Eight documentation trends for 2020


With 2019 now over the rainbow and nowhere more to be found, 2020 could become the year of.. Well, i am not the Wizard of Oz neither am i a fortune teller, but drawing from general trends one can filter down to the impact on technical writing.

Chunks of documentation – more micro content

Search the internet and what you will get are search results presented as chunks of information. Within a few seconds you can scan what you need.

The urge for more micro content certainly hit the technical writing market. We already saw it in the FAQs we created, but it will be used more and more for programming  chatbots.  The API gaming world is another market. When you are lucky, they come with a FAQ. It also helps with shaping the Personalisation trend that not only influences the technical writing world.


Documentation? We don’t need it!

You play games? Clash of empires, Football manager, Survival, Naval empire etc etc… I was surprised by the low level of documentation these games are presented. Quite a lot of them start with a walk-through to get you as fast as possible to level 3. By then you know more or less everything there is to be known. Some, but not a lot, go with a FAQ. They are basic and merely give general information, but Payment details will always be one of them :). The message is: when we present you with an intuitive UI and some simple workflows you don’t need documentation.


VR still not predominant in TW world

Virtual reality as part of technical documentation was a hype, but it has died down. Some companies offer it, but i did not find any proof that it is now widely used. It is a market for big machines. It is a market where these machines (planes, vehicles, ships, hsopitals) get serviced. VR-glasses might be used. It is a niche in the technical writing market.


Machine learning affecting technical writing?

Google and Amazon both hit the market with AutoML Natural Language.

For Google it is an extension of their Cloud AutoML machine learning platform now hitting upon the human language domain. “AutoML Natural Language taps machine learning to reveal the structure and meaning of text from emails, chat logs, social media posts, and more. It can extract information about people, places, and events both from uploaded and pasted text or Google Cloud Storage documents, and it allows users to train their own custom AI models to classify, detect, and analyze things like sentiment, entities, content, and syntax,” as stated in the linked article . “AutoML Natural Language has over 5,000 classification labels and allows training on up to 1 million documents up to 10MB in size.” Companies like Nikei and Hearst are already using it. More in-depth information here and here. The picture below gives a general understanding.


Amazon’s Textract does more or less the same, spitting out a json file as a result. It is used by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Weather and Mail in Britain.

This trend so far has not affected technical writing, but for certain documents (machine manuals, and possibly some API-documentation) it should have some business case. Or what if it could turn my functional design in a full blown functional user manual? It should be capable to create a FAQ with its question-answer formatted text documents. Of course it is too far fetched to suggest that AutoML machine learning will influence the technical writing market this year, but keep an eye on this development and its use cases.

Machine documentation might become less paper based

Due to European directives manuals for machines had to be delivered in paper to the customer. The main directive: IEC/IEEE 82079-1 saw a new update in 2019 and has become less strict on the format  which should now be “based on the needs of the target audiences”. So online documentation (e.g. terminal instructions) could become part of the package. It is a question what the manufacturer agrees upon with the customer taking into account local legislation. The possibility of steering away from paper based documentation will lead to cost reduction for companies and a better customer journey they hope. More information here.

But, I as a customer prefer the paper based manual as I don’t want to read instructions, after an endless search, online.


Word and Framemaker still going strong

Word is not on its way out. As long as multiple companies use the Office suit it will be a tool that technical writers every now and then will work with. To a lesser degree this also applies to Framemaker, although more structured, which is good for output to 3rd party tools, it is still a sturdier tool than Word, but only used in environments where e.g. machine documentation is created.


 New markets …new chances for technical writers

As we are heading towards a ‘green revolution’ new companies will be founded. The moment they grow bigger after developers and testers, also technical writers will be employed; from the installation of solar panels to the servicing of wind turbines.


And some more trends….

In the meantime Cherryleaf posted a podcast with their technical writing trends for 2020.

They see:

  • more help content ending up in the UI
  • more micro content ending up in the UI
  • a small demand growth for UX writers
  • a still growing demand for API writers
  • a move to speech based content – using your voice to navigate through a video.


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