Directions I'm Going in 2010
Given that it's a new year, a lot of people are writing about trends and predictions in technical communication. Ellis Pratt at Cherryleaf has an interesting post on the Top 10 Trends in Technical Communication for 2010. Larry Kunz has a post on Technical Communication Trends in 2010. Sarah O'Keefe chimed in with 2010 Predictions for Technical Communication. And Ben Minson has Ten New Year's Resolutions.
Rather than predict or comment on trends in our industry (which I already did here), I'd rather describe the actual directions I'm going in 2010.
Embrace a Collaborative Authoring Platform
I'm embracing collaborative authoring this year, with plans to entitle key authors in various departments for some projects and completely open up authoring for others. More and more projects I write documentation for require input from multiple subject matter experts spread out across the organization. The days when a single writer could accurately provide help for people in a department he or she isn't even in seem to be over. I'm planning to use Mediawiki as the collaborative platform (because it's on the menu of approved technologies in my organization). A collaborative authoring platform will also simplify interactions and exchanges when I have teammates working on the same project.
Let Customers Own the Documentation after the First Release
This year I've noticed another trend: customers want to own the documentation after I write the first release. When this first happened (and someone requested my source files), I was offended. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As I write documentation for more and more projects and departments, I'm building a larger base of documentation to maintain. I can't be effective when I'm maintaining fifteen different projects at once while working on three new ones. I prefer to have a dedicated handful of people with authoring capabilities to help with the maintenance. That just isn't feasible with a proprietary and costly help authoring tool (in my situation), so this direction builds on my previous point about embracing a collaborative authoring platform.
Make Screencasts a Core Deliverable
The best feedback I receive about my help deliverables is with the screencasts I create. I plan to continue screencasting, perhaps dipping more into dynamic visuals with Adobe After Effects or Flash. I want to further hone my audio and visual skills in this medium.
Continue Team Design Reviews
In our agile environment, our team is spread out across various portfolios and departments. We lose out on a lot of interaction and camaraderie, but we recently started doing some biweekly design reviews in which we get together and critique each other's help. The design reviews have been engaging and worthwhile – I hope we continue them regularly into 2010.
Participate More in Design
One of the situations I dislike is 9th inning documentation. At this stage, the interface is frozen and I've been such a stranger to the project that the PM isn't looking at me for any input other than to document "what is." Instead, I'd like to make it my standard to get involved around the 4th or 5th inning so that I can contribute more to the interface and task flow. One reason I haven't been able to jump in this early is because I'm so busy maintaining documentation for numerous projects that are in their second or third release cycles. Getting involved early with the design and earning a seat at the design table will require me to prove my worth, certainly, since we already have a fair number of interaction designers, business analysts, and project managers who perform this role.
More Story-Driven Blog Posts
On my blog, I plan to write more story-driven posts. I get more response and fulfillment from blog posts with well-crafted narratives than I do anything else. My daughter recently listened to about 12 hours of Storynory podcasts straight because of the mesmerizing power of story. I want to develop my skill at seeing story and building narratives that engage audiences.
More WordPress Consulting
I was a bit wishy-washy this year as to whether I would continue WordPress consulting or not, given the time it consumes. But I love working with websites, and the extra money helps, so I plan to do even more WordPress consulting in 2010. If I get too much work, I'll outsource some of the development (I already outsourced much of it last year). This year I'm specializing in Woothemes more, since it seems to simplify the client's decision-making process with themes.
For many years I've felt guilty about playing basketball. Compared to other forms of exercise, basketball takes three times as long, causes me to stay up too late, and seems to be an inefficient way to get exercise. But I've finally decided to succumb to it, because I love playing it and because life in IT is so sedentary. This goal feeds into my overall New Year's resolutions to do more of what I love.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.