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.
Content development skills are highly rated with Writing procedures (81%) in first place. As for other aspects of content development, Task analysis (69%), Writing reference information (70%), and Interviewing (78%) are all highly rated by three quarters of respondents. Information architecture (58%), Copy editing (66%), and Developmental editing (47%) are valued highly by respondents.
The previous combined entry of Indexing/Search was broken up in 2013 and it continues to show a difference. Search (53%) remains important to almost half of respondents. However, Indexing is lower at 25%. This indicates a reliance on tagging and search engines and less effort applied to the traditional compiled indexes.
Multimedia – working with images and video – moved up from 56% last year to 62%. User Interface Design (57%) and Instructional Design (39%) are also healthy All of these are positive signs that UA professionals are involved in more diverse activities.
Expertise with authoring tools (86%) 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.
Project planning (69%) is an important skill no matter what your role is. Content reuse (69%) continues to be important as a way to leverage our valued information in different media types and across platforms.
Usability testing increased in importance from 46% of respondents to 49%. Management and supervision is highly valued by just a third of respondents.
A new item in the survey was Content Management Systems (59%). More and more of us publish our content through turnkey tools with template-based authoring and native data storage. Quality assurance and testing (59%) are employed in different ways at different organizations.
Another new item is Accessible Design (23%). This is an emerging and important skill area. Hopefully, more UA professionals will be applying resources to ensure our content is easily available for people with various disabilities.
Authoring tools have provided us with environments that don’t require us to have an understanding of the underlying code. However, it can be helpful to have a good working knowledge of what’s “under the hood”. The Code-level Expertise Table below shows that very few of the respondents get involved with code beyond HTML/CSS. With many lucrative positions appearing for SDK/Programmer writing, these percentages may increase over the new few years.
Finally, we asked respondents to describe other skills that are relevant to their work. These included: WordPress, SQL, Framescript, PowerShell, and network administration.
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
|Interviewing (subject-matter experts/customers/users)||78%|
|Writing reference information||70%|
|Multimedia (images, video, audio)||62%|
|Information architecture (structured authoring, content management, taxonomies)||58%|
|User interface design (embedded UA, field labels, UI Help text)||57%|
|Search (tagging, metadata, search engine optimization)||53%|
|Indexing (keywords, Index tab, back-of-the-book)||25%|
Other Skills Table
|Expertise with authoring tools||86%|
|Project planning (without management or supervisory responsibilities)||69%|
|Content reuse (single-sourcing)||69%|
|Content Management Systems||59%|
|Quality assurance and testing||59%|
|Management and supervision||34%|
|Translation / Localization||32%|
Code-level Expertise Table
|HTML / CSS||65%|
|XML (DocBook, DITA, DTDs, Schema)||39%|
|Style Sheets / Transformations (XSLT, XSL-FO)||33%|
|Programming (C++, C#, Java, J#, VB, etc.)||13%|
|Server-side scripts (ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, etc.)||11%|