We noticed last week a few tweets in our Twitter stream about how technical documentation and user assistance will be turning into a conversation.
Informal, verbal, interactive, spontaneous communication is quite different from pretty much all forms of User Assistance you’ll see today, so what do technical communicators mean by “conversation”?
Technical communication has traditionally been a monologue – describing instructions that staff or users must follow. It has been a one-to-many form of communication, with little or no opportunity for the readers to ask questions, comment or challenge the information.
With users becoming more expert, and products becoming easier to use, some in the technical communications community have been asking whether this formal communication approach is still the best way to communicate.
Today, you can see online Help and user guides that use an informal tone of voice, and enable users to add comments at the bottom of the page. Some organisations are developing more contextually-aware content that reflects who the person is, what they have done in the past, and have provided a more personalised experience. They are breaking down the invisible wall between the writer and the audience. However, none of that is a conversation, in the true sense of the word. There’s more commentary and the content is more conversational in tone, but it’s not a conversation.
If we go back to Anne Gentle’s book “Conversation and Community. The Social Web for Documentation“, she states:
The technical communication world is on the brink of a major cultural shift from one-sided “documentation” towards user-generated content, collaborative communication, and the power of communities.
Anne predicted the 1:1 dialogues would occur in the communities, such as user forums. So technical communicators need to be careful with the words they use. The conversations, the spontaneous dialogues, are happening elsewhere. Technical communication is becoming more conversational, and it is becoming more closely integrated with forums and social media (as we break down the information silos), but it’s not becoming a conversation itself.
What to do think? Please share your thoughts below.