Trends in Technical Communication

One of my frequent readers has recently raised the following question in reference to my post: “… how to correlate all the above soft skills with the present trend in technical writing. Would like to know in what ways the above soft skills differ from the trends associated with technical writing.”

Today’s post is in continuation to my referred post (on LinkedIn). The reader wants to know if there is any connection between any technical communicator’s soft skills and the prevailing trends in technical communication. The soft skills in discussion are: Adaptability, Attention to details, Critical thinking, Empathy, People management, Questioning skills, and Visualization.

To begin the conversation, I will explore the trends in technical communication. As we continue, I will talk about how I map the trends in technical communication with the referred soft skills. I hope to answer the readers’ questions by talking about each trend. My mental vision is limited to my knowledge and exposure into technical communication in the information technology industry. But, I will try to be as generic as possible. I’ll talk about the trends based on my analysis of the comments of experienced technical communicators on the subject.

As I understand, trends are the commonalities that prevail across the length and breadth of any industry. There may be some relation between the soft skills of a technical communicator and their work assignments and projects, because technical communicators (subconsciously) take projects based on those skills. So, my short answer is: Soft skills reasonably connect to trends. Here are the details:

Trend One: One Tech Writer Fits All

Can a tech writer play the role of a branding or marketing person? This is debatable. And, the more we talk about it, the more confusing it gets. Marketing, as most of us think (know?), is more “pushy.” In contrast, technical communication contains usable facts and information tidbits that help users “do” or “achieve.” A convergence of these two topics is just too good (or bad?). I am a marketing graduate, and I know that I can, and do, put my marketing skills (no, not soft skills) to use in technical communication.

If this dual role is today’s need, doesn’t that put an end to the roles of specialists? Maybe not. As I see, technical communication helps add value to a specialists’ role in more than one way. First, the marketing collaterals, which usually praise a product and want you to want it, become more benefit oriented. Second, the marketing and technical-communication strategies converge to create a unified-communication effort. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, standardization is a differentiator.

The challenges are still greater. Looking at the competitive job market, which is no longer hesitant toward freelance writers, it seems a wise decision to not count on just one skill for survival. The market is open and flourishing, but so is the competition. That is why you need a second skill for dependability. The soft skills like adaptability and attention to details can add capabilities and extend the perimeter of our profiles.

Trend Two: Information Design and Delivery

We are sort of redefining our careers from the conventional job titles like technical writers and editors. We do much more than just write or edit: We help strategize, design, create, edit, and localize content. We even create platforms from where our readers can reach us. We are content curators. On a whole, we are willing to make the right content available (and, available correctly).

The way we communicate has changed. We do not always create documents. We create action-oriented, feature-focused chunks that help resolve readers’ problems. We deliver ideas and purposes in the form of content. We help our readers visualize how the products/services can help them.

I see that my empathy and visualization (soft) skills help me foresee my reader’s problems. The skills help me conceptualize and understand their comprehension patterns, if any. And, I use these patterns – to a great extent – to write and design my technical documents. Besides – unlike when I occasionally get to write blogs – the empathy and visualization skills help provide both depth and weight to my work. On a whole, almost all soft skills have an impact on the prevailing and upcoming trends.

Trend Three: Pocket-friendly localization

The content creation, publishing, and maintenance processes are now being hyper localized. I recall a discussion with one of my professional acquaintances on some challenges that I face in technical communication. We discussed about the role of technical communicators in the planning and designing processes. We also discussed that content creation can only begin when we have well-defined product or service deliverables. We discussed if (and how) the exclusion of technical communicators from product plans can slow down the task-based, project-related processes.

We feel that when content needs delivered across different languages and regions, the cost and efforts are big issues. Technical communicators, like us, are therefore required to find ways to reduce the amount and the cost of localization. I think content reuse can be the key here, because content creation and maintenance are costly and effort intensive activities.

Trend Four: The Knowledge Tree

The increased presence of technical communicators on the social media has helped the community. If this trend continues, we will soon see a lot of focused communities and chapters grow their knowledge trees of technical communication. This is not just a trend. It is need. And, it has benefits. But perhaps the most important thing: It is accessible for free.

Also, such trees of knowledge do not have any beginning or end. They are as eternal and endless as our needs. Even the acknowledgement of this knowledge is as boundless as the scope for our learning. I can comfortably say that though none of the soft skills directly influence this trend, all of them do so indirectly. After all, the knowledge of non-knowledge is the first step in learning and exploration.

Conclusion

In reply to the reader’s question, I can say that though the soft skills are completely different from trends, they do affect trends to an extent. But the difference is clear: unlike trends, the skills govern your survival. Trends follow a pattern; you can witness their emergence. Soft skills are what you possess, learn, and hone. But, the truth is that despite what we encounter, learn, and apply, we remain writers who aim to relieve the readers’ pains. Trends will come and go. The use of the soft skills will, however, remain the same.

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