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The 2012 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.

Most Valued User Assistance Skills

Experience with authoring tools (82%) is always up at the top of this list. This is a key skill that is 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.

Content development skills are highly rated with writing procedures (88%) in first place. As for other aspects of content development, Task analysis (78%), Writing reference information (74%), and Interviewing (71%) are all highly rated by three quarters of respondents. Information architecture (68%), Copy editing (56%), and Developmental editing (49%) are valued highly by at least half of respondents.

Project planning is an important skill no matter what your role is. Almost three-quarters (82%) of respondents ranked this highly.

Detailed Results

Here is the complete list of skills presented in the survey. They are separate into functional groups. The percentages are of responses rating a skill as "Very Valuable" or "Invaluable".

Content Development Skills Table

SkillResponse Percent
Writing procedures88%
Task analysis78%
Writing reference information74%
Interviewing (subject-matter experts/customers/users)71%
Information architecture (structured authoring, content management, taxonomies)68%
User interface design (embedded UA, field labels, UI Help text)58%
Copy editing56%
Indexing/Search (tagging, metadata, search engine optimization)52%
Developmental editing49%
Multimedia (images, video, audio)48%
Instructional design44%

Other Skills Table

SkillResponse Percent
Expertise with authoring tools82%
Project planning (without management or supervisory responsibilities)82%
Content reuse (single-sourcing)68%
Quality assurance and testing56%
Usability testing47%
Management and supervision40%
Translation / Localization33%

Code-level Expertise Table

TechnologyResponse Percent
XML (DocBook, DITA, DTDs, Schema)42%
Style Sheets / Transformations (XSLT, XSL-FO)37%
JavaScript (or other client-side scripts)18%
Programming (C++, C#, Java, J#, VB, etc.)12%
Server-side scripts (ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, etc.)10%


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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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