Where are all the technical writers?

Editor’s Note: Introducing a new guest blogger to Cherryleaf’s blog: Dr. Tony Self of HyperWrite.

Where are all the technical writers?

Lionel Richie Hello posterI have often wondered why there are so few technical writers in the world.

In my country, Australia, the Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates there are over 2,000 technical writers within the total workforce of 11.65 million people. The Australian Government groups technical writers into a category called ”Journalists and Other Writers”. That category of writer has shown little growth over the last decade, and in 2011 represented just 21,400 people.

In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were about 50,000 American technical writers in 2010.

We are living in the information age, yet the numbers of technical writers in countries like Australia and the US are not skyrocketing. Why not? Continue reading

Advanced technical writing techniques training: Next classroom course (and potential online course)

Do let us know if you’d be interested in us scheduling another public course for our Trends in Technical Communication – Advanced technical writing techniques course. We need just a couple more people for us to schedule a course date for June. Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

Interested in an online version of the course?

For writers based outside of the UK, we’re also considering offering this course in a “live and online” format over the Web. Using Google+ Hangouts, the course would be spread over a number of days, rather than delivered as a full day’s worth of training. The price of the course would be the same. The first course would be limited to just 5 or 6 delegates. Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

About the course

In this course, you’ll find out how Technical Authors in leading companies are now applying techniques from other disciplines (such as psychology, copywriting, usability and elearning) into the information they create.

Using examples of Help pages from a number of applications (including from vendors such as Apple, Facebook, Google, HTC and Mozilla), you’ll learn how to spot where these techniques have been used, and you’ll have the opportunity to practise these in the workshop.

Do let us know if you’d be interested in attending this course.

New – Technical Writer induction course

Yesterday, we launched our online Technical Writer induction course.

This online course covers the technical documentation process and the skills you need in order to be a successful Technical Writer or Technical Author. Created by the authors of the popular “How to Write Instructions” book, this 14 module course explains the technical communicator’s role in today’s environment.

For more details, see our Technical author induction training course Web page or go to www.technicalwritercourse.com.

Need a Confluence or Mindtouch developer?

Cherryleaf has skills in developing and creating content for Confluence based systems, and we’re developing our skills in this area for Mindtouch Technical Communications Suite as well.

We’re available to work on your project. Contact us if you’d like to know more.

Is search dying? Your manual within 140 characters?

Internet Psychologist Graham Jones wrote an article last week, in which he stated, search is dying, and is being replaced by sharing information socially.

“So worried is Microsoft about Google that they haven’t realised that Google is not their real competition any more. It is the likes of Twitter and Ecademy…Google already knows this. Much of their labs work and their adaptations of what they already offer are geared to sharing information socially. They realise that search as we know it is dying. Microsoft is so focused on fighting Google, they haven’t realised they are on the wrong battlefield.”

Let’s assume Graham is correct. Where does this leave online user assistance?

Since Online Help was introduced, technical communicators have provided hypertext links, key word search and an index to help users find information.

Today, there is greater emphasis on key word search (finding stuff via Google), and we’ve seen a few authors add tag clouds too.

So how could online user assistance (“Help”) be shared socially? Is it likely that someone will respond to each question by tweeting a link to a particular page in a Help file?

That’s incredibly labour-intensive. For Support teams to answer queries via Twitter might be less time-intensive than responding to emails, but it may be difficult to provide an answer within 140 characters. Most likely, they could provide to links to places where the question is answered.

We’ve talked about the emergence of “landing pages” in Web based Help (so have Michael Hughes and Matthew Ellison),  and that may be a less intensive way to guide people to the information they need. By this I mean, point people towards say 6 landing pages, from which they can be guided quickly to the information they need.

It may also be difficult for users to pose their questions within the limitations of Twitter.

A more likely scenario, I believe, would be to create Twitter avatars. The fictional characters from “Mad Men” post regular tweets about their imaginary lives. If Don Draper and Peggy Olsen can tweet, then why not create a personas for your customers and let them do the same? Billy the Beginner and Patty the Power user, for example? Their posts could guide customers through the key tasks via a series of daily Twitter posts. 

Of course, this is more than about how to best use Twitter. It’s about social networks, the ideas from the Cluetrain Manifesto and Web 2.0 ideas of syndicating content, collaborating with your user base and aggregating content.

Graham Jones concluded by saying ”just concentrate on providing and sharing good material”.  Technical Authors can help the organisation provide good material. What we may all have to work out is how we can share this material in more effective ways.

So who wants a job as a technical author?

We’ve had a number of new vacancies for technical authors come in within the last few days – in the UK and mainland Europe. You can see them on our Technical Author Vacancies page.

Technical authors, documents and getting lost

Via Twitter, someone responded to one of my messages with the statement, “maybe, if you need a manual, it’s a poor product”. I don’t think that’s the case, and my reply on Twitter was:

“A map is to a city, what a manual is to an application.”

Let me explain.

Imagine you need to visit a city. You can find your way around using the signposts, if you wish, or by “using your nose” to wander around. However, you may never discover the best way to get from A to B. You might also miss some really important points of interests. A map can help. A map can show you how to get to where you want to go in the most direct way. It can help you find places that are not easy to find. This is also how a manual works.

If you see a building, you might want to know if it’s worth visiting. In this case, a travel guide can help you make that decision. It can help you plan and prepare your journey. Again, a manual often serves a similar function. 

You can improve the signposting and make the navigation more intuitive. Many cities are laid out on a grid pattern, for this purpose. However, that doesn’t mean a map no longer serves a purpose. Similarly, you can improve the usability of an application, and still have a manual that adds value to the user.