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To All User Assistance Developers,

The area of professional interest called software user assistance is always a mix of new and old. Some aspects of the work seems to stay the same year after year. However, the tools, technologies, and processes are always evolving. One of the enjoyable aspects of working with software user assistance is that there are opportunities to wear a lot of different hats. 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 various skills?
  • Which technologies are most important to our UA systems?
  • What platforms do we support?

The results of this survey may help us to better manage our career path and to improve the quality of our work.

The 2016 Skills and Technologies Survey was published on the WritersUA web site from March 28, 2016 – September 8, 2016. There were 284 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.

  • I had difficulty understanding whether you were asking, “Which of these technologies do you use to help you crate stuff?” or “Which do you help create?” The guidance was ambiguous: “This annual industry survey helps summarize what we do and how we do it as user assistance professionals.” Also, perhaps you could provide more “gatekeeping” questions to weed out answers from people like me, who write proposals, reports, and the like but don’t create user documentation or user interfaces.
  • I work in an area where the Book Paradigm is still deeply embedded.
  • More info on accessibility, please.
  • My company is on the trailing edge of current doc development. I and others are trying to advance the art within the company, but it’s like trying to turn a supertanker with a flea.
  • Ongoing thanks for gathering and sharing important information!
  • Some of the questions were confusing in ways that would have been cleared up if they were in a different order. For example, the distinction drawn here between Authoring Systems and Content Management Systems was only explained for the first time several questions after it was first relevant.
  • Thanks for organizing it.
  • the last 2 questions confused me – are they directed to my output or is this products created by my organization?
  • This shows me how limited my skills are and how I could be doing my job so much better and more efficiently with the right tools and knowledge. How do I get there, though?
  • This survey doesn’t fit 100% what I do. Either I use these technologies, systems, methodologies, and software pkgs, or I don’t. To rank their usefulness in value doesn’t make much sense to me. Also, my company offers its users both training videos and written output (for example, help and quick reference cards). I am not on the instructional design team, but I am sometimes the person who sends to our customers or speaks to our customers about the information and training are available to them. Do I answer the survey for what I do (no videos or instructional design) or for what we offer to our customers (videos/instructional design output plus written output)?
  • Very thorough
  • We don’t formally use DITA, but try to follow the key points.
  • We’re a small company– I am lone tech writer. I rely on RoboHelp as my content repository and then I output to Word or PDFs.
  • You should ask about how the product is delivered vs how the content is delivered. Is the product SaaS, installed on a hardware appliance, installed as a VM appliance? Is the help content embedded with the product, delivered from a centralized server, delivered by a WIKI or a CMS (like Drupal)? I think product/content architecture at this level is getting interesting.