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?

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?

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

9th International Conference on Technical Communication: Evolutions of the Discipline

Evolution of the technical communication discipline

From device documentation to digital training, from UX writing to video tutorials, technical communication is a discipline that covers varied activities. It seems like a single job title will never cover every facet of the profession.
During the next 9th International Conference on technical communication, we will explore the job market, training curricula and evolutions of the trade:

  • The place taken by technical communication within a organisation with the typically associated business: Product, support, marketing, HR…
  • The evolution of skills, methods and tools.
  • The challenge of technical communication training curricula to cover varied needs.
  • The possible career paths in technical communications.

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

Program

10.00 – 10.10

Introduction

Patricia Minacori and Marie Girard

10.10 – 10.40

Presentation of research projects

Master’s Students In Technical Communication, Université de Paris

10.40 – 11.10

Evolution of the profession

Elisabeth Closs, Karlsruhe University,  Yvonne Cleary, Limerick University

11.10 – 11.40

DITA Molière: A community to support the growing adoption of DITA standard in France

Dominique Trouche, WhP

11.40 – 12.30

Networking breakout sessions

12.30 – 13.30

Lunch break

13.30 – 14.00

Examining the value of technical communication graduate degrees in non-academic professions

Meghalee Das, Texas Tech University, Samantha Casertano, John McClellan, Texas State University

14.00 – 14.30

Information architecture: which skills, roles, and careers?

François Violette, JobTeaser

14.30 – 15.00

Designing our way out of information pollution: how technical communicators are leading the shift toward an ecology of information.

Alexandre Dias Da Silva, Consultant

15.00 – 15.30

Networking breakout sessions

15.30 – 16.00

From tech comm to marketing: a tangled journey

Michael Priesley, IBM

16.00 – 16.30

Future tech comm trends – Differing opinions, and why everyone could be right

Ellis Pratt, Cherryleaf

16.30 – 17.00

Community Engagement in Technical Communication Pedagogy

Laura Gonzalez, University of Florida

 

What are the challenges of implementing accessibility standards for technical writers?

Selly BAL – Adel Yann BENZENATI – Heritiana RATSIMBAZAFY

Paris Diderot University, 2018/2019

Abstract

Living with a disability in our society doesn’t necessarily mean needing constant care. However, it means having to adapt everyday: because the world we live in has not adapted to disabilities yet. This is a comment we can apply to technical communication, an activity in which the purpose is to make information accessible to an audience, but where accessibility guidelines are still rare to be found. We attempted with this paper to inquire about the current situation of accessibility to people with disabilities, focusing on visual and hearing impairment. We conducted a survey on technical communication professionals with different experiences and contacted various technical writers with the objective of presenting the norms that already exist in terms of accessibility and showing what’s still missing – with that, we tried to present an analysis of the reasons for the scarcity of norms in technical writing.

Read the full article

What are the challenges of implementing accessibility standards for technical writers? (PDF)

Knowledge management in business strategy

NOTH Rosalie, RENARD Marion, THIBEAUD Hugo

Paris Diderot University, 09/15/2019

Abstract

In recent years, knowledge has become a factor of production in the same way as traditional land, labor and capital. For some, it is even the main factor of production of today’s companies, which tend to create a knowledge management service or to outsource it. The purpose of this research is to understand the importance of Knowledge Management (KM) in companies nowadays, and how it can serve the business strategy. Thus, this article will explain the definition and evolution of KM, then depict the challenges associated with KM and business strategies, and finally explore the way a management system is implemented. Thanks to all these elements, we will be able to understand how the KM system becomes essential in business strategy, and when.

To stick close to reality, we conducted interviews in two companies: one that has implemented a KM system a few years ago, and another without, which allowed us to show two opposite ways of dealing with knowledge in companies, and therefore show the link between KM and business strategies.

Read the full article

Knowledge management in business strategy (PDF)

 

The impact of global language on technical writing

Typhaine BERTEZ, Céleste WICKER

Paris Diderot University, September 2019

Abstract

Technical writing is a profession which evolves and spreads very quickly. From its beginning to today, it has increasingly been recognized as a necessary profession, and as it continues to spread around the world, new questions about its evolution appear every day. One of these questions is related to the language used for technical communication. Now that globalization is at the heart of many companies, English is increasingly used as an international language, to the point that some companies publish technical documentation in English, even though they are not English or based in an English-speaking country. This evolution obviously has consequences for the writers and the companies, who either adapt or do not. When you start writing in a language that is not your mother tongue, you have to adapt your vocabulary and use a language that everybody can understand. Also, the way you write your documentation must change, as formatting rules differ from one country to another. These changes may not be that complicated if the writer is very familiar with the target language and if the company works mainly in an English-speaker market. But what if a French company, for example, which operates in France and in foreign countries writes all of its documentation in English? Would the budget for translation change? Would training for future writers change too? But, in the case of a national company that cannot adapt very quickly to a world that speaks and trades in English, how is it possible to evolve? And what are the consequences? Are there that many differences between an English-based company and a national company?

