surprisingly few have engineering or technical backgrounds.

Love for languages

Interest in words

Common desire for understanding and sharing

Knowing how to structure ideas

Love for knowledge, desire to share knowledge/access info

Love of communication

Love for knowledge

Tech writers share the same goal, to bring the information in a way that is accesible to certain audiences.

Technical writers are some sort of teachers as we have to convey info

“All of us share the same goal: to simplify the complex matters – adapt to the audience – being accessible/understandable”

Empathy, caring for others

User-centric approach

Empathy

Tools and techniques

Using different kinds of technology to communicate with our end-users,

Curiosity and continuous learning

Update and progress made in technical communication

Great to share ideas and compare the ways of working with non-writers (in my case, software developers & engineers).

Professional Weaknesses and Strengths sharing

To discuss new and emerging trends

Meta reflections, continuous improvement, interest for processes and optimization

Mediation

Technical communicators stand at the intersection between an object/a product/content and the users. They’re some sort of “unifying mediators”/translators between various worlds/moderators or translators of different cultures, popularizing bribes of info, making them accessible to different audiences by adapting your writing.

Bringing people together: helping collaboration, understanding, and knowledge sharing

Being generalists in a specialized world

We also feel the need to see a broader perspective of communication of information

 

 

Program and tickets are now available for the 9th International Conference on Technical Communication

You are invited by Patricia Minacori, Marie Girard, Clillac-Arp Research Laboratory and the EILA Department of Université de Paris on

Friday 29 January 2021, from 10.00 – 17.00 Paris Time (UTC+1)

Evolutions of the Discipline

During this videoconference (Zoom), in English only, we will explore the job market, training curricula and evolutions of the trade. Check out the programme: 9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Evolutions of the Discipline

The conference is free – register on Event Brite.

 



Why do technical writers have to justify their existence?

Louise AGERON, Tanguy CACHIN, Marina FERREOL

Paris Diderot, July 15th, 2019

Abstract

With the way new technologies are evolving nowadays, technical writers appear to play an important role. Their mission is to help users understand and use a new product or software. They create content that is easy to understand to all and adapt their discourses depending on whom they are addressing their message. We noticed that technical writers, however, still struggled to justify and explain their existence. We wondered whether the profession was widely known, and realized that it was not. We then retracted a brief overview of the profession and realized that being a technical writer had many definitions to it, and the job associated with the terms were broad and different, which reinforces the identity and existence crisis. We also wondered how technical writers were seen by their colleagues, and we found out that they were not seen as a priority by many, probably because of the influence of the old workflow system where technical writers were placed last.

Read the full article in PDF: Why do technical writers have to justify their existence?

What makes or breaks a user-centric approach from a UX and technical writing perspective?

Perrine Palfray, Isabelle De Abreu Teixeira

Université de Paris, July 2020

Abstract

The term ‘user-centric approach’ steadily gained momentum over the last two decades, to become a popular professional standard in the digitized industries.

The simplest way to define user-centric is in contrast with a product-centric approach: the focus of the technical content is shifted from the product and what it can do, to the user and what they want to do.

The end goal is to make technical content more digestible for users, making them feel that the content is tailored to their individual needs.

Upon closer investigation, it becomes clear that user-centric technical content and the definition given to this approach to content creation varies greatly due to several environmental and individual factors.

What seems to have become an industry standard, is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of practices that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint with precision and accuracy.

What does this approach actually mean to professionals? What are the facilitating and the challenging factors that come with this new way of thinking technical content creation?

Read the full article in PDF: What makes or breaks a user-centric approach from a UX and technical writing perspective?

Are technical communicators the secret asset of a healthy enterprise culture?

Alexandra ATES, Eléonore CASSAGNE, Richard DEBRABANT

Université de Paris, 2019-2020

Abstract

You spend one third of your life at work. You see your colleagues much more often than you see your friends or family, which is one of the reasons why it is important to be part of a team where you feel happy and motivated enough to carry out projects throughout your professional career. Several elements lead you to nurture —intentionally or unintentionally— these relationships within your own firm either in a positive or negative way, and greatly affect your productivity.

