Roughly a year ago The Content Wrangler, an online magazine that is pretty well-known in the tech comm industry, published the results of their benchmarking survey. Tools, strategies, issues… the list goes on. Yup, they asked questions on, I guess, all the key aspects of your everyday techwriting work. So what did we find out? Is there any hope left?
A breath of fresh digital air
We’re employing more and more innovative tools. We’re reaching out for modern solutions. Nowadays, tackling documentation assets with robust CCMSes, relying on XML authoring and presenting portions of content as videos are a common thing. Which is very good. That’s the way to go.
I’m not so convinced when it comes to adopting machine translation, which is another trend that many companies lean towards. Yeah, I know, cutting costs, I get that. But when translation is your background, it’s still a pretty scary thought that human translators could be entirely replaced. Or maybe not scary? I dunno. We’ll see. For now, the solution can produce stunning results as well as something atrocious so I can only treat it as an imperfect tool. And literary translation should be pretty safe for a while.
But we’re definitely shifting the content online – the survey is quite clear in this respect. Well, it seems fairly logical as nearly everything goes online. Signum temporis, you might say. And this will definitely help in fighting the image of documentation as a pile of manuals covered by a thick layer of dust.
Why not mobile?
When it comes to print, believe it or not, it’s still alive and kicking. Nearly half of respondents deal with printed deliverables. And when you think of it, this shouldn’t be surprising at all. Digital content isn’t always the best solution. There are times when you need to operate dangerously complicated (and possibly complicatedly dangerous) machinery, in horrible weather conditions, wearing heavy-duty gloves – accessing an online help on your smartphone might not seem such a terrific idea then.
The number of companies creating content on CD-ROMs and DVDs dropped by 50% within four years – it’s now 11% and 12% respectively. Is that good? In my opinion: definitely. Such deliverables are pretty obsolete nowadays so unless you have a strong business case to use it or you’re targeting your products at a group of time-travellers from the 1990s, focusing on more modern solutions is a way better option.
Unfortunately, although nearly all respondents (91%) deliver online content, publishing to mobile-ready formats still proves challenging. Only 24% of all the survey participants say that they’re present in the realm of mobile apps/devices. And I suppose we can expect a significant growth in this department in the years to come.
Cooperation is key
Now for some issues, shall we? It seems it’s still quite problematic to ensure the consistency of the content delivered. Insufficient tools are to blame, of course, but it would also help to have a unified strategy to follow. What’s more, tech comm hasn’t stopped being a lonely island, pushed aside as some necessary evil. Yup, the so-called departmental silos mentality is still present and we have plenty room for improvement when it comes to collaboration.
Finally, respondents complain that they rarely find out about what’s new in the industry and they would love to be up-to-date with best practices and success stories of others. Apparently they’re not following our blog! No, but seriously, there are numerous blogs you can follow or tech comm conferences you can attend (like soap!) so with minimal effort you can know what’s what and not be so surprised next time someone mentions DITA. Hilarious, I know.
All right, so that’s pretty much it. And If you’d like to dig deeper and analyse the survey thoroughly, you can ask for a free copy over here.