Documentation trends 2019

In 2018 I followed many blogs and read about lots of stuff related to the technical writing community. We live, as ever, in an evolving world. Where a lot is still the same; as a technical writer your main task is to get a message across. What evolves is the technology you can use to accomplish this task;  CSS evolution and cloud storage.  What also changes is the perception of the user. UX: User Experience is the newest hype. His little sister is called; personalised content. Beyond the hype is the chatbot. When a big player as Google pulls the plug, then there is really something going on. Last but not least, there is the ongoing trend that skills lose to knowledge. When a company wants to hire an API-writer they’d rather go for a developer than for someone who just did a few API-documentation modules.

doc trends 2019

Cloud

Cloud hit the Help Authoring Tools (HATS) market when MadCap Flare offered it in 2018 as a new feature in its first release. HATS like Paligo and ClickHelp also offer this functionality.

MadCap uses a third application, Central for which subscriptions must be bought, ClickHelp works with extra licenses to make editing a joy for team members.

Markdown

This very simple markup language used for API dcumentation seems to catch on. Some HATS, like e.g. MadcapFlare, need add-ins.

Search

Full text search is available in many HATS. But as consumers got used to intuitive search where a misspelled word is automatically corrected, it was just a matter of time until HATS would pick up.

The fully redesigned RoboHelp 2019 now offers intutive search. Other HATS bound to follow.

UX – User Experience

Writing is only a part of what is called UX. Throw your pdf out of the window and think of tool tips and tone of voice. In an earlier blog I wrote about a few aspects. Applies especially to smaller companies. More general information about this trend in the Cherryleaf podcast:

Personalised content

I recently wrote about this trend.

Three remarks:

  • Cloud storage, through log in and thereby creating user profiles, could be a means to collect data for personalised content.
  • FluidHelp uses the search capability to offer the user his own personalised output.

Flexible CSS – flexbox

Talking about HTML, tables and such were the weakest link. It was near to impossible to create content for Arabic or Hebrew which write from right to left instead as from left to right. What about centring an element in a box? What about dimensions of elements in a table. Well, this is where flexbox comes in handy.

“In a perfect world of browser support, the reason you’d choose to use flexbox is because you want to lay a collection of items out in one direction or another. As you lay out your items you want to control the dimensions of the items in that one dimension, or control the spacing between items. These are the uses that flexbox was designed for.”

center flexbox

It is not that difficult to learn. Here’s a link.

Using flexbox will be an enrichment for HTLM5 output. Hope in 2019 we’ll see MadCapFlare, RoboHelp, Author-It or any other HAT add it as a funtionality in one of their releases.

Chatbots

Chatbots are beyond the hype. Every company of a considerable size has one in place. They are still only used for simple tasks. You could ask a chatbot for a tortilla recipe. A next step would be to ask the chatbot what recipes are available with a certain ingredient. But it is still human input that creates machine output.

A game changer might be the road Google took, breaking away from an all word concept to a picture – word concept.

In 2019 we might see more initiatives from companies to revolutionise the chatbot concept. The road is long, what lies ahead uncertain.

Word

Word was here before we could talk, it will still be here long after we have died. There must be groups of Word-haters. With grinding teeth they have to succumb to the thought that Word came out on top in a survey on the most used application for documentation in companies, n was 333..here the results:

tools count

For the access to the data you need a github account.

I wrote a blog on other findings from this survey.

A soothing thought for Word-haters. Even dinosaurs became extinct one day.

Knowledge beats skills

2018 saw a very interesting discussion about the future of technical communicators. Would there still be work. From the discussion it became clear that the skills a generalist has won’t bring him a job in any specific field. Writing machine manuals? The engineer knows what the other engineer needs to know. In the EU you could try to become a more or less expert on EC-guidelines regarding writing for machines. That’s how I landed a few jobs in this area. In API-writing you always lose to a developer with mediocre writing skills. But following some online courses on API-documentation nearly landed me, as a non-developer, a job in this field. The trend is learn or leave the business.

Listen to this Cherryleaf podcast:

Tom Johnson wrote a series of articles about it.

He also came up with a solution. “In the debate between being a specialist or generalist, there’s also a third option: developing technical acuity. A person with a high degree of technical acuity has the technical mindset needed to understand and solve problems across a variety of technical domains. Given the ever-growing number of technologies, developing technical acuity can be more advantageous, especially in technical writing contexts since technical writers work with a lot of different technologies.”

 

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