How will technical writing change in the next 10 years?

How has technical writing changed in the last 10 years? And how will it be different in the coming years? I started to think about these questions when an old friend asked my opinion about how the tools and deliverables have changed since the late 1990s. She was working as a technical writing manager back then and is now considering re-entering the workforce.

I see two notable changes from 10 years ago:

XML authoring. Of course, one of the main changes in the last 10 years is the widespread use of XML when authoring technical documents. Two years ago, Scriptorium Publishing ( ) asked more than 600 technical writers whether they write in XML. A majority of respondents were either already writing in XML, implementing it, planning to use it, or were at least considering it. Only 16 percent of those surveyed didn’t plan to implement it. XML authoring is not a fad. It’s here to stay.

Improved tools. I started using FrameMaker 6.0 in the late 1990s. Adobe just released version 10 in January. Thankfully, authoring technical documents has improved significantly. If you distribute PDF documents to subject matter experts who make edits in the PDFs, we can now import those edits back into the source files. No more tedious editing. FrameMaker and RoboHelp can single source. You can ask subject matter experts to review your files via “the cloud.”

How will technical writing change again in the next 10 years? Here are some educated guesses:

We’ll all be preparing our online help for mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are expected to start outselling computers in the near future. More and more people will be using these devices to work and will need technical assistance. I expect this is the next “big thing” for us.

Cloud computing may change how we perform our jobs. Increasingly, we may be storing our source files in the cloud, distributing technical drafts using the cloud, and even authoring content using cloud-based software. See my related post about cloud computing.

Social media will change how we communicate. In my opinion, most technical writers are not taking advantage of tools like YouTube and Twitter. But in the coming years, more of us will understand how to marry social media and technical documentation. In the April edition of Intercom magazine, there’s an interesting article called “Understanding the Help 2.0 Revolution.” It’s worth checking out: The edition is free too.

These are some of my initial thoughts. How do you think technical writing will change in the next decade?

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