Here the transcript of Podcast 76: Trends in Technical Communication for 2020 and beyond.
This is the Cherryleaf Podcast.
Hello and welcome to the Cherryleaf Podcast.
This is episode number 76 and I’m Ellis Pratt, one when the directors and co-owners of Cherryleaf and your host for the podcast.
And it’s January 2020 so a good topic to come up with for the start of any year is to look at trends for the future.
So in this episode we’re going to look at trends for 2020 and beyond.
Before we dive into it, I should say Happy New Year and I hope you have been as busy as you wanted to be over the holiday period.
Last year we didn’t do a podcast episode on future trends, and there are a number of reasons why we didn’t, and we were in two minds whether to do a trends podcast this year.
One reason was that we did one in 2018 and little had really changed in that period of 12 months.
And also in terms of doing a podcast, the episodes themselves talk about future trends.
So it was a little bit tricky to try and think of something that would be completely unique compared to all the other episodes that we’ve done.
But we’ve decided to do one this year.
There’s probably been enough distance between life in 2018 and life today to talk about for the reasonable duration of time.
So we’re going to break this into three areas.
One is around future trends in terms of skills.
One in terms of future trends in terms of technology, and then a section that we’ve categorized under the title of “but”.
So let’s start off by the first section, skills.
And this is probably the area where things don’t move quite so quickly
And the skills that were coming through and emerging as being in demand two years ago are still the ones that are in demand and developing and trending today.
So the main areas reflect the changes that are happening within the tech sphere.
In a software sphere what we’ve seen is a lot of web-based and mobile applications, and we’ve seen how content moved into the user interface itself.
And so there has been a growth, and there continues to be a growth, in what you might call UX or UI writing.
So writing that help content, writing micro content, in the user interface itself.
And we have looked at this in the past on Podcast 39.
So if you’re interested in that area in that topic it’s worth you having a listen bank to that particular episode.
What we still haven’t seen quite yet has been a significant change in job titles.
It still seems to be that in the UK it’s Technical Author,and, in the USA, Technical Writer are the popular terms.
But UX Writer does seem to be growing from a small base up.
So if you are in a situation where you’re looking for work, looking for opportunities, that next job move, it’s probably worth keeping on your radar searches for the job title UX Writer
UX writing is different from technical writing, again something we covered in Podcast 39.
You may need to brush up your skills in some areas.
A number of people that are doing UX writing are coming from a copywriting background There can be a need for a little bit of marketing-speak and what you write.
Probably more importantly is the ability to do research and understand the users – to do testing of what phrases work and are effective.
Possibly things that you may not have done as the Technical Author in the past, or not had the time and opportunity to do.
And the other area that we’ve seen grow, and it just seems to continue to grow.
has been within the world of APIs.
And a lot of software companies are offering their products as an API or with their products, offering an API.
And to understand how you get the most out of an API it needs documentation.
A big area for us this year has been writing API documentation, and it seems to be the area where companies struggle more to find people to fill those particular roles, particularly where they want the technical ability, to get involved in doing some the code samples, or understand what a developer would want to get out of a collection of API documentation.
But also their ability to look at the bigger picture, and think strategically, as more and more APIs get developed and come on board.
And building a knowledge base that is efficient and works for different APIs, where they may be completely separate or may have some common areas.
And common areas can be within setting up and signing on, or tutorials and Getting Started, general concepts.
So with the skills side of things, I would suggest you listen to Podcast 61 on skills that we did, I think that was back in June, and the UX/UI writing podcast that we did.
podcast number 39
Let’s move on let’s move on to tech trends.
So there have been more movements or more developments in that particular area, particularly from Google.
And Google for a long while didn’t have Technical Authors.
They didn’t see that they provided any value to the business.
That’s changed in recent years, and Google have hired a lot of Technical Authors, Technical Writers, and provide a great deal more documentation, certainly for developers, than they did in the past.
And what we’re starting to see within Google, from different people within Google, is moves to promote the value of technical writing, to develop authoring tools, to help improve people skills, to try and meet some of the issues around documentation with Open Source documentation.
I don’t think there is any grand strategy or coordination by Google for this.
We have had the Summer of Docs, which was a campaign where Google would fund projects to update documentation for Open Source applications.
So there were Open Source products that would make bids for documentation to be done and then Google would help match up people who would be willing to write that documentation.
And Google offered what they called a stipend, money in other words, to the writers.
And there were bids that were made, and a number of them were successful, a whole number of different projects.
And then, over the summer and the autumn, these projects ran, and the documentation was completed.
And it looks like that project, that approach, was successful, and we may see Google sponsor another Summer of Docs.
Google also released a template for writing documentation, technical writing content, documentation portal.
You were writing content in Markdown.
Now the other aspect that Google has also been working on with tools and technologies is around making unstructured content more structured
They have developed a number of, sort of AI, Artificial Intelligence, tools.
Some of these are in Alpha status at the moment, and you’ll probably want to look at and watch and observe, rather than necessarily use today, but one we mentioned in our latest newsletter that went out just at the start of January.
By the way, it’s well worth subscribing to our newsletter
If you go to our website and look under the section called Useful Info, you’ll find a link to subscribe to the newsletter.
It’s free, it goes out every month, and it’s information to help you become a better technical writer.
Links to articles written by us, and articles and information and applications by other organizations.
A good, succinct digest of information and trends.
In the newsletter that’s just gone out, one of the things that we mentioned was Google’s Document Understanding AI Solution.
