65.1, February 2018

Toward Understanding Important Workplace Issues for Technical Communicators

Clinton R. Lanier


Purpose: This article surveyed technical communication professionals to find out what issues they believed were the most important of the past five years in order to better understand the technical communication workplace and its demands.

Method: The article used an online survey to elicit responses from a specific pool of practitioners. The professionals surveyed were members of the Society for Technical Communication.

Results: The survey received 203 responses that were coded and categorized, resulting in 677 individual subcategory entries.

Conclusion: The survey comments were sorted into four broad categories: technology, information design, the technical communication field, and approaches to writing and designing information. Relationships and connections within and across these categories are further explored.

Keywords: trends, education, training, workplace

Practitioner’s Takeaway:

  • The technical communication workplace is going through a number of changes due to a wealth of factors. These factors include new technologies with which users are consuming information leading to new expectations for information design and delivery.
  • The technical communication field is changing as pressures from workplace changes will require technical communication professionals to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities and jobs, such as multi-media and video production.
  • Familiar technologies and methodologies are still important, even those that have been in use for 10 years or longer. Yet, these technologies and methodologies are being used or applied differently than they were before.

Essential for educators is understanding what issues, trends, or movements are taking place beyond the academy to ensure students are being given the most current information possible. However, this is not always so easy to do. Educators’ schedules are often filled with heavy teaching loads and scholarship requirements that make it difficult to spend time in the TC workplace. Staying up to date with the day-to-day goings on of TC professionals often proves challenging. It is equally important for those working in an industry to understand the newest or most relevant methodologies, competencies, and tools to ensure they stay competitive and carry out their work as best they can. Failing to do so consigns professionals or organizations to stasis while their competitors (in either an individual’s workplace or an organization’s industry) move ahead. Toward both of these ends, I sought to better understand what Technical Communication (TC) practitioners felt were the most important issues in the field to have emerged over the past five years. These issues included trends, movements, technologies, theories, or methodologies, and were revealed through a survey of 203 TC professionals.

This article discusses the survey, its findings, and its importance in relation to the field and instruction of TC. The results help to better inform researchers and professionals about what knowledge domains and competencies may be considered important within the discipline by those who are actually in the workplace. The study itself joins other studies carried out over the past few years that provide insight into what the profession of “technical communication” really means.

The subsequent literature review discusses many of these studies and is then followed by the methodology used in the present study. Finally, the results and a discussion follow with a brief conclusion noting major implications.

The Search for Understanding What Issues Are Important in Technical Communication

Fortunately, in the case of TC, many researchers have realized the need for consistently understanding the activities and trends in the field and have conducted a wealth of studies addressing this subject. In particular, some earlier and more current studies have attempted to better understand the skill sets necessary for TC through conversations with or surveys of people working in some aspect of the discipline.

Rainey, Turner, and Dayton (2005), for example, surveyed TC managers to identify what skills or knowledge domains may be important to TC professionals. The survey of 67 managers identified abilities they felt new TC professionals should have upon entering the profession, including the ability to collaborate, to communicate clearly, and to be self-motivated. The survey also identified technical skills, including information products that TC professionals should be able to create. These included working with and producing PDF documents and online help systems. The technology skills included knowing word-processing and document-design software. This study, though extensive, is now quite dated, and the technical competencies discussed are especially out of date. However, it does serve as a great starting point for other researchers who focused on TC skills and competencies in the workplace as viewed by managers and supervisors.

More recently, Kimball (2015), Dubinsky (2015), and Baehr (2015) collaborated on an extensive research project, publishing separate articles, for a special issue of Technical Communication in order to understand what supervisors at a handful of large technology companies believed were the necessary skill sets and competencies of TC professionals. Their study began with eight participants but ended with only five, and was therefore much smaller in scope than the study by Rainey et al.; however, it went beyond the survey instrument and included extensive interviews and exchanges of information similar to a focus group. In short, many of the competencies and skills reported seemed fairly similar to those discussed a decade earlier. Most important to these supervisors, according to Kimball, was “content development,” which was just barely more important than the skill of writing. The third most important set was “working in teams” (similar to “collaboration,” which was in about the same position in the Rainey et al., 2005, study) followed by “critical thinking” and then “audience analysis.”

Following these “soft skills” (as Brumberger and Lauer [2015] note they are often called) come more technical knowledge domains. These include information architecture, XML, DITA, and knowledge management. Kimball notes that this suggests “participants recognized these skills as related and important, but not as urgent compared to the more traditional technical writing skills” (2015, p. 139).

