In the field of technical documentation, several factors drive change and call for a better approach or strategy. Writers expect more user-friendliness, their managers want more measurability and cost control in content production, end-users need more user-centric content, and modern IT demands cloud-based solutions. Additionally, the global demand for STE, or Simplified Technical English, keeps growing.
Here are some trends we have identified in the field of technical writing:
- Need for more user-friendly writing tools
One consequence of consumerization is that people expect easy-to-use tools at work. This trend applies also to technical documentation. Writers want user-friendly tools to make them perform better and faster.
For technical writers, one important way to work better is to follow the STE standard. It improves quality, clarity and consistency. However, it brings along specific difficulties. How to fully memorize the standard, its dictionary of about 3,000 words and its 60+ writing rules?
Writers can’t rely on mere memory of the STE’s rules. They have to look for tools that incorporate STE and can be integrated directly into the authoring software. The tool has to be very easy to use, it should perform compliance checking on the fly, and provide insight into issues that the writer should focus on to improve the results.
- More demand for user-centric documentation
Another aspect that drives change is the need for maintenance personnel, a core user group of technical documentation. In many OECD countries, a great share of maintenance people is about to retire. Often, they have worked without manuals relying on their own experience. How can their immense know-how be transferred to the next generations to secure workforce availability?
Good documentation is necessary to close this looming demographic gap. Younger generations are grown to expect user-centricity: the manuals and other pieces of documentation should be available regardless of time and place, in a format relevant for the job at hand.
But the truth is that too often content does not help end-users but puts a high cognitive burden on them. Typically, maintenance specialists use 25 to 50 % of their working hours alone in trying to find relevant information.
To make content user-centric and to diminish the cognitive load the STE standard offers a great solution. It makes text easy to understand, boosts end-user efficiency and results in safe product use.
- Growing global demand for standardized documentation in English
Most technical writing is targeted at an international audience. This creates many challenges that are best solved by STE, which is mandatory to use in the aviation and defense industries. However, more and more companies around the world in other industries identify the need for STE for documentation. Why is the demand for STE growing?
Developing countries such as India and China export huge amounts of products but also serve as best-cost countries for outsourcing technical documentation. They recognize the need to improve their technical documentation. STE is helpful for non-native technical writers, whose numbers only in India are immense. Also, in the Nordics and the Netherlands companies realize it makes sense to use English as the master language in documentation.
Of course, English speaking countries still have the highest demand for STE. Contrary to what one might believe, it is demanding for native English speakers to write simplified text. Their sentences tend to be grammatically complex and include sophisticated vocabulary. For non-native audiences, such texts are hard to understand.
- More measurability in content production
The companies that employ technical documentation specialists want to ensure that content is consistent and top quality. The best way to do this is to use Simplified Technical English. But this alone isn’t enough anymore.
Companies demand methods to measure cost, quantity, and quality of content production. Over time, measuring helps them improve performance, harmonize texts between different writers, increase customer satisfaction, and lower the costs.
How is this type of measurability achieved? At best, measuring methods are included directly in the STE content checker with different types of reports and ratings.
- Cloud changes the game in technical writing
The last trend for driving change is the cloud. It dominates modern IT. Organizations and end-users are accustomed to SaaS, or software-as-a-service, and the pay-per-use purchase model.
The benefits are clear. SaaS is fast and easy to deploy, both from a purchasing and an operational standpoint. It is time for technical documentation tools to make the cloud transition. It can remarkably lower the threshold for smaller companies and individual users, who haven’t been able to consider these tools in the past.
Cost-conscious buyers can accept a moderate monthly fee without blinking an eye but reject an investment proposal of traditional software licenses. They are further encouraged by the fact that SaaS relieves from operational costs such as managing software updates. Moreover, SaaS can be used off-premises, and it is scaled to the level of utilization.