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 Technical communicators disappear per se, superseded by low-cost technical communication made by outsiders: it follows the same fate as translation.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

 

 

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?

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 [PDF]

Master’s Students In Technical Communication, Université de Paris

10.40 – 11.10

Evolution of the profession [PDF]

Elisabeth Closs, Karlsruhe University,  Yvonne Cleary, Limerick University

  • For anyone who would like to join the university network, please email Yvonne Cleary (yvonne.cleary (at) ul.ie) who will add you to the mailing list.
11.10 – 11.40
DITA Molière: A community to support the growing adoption of DITA standard in France [PDF]

Dominique Trouche, WhP

Companies Using DITA

11.40 – 12.30

Networking breakout sessions: What brings technical communicators together?

12.30 – 13.30

Lunch break

13.30 – 14.00

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

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

14.00 – 14.30

Information architecture: which skills, roles, and careers? [PDF]

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. [PDF]

Alexandre Dias Da Silva, Consultant

15.00 – 15.30

Networking breakout sessions: How will technical communication careers evolve?

15.30 – 16.00

From tech comm to marketing: a tangled journey [PDF]

Michael Priestley, IBM

  • Beyond Silos : https://www.editions-hermann.fr/livre/9791037002754
16.00 – 16.30

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

Ellis Pratt, Cherryleaf

  • Sarah O’Keefe – Scriptorium. Scriptorium is a consummate content strategy company.
16.30 – 17.00

Community Engagement in Technical Communication Pedagogy [PDF]

Laura Gonzalez, University of Florida

Recordings will be available shortly.

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)

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):

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.

Gamification in e-learning: a game-changer?

Gaylord CHESNAY, Sutarni RIESENMEY, Matthieu ROCHE

Paris Diderot University, September 2016

Abstract

According to the Oxford dictionary, gamification “is the application of typical elements of game playing”, such as point scoring, competition with others or rules of play, to other areas of activity to encourage engagement. Gamification is a critical methodology in education and yet, many consider its implementation as a mere source of entertainment. Our modern society has been drastically influenced by the technological revolution that began in the late 1990’s. New forms of training have emerged, in the shape of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or e-learning courses hosted on Learning Management Systems (LMS).

This article explores the use of gamification in e-learning for professional training. It aims to shed some light on the underlying causes, the needs, and the reasons behind its implementation. It also analyses the motives that provoke skepticism on some people’s part and why some companies are therefore reluctant to invest in this type of training.

In addition to readings from experts, we interviewed specialists, and we conducted our own research comparing a gamified e-learning deliverable with its standard equivalent and analyzed their completion rates. We discovered that the learners who followed the standard course were not totally put off by the lack of game elements.

Read the full article (PDF): Gamification in e-learning: a game-changer?

Infographics: A toolbox for technical writers?

Armelle BURSI-AMBA, Aline EA, Romain GAULLIER, Manoela SANTIDRIAN

Paris Diderot University, 01/07/2016

Abstract

Over the last few years, visual elements have grown in importance and sophistication in technical writing. According to scientific literature, the inclusion of visual elements in technical documentation has resulted in a greater accessibility. Yet, technical writers tend to use visual elements not only to present numbers and help users to understand the meaning of those numbers, but also to explain a procedure, a concept, a reference, or another topic. The impact of this trend aroused our interest for infographics. Infographics is the abbreviation for information graphics. This visual representation of  information or data is used to convey information, and this information can be presented in a literal or more metaphorical way. As delivering a message in technical writing is not an easy task, implementing infographics in this context is particularly convenient. This article explores the compatibility between technical writing and infographics, and the limits of infographics implementation in technical writing. The difficulties of establishing a unique definition of infographics, and the differences between infographics and data visualization are also discussed in this article.

Read the full article (PDF): Infographics: A toolbox for technical writers?

Hardware or software products: What impact on technical documentation?

Agnès Carchereux, Marion Groix, Amandine Kempf, Harriet Logan, Camille Pépin

July 2015

Abstract

As apprentices in the software, hardware and embedded systems industries, we wondered whether the type of product had an impact on documentation. After collecting the existing literature on the subject, we sent a questionnaire to technical writers with hands-on experience in order to learn more about their methods and skills. Their answers on the subject underlined that having direct access to the product is essential, but that the methods and skills are different depending on the type of product documented. Indeed, for security reasons, hardware industry documents contain more legal requirements than software documents and have a different documentation structure. The type of deliverables and whether the product is published online or in hardcopy depend on how the product is used on site. Terminology and syntax, the illustration workload, and project management methods are also discussed in this article.

Read the full article (PDF): Hardware or software products: What impact on technical documentation?

SMEs and technical writers: a win-win relationship

Manon Chaix, Caroline Halap, Aurélie Jugie

July 2014

Abstract

This paper focuses on the relationship between subject matter experts and technical writers, in the context of two software companies and an optical systems manufacturer. More specifically, this paper intends to highlight the added value of an efficient collaboration for the technical writer, the SME, and beyond, for the companies they work for as well as for the end-user of the documentation. First, we will analyze the respective education, skills, competences and work goals of SMEs and technical writers. Secondly, we will show how technical writers and SMEs work together on a daily basis and can become partners to create high quality documentation by mutualizing SMEs’ technical knowledge and technical writers’ content design skills. Finally, we will identify the benefits of a win-win relationship between SMEs and technical writers for the end-user of the documentation.

Read the full article (PDF): SMEs and technical writers: a win-win relationship