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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 2014 Skills and Technologies Survey was published on the WritersUA web site from September 23, 2013 – January 25, 2014. There were 444 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.

  • Although we don’t write to Simplified English standards, we are applying a form of plain English and global English guidelines to make translations more efficient and effective.
  • Another tool we use: Acrolinx to enforce our style guide and word usage for more consistent translation.
  • Big issues are • migrating to new tools/sw • changing content management philosophy for ease of maintenance as well as ease of reuse.
  • Great survey. You may want to expand it slightly and ask about user interface prototyping or wireframing tools.
  • I am not an information architect nor a UX designer so some questions may be applicable to that department but not for my daily work.
  • I edit technical white papers and best practices papers for an engineering group in a large multi-national company.These are normally made available on one of the company web sites for download. Many of your survey questions didn’t apply to my current situation. In previous years, I did a lot of original help development…that was fun!
  • I think you should include questions about management systems (both CMS and LMS), including Joomla, Drupal, MODx, and other web-based CMS as well as the “traditional” ones that come to seasoned writers’ minds….
  • I working for a start-up, creating their first full product manuals with Word. Everything else will be future considerations.
  • I’d love to know more about teams. Could you do another survey that covers working situations/environments and teams? Are folks embedded on dev teams, independent contractors, part of a UA team?
  • My team does not use XML-based authoring, but we have defined and implemented help content standards that align with DITA’s concept, task, and reference model.
  • Please note that what I find important in my daily work differs from the view of my managers (mostly engineers). For instance, I do not personally see HTML Help as invaluable to my work.
  • Q10 . sadly, none of the above. We are in the Dark Ages…. :/
  • RoboHelp Arbortext
  • Simple and to the point – well designed
  • Some of us use DocBook, not DITA.
  • Sorry wasn’t sure what some of the questions were really asking (so skipped at least one). Good luck (wish I could make the conference this year!)
  • Suggest a section for writing methods / concepts used, such as style guides (Chicago, Microsoft, etc), minimalism. Also, a subsection for those who are currently learning, in the process of migrating and/or interested in updating their tools and skills in mentioned categories, such as DITA. This data may reveal real desires that most likely hampered by stale management thinking, budget limits, etc. – yet separated from “current use” categories.
  • Survey is excellent. I use process mapping and documentation templates for Word and Wikis on ServiceNow (this is an extremely new tool and we are just learning). I would appreciate learning everything I can about documentation in Wikis on ServiceNow. I am concerned about Version Control, the integrity of the content, and the apparent lack of an approval process.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to participate.
  • This was very easy to complete. Well done!
  • Tools – MS Word, MadCap Flare, Adobe Pro, SnagIt
  • Voice and tone becoming very important–customers are less and less tolerant of “tech writer-ese”.
  • We are in the process of selecting a new content authoring platform, so items relating to DITA and XML are anticipated in in the immediate future.
  • We use a third-party CMS for all online documentation.
  • We use the Rational Unified Process (RUP) developmental framework, not included in the list for Question number 10.
  • We use Visual Studio online to manage our agile content development practices
  • What about public style guides used e.g. Microsoft manual of style, chicago, ap, msdn for ui text, etc.
  • Why is it that WritersUA only ever cares about tools? True value-added technical communication is about the effective use of language to support user goals — it’s about effective human communication, not about a flavor-of-the-month tool set! How about promoting some fundamental writing skills for a change?