Document Understanding Solution is an application API that takes unstructured data, so things like documents and emails and the like, and provide structure to them by classifying the content extracting entities, enabling advanced searching.
So that they’re easier to understand, easier to analyse, easier to find.
So if you’ve got lots and lots of content in the cloud, you can use an application like this to make it easier to navigate and find and understand.
And another aspect that Google has been promoting, also related to structured data, is something that we covered in Podcast 64, and that is around encouraging people to write content that conforms to some of the schema.org schemas.
Google has started to push to the front of the search engines structured content that conforms to a schema.org schema for how-to content and FAQs, and to present that in the little rectangular boxes at the top of the search engines.
So this is good from an SEO perspective, getting to the top of Google.
And the reason for doing this is that you can search and you don’t necessary then need to click through to a website.
Have a listen to podcast number 64 if you’re interested in how to make your help content structured in a way that Google will look kindly on it and increase the chances of it going to the top of the search engine rankings.
And the other area in terms of future trends, in terms of technology that might affect technical writing, haven’t affected us already.
It’s something we haven’t really looked at in great detail on the podcast yet that’s one that we really should look at and that is around speech, audio.
So we’ve seen the growth and popularity of smart home devices like Alexa and Google’s home products, and Siri and the like, and the ability to ask these devices for information or instructions, and for them to reply back the answers of that.
And we’re seeing with the Search Engines and some of the other major players in that particular field starting to take voice recordings, such as podcasts, and to transcribe them and index them and get them to appear in the results of Search Engines.
Or to help you search for particular texts or phrases within YouTube videos and the like.
And so having speech based content is likely to grow in popularity and importance.
From a technical writing perspective, it’s likely that this will encourage people even more to have information and instructions published on YouTube; that rather than having to go through the whole of a video to find the bit that you’re looking for, you’ll be able to search for specific word or phrase, and then begin the video at that point.
And for the Search Engines, if you search on something, to then guide you to that YouTube video, into that point within the YouTube video.
So that’s really the main trends most of which we’ve covered in detail in the podcasts earlier in the year.
So in some ways, this is a review of the important podcasts that we’ve done and recommendations of things for you to listen to in the future.
But I said there was a third section the “but” section.
In recent times, has been a lot of what you might call geopolitical issues going on.
This is not a podcast about economic issues or politics issues.
If you’re interested in understanding those more learning more about those, the BBC World Service podcast called The Inquiry and BBC Radio 4’s podcast The Briefing Room are the ones to listen to for that.
Now the issue with all the geopolitical things that are going on, in the UK in America and around the world, is that they could lead to a recession.
For all the plans in terms of future trends and future skills, there is a risk of an impact on people’s jobs and careers.
So what this means is it’s a good time now to build up skills in these future trends, and the current trends that are in demand, and build up your network of contacts, so that if this does affect you, that you can react appropriately.
Now within any recession, it affects some sectors, not all.
In the Great Depression of the 1930s, there was a boom in electricity, in terms of in creating the National Grid and electrical devices.
In recent years, recessions have been good times for pawnbrokers and debt collectors.
And in fact, technology companies often tend to ride out recessions without being as badly affected as other organizations
But it’s one to be aware of.
However, with all of the doom and gloom that is around, it’s always handy to bear in mind the old Serenity poem which is: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
And one of those things that we can all change which relates to this, is the climate crisis.
There is overwhelming evidence scientifically that it is a crisis.
So one question with that is are technical authors contributing to the climate crisis in the work that they do? I don’t think any more than other office-based work.
And most of the solutions to dealing with the crisis that may be caused by people working in offices and using computers are things that are probably needing to be resolved at a bigger scale, in terms of reducing amount of energy used by cloud servers and the like.
But potentially, as Technical Authors, we could consider not getting new kit or equipment, mobile phones, until we really need it.
And perhaps to travel less.
Perhaps if we can work from home more often.
Outside of work, personally, there’s a number of small things that we can do individually that can add up collectively to having an impact on that
Now, I’m not going to tell you how you should live your life.
In terms of that it does worry me, it does worry my colleagues within Cherryleaf.
So I’ll just talk about a couple of things that individually we are doing.
So one of things for 2020 it looks like a do-able is things like buying an electric car and it having the range to do the trips certainly that us we think Cherryleaf need to do.
The other thing that seems to be contributing to climate change is cows and methane,and the amount of land that they need and water, So one solution that we’re looking at as a family is to eat less red meat.
We are starting to go down the supermarket aisle where the vegan food is, look at what’s on offer, and buying something and trying it out.
And for the ones that are nice and tasty, incorporating them into our diets.
So once a week, twice a week.
That could have an impact.
Probably the biggest thing in the UK that we all individually need to do is make our homes more energy-efficient, less leaky, in terms of the amount of energy and heat that they lose.
That is something we would like to do, where possible.
That was a bit of a diversion.
Anyway, suffice to say, with a lot of things that are going on, they are unfortunately things that could affect what we as Technical Authors do in our jobs.
Just to recap, on where we’re going for the future.
From a skills perspective, it does seem to be that the future trends at the moment are focused around API writing, UX UI writing, and in terms of the technical trends, the growth of incorporating unstructured content and using solutions to do that.
And for some of the larger players like Google to start giving some direction, encouraging organizations to create good high-quality content.
And for people to write to structured content, using some of the schemas that are available through schema.org.
So that’s it this time round.
I hope you found it useful.
As I said, a lot of references back to past podcasts, so have a listen to those.
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But that’s it until the next time.
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