In her book,
Ann Gentle asserts that technical writing jobs are increasingly becoming displaced by search engines such as Google, online media such as wikis, forums and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Jack Molisani and Scott Abel, in the STC’S Intercom magazine, suggest that technical communication needs to reinvent itself to become a Tech Comm 2.0. Their contention is that traditional documentation development has become overly commodified, with a multitude of technical writing services competing at increasingly low prices to produce content, much of which is of poor quality. They suggest that the most sought after content developers are specialists, particularly in the areas of interactive content development for mobile app’s, documentation development for API’s and software development kits, and social media content development and management. Technical writers, it seems are increasingly having to straddle traditional technical writing roles and roles more commonly associated with marketing and engineering specialisations.
In our MA Technical Communication and e-Learning course this week, we discussed the role of e-moderator from the perspective of its significance in ensuring quality learning outcomes for online students. Given the transformation that traditional technical writing is experiencing at present, it seems that e-moderating is an area that all technical writing students should look at if they want to survive in the world of social content development.
Jason Swarts believes that e-moderating is a specialist, niche role that is ideally suited to technical writers. He believes that technical writers possess the necessary blend of interpersonal and communication skills, editing capabilities, technical insight and problem-solving abilities to expertly steer online forums and also to use information acquired in these forums to improve content and product development in the future.
There is an increasing expectation of immediate responsiveness by services to the issues and difficulties experienced by service users. Many companies are turning to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to satisfy their customers’ demands for social availability. Many others are bolstering their online forums with trained moderators, adept at quickly attending to client’s issues. Still more are combining these methods to provide a multifaceted customer support strategy.
A large number of these roles are already provided by technical writers/information developers. However, as technical writing boundaries continue to shift, it may well fall to technical writers themselves to highlight their unique suitability for positions that are not traditionally associated with technical writing; positions such as e-moderating, content strategy, social media content management and content marketing.
Narrowly defining ourselves as technical writers/information developers may, in fact, restrict employers capacity to see value in the contribution we can make to organisations. Technical communication experience and qualifications mean having core communication and content development competencies that combine traditional technical document design and development abilities with online user interface design and accessibility, new media usage and social content creation skills. What is needed in the modern workplace, is an ability to leverage these skills to emphasise the value of our work and gain recognition for the types of contributions that technical communicators can make.
Whether we need to reinvent ourselves for the modern workplace or merely become more adept at marketing our existing skill’s is still a matter for some debate. Mark Baker, co-author of Every Page is Page One: Topic-based writing for technical communication and the web, however, appears to be in no doubt that technical writing, whilst in transition, is in no immediate danger of dying out. In fact, he believes that once technical writers recognise that they must become more technically expert, the need for good (online) technical documentation is such that technical writers will actually become more sought after.
Let’s hope so!