Like other user-focused specialties, from user experience design and eLearning to research and iteration, technical writing evolves as technologies change.
While consumers once both dreaded and depended upon the 150-page printed manual that accompanied their electronics, today’s users expect clean, easily accessible documentation that helps them learn what they need to know quickly and efficiently. In some cases, technical writing is even baked into the product itself through careful UX copywriting and design, guiding the user on how to use the product as they proceed.
Here at Clear Point, we’re seeing several key trends emerge in technical writing as users adopt new technology and seek out new ways of using their existing systems, products, and tools. We’ve highlighted three key trends we expect will grow within the technical writing industry this year and beyond:
The user will expect efficient, bite-sized learning opportunities, not massive manuals.
As we discussed in our post on embedded “micro” e-Learning opportunities, users increasingly want to learn how to solve common problems, dilemmas, or challenges quickly. One tool that many digital products now use are short, easily digestible videos that help users quickly solve everyday problems, like saving a file, creating a new document, or running an operation.
While it may seem like video content goes against the ethos of technical writing as a discipline, there’s actually a lot of overlap in the way information is presented in a video and in written documentation. Often, technical writers are the ideal professionals to work on explainer video scripts, boiling down key processes into easy-to-understand, brief summaries meant to be watched in under 5 minutes. And sometimes these micro learning opportunities can fit seamlessly into technical documentation itself, allowing users to visualize the steps necessary to complete a particular action in an unfamiliar digital environment.
The user will seek out searchable and relevant information rather than read entire documents.
We’ve already seen the trend towards searchability on our devices, from voice assistants that help us answer everyday questions to “home” screens that allow us to seamlessly find apps and shortcuts on the go. So it’s no surprise that this same trend of searchability and relevance should apply to technical documentation, as well.
Sites like Github, for example, made it easy for users to allow developers to not only host code for development and feedback, but also provide users with easy access to documentation about their digital products. Documentation on GitHub can exist either in the form of “wiki” manuals that cover the in’s and out’s of a system or via GitHub’s built-in Pages functionality, where developers can launch standalone sites based on their existing documentation. By focusing on creating strong learning resources for products, services like GitHub help developers understand that not only must their products function well but they must be supported by a rich library of learning resources, as well.
The user will want to learn by doing, not by reading.
There will always be a place for user-focused technical documentation, particularly for products and services that are complex or have a steep learning curve. But one trend we are increasingly seeing is for technical documentation and guidelines to be built into products themselves rather than exist solely as a standalone resource. So, for example, a product like Dropbox would walk first-time users through an onboarding experience as they use the product, helping them learn key functionality while they begin working.
This user onboarding process is a seamless way to integrate users with a new product on a deeper level faster than traditional technical documentation, but it doesn’t replace the need for solid, user-focused manuals, wikis, and help documents for power users, users that need more support, or organizations trying to integrate software into their existing workflow. So while this is a trend we expect to see grow, it should be seen as an adjunct to documentation, not a replacement.