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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.

Experience with authoring tools (82%) 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.

Content development skills are highly rated with writing procedures (88%) in first place. As for other aspects of content development, Task analysis (78%), Writing reference information (74%), and Interviewing (71%) are all highly rated by three quarters of respondents. Information architecture (68%), Copy editing (56%), and Developmental editing (49%) are valued highly by at least half of respondents.

Project planning is an important skill no matter what your role is. Almost three-quarters (82%) 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 Percent
Writing procedures 86%
Task analysis 78%
Interviewing
(subject-matter experts/customers/users)
76%
Writing reference information 75%
Information architecture
(structured authoring, content management, taxonomies)
68%
Copy editing 64%
User interface design
(embedded UA, field labels, UI Help text)
54%
Developmental editing 51%
Multimedia
(images, video, audio)
48%
Indexing/Search
(tagging, metadata, search engine optimization)
47%
Instructional design 40%

 

Other Skills Table

Skill Response Percent
Expertise with authoring tools 86%
Project planning (without management or supervisory responsibilities) 72%
Content reuse (single-sourcing) 67%
Quality assurance and testing 55%
Usability testing 43%
Management and supervision 33%
Translation / Localization 23%

 

Code-level Expertise Table

Technology Response Percent
HTML / CSS 60%
Style Sheets / Transformations (XSLT, XSL-FO) 33%
XML (DocBook, DITA, DTDs, Schema) 31%
JavaScript (or other client-side scripts) 26%
Server-side scripts (ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, etc.) 20%
DITA 18%
Programming (C++, C#, Java, J#, VB, etc.) 18%