10 Top Trends Driving the Technical Communication Industry

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Source (edited): The Branham Group

Technical communication is experiencing a number of fundamental shifts these days, thanks to globalization, the Internet, and mobile devices. Here are 10 key trends that continue to emerge in the technical communication industry.

1. Structured documents

One of the biggest trends is the move to structured documents. These documents use some method of coding or markup to provide benefits such as content reuse, single sourcing, multi-channel publication, and agile documentation. One of the benefits is the ability to present documents in various ways on mobile devices, TV screens, and a variety of other devices.

2. Single-source publishing

Single sourcing allows the same content to be used in different documents. This approach has increased in popularity, given the need to produce multiple deliverables, such as technical manuals, online help systems, and eLearning content.

3. Multi-format/multi-channel delivery

With the use of multimedia devices, content is being produced in multiple formats. Paper manuals and online help files stored locally on PCs are disappearing quickly in favor of online documentation that can be updated quickly with new information.

4. Mobile delivery

Mobile devices provide capabilities that are continuing to expand. Responsive web design focuses on the delivery of HTML through a single implementation that adapts to the size and orientation of the viewing device. This technique delivers flexible layouts and images, providing an opportunity to publish to full PDF, create dynamic web experiences, and offer shorter versions of content.

5. Topic-based, context-sensitive help

Rather than forcing users to search through entire documents, context-sensitive help provides faster results, delivering targeted and relevant information to users at the specific time it’s needed.

6. Multimedia communication

Today there is a shift from traditional text-based communication toward multimedia, or more interactive content (audio, images, video). While it may cost more to produce than traditional text, multimedia can provide a higher return on investment through increased customer satisfaction and reduced support-related calls.

7. Social interaction and direct user input

Social networks are playing an increasingly important role in the incorporation of information. With increased sharing and collaboration (Web 2.0), everyone has a voice. As rating systems, commenting, and discussion forums allow for active user participation, existing documentation becomes optimized.

8. Reporting and analytics

Technical communicators can now use metrics available from such services as Google Analytics to show how they provide value. More than simple page view statistics, these services record search terms (including common misspellings), traffic patterns, and frequently viewed content. Information like this can be used to show what users may have been looking for, and more importantly, what they couldn’t find.

9. The Specialist vs. “The Jack of All Trades”

The growth of multi-channel delivery, social interaction, multimedia, and mobile delivery is widening the gap between specialized roles (the technical writer, video producer) and the person who wears different hats within an organization. Many large organizations still focus on specialized individuals for text, layout, video, and animation (for example, technical writers are there to write documents), however, technical communicators in smaller organizations are being required to focus on more than just one area.

10. Automated processes and collaboration

Today, users are expecting documentation to be updated quickly, particularly online content. Through single sourcing, automated workflows, and collaboration, the time required to deliver updates is being significantly reduced. For example, content editing can be reduced to a single instance, which helps reduce the time using expensive editing processes across multiple iterations of similar documents.

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Summer Beach Reading for Techcomm Professionals

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*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

You might not think of these eight books as ones you want to take along to the beach or on vacation, but take another look. We thought they were entertaining, as well as informative. Give one or two a read this summer, and let us know if you got a better tan while enhancing your career.

#Content Marketing Tweet Book: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Create and Market Compelling Content by Ambal Balakrishnan

Submerged in the world of content marketing? Learn how to create compelling content that your customers and prospective clients will love.

Klout for Dummies by Andrea Updyke

Need to grow your Klout Score? Learn how Klout works so you can use it to see how influential you are and how effective your content is.

The Art of SEO, 2nd edition by Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Jessie Stricchiola, and Rand Fishkin

Low SEO rankings on your content? Learn how to measure your success by tracking the results of changes you make to your site, big or small.

Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (and Everything You Build from Them) by Marcia Riefer Johnston

Want people to read your words? Learn how to write powerfully so they will want to.

Content strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits by Noz Urbina and Rahel Bailie

Looking for content strategy case studies? Learn how to create, implement, sell, and maintain a content strategy by reading about those that are successful and those that aren’t.

Agile User Experience Design by Diana Brown

Swimming in UX waters? Find out which tools you need to stay afloat in an agile environment.

The Language of Content Strategy by Scott Abel, Rahel Bailie, and Marcia Riefer Johnston

Flummoxed by copious terms and definitions surrounding content strategy? This book gives 52 terms that are central to the emerging profession of content strategy.

The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing by Krista Van Laan

Want to take your career to the next level? Learn new skills for building or growing a successful career as a professional technical communicator.

Have another book to add? Please share it in the comments.

 

Responsive Web Design: Tailoring Your Content to Fit Smaller Screens

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*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

We’re faced with a greater number of devices today. Technical communicators must make their content easy to access on not only on desktop and laptop computers, but also on mobile phones, tablets, and other devices with varying screen sizes. The solution to this is responsive web design (RWD). Responsive design “frees our content” to work anywhere, anytime. It means we no longer need to spend time designing and creating deliverables for different devices.

Creating responsive outputs means that we need to adopt a “mobile first” mindset. Our content needs to be designed to work well on mobile (smaller) screens first because when we write/make other changes for mobile, then the content will work well on tablets, the desktop, etc. The constraints of the mobile context force us to focus on what content is essential and how to present that content as quickly as possible.

Here are a few “mobile first” best practices, some technical and some content changes:

Keep image files small. Large image files will increase load time, which is something mobile users have no patience for, in fact, 74% of mobile users will leave a website that takes more than 5 seconds to load.

Write concisely. Always an excellent best practice, but now more important than ever. And this isn’t just about screen size; those working on smaller devices have less patience to wade through content. (Another benefit: this also reduces translation costs.)

Employ progressive information disclosure. This helps maintain the focus of the reader’s attention by reducing clutter and presenting only the minimum data required for a task, thus making information easier to find. Using collapsible text and inline text (dynamic help features) can be good solutions.

Improve navigation. Add related links at the end of topics so there’s no need to use the device’s “back” button. This makes it is easier to navigate away from your content.

Make links easier to use. Don’t bury too many links in the same paragraph because they will be harder to use on mobile devices. Consider making the most important links into buttons.

Streamline your table of contents. A TOC that is 4-5 levels deep is more challenging to navigate on mobile devices.

Avoid second, third, etc. level bullets and numbering. It is harder to see the relationships between levels on smaller devices.

Take a look at your tables. Some tables might have too many columns and can be very lengthy. Simplify them, and eliminate the ones that aren’t necessary. You can take advantage of responsive table reflow, but you will want to verify that your tables are usable on smaller devices.

Clean up your terminology. Your content needs to work on devices where you tap, and those where you click. Avoid using device-specific terms.

Creating purposeful, versatile content for the mobile web is one thing we can all strive toward.

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