Time once again to reframe one of those classic debates in technical communication. STC Summit abounds in talking points, slide presentations, and demos that discuss everything from the intricacies of using various tools, to ways to demonstrate value, to pointers on polishing up the writing. Seeing demos, listening to participants and perusing the program lets us reflect on what’s important to us as professionals. Technical communicators are, and probably always have been, a passionate bunch willing to debate the merits of their favorite points of view with anyone who has access to a keyboard and a connection. And at least as far back as the turn of the century, one of those classic debates has turned on content versus structure (check the archives for some heated arguments between some famous and infamous Whirlers). Back then it was “Structure vs. Substance.” It’s also been technical versus writer. You could even argue that it’s about logic versus intuition. Today, we ask the question as our weekly tech comm poll: is compelling content or robust structure more important?
With the advances in tools, and the focus on producing great experiences for our users, the terminology has changed, but the question remains and it impacts how we move forward (or not) in our careers. Should technical writers (or technical communicators, content managers, producers or designers) focus more on compelling content that gets read and helps the user? Or should they place more emphasis on making it easier to reuse and to produce across many channels to provide ROI to the business? Perhaps it’s the nature of what we do—to be conflicted in serving two (or more) masters (stakeholders in our PC world). We want to “balance” the needs of the user against the goals of the business, but how can we do that when looking at “cheaper, faster, or right—pick one”?
TechWhirl’s articles, and the email discussion list, split fairly evenly along tools versus skills questions. So we can’t make this any easier. We’re asking you to pick one, and we’d love to hear why you choose one over the other. “Both” is not an option, but I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong answer. Does it depend on your innate ability to turn a phrase, or to streamline a process? Is it more satisfying to get the phrasing just right, or to see it appear optimally in any medium you choose? Or has the nature of what we are required to do changed so much that the question is no longer valid? (You still have to pick one or the other, but that would be an interesting debate).
Take a few minutes to vote, share the poll with your colleagues, and post a comment here or on the email discussion list.