The 2005 WritersUA Skills and Technologies Survey
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The development of user assistance is a blend of a wide variety of skills. Technical communication skills provide the foundation. They are supplemented by skills unique to the software development world. In this survey, we asked the respondents to value the importance of a number of skills commonly employed by user assistance professionals in their daily work. The figure below shows the top ten skills valued highly with a rating of "4" (Very Valuable) or "5" (Invaluable), the top two ratings on a five-point scale.
As in past versions of this survey, content development filled the top of the list. Writing procedures (91%) is Number One with writing reference information (83%) in third place. Other content development skills included Interviewing (75%), Copy Editing (68%), and Developmental Editing (65%). All of these skills were favored by a higher percentage of respondents than in last year's survey. Success in our field relies heavily on our ability to craft words into a structure that communicates clearly to the user.
Experience with authoring tools (87%) in second place is a key skill that's valued highly. The nature of working with a digital medium like software user assistance requires the use of a variety of tools. A plumber needs a pipe wrench, and we need our authoring tools. Job listings frequently include a variety of tools as prerequisites, so it pays to keep your tool skills current and comprehensive.
Working as software developers also requires us to be knowledgeable about markup and programming languages. Understanding Coding HTML (63%) and Cascading Style Sheets (54%) are virtually requirements today. We place less emphasis on the importance of detailed knowledge of XML (35%), client-side scripting (20%), or other programming languages (18%).
Here are the percentages of respondents rating the rest of the skills choices as either "Very Valuable" or "Invaluable":