Changing With The Times: Technical Writing In The 21st Century

Technical Writers design, write, edit and update end user documentation such as: Installation, User, Administration, Configuration Guides, Online Help Files, Portable Document Format (PDF) files, Presentations, Specifications, etc. Technical Writing in the 21st century, by necessity, is changing with the times. These changes require us to learn new skills/delivery systems that take into account new modalities and methods that end users/customers use to search for and access information. We have evolved into Information Designers/Architects, who to thrive have learned new skills like: Video capturing, Demo creation, Blog posting and Usability testing skills. This article examines the new skills that we need today to succeed as Technical Writers, aka Information Designer/Architect in the second decade of the 21st century.

Technical Writing has become much more visual than in the past when static Diagrams, Screen Captures, Charts were utilized to help you explain how products worked or should be installed. Traditional static documentation is still in use; however, today, it is important for us to learn video skills that enable them to create Video Tutorials, Demos with video capturing tools like Captivate and Camtasia, for example. These tools enable you to create highly visual, step-by-step video/audio tutorials that your target audience can easily follow the instructions/message you want to convey to them in a way that previous static user guides never could. In fact, old style Technical documentation, oftentimes, was little used, if at all; because it was difficult locating the information users needed. With the transition to video/audio tools solidly underway and the advent and implementation of Web 2.0 Social Media Networking sites, Blogs, Wikis and Video sharing sites they have changed the way that messages move across the Internet, and with it Technical Writers have assumed new responsibilities as Technical Writing has moved increasing, online.

Changing with the times, also means embracing blogging and other Web 2.0 Social Media Networking tools to get our message across to customers. What exactly is a blog? The word blog is the combination of two words, web and log. As Bloggers, we add commentary, graphics, video and other information called blog post to the Blog on a regular basis, usually weekly. In some companies, we have assumed the responsibility of designing and writing blog posts to our organization’s customers and answer their feedback via the comments they post on the blog. Also, in some companies we are becoming more actively involved in designing, organizing and running interactive forums where customers can join, ask questions and get answers to common problems that are less cost intensive and time consuming than the old telephone support method. We are evolving from our traditional role as teachers and interpreters of new product usage between a product’s developers and customers to becoming much more involved in product architecture, usability and testing.

Going and gone are the days when we wrote end user documentation and delivered it to customers without doing all we can to make sure that the information customers are interested in locating is accessible and user-friendly. Today, we are working with application and hardware developers to ensure that customers can find the information they need quickly and as user-friendly as possible. This means that we not only write user documentation; but engage in usability testing to help the customer access the specified information they need, without scanning through information that is not of interest to them.Technical Writing in the 21st century by necessity are changing with the times. No longer can we approach our tasks as we did in the past. To continue to evolve and succeed we must acquire new skills like Video capturing, Blogging, Usability Testing and other skills that enhance and supplement established end user documentation modalities: User manuals, Online Help, Implementation guides, etc. The examples cited in this article are only a few of the many ways that Technical Writing in the 21st century is changing with the times.


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