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 2015 Skills and Technologies Survey was published on the WritersUA web site from February 16, 2015 – March 17, 2015. There were 389 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.

  • Because our products erun only on Linux/UNIX systems, we’re limited in the technologies that are available to use for developing and producing user assistance. The UA community ought to do a better job of supporting Linux because the software tools that engineers use to design virtually all semiconductor chips and consumer hardware does not run on Microsoft Windows machines.
  • Excellent!
  • For questions that require vertical scrolling, please repeat the column headings as necessary so that a set is always visible on screen.
  • Hey, there are a few Silicon Valley companies that are using Markdown/Sphinx/pdflatex as an alternative to DITA. It’s an interesting albeit a rather geeky  solution and I think it might be something that more people adopt over time.
  • I don’t know what some of these terms mean. Definitions would be nice for things that seem vague (such as “developmental editing.”
  • The following are very important to my daily work:  Single Source, Topic Based Authoring, Inverted Pyramid, MadCap Flare, Techsmith’s Camtasia 8, Jing, Snagit, YouTube, WordPress and an internal CMS tool.
  • I don’t understand whether your questions are asking whether these are things that I do or things that are important in my daily job. For example, I don’t do QA work, but, without the QA team, my job would not be complete. Additionally, when you use the word “manual,” I write things like one-page instruction docs, one-page installation guides, and the like in PDF. They are technically user guides, but they might be considered Quick Reference? Not sure how to categorize.
  • I have completely stopped using traditional techcomm tools. I use Markdown, HTML, CSS, and very rarely InDesign. I also write strings that are used in the code base for UI text and/or built-in help.
  • I haven’t lucked into any jobs where I could use the newer, more expensive products. I’ve worked for small companies and start-ups that only had MS Word.
  • I think you should rather ask what we use, what we think of that – and what we would use if we were to choose. Asking as you do above may lead to misleading answers.  For example, In the case of the company I work for now, PDF is very important, but only because they want it. I don’t think it is important or relevant to the users.
  • I wasn’t sure of the implications of some of the questions. Currently, the company has very minimal tools, etc. I have used many more tools and done much more and am trying to implement up-to-date solutions.
  • I work at small startup company engineer driven but resistant to developing viable work processes. It can take me up to a month to get minor corrections to the online help approved for publishing due to onerous qualty management policies in place, yet we do not have a defined process for developing product specifications or test cases!
  • It would be helpful to learn the percentage of efforts that are delivering platform-neutral content (html/css/javascript, etc.) AND how they are doing it.
  • Just an observation, there were quite a few typos in this survey. You might want to take special care when surveying writers to be sure your own work is error free! Thanks!!
  • Lone Writer in a large engineering group that writes most of the material. Great survey for me to see where I can help change some areas.
  • My responses are based on a variety of work areas (different contracts)
  • My title is Content Strategist and I’m a member of the User Experience team. I was formerly a technical writer, but with my current role I’m not doing much of the single-sourced topic-based tech writing that I used to do.
  • Our customers are growers, packers, brokers and shippers of fresh produce. Most rely heavily on their ability to call in to our Support staff. Although I produce online help and knowledge base docs, I interpret my job as the sole user assistance professional as providing needed information to our Support staff.
  • Our tech writing team is morphing with some trainers and we find we are delivering some “help” by personal training. Also, sometimes we need to present our help systems to other teams who will use it as part of their training. Hence, presentation and speaking skills are now needed.
  • REST APIs are critical for my current work and I am interested in any tools or processes to support publishing them.
  • Thanks for doing this
  • Thanks, Joe, for everything that you do! Might want to include the twitter account or email here to continue to promote.
  • video, interactive learning tools, live webinar broadcasts, and one-on-one customer training via remote connection are all very important to our customer learning model.
  • We are investigating new tools and are always open to learning about the tools and processes that other companies use.
  • We have started using Git and Markdown and follow an open source approach to developing documentation.
  • You should check for typos. :-) “be” should be “by” somewhere and there’s a “mboile” that should be “mobile”.