Technology

Six Emerging Trends within the Technical Communication Industry

Six Emerging Trends within the Technical Communication Industry
Yareah Magazine
lison Peck, Director of Clearly Stated

lison Peck, Director of Clearly Stated

Most technical products and software applications need some sort of explanation. This is where technical communication comes in, whether it’s for user guides, manuals, installation instructions, operating and safety procedures, business processes, training materials or software user assistance. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC) recognises the best examples of work within the industry through its UK Technical Communication Awards. The entries can also provide a window on new developments as to how technical information can be presented. The ISTC has noticed six emerging trends within the industry:

1. Growth of Application Programme Interface (API) Documentation
The growth of APIs has seen a corresponding growth in the need for API documentation and interactive document environments. Ellis Pratt, Director of Cherryleaf (a specialist technical communication company), and judge on the panel of the ISTC’s UK Technical Communication Awards (UKTCA), says “Without the documentation, it’s virtually impossible to use an API, as developers need to know what resources are available, where they are, and what parameters they will accept.”

2. Increase in Use of Agile Methodologies
Agile methodologies are a set of principles for software development in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams. Alison Peck, Director of Clearly Stated Ltd (a technical writing and training company), judge on the UKTCA panel and current President of the ISTC, says “The biggest impacts on [technical communicators] are in the working practices and products of our customer base. For example, there is a steady increase in the percentage of software development teams adopting agile methodologies, which affects technical communicators specifically working in the documentation of software.”

3. Increased Use of Mobile Technology
Alison goes on to say “the increased use of mobile technology has made changes to our work, as has the (general) improvement to user interface design. Rather than having to give detailed instructions, I’m more likely to explain the outcome of an action or give guidance on when it should be done. People using products and services also expect them to be more tailored to their requirements, so being able to create supporting products (help, tutorials, guidance) that can be tailored to those same requirements is becoming more important. A one-size-fits-all approach is much less acceptable now than it was a few years ago.”

4. Move towards a less formal tone
Ellis states “As technology becomes more part of our daily lives, we’ve seen a move towards a less formal tone in some types of documentation. This is a consequence of documentation being part of the pre-sales process, and users are generally less scared of technology than they used to be.”

5. Embedding User Assistance
Ellis adds “We’re also seeing a move toward embedding user assistance into the application itself, without the need to go to the docs. We’ll be seeing more developments with Conversational User Interfaces, on-boarding screens and micro-content. This is a consequence of users being reluctant to admit they’re stuck and going to the Help.”

6. Navigating via Search
Ellis has also spotted a trend within the ISTC’s annual UK Technical Communication Awards entries: “The awards entries have reflected the trend towards navigating via Search, rather than via hyperlinks. I’ve also noticed a move towards content in Responsive Web format, which can be viewed on mobile phones, tablets and laptops.”

The ISTC, the UK’s largest body representing technical writers and information development professionals, organises the annual UK Technical Communication Awards. The awards are the industry’s key platform which recognises the value of clear, concise and effective information relating to scientific or technological products or services. The entry deadline date is Thursday 30th June 2016 via www.uktcawards.com. Entries are welcomed from ISTC members, non-members, individuals, companies or students alike. Submissions cost GBP25 for ISTC members and GBP40 for non-members per entry. The awards include nine categories split between three classes focussing on communication effectiveness, use of technology and innovative business practices. Results will be published in ISTC publications and websites, including its Communicator journal, with awards presented during the Gala Dinner at the Technical Communication UK conference, held at Wyboston Lakes Executive Centre near Cambridge on 14th September 2016.

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