Technical Writer Poll: Replacing “Traditional” Technical Communications

Are Traditional Technical Communications Deliverables Going Away?

As we take a look at the “basics” of technical communications, we find ourselves asking whether traditional technical communications deliverables–user manuals, administrator guides, release notes, etc.–are going the way of the dodo bird, buggy whips, and the butter churn. The TechWhirl email discussion group has been hotly debating the topic, coming at it from a whole range of viewpoints.

The types of media to which we publish technical content have changed drastically and permanently.  The audience, industry and purpose for the communications still drive the choices of tech comm deliverables, overshadowed by budget, sales and other business factors.  We invite you to take the poll, and add your voice to the debate, via a comment here, or by joining the email discussion.  You’ll help inform the content of an upcoming article on determining the right amount and kind of documentation to deliver, and educate the profession on the opportunities and challenges we face in producing relevant and useful technical communications content.

If traditional documentation "goes away," what new tech comm media will take its place?

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Mark Baker

12 years ago

The interesting thing about the list of alternatives is that none of them are new. All these things have existed for years. It is precisely because they are not new, but now represent the mainstream, that they present a challenge to traditional tech pubs.

Actually, though, reading documentation has always taken a back seat to asking another person for help. What the Web has done, in connecting us all together, is to make asking another person much easier and much more effective, with the result that there is correspondingly less need to refer to the documentation set. And once the usage of any resource drops below a certain threshold, it becomes burdensome to the user, something they no longer feel they should have to do.

All that said, I think there are two things that technical communicators should be thinking about beyond a change in media:

1. The change in time frame. The notion of a documentation set as something fixed that is released in sync with a product is out of date. Products themselves no longer work that way, as it becomes the norm for software to update itself automatically over the network. Technical communication responsibilities no longer end on the release day.

2. The change in face. Traditional tech pubs have been written to present a generic corporate face. The tech writer was never a personality to the reader. The trustworthiness of the content was established by the professionalism of the corporate presentation. Today, trust is becoming increasingly social and personal. People trust people more than corporations. Knowledge and community respect trump professional presentation. Saying the technical communication is going social is not about media, it is about face — the shift from the corporate face to the personal face.

Connie Giordano

Connie Giordano

12 years ago

Mark, I thoroughly agree, and your insightful comments tie back to a comment made by Cheryl regarding the fact that the personality types that make good technical communicators have changed from the old stereotypes. Business and social savvy are now required skills in this field, and we probably need to focus more on soft skill development than we have in past.

The shift to the personal face should make the whole field more appealing to the younger generation–we hope!

TechWhirl: Technical Communications Recap for January 20, 2012

12 years ago

[…] a flurry of debate on “documentation going away” got started. So we took up the debate with a TechWhirl poll question: If traditional documentation “goes away,” what new tech comm me… As the debate continues, it’s clear that technical writing delivery mechanisms, and perhaps even […]

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