Reflections on Technical Communications UK 2013 conference

Maxwell Hoffmann at TCUK 2013

Gloria Swanson and Maxwell Hoffmann at TCUK 2013. Maxwell is the one on the right.

I got back from the Technical Communications UK 2013 conference (TCUK) late last night. It was a very enjoyable and well run conference (again), where I often wished I could attend all three of the parallel sessions running each hour.

Here is a slightly disorganised reflection on the conference.

More strategic thinking

I think I heard more about aligning technical documentation with business goals than I have at any previous TCUK conference. Sarah O’Keefe covered it in her keynote presentation Fame, glory, and … tech comm??; Noz Urbina covered it in his presentation “Business Goals – Enabling, Product data & Tech Content – Persuasive, Sales & Marketing Content”; so did Stefan Gentz when he spoke about Leading the change.

Content strategy also got more mentions before, but within the context of using technical and user content to meet business goals.

In the “two minute rant” fringe meeting, I followed a similar line, with a story:

Once upon a time, there was a Technical Author called Rapunzel. Stuck in a tower, she was waiting for her prince to come to rescue her from a life of hard work and limited funds. Intranets came along, and she thought she’d be rescued and be made responsible for that, but an ugly sister (another department) said “I can do it” and was given the task.

Wikis came along, and she thought she’d be made responsible for that, but a second ugly sister said “I can do it” and was given the task. Now, Content Strategy has come along, and she thinks she’ll be made responsible for this, but it looks like another ugly sister is speaking up and being given the task.

That’s because the ugly sister is talking to the C-level people in the organisation about how content can help the business meet its goals, and she is measuring the value of content. If Rapunzel wants to break out of the tower, she needs to speak up rather than wait for someone to rescue her. Otherwise, she’ll be working for an ugly sister, who will hold the keys to all the content in the organisation.

Measurement, schmeasurement

I missed Charles Arthur’s closing keynote presentation, but the overview included the statement “no-one reads the manual”. I don’t know if he was talking anecdotally or quoting some research. Often, the only things measured in technical communications are productivity and cost. There were quite a few mentions of how people had reduced the cost of localisation, but none on increasing the number of problems fixed, improving comprehension or increasing the number of people reading the content. The profession needs to do more to quantify the value of its work.

Emerging trends

There were signs of new trends emerging. Themes we might see discussed in more detail at future TCUK events are: taxonomies – creating and managing them; creating Augmented Reality content; Subject schemes; and controlling and managing language styles.

Recession or Boom?

Talking to delegates, I got the sense that the worst of the recession was over, or coming to an end. There were a few people who were being made redundant, but it looks like the profession is starting to see the signs of a slow upturn.

What do you think?

Please share your thoughts below.

One Comment

Mark Allen

It was a really good conference – great content, and nicely managed, which is appropriate.
A few comments on your summary:
I think tech authors can work much more closely with service departments to analyse ‘real-life’ issues, and we can use web analytics to see which content is searched for and accessed.

Noz Urbina’s presentation “Rejigging your mindset for the future of content work” neatly linked the need for thoroughly researched taxonomies and creating smart content for augmented reality content (

Make time for long-term projects:
Paul Ballard’s session on leadership encouraged tech comms professionals to make time for longer term career development whilst still focusing on delivering value for your business.

If I magically find out what content our users need, rejig my mindset and find time to restructure our company’s content, that might make a good session in 10 years’ time.

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