Technical Writing: What’s in a Name?

 

Confused

Written by Michael Benavidez

One interesting challenge I’ve noticed in searching for employment as a Technical Writer is how many different names companies might use for the same position. While I’ve seen plenty of employers list their need for a Technical Writer, I’ve also run into more than a few postings for Content Managers, Associate Editors, Documentation Specialists, and others that serve the same purpose.

The aspiring Technical Writer therefore has an opportunity to familiarize him or herself with several important keywords in order to cast the widest net when looking for jobs in the field. You don’t want to miss out on a great chance because you didn’t know what to look for!

Here are a few common titles I have noticed employers often substitute for Technical Writer:

  • Content Editor/Manager/Writer
  • Technical Editor
  • Documentation Engineer
  • Communication Specialist
  • Web Writer

Any one of these titles can also be combined with the others, depending on the employer’s preference, which may be as varied as their reasons for using such alternative titles in the first place. Some hiring managers may feel “Technical Writer” is too generic and vague for the scope of the position and that one of these other titles better reflects their needs. In other cases, internal budgeting issues can force a manager to get creative if hiring for technical writers becomes problematic. I recall a time at my job where HR was reluctant to approve hiring more Project Managers due to recent restructuring, where many PMs were eliminated. Suddenly the IT Department began hiring “Implementation Specialists” instead!

Whatever an employer’s reasons, the informed Technical Writer only benefits from an awareness of the many names and classifications their profession may come under. Not only will you be more likely to recognize opportunities, you’ll be more likely to tailor yourself to the needs of your audience by speaking their language.

Can you think of some other names used for tech writers? Please share them in the comments.

Technical Writing Tools: Help Authoring

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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.*

The most common reason for a user to look at an online help file is to find an answer to a specific question. The most important aspect of a help file is accessibility of the information it contains. Help files range from small, simple “read-me” files with very limited information to hypertext-based documentation.

First Steps

  • Identify topics: Help files are designed to work in conjunction with other types of documentation to form a complete information package. It is the task of the developer or technical writers to identify the help file topics. The best way to do this is to analyze the product. Then, once you have identified all of the topics, separate them into related groups.
  • Create a structure: Once you have identified the topics, you can start structuring the help file. Although the structure can depend on the software, the main purpose of the help file is to provide quick access to specific information. You can achieve this goal by using a simple content tree and keywords to build the help file index. Typically, the content tree should not exceed three nesting levels, although you can use two levels for small files that contain short topics and sub-topics.
  • Design: Design a structure that does not change often, even if information for a specific topic changes. Create a modular and flexible help file that can be used for the next version of the software. The HTML file names should remain stable. If the help tool allows it, it would be good to have a method of differentiating the various HTML files of the same name.

Creating a Help File

  • Access: A help file is not read in the order it is written, so make sure the most important information is accessible from accessing it in multiple ways. For example, the introduction page might never be read, while other information might be accessed by the index directly without the use of the content tree. If a specific topic is discussed in another part of the file, create a link to help users access the related page.
  • Content: The most important part of a help file is its text content. Even if you use graphics and formatting to make a point, the help file will be ineffective if the text is limited.
  • Hypertext: Provide links for users who are interested in knowing more about a specific topic. The most important rule is to make sure the links are actually relevant and useful. With this in mind, it is probably better to use too few links than too many.
  • Keywords: Prepare a list of keywords that are related to the specific HTML pages of the help file. Some users like to browse through the content tree, but others go directly to the index to find the topic by keyword.
  • Size: It’s not a good idea to create a smaller file by limiting the information included in it. A help file should contain everything necessary to use the software and solve simple, typical problems. This means the size of the files can vary from very small to 15 MB and more.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.

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.

Have something to add? Please share it in the comments.