The 2012 WritersUA Skills and Technologies Survey
The use of technologies is a defining element in the identity of software user assistance professionals. Enhancing a product's usability requires transforming our words and ideas into digital form using a variety of technologies. In our survey we provided a list of popular user assistance technologies and asked the respondents to value the importance of those technologies in their current development efforts.
The figure below shows the top-rated user assistance technologies. These technologies are rated as either "4" (Very Valuable) or "5" (Invaluable), the top two ratings on a five-point scale.
Support for manuals in the form of PDF (83%) is at the top of the list as the most valued technology component. Using PDF as a delivery format has become a staple in our documentation sets. PDF files can be delivered on an installation CD or via the Web. In the past, this technology was mainly used for legacy print documents like user guides, and also for supplemental white papers and troubleshooting information. Today we find many organizations using PDF files as the primary distribution format for product documentation.
The World Wide Web (65%) continues to be a key element of our user assistance as evidenced by the strong showing in the survey. This includes content that is distributed through the public Internet and private intranets. Until recently, the Web was primarily used as a supplement to online Help and printed manuals. As we move increasingly toward Web-based applications and ubiquitous broadband Internet connections, server-side deployment of user assistance via the Web is becoming a hot topic in many tech pubs departments. So the Web is filling more than one role.
Traditional documentation components such as quick reference materials (59%), knowledge-bases (46%), and Microsoft HTML Help (49%) are still valued highly by over half of respondents. Paper-based manuals (22%) have significantly dropped in popularity.
Growing in importance are collaborative technologies like discussion Forums (28%), Wikis (28%), and Interactive Helpers have maintained the same level of popularity. The value of Social Sites (14%) has grown.
Here is the complete list of skills presented in the survey. They are separate into functional groups. The percentages are of responses rating a technology as "Very Valuable" or "Invaluable".
Microsoft Help Systems Table
System Response Percent HTML Help 1.x (.chm) 49% WinHelp (.hlp) 7% Help 2.x for Visual Studio (.hxs) 4% Help Viewer 1.0 for Visual Studio (.mshc) 4%
Other Help Systems Table
System Response Percent Browser-based Help (WebHelp or any HTML/XML-based Help content displayed in a browser) 79% Eclipse Help 8% JavaHelp 7% Oracle Help for Web 4% Apple Help 3% Oracle Help for Java 3%
Manuals (User, Admin, Installation, or Reference Guides) Table
Manual Response Percent PDF manuals 83% Print (distributed on paper) 22% XPS, Epub, Mobi, Kindle 10%
Other Delivery Technologies Table
Technology Response Percent World Wide Web or intranet content 65% Quick reference (Reference cards, Getting Started guides, release notes, job aids) 59% Multimedia tutorials (Video, Flash, simulations) 49% Knowledge bases (web-based repositories for reference information) 46% Forums (discussion groups, blogs, Twitter) 28% Wikis 28% Interactive helpers (wizards, troubleshooters) 26% RSS feeds 9%
Other delivery technologies mentioned by respondents: Adobe AIR and proprietary solutions.
A number of respondents mentioned specific tools. We keep tools in a separate Tools Survey.
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shannonm *at* writersua *dot* com
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.