Technical communication trends in the 2010s
By Larry Kunz
posted on December 01, 2009 09:00
I don't know what surprises me more: that we've reached the end of another decade, or that we never figured out what to call it. (The two-thousands? The aughties? I suppose that for the next ten years we can just call it “the previous decade.”)
The years 2000 to 2009 have seen big, fundamental changes in our technical communication profession. Content is increasingly being designed for single-sourcing and reuse. Audiences look for information in other places besides the user manual and the company website. Practitioners struggle to demonstrate their value as the job market tightens.
The next ten years figure to be just as eventful. Here are a few trends that I see in technical communication in the 2010s:
- The rise of the content strategist: the person who can process information from all over the enterprise (and from its customers) and repackage it for different audiences. Audiences demand information that's tailored to them and to the tasks they're performing, and they look for it in all kinds of places. The stars of the 2010s will be the content strategists who can meet the demand.
- Continued commoditization of technical writing. Increasingly, companies in traditional markets like the U.S. are finding that they can get good writing from abroad for a fraction of what it costs at home. This trend will only accelerate as workers in emerging markets like India and China improve their writing skills. Writers in traditional markets will have to reinvent themselves to remain viable.
- More and more media choices. Ten years ago, how many of us had heard of iPhones or Blu-ray—or even podcasts? The 2010s will bring just as much innovation, with people consuming our information in ways we can't imagine today. We'll have to be ready for them.
- Credentialing or certification. As technical communicators vie to prove their value, I expect increased interest in finding ways to differentiate ourselves in the job market. Perhaps STC will develop a Certified Technical Communicator program. Perhaps there'll be a PMP-like course for content strategists or information architects. Almost certainly, there'll be more tool- or process-specific credentials.
- New ways to define the value of technical communication. Increasingly, businesses will see that good technical communication can help them build their brands in the marketplace and can help them avoid the costs associated with product liability issues. It's up to us, the professionals, to hone these messages and make sure that they're well understood in corporate boardrooms.
What do you think? Can you see other trends that I haven't mentioned?
About the Author
Larry Kunz is a project manager and information architect with SDI with more than 30 years’ experience as a writer, manager, and planner. He has experienced the transition from book-based documentation to today's integrated delivery of information both as a writer and a manager. Larry is a Fellow in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and in 2010 received the STC President’s Award for leading the Society's strategic planning effort.
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Friday, December 18, 2009 8:52 PM
I think is will depend on where the individual is on their career path and also where the company wants to go with docs.
For me what's most interesting is the first point. I think there will be a real demand - not just aspirational - for companies to use content strategists.
The challenge for TWs is how to hustle and find this work. Most are not good at promoting themselves and trying to demonstrate how they add value.
You really need to show that you add value. Saying you're a Tech Writer won't cut it.
Great blog, by the way.
Monday, December 21, 2009 4:26 PM
Thanks for the kind words, Ivan.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that you've worked in China and Ireland. As such, you've seen the issues of offshoring and "writers as commodities" from a different perspective than I have here in the U.S. Yet we've both come to the same conclusion: tech writers need to reinvent themselves and demonstrate their value.
Monday, December 21, 2009 7:47 PM
Absolutely, otherwise they will fall further and further down the food chain. I did some consultancy with for a large US home applicance-maker here (fridges etc) in Beijing to help them knock their docs into shape.
Most we written by Chinese university graduates, smart kids, but who’d never lived in an English-speaking country. The docs, reports, & (some marketing) material all reflected this. There was a lot of rework involved.
Despite the poor quality of these docs, the company has committed to this strategy and will continue to invest here. In the end, the docs will improve.
Why? Because we now have western kids coming here learning chinese and working in the trenches, so to speak. What they’ve learnt will be passed to the chinese in time.
But, for US writers, they need to find ways to move out of the services/commodity area fast — otherwise their salary will continue to fall.
The opportunity is where and how you can ‘add value’.
Monday, April 05, 2010 10:11 PM
Hello. In addition to that, I can see more companies and individual turning to the social media to market their businesses. It has proven to be an effective tool as almost everyone today have an access to the web.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 7:50 AM
I think the first two items on your list belong somewhat together. When using an online authoring solution it is vital to keep the worst case in mind: What will happen if the provider of the solution, for what ever reason, ceases operations? While you can continue to use a desktop application for years, you must be able to switch to a different online tool much faster – which is only possible if the source files (backup files) are based on open standards such as XML and DITA.....