Reflections on the TCUK15 conference

I was one of the presenters at last week’s Technical Communication UK 2015 (TCUK) conference. TCUK is the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators’ (ISTC’s) annual conference for everyone involved in writing, editing, illustrating, delivering and publishing technical information. It’s an opportunity for Technical Communicators from the UK and mainland Europe to meet up and mingle, learn and present.

auditorium at tcuk 15 conference

Here are my reflections on the event.

Good things happen when half the keynote speakers are female

The conference organisers make it a policy to ensure half of the four keynote speakers are female, and both Andrea Ames and Chris Atherton were excellent. I’ve been to many conferences where the keynote speakers were exclusively male, and it’s important to remember many female presenters make ideal keynote speakers.

Using Lean methodologies in technical communication – a growing trend?

Beware what you say at a conference, as it could appear on a presenter’s slide a few years later! This year’s conference saw two case studies on the application of Lean methods to documentation projects. It appears I was the first to suggest using Lean methodologies in technical communication back in 2012. Leap forward to TCUK 2015, and imagine my surprise when I saw my words quoted in one of those slide decks.

Technical Communicators can learn from Content Strategists

Both Technical Communicators and Content Strategists branch across different departments in their roles, but perhaps Technical Communicators struggle more because it’s a profession that attracts introverts.

Here are some quotes I noted from conference about content strategy:

“Content Strategists are the product managers of content.” (Andrea Ames)

“Show, don’t tell.” (Chris Atherton)

“Be a consultant: be objective; do your research; then take a step back; enable your manager to make a decision.”  (Andrea Ames)

“Remind people of  the cost of the status quo. Take small steps. Declare victory at the project’s end. Use those victories to justify the next step in your plan.” Rachel Johnston

Q. What can Content strategists teach Technical Communicators?

A. “If you mean UI experts, brevity.” (Chris Atherton)

A. “Understanding the user; what they need, and who they are.” (Andrea Ames)

A. “The value of content.” (Andrea Ames)

A. “To use other people’s language.” (Neil Perlin)

Is there such a thing as a technical communications content maturity model?

Rachel Johnston shared an interesting diagram showing her thoughts of what a content maturity model would look like.

content maturity model diagram

A technical communications content maturity model might contain elements of a customer experience maturity model (Attract; Convert; Advocate) and elements of a capability maturity model (Ad hoc; Rudimentary; Organised and Repeatable; Managed and Sustainable; Optimised). This is something we’re likely to discuss in future blog post.

Lack of inertia seems to have different causes in the USA and Europe

Two American speakers, Andrea Ames and Neil Perlin, mentioned how some Technical Writers in the USA are reluctant to change the way they work or the tools they use. One mentioned a sense of entitlement within some writers, and another mentioned the need to remind them of the importance of change if they wanted to keep their job. From my experience, in Europe, the resistance to change comes from outside of the Technical Publications department. Technical Communicators want to implement new methods and tools, but they struggle sometimes to convince their bosses.

Embedded Help

I presented on Embedded Help. There were a lot of attendees, and I discovered quite a lot of people were already creating embedded Help. However, most were creating text that was then cut and pasted by the developers. In the presentation, we looked at alternatives to this approach.

Education and training courses for Technical Communicators

There were two discussions on the current state of education and training for Technical Communicators in the UK. While the lack of a university course in the UK means there’s little academic research into technical communication ongoing, there are still ways to learn and develop as a Technical Author. All members of the ISTC have a responsibility to maintain their professional competence through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This means they can effectively build their own curriculum by attending training courses, webinars, and conference sessions that are relevant to them. If they want a certificate of recognition, they can gain this by becoming a member of the ISTC. Junior Members, Members and Fellows are certified by the ISTC through a vetting process, with Members and Fellows entitled to use the initials MISTC or FISTC after their names.


If you were at the conference, do share your thoughts using the comments box below.


Larry Kunz

Thanks, Ellis. That’s a great summary for someone who wishes he’d been there.

You have an interesting take on the Inertia question. While I (an American) see some of the personal resistance that Andrea and Neil described, I also see a lot of the thing you describe: writers who want to change but who are constrained by their companies’ reluctance to do so.

Some U.S. writers brand themselves as experts in Such-and-Such Tool. Perhaps it’s a holdover from the old days when we worked at the same places for many years (even decades). But most of us are more apt to say “I know these tools, and that’s proof that I can adapt to other, similar tools as the need arises.”

I’d like to hear what others have to say.

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