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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 2013 Skills and Technologies Survey was published on the WritersUA web site from January 8 – March 18 of 2013. There were 357 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.

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General Comments

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

  • Wish we used half this stuff!
  • We see a tendency towards moving closer towards R&D with agile development, usability design of the software playing a bigger role for the tech writer
  • We are in the process of moving to DITA, but still without delivery decision (needs corporate buy-in) for output. We continue to output to PDF (even from DITA). We have not yet moved help out of RoboHTML (WebHep).
  • This is an old-fashioned shop. We write in unstructured frame, publish PDFs to a knowledge base, and convert a few books into online help via ePublisher.
  • The documents I create are for end users and are not for software.
  • Thanks, WritersUA, for all that you do for our community! Please keep it up!
  • Thanks for doing this Joe! Cannot wait to see the results.
  • Thank you for keeping me informed of industry trends.
  • Some of my answers related to technologies that are used by my dev team in making our software products, but not used (nor even understood) by myself in my daily work.
  • Social media technologies are being used to for customer facing technical writing documenting. These would include self-help type of document sometimes delivered via a bot or an AI personality similar to the Android “assistant.”
  • Our methods are antiquated, but we are working on turning the ocean liner.
  • Our department is probably least likely to use new technologies, although we have switched from PDF and hard-copy delivery to intranet/HTML delivery. Our materials are nearly all used my internal staff and are subject to internal and external audits.
  • My answers about what operating systems and such that we support.. may be incorrect or missing checkmarks.. I just don’t have that info.
  • Maybe include “Information Architecture,” which is a pretty nebulous term. I never know if I should say I am one since there are DITA information architects and information architects for a library of books, for example, who decide on appropriate content for the deliverables and which content goes into them.
  • Many of the skills and technologies are at a base stage for us, but will be increasingly more important in the next 1-3 years.
  • Management shows little interest in copy editing, developmental editing, indexing, and localization standards. Instead they are now scrambling to implement DITA and will be spending a lot of money doing so. Management is also trying to adopt Agile (with no training or guidance) and trying to have writers produce short videos (again with no training or objectives; the videos will be rough and redundant since we have an excellent multimedia and training branch that produces superior tutorials.). I expect lack of training and confusing guidelines. Management typically operates in fire fighting/knee jerk reaction mode. It feels to me like managers want a feather in their cap to be able to say they did “this” and “that.” Writers are somewhat demoralized.
    Just entered what I personally work on or know about. Other employees in my company may support other technologies and require different skills. We do support iPhone mobile.
    I write developer documentation for the Windows Compact platform. That skews my answers a bit, since I don’t support other platforms/technology.
  • I have given my opinion/survey according to my projects.
  • I have a lot more skills and abilities than my company is interested in using. As the company has grown my position has narrowed and when we move to the Knowledge Base, it will narrow further.
  • I am stuck in a world of print delivery!! :( However, it’s the most appropriate format for this audience. I miss developing software help!
  • Due to the current economy, the focus is on get it out fast. I am set up to move to DITA but the lack of time prevents the transition (which, of course, will save time).
  • A little over my head, but that’s okay