Technical writers are employees who communicate with customers or people in their firm. They collect as much information as possible to document projects and be aware of the modifications to be made in case of plan changes. Thus, with experience, they have learned how to behave so that professional conversations go smoothly, contacts last for a long time and they make progress in their work.

This position might suggest that they have a fairly important role in their company’s activity in addition to their daily tasks… But to what extent?

Read the full article in PDF: Are technical communicators the secret asset of a healthy enterprise culture?

What are the Stakes and Difficulties of Working with Experts?

Olympe Lebon, Althéa Geneix, Johan Lefebvre

Paris Diderot University, September 15th 2020

Abstract

A technical writer has a key role within a company. He works with people with various functions. He’s asking developers for advice and feedback to build the user guide of their product. He’s connected and dealing with every part of the team: developers, testers, managers, product experts, etc. to produce documentation that is as clear as possible for the user, and depending on the product, the user’s life can depend on his work. Most of the time, this interaction is a very rich and fulfilling experience.
But how to find the right place between the different services of a company? Communicating with developers is not always easy: they often don’t have time to spend with a technical writer. Receiving feedback from testers can be troublesome, sometimes you don’t get information unless asking clearly for it. Many uninformed people think that being a technical writer is just writing sentences and that anyone can do it. It happens sometimes that even people in their own team don’t recognize the work and the importance of the technical writer. This article explores the difficulties a technical writer can encounter when working with experts.

Read the full article in PDF: What are the Stakes and Difficulties of Working with Experts?

The influences of content structuration

ALVES MENDES Ines, BAEK Chooeun, CHALLET Leslie

Paris Diderot University, July 15, 2020

Abstract

Structuring content is the cornerstone of great documentation. Structuration ensures not only coherence across content, but also better user experience. How does structuration occur? We conducted a survey searching for internal and external factors influencing structuration. The investigation revealed that internal factors including tools, languages, standards, and guidelines are the basis of well-structured documentation. External factors, such as user- feedback, and a UX team within the company, also prove to be equally important. Structuration also improves with updates from the right people and for the right reasons. In this research article, we discuss content structuration, restructuration, and how it is heavily influenced by various factors independent from content.

Read the full article in PDF: The influences of content structuration

Why and how should the interaction between users and technical writers be improved in online documentation?

Roxanne BOPOUNGO – Deborah CHAPLICE – Bouchra DRIF

Paris Diderot University, 2019/2020

Abstract

We have been living in a digital era for more than three decades. As a result, digital documentation prevails over paper formats. Technical writers have therefore adapted to the market reality, where people use several types of screen: computers, smartphones, tablets… Each screen has its own specificity, hence the importance to adjust digital documentation to provide better readability and a better understanding. Users need to understand documents instantaneously.

With the impactful rise of all types of social networks, the way we communicate and exchange information has evolved as well. Users want and need to quickly find what they are looking for. They tend to be less patient and focused and would not want to go through the whole documentation. The information within technical documentation must be of easy access, and most importantly, users must have access to it quickly.

Technical writers are therefore facing a challenge: they must adapt to the specificities of the digital world and create methods that allow users to communicate with them and/or to give them a useful feedback.

As of today, technical writing teams use methods inspired by blogs or social networks (FAQs, “like” buttons, comments etc.), in order to receive feedback from the readers. However, this approach is not always effective or relevant.

Read the full article in PDF: Why and how should the interaction between users and technical writers be improved in online documentation?

Creativity in Technical Communication: How to combine creativity with technical communication standards ?

Isis AGBLEVON, Anissa GNABA, Mathilde THIEFFINE

Paris Diderot University, July 2020

Abstract

Is technical communication a creative job? Technical communication remains a domain that is often unknown or misunderstood. People tend to think that technical communicators only write procedures and follow guidelines. As technical communicators, we wanted to combine our experience and vision of our work to discuss the vast subject of creativity.

This matter came to us after several discussions about our respective jobs, and tasks. We realized that even though we study the same principles of technical communication, the work we do in our companies can be very different from one another. All of us are confronted to norms and standards that we need to follow, but does it really mean that we cannot be creative?

Read the full article in PDF: Creativity in Technical Communication