What does the future hold for technical communication?

This autumn, Communicator will be celebrating 50 years. We’ve been asked to write an article for a special supplement for the Autumn issue on what the future holds for technical communication. We’ll be looking at what technical communication will be like in ten or twenty years into the future.

We’d like feedback on the draft article, to test our predictions and consider other ones that we might have missed out. If you’d like get involved, send us a message, and we’ll send you a link to the draft document.

The risks with Technical Author certification

As part of the attempt to make technical writing similar to other professions, there have been a number of moves by different technical communication societies to introduce certification. This can be a good thing, but there are some dangers with it as well.

Certification usually involves some training and a test. Students can be accredited or certified as having reached a certain standard. This might lead, at some point in the future, to organisations only hiring certified Technical Authors, in the same way they might only hire certified accountants.

So what are the dangers?

One danger with testing is that you tend to test what’s easy to measure, rather than test the talents someone needs to have. For example, multiple choice questions are easy to mark, but they tend to only test someone’s knowledge. They can test if someone knows “which X does Y”, but they are less good at checking if someone is able to explain “how X”. This can lead to an over-emphasis on teaching topics like the legal requirements for documentation, rather than testing whether someone can actually write clearly and simply.

A second danger is assuming there is only one right way to write a user guide. Technical communication is still a relatively recent area of study. We should still be open to ideas, to challenge accepted practice, if user testing shows that method or belief to be wrong. We don’t want to be the like the Paris Salon, which refused to show impressionist works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas and Whistler, because they didn’t meet their definition of good art.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

Although it’s more labour-intensive, we should ask students to make something, and then measure that against a set of user acceptance criteria: can they find the information they need?; do they understand it?; is it accurate?; is it complete?; is it cohesive? etc.

Topic-based writing: what is it, and why should I care?

In this episode of the Cherryleaf Podcast, we take a look at topic-based writing. We explore:

  • What is a topic?
  • Features of topics
  • Why use topics?
  • Why not use topics?
  • Where can you use them?
  • What happens if you don’t use it?
  • Tools for topic-based writing
  • What do you need to know
  • Interacting with others

To record your questions and comments to the podcast team, use the green button:

What is topic-based authoring?

In an upcoming episode of the Cherryleaf podcast, we’ll be tackling an issue that is important to many Technical Authors: topic-based authoring.

It’s something that can be tricky to explain, and there can be differences of opinions towards it. We’d like to represent the different viewpoints, particularly  towards two fundamental questions:

  • What is topic-based authoring?
  • Why should/shouldn’t you do topic-based writing?

You can share your thoughts by using the voicemail button below. We’ll include as many of these as we can in the episode:

Record your question to the Cherryleaf podcast team

Have a stubborn challenge you want our opinion on? The Cherryleaf Podcast is a podcast on creating clearer and simpler information, technical writing, technical communication, and related topics.

You can ask your question to the Cherryleaf Podcast team. We’ll see if we can feature it in a future episode of our podcast.

Click the record button below to leave us a voicemail recording.

What’s the deal about structured content?

This is a recording of a presentation from the February 2018 London Content Strategy Meetup.

“Content can often seem like jelly – messy and hard to manage. In this presentation, we’ll look at whether you can reduce this messiness through structured writing. In this overview of the topic, we’ll explore what is structured writing, what it promises to give its adopters, the different standards, and the challenges that come with using structured writing.”