In the same study, but in a different article, Dubinsky (2015) further explores these competencies, focusing on changes within the TC field and how professionals and educators should react. According to the TC managers and supervisors, the primary type of products created consist mainly of those that have been most commonly associated with the profession, namely documentation plans, FAQ’s, instructions, online and embedded help, and user manuals. Further down the list were how-to videos (ranked 6), Web-based training (ranked 21) and websites (ranked 22). There was no ranking of social media or other, newer forms of communication. This may be due to the fact that participants ranked documentation types according to a list published on the website, Tech Whirl (http://techwhirl.com/what-is-technical-communications/), and used by the researcher. However, Dubinsky does note later on that “few of the participants indicated a deep integration of [social media] tools into the technical communicator’s work” (p. 126).

Also of note in Dubinsky’s (2015) interviews with these TC supervisors was their discussion about the impact resulting from shortened development cycles. These abbreviated cycles were caused by several forces, but many of the departments and TC professionals represented by these managers seemed to face shorter deadlines for their work. One approach to a new reality of compressed development cycles that was discussed by name is called “Agile Scrum methodology” (p. 128).

A more robust study conducted by Blythe, Lauer, and Curran (2014) elicited responses from professional and technical writers themselves (rather than managers or supervisors as in the previous studies). Blythe et al. surveyed alumni from 22 different higher education institutions that graduated professionals in technical, professional, business, or scientific communication. In all, they garnered 257 responses from 2,000 potential participants. The focus of this study was to identify what type of writing professional and technical writers compose in the workplace, and then use those types of written products as starting points to better understand the modern professional and technical writer. Regarding the types of written communication they often engage in, the findings seemed to align with those from Dubinsky (2015). Email topped the list, but that was followed by instructions/manuals and then websites. Toward the bottom of the list were products like infographics, press releases, and, finally, usability materials. In addition to questions about audience and collaboration, Blythe et al. (2014) also asked respondents to tell them what types of technologies they most often used to create the products they recorded. The responses included word processing software, desktop publishing software, social networks, and search engines.

Additional studies help us understand the current trends in TC, including Lanier’s (2009) research that was subsequently updated and expanded by Brumberger and Lauer (2015). Each of these studies used job ads as the source for determining what kinds of skills and knowledge employers are requesting from technical communicators. These two studies, alongside those discussed earlier, help us understand what expectations employers have for TC professionals, and they also provide us with a wealth of information about the types of skills and competencies that TC programs at universities might keep in focus.

Interestingly, of all of the studies cited in this section, only one used professional and technical communicators as sources of information. The others used the points of view of employers or supervisors (including the job ads, written most likely by supervisors). Thus, the information they provide must be viewed through the lens of someone not necessarily performing the daily tasks or projects undertaken by TC professionals. In contrast, the current study sought to survey practitioners in the field.

The current study complements previous research but is vastly different in its approach. Rather than discussing what skill sets were important for TC professionals, I wanted to understand what current issues they viewed as important. I define issues in this study as theories, technologies, or trends associated with the practice or field of technical communication. As an educator, I believed that this approach would help me to better understand the trends I need to discuss in TC courses. Further, by trying to understand sets of “skills” or “competencies,” I discovered many other important aspects of the field were not discussed. The next section discusses the methods and approach I used in this research.


Similar to the previously cited Blythe et al. (2014) and Rainey et al. (2005) studies, I chose to use a survey as the means of data collection. Although interviewing is the ideal method for gaining a vast amount of rich data, it is often complicated, takes more time, and the participant set is often quite small (as demonstrated by the collaborative study of Kimball [2015], Dubinksy [2015], and Baehr [2015]). To maximize the number of participants, I used an online survey system via Google Docs.

Online surveys have been widely studied by researchers and are found to be efficient and trustworthy methods of gathering information from a population. According to Granello and Wheaton (2004), the benefits of online surveys include “reduced response time, lower cost, ease of data entry, flexibility of and control over format, advances in technology, recipient acceptance of the format, and the ability to obtain additional participants” (p. 388). Similarly, Wright (2005) suggests that online surveys give researchers great access to specific populations that may not be accessible otherwise.

