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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 (80%) in first place. As for other aspects of content development, Task analysis (68%), Writing reference information (68%), and Interviewing (71%) are all highly rated by three quarters of respondents. Task analysis and Writing reference information took a dip from the 2013 results. Information architecture (60%), Copy editing (58%), and Developmental editing (47%) are valued highly by at about half of respondents.

The 2013 entry of Indexing/Search was broken up into separate components for this 2014 survey. And it made a difference. Search (48%) remained important to almost half of respondents. However, Indexing standing on its own dropped to 28%. This indicates a reliance on tagging and search engines and less effort applied to the traditional compiled indexes.

Expertise with authoring tools (77%) 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 is an important skill no matter what your role is. Almost three-quarters (71%) of respondents ranked this highly.

Detailed Results

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

Skill Response
Writing procedures 80%
Interviewing
(subject-matter experts/customers/users)
71%
Task analysis 68%
Writing reference information 68%
Information architecture
(structured authoring, content management, taxonomies)
60%
Copy editing 58%
User interface design
(embedded UA, field labels, UI Help text)
53%
Multimedia
(images, video, audio)
48%
Search
(tagging, metadata, search engine optimization)
48%
Developmental editing 47%
Instructional design 40%
Indexing
(keywords, Index tab, back-of-the-book)
28%

 

Other Skills Table

Skill Response
Expertise with authoring tools 77%
Project planning (without management or supervisory responsibilities) 71%
Content reuse (single-sourcing) 63%
Quality assurance and testing 49%
Usability testing 39%
Management and supervision 31%
Translation / Localization 27%

 

Code-level Expertise Table

Technology Response
HTML / CSS 60%
XML (DocBook, DITA, DTDs, Schema) 33%
Style Sheets / Transformations (XSLT, XSL-FO) 30%
DITA 21%
JavaScript (or other client-side scripts) 14%
Programming (C++, C#, Java, J#, VB, etc.) 10%
Server-side scripts (ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, etc.) 7%