Read the full article

The impact of global language on technical writing (PDF)

How many words make a technical writer?

Alice BRODBECK – Boris DURUPT – Marie PINQUIER

M2 CDMM 2017/2018 – Université Paris 7 Paris Diderot

Abstract

Technical writing has undergone drastic changes from its early beginnings to the advent of the Internet, adapting to all the technological innovations that punctuated the century since its conception. One of the most important changes being that technical writers do not spend as much time writing as was formerly expected of their profession. Instead, companies ask them to broaden their working scope from writing to taking care of whole documentation systems. Technical writers have gradually become technical communicators, mastering various skills – including but not limited
to writing.
However, the job title has not evolved as quickly as the profession: there seems to be a discrepancy between label and reality, which could be the explanation to a lack of recognition for technical communicators in Europe.
In light of this observation, we conducted a survey on 40 French technical communication experts and analyzed the existing literature on the topic. Our objective: find out why “technical writer” has become a catch-all term of technical communication.
Our journey starts at the origins of technical writing, continues with an overview of the profession’s representation in Europe and provides an analysis of the gaps between technical writers and technical communicators.

Read the full article (PDF):

Raising awareness of the value of technical communication: Different contexts, but a common challenge

Lisa LOPES and Loïc GODEFROY
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

In spite of many attempts to enhance the value of technical communication, it remains hidden in the background. There is a wide gap between how people perceive technical communication and what it is exactly. Which tools or methods could be used to raise technical communication awareness, when technical communicators work in various professional contexts? We investigated how technical communication is perceived within a company. Then we set up a strategy to define tools that could be relevant to our work context, some of them being metrics or internal communication, for example. In the
end, these tools proved to be efficient but may not give the same results in other contexts.
If any case, the best lesson we take from this research is use what we know best: to
communicate. Just like cobblers do not make good shoes for themselves, technical communicators have a great skill they often misuse. In order to change the way we are perceived and break silos in whatever company we may be working for, it is up to us to reach out to others, using our experience. This paves the way for an emerging type of communication: Information 4.0.

Read the full article (PDF): Raising awareness of the value of technical communication

Technical communication: a two-sided coin?

Koussai HOUSSINE, Laetitia NALY, Axel PETIT
Paris Diderot University, July 2017

Abstract

Technical communicators like to perceive themselves as go-betweens who use language to bring tech objects closer to the general public. Still, is technical communication (abbr. TC throughout the article) really a two-sided coin that bridges the gap between the humanities and science, the “two cultures” in Charles Percy Snow’s terms?
The aim of this paper is twofold: testing the assumption that makes technical communicators middlemen between the two cultures, and to do so, defining the features of the language of TC by general linguistic standards. A sharp analysis of the language of technical communication provides many interesting clues to define its identity.
First, a short history of technical communication since World War II helps us understand how the language of technical communication changed with economic, social and political contexts. Second, we sketch a definition of human language in order to set an accurate theoretical frame and to define the features of the language of technical communication. Third, the discussion of a series of tests completes the qualitative analyses of the first two parts. It provides evidence to support the conclusion of this paper.

Read the full article: Technical communication: a two-sided coin?

Should companies combine marketing and technical content to adapt to the shift in UX expectations?

Saran Kante, Clémence Bolinga, Dina Radaoarisoa
July 2017

Abstract

Companies put customers’ needs at the center of their strategy to build a relation of trust and increase customer’s loyalty to their products. In their effort, companies become more and more prone to offer customers a linear experience from the moment they are attracted by the perspective of buying a product or service (marketing) up to after their buying act when they start using the product or service (technical communication). The quality of both marketing and technical content is crucial.
We wanted to have an insight of what experts of technical communication and marketing think of a possibility for these two services to collaborate. In order to get this information
we interviewed professionals from these two fields, we attended conferences and seminars on the subject of combining technical content with marketing content to unify customer experience.
Companies undertaking such a change should thoroughly study the transition process, the product and the profit.
One of the challenges a company would face is how to make two services that are used to working separately pool their skills to achieve a common goal which is to provide their users a high quality service. The credibility customers grant to a company depends on it.
Because the two services use their own terminology to achieve their respective goals, they would need to reach an agreement on the terms they are both going to use to produce their content.

Read the full article (PDF): Should companies combine marketing and technical content to adapt to the shift in UX expectations?

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.