It’s an exciting time to be involved in the technical writing world.
Millennials are a growing part of the workforce, and baby boomers are exiting. Technology, training, and many other factors are presenting new challenges and offering many new opportunities.
I’ve been in this space for ten years. I network with hundreds of professionals. I talk to technical writers and technical publication managers who are in the trenches, and I’m lucky enough to call a few my customers.
These observations are gleaned primarily from industrial, construction, forestry, agriculture, mining, and outdoor power equipment industries.
- Service is becoming the biggest competitive advantage. Ease of doing business and saving time are critical differentiators.
- Technical documentation, a critical component of product support, continues to be the first line of defense for the high margin aftermarket dollar.
- Immediate cost savings may be realized by cutting budgets, but down the road, manufacturers often find that these cost savings were much less than the costs now associated with service and warranty increases due to the lack of quality technical publications.
- Cutting costs in publications departments usually increases costs in the engineering groups. A reduced staff in the writing group will rely more on the engineers to do the research needed to create content.
- Operator’s manuals and parts catalogs are necessities and take priority, but service manuals can often be neglected and not deemed critical to product support.
- Generally speaking, you are expected to do more with less. There is precious little time for proactive initiatives.
- Many companies are still taking the “Is anyone complaining about the manuals? Nope? Keep up the good work!” approach.
- Increasing customer satisfaction and reducing support costs are two of the main objectives, but there is a lot of dispute on how to evaluate content.
- “Our user doesn’t want to read 10 pages in a manual; they want to a see a short animation or video showing them what to do” is the comment I hear most often.
- I recently talked to a technical publications manager of a global industrial equipment manufacturer who spends over half his time on video-related tasks.
- Safety and operator’s manuals contain part numbers; they must be delivered with the product.
- Many markets are global, and customers do not have tablets or internet access.
- Legal departments continue to require it.
- The incoming workforce doesn’t have the “Wrenching 101” foundation that the baby boomers did.
- Having a backend data structure that can support these new requirements is a must.
- Customers, technicians, and support personnel are swamped. It’s more important than ever to offer bite-sized content for consumption at the point of need.
- “I want the user to scan a QR code and bring up just the service procedures for that specific component” is a common request. It’s not the technology that’s the issue; it’s the lack of a backend data structure to tap into the right content at the right place at the right time.
- Almost everyone is talking about it. A growing number of companies is exploring pilot projects.
- VR and AR are as close to one-on-one mentoring as you can get.
- We often get asked if we have a public-facing technical writing training program. Groups like the Association of Equipment Manufacturers have formed a committee to combine best practices and ideas to improve training. Covering topics like simplified English, minimalism, active voice, and consistent terminology is high on the list.
Almon and ICD Translations are hosting a half-day seminar on simplified English and visual media Thursday morning, October 11th in Milwaukee. Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra, former STC President, will be providing the Keynote presentation. Contact me to learn more.
- OEMs are investing significant resources into cleaning up parts descriptions and capturing photos and tools like electronic parts catalogs and e-Commerce software.
- Interactive parts catalogs are becoming more popular. “Click on the part in the drawing”: the part number, cost, and shopping cart appear.