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The 2011
The WritersUA Skills and Technology Survey

SkillsTechnologiesPlatformsSurvey Home

To All User Assistance Developers,

There is no question that the software development world offers a lot of excitement and challenging work. In the area of software user assistance we are particularly challenged by having to master a wide range of disciplines. From foundation skills like writing and editing—to the coding of content—to usability testing and user interface design, we find ourselves in a profession that is difficult to define. What is it that we really do?

The objective of this survey is to take a snapshot of our collective professional life in an attempt to identify what we value in our daily work as user assistance professionals:

  • What emphasis do we place on writing and editing—versus coding and design skills?
  • What platforms do we support?
  • Which technologies are most important to our UA systems?

The results of this survey may help us to better manage our career path and to improve the quality of our work.

The 2011 Skills and Technologies Survey was published on the WritersUA web site from Aug. 30, 2010 through Feb. 22, 2011. There were 460 respondents. Anyone could participate in the survey. We did not require respondents to identify themselves. What you have in front of you is a synthesis of the results. We're presenting our analysis in three different sections: Skills, Technologies, and Platforms.

This study comes with a couple of caveats. First, the majority of respondents are most likely customers of WritersUA. Most of the survey submissions came in response to email broadcasts we made to our mailing list. However, the WritersUA constituency is large and probably is a fair representation of the overall user assistance community. We also announced the survey on related discussion lists. Second, this survey is intended to represent the interests of technical writers involved in software user assistance and may not be representative of the technical communication or the software development communities at large.

To receive news and updates on future WritersUA surveys and events, join our mailing list.

General Comments

We received a number of comments from respondents regarding the survey.

A growing challenge is translation of content for multiple languages.

Although we don't use DITA at my organization yet, it's on the horizon. Home-grown DTDs and XML authoring is very DITA-like. Another technology that is invaluable, that is maybe implied here, is Content Management/Component Management Systems or other managment systems. More and more, it's probably integral to how we work...

As a documentation consultant requirements tend to change based on project and client needs/requirements. I answered this survey based on my current client's situation.

Business clients want learning on demand, LMSs are fine but it needs to be chunked and transportable, accessible when needed, not memorized. LMSs are only used for core skills, for assessment purposes

Content mangement systems are critical to our content. I suspect much (most?) of the UA industry is the same. Please consider this topic for your next survey.

Currently investigating multi-media to determine usefulness, but not yet very "valuable" to the company.

Development skills--Java, DITA, css, etc.--are essential to our system, but are performed by specialized groups.

Even having all the experience in the tools, methods, and disciplines mentioned does not seem to be enough to ensure employment.

I appreciate the efforts made in hosting these surveys. I do think that with this survey, answers change almost from project to project, and certainly from company to company. So what will the results actually show us? Trends? But trends might not be due to logical choices made by tech comm pros, as much as by environmental influencers (money, politics, etc.). But this will be interesting to see, nevertheless.

I don't only work in user assistance. I also work on analysis and design documents, including business requirements, I am not a pure UA writer. I go where I can get work and in NYC area that is often NOT UA.

I just started w/ a company that only has PDF/print doc. I was hired to implement online Help after I understand more fully what the requirements would be to do so. I work with InDesign daily to create 60-ish page docs. I miss MS Word...

I marked some skills that are valuable in my group rather to myself.

I serve double-duty as both a Tech Pubs manager and scrum master. I use Agile methodology to manage my writers as well as a cross-functional team that develops and tests software features.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Information Mapping in that last question. Thanks for recognizing a tool that is used throughout our corporation.

It could be interesting to evaluate usage of content management systems also

Lumping search and indexing together ignores the fact that we no longer provide indexes, but focus considerably on search.

Maybe I missed it but you didn't mention graphic tool use, such simple images, flowcharts, etc. I used both a bit in critical places.

Microsoft's security issues have eliminated the usefulness of .chm help, unfortunately

New job as of June 2009 is all hardware documentation (servicing, maintenance), delivered on paper. Given the audience, this is appropriate. No software development at this place; it's commercial machinery. Electronic controller is 3rd party. I miss help files and software!!

Our task-based, structured authoring methodology uses the important principles of Information Mapping, but not their formatting solutions. We strive to ensure that the information we provide is of high value, eliminate unnecessary fluff and stem sentences that repeat information in the descriptive headings and labels.

Some things like videos we are just starting to try, but they may become invaluable soon.

Some tools and skills are areas that my group would like to grow in. Often we don't have the skills or the time to investigate the technology effectively, but we know they would help us add value to our role. We squeeze in what we can learn between tasks. Thank you - great survey! Would like to see SharePoint included more as we use it a lot for workflow, document review, publishing, etc. Also learning management systems. (CMS and KMS are on our wish list.)

Thank you for making and sharing this survey and its results.

The difference between "no value" and "does not apply" was fuzzy for me. It would be helpful to give an example of when to use those categories.

There are certain skills I would like to use more frequently (information architecture, task analysis, and instructional design, in particular), but often there isn't time to do anything more than simply create the deliverables I'm responsible for. I also wish there were more collaboration and discussion within my doc team to analyze our requirements and plan our work so that we're less reactive and more proactive.

Use Docbook for everything; use content management extensively

We are working towards DITA or another component content management system. Our company is new to it, and has not implemented/used it yet.

We translate our documents into more than 35 languages, would have liked to see more details on this

We're moving to a corporate DITA solution, so we're nowhere close to being a structured authoring house. We've seriously considered AIR Help and will likely move to it when the tools improve. Some groups are doing agile development and I expect it to become more common over the next few years.

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shannonm *at* writersua *dot* com




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WritersUA offers cutting-edge training and information to Technical Writers, Information Analysts and Architects, Documentation Designers, Help Authors, Publication Managers, Documentation Leads, Senior Writers and Documentation Contractors, and User Education Specialists. The focus is on software user assistance, which encompasses writing, editing, planning, coding, indexing, testing, programming, localization, and standards development.




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