To reach as many potential participants as possible in my chosen population (TC professionals), I requested help from the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the largest professional society for those in the professional, scientific, and technical communication fields. I was allowed to send a single email request for participants to the STC email list of members who accept 3rd party emails, which was approximately 4,100 members (Liz Pohland, personal communication, January 13, 2016). I was also allowed to join the STC LinkedIn group (with 12,132 members) and post a request for participants there.

The use of STC could certainly be viewed as a limitation for this study, as it obviously narrowed the population that could potentially respond to my request. However, the ease with which I could reach a large pool of professionals in the TC field made the convenience of access outweigh the potential diversity another route may provide.

Further, I wanted a broad set of participants for this study, so I made the participation requirements as loose as possible. In order to participate, I required participants to be TC professionals (rather than instructors or researchers) and that they be based in the United States. Also, to ensure the highest possible number of responses, I focused on making the survey as short as possible because past studies have found that shorter online surveys produce a higher response rate (see for example Deutskens, Ruyter, Wetzels, & Oosterveld, 2004).

The email was sent January 30, 2016, and the LinkedIn post was made on January 25, 2016. The survey was active until April 26, 2016. In that time, the survey received 209 responses. After initially combing through the results, I eliminated six responses either because of missing information or because the respondents indicated they were instructors or professors instead of practitioners.

Aside from demographic information (role and years of experience), I asked participants a single question: “Please list up to 10 of what you see as the most important developments (such as theories, technologies, trends, etc.) for technical communication over the past five years.” This question aimed at better understanding the skills, technologies, tools, and products TC professionals view as important. It would also provide a list of information to evaluate and analyze. Further, I believed the question “What was important for TC professionals to know?” had already been asked, and so I decided to structure mine differently. The answer to my question, I believed, would inherently demonstrate what TC professionals feel is important in their jobs, education, workplace.

There may be concerns about using an open-ended question for this study. A chief concern may be that respondents have too little information to form a proper response. Further, some may consider open-ended questions much more difficult to analyze than closed-ended questions (Roberts, et al., 2014). And after all, any interpretation of the responses could be drawn from the theoretical expectations of the researcher. Such concerns, however, can be assuaged by using a structured coding process (Flick, 2014).

Further, I wanted to get to the thoughts and opinions of the respondents. Closed-ended questions are drawn from a definition created by the researchers or someone else. In Dubinsky’s (2015) study, the documentation types he asked his handful of participants to rank came from a popular blog about technical communication. There is no explanation on the blog about where these documentation types came from—what research went into this classification. And, as I point out in my earlier discussion, some documentation types (like social media) were completely missing. Therefore, I believed an open-ended question would “provide a direct view into the respondents thinking” (Roberts, et al., 2014, p. 2).

Coding and Analysis

The resulting survey responses were compiled by Google into a spreadsheet, which I subsequently downloaded. I initially reviewed the list and excluded responses that identified the participant as anything other than a TC professional (so “Assistant Professor” or “Technical Communication Instructor” would be excluded). Using an Excel workbook, I then began analyzing the responses and created categories within which responses could be grouped. This procedure is drawn from Flick (2014) and utilizes the stages of open, axial, and selective coding. In the first step (open coding), the researcher begins tying together distantly related concepts into large, loose categories. These are subsequently refined in the second step (axial coding), as relationships begin to emerge between different, smaller categories. Finally, the last step (selective coding) finds connections between different sub-categories and generally attempts to find causal or other types of relationships. I did not use secondary raters for this analysis, because I was not quantifying the data but instead making connections between data points. And while I recognize that this may be a shortcoming, additional raters are no guarantee of reliability or validity (Armstrong, Gosling, Weinman, & Marteau, 1997).

In the Open Coding stage of my analysis, I began selecting words, phrases, or ideas that were common across numerous responses. For example, I quickly found that the acronym “DITA” was recorded in a large number of the participants’ comments, so I created a column labeled “DITA” and placed each occurrence into it. If the response included context, such as “using DITA to write,” then I included the context as well. The result was 236 different categories at the end of the Open Coding stage.

I classified phrases according to what I believed was the focus of the idea encapsulated in them. In the example I listed above, “using DITA to write,” some may argue that it should be placed in a category about writing because writing is mentioned. I thought, however, that the focus of the comment was on DITA and that is the important point being made, and so I placed the phrase in the DITA category. This allowed me to then gather all the points about a particular topic and then analyze them individually and find overall connections. Thus, in my conclusions, I connect the importance of various types of technology, both new (social media) and old (DITA) to current approaches to documentation, tying the categories together and better understanding this issue.

There were many of these occasions in which responses were similar but not the same. For example, one participant wrote “designing for multiple formats, such as web-docs, manuals, help files, etc.” while another wrote “designing for multiple devices, especially mobile.” They both seem similar, especially when they suggest “designing for multiple” things, but they had different considerations. It was during the Axial Coding stage that I weighted the significance of the differences and either left them in their own columns or placed them together. In this example, I left them in two different columns/categories, “Structured Content” and “Mobile Platforms.” At the end of the Axial Coding stage, I reduced the number of categories to 57.

Although my coding method demanded that I presume to understand what the respondent meant in his or her comment, I tried as much as possible not to assume too much. For example, many responses included the technology API (Application Program Interface) without any context. Still others may have included something like “growth in API documentation.” I put the first into a single category and the other into a different category because although the second specifically mentioned a genre of documentation (API documentation) and a point about that genre (that it is growing), the first merely mentioned the technology. Rather than assume the respondent was making the same point as the second, I placed it into its own category. Naturally, then, there are instances where different categories resulted that seem similar but which are, in fact, different.

If there were cases in which a phrase could potentially fit into two categories, yet there was nothing else that would accompany the phrase or term in that category (thus making it a category of one), I kept it in the other with related phrases or terms. This allowed me to gather phrases into a group that would otherwise be in disparate categories spread throughout the results and lacking any context to analyze.

In the last stage, Selective Coding, I tried to find relationships between or among the different categories. If relationships did exist, I placed the columns next to each other in a different worksheet. Ultimately, four main relationships were identified, and, thus, four categories emerged to contain the subcategories created in the Axial Coding stage. It is important to understand that the process does not end by creating these four categories. These are, in fact, merely convenient ways of placing subcategories that have a loose but certain relationship. Once all the categories have been formed, then the analysis continues by examining each comment individually and looking at large-scale implications of the information.

The four main categories defined in the Selective Coding stage were the following:

Issues concerning technology

Here, I placed any comment specifically mentioning a type of technology related to the work that TC professionals do. Most often, these comments were single words without context. Rather than assume to know what the respondent meant, I placed the term or phrase here. Some respondents mentioned specific software programs by name while others may have mentioned a type of technology or what the technology does.

Issues in information delivery

This included the trends or issues concerning the methods of delivering information, such as video, hard-copy documents, PDF files, or online help documents. It additionally included delivery platforms and considerations made for delivering to different platforms. Finally, the category includes changes in methodologies or technologies that affect the delivery of information.

Issues in designing information

Discussions of different writing methodologies and approaches to designing or writing information were placed in this category. Also included were issues that affected how information is being designed. Examples might include minimalism (as a methodology) or Agile Development (as a trend that affects the way TC professionals work).

Issues in the technical communication field

This large category included any issues relating to the discipline of TC, including professionalization, off-shoring, or similar concerns. I also placed comments referring to the role of the TC professionals, training, or skills required, and any duties or tasks they may be expected to carry out while designing information.

The following section discusses the concepts isolated within each broad category and specific responses found in each.


This section provides the results of the survey, specifically a description of the survey participants and the results of my response categorization.

Of the 209 responses received, I analyzed 203 responses from participants who self-identified as TC professionals. The number of years that participants reported spending as TC professionals ranged from 1 to 45, with a median of 15 years as a TC professional. The participants self-identified with 106 different titles. The most common titles were “Senior/Lead/Principle Technical Writer” (51, or 25%), “Technical Writer” (35, or 17%), “Technical Editor” (6, or 3%), “Technical Writer and Editor” (5, or 2.4%), and “Information Architect” (4, or 1.9%). I did not ask participants to identify what industries they worked in and therefore do not know whether they are biased for certain industries over others.

I asked participants to list up to 10 of the most important issues, and the average number listed in the resulting comments was 4.6. The responses averaged 37 words each with a range of 7 to 380. In total, I listed 667 comments after coding and categorizing. Table 1 displays the number of comments included in each category.

Table 1. Number of responses included in different categories

Category Responses
Technology 237
Information Delivery 155
Designing and Writing Information 143
The Technical Communication Field 132

The following sections list the subcategories for each broader category and then identify and briefly discuss the number of responses in each.

Issues Concerning Technology

A total of 237 comments discussed a variety of issues surrounding technology (Table 2).

Table 2. Breakdown of categories and number of entries