As the technical communications profession grapples with fast changing tools, emerging channels by which to distribute our content, and the perennial questions of roles and responsibilities, participants on the TechWhirl email discussion list have been having an interesting and timely discussion on how these factors impact the actual creation of content. Is technical writing, or technical communications, relegated to the role of K-rations or MREs–nutritious and complete but utterly lacking in visual or taste appeal?
The discussion, originally prompted by an inquiry about the meaning of LinkedIn’s Skills statistics, morphed into a discussion on trends in technical communications, that referenced Char James-Tanny’s and Sarah O’keefe’s recent, wildly popular webinar on the subject. Steve Janoff opened things up by asking what is happening to the content itself, as opposed to how it’s delivered. “But the question I’m really asking is, where is content itself going? Meaning, are we now confined to just the task, just the concept, just the reference? And mainly the task?” Tony Chung countered “Technical Writing has less to do with eloquence and everything to do with relevance. We need to provide information of value to the end user for the task at hand. If I, as a tech writer, cannot envision (or be convinced of) how a potential end user will use our product, then I won’t be able to do a good job of placing the reader into the product.”
If you haven’t reviewed the thread, you should. The debate has been lively, and it causes us to look at some basic issues around technical communications: is it an art, a craft, or a set of techniques? Are we sacrificing something valuable in the user experience by focusing on efficiencies, reuse, and reductions in word count? Is it possible to be relevant and eloquent and brief? Can technical writers eventually be replaced by robots?
We invite you to take this week’s poll “What are the most important qualities that your technical communications content must have?” And please do post your comments on the poll, or contribute to the discussion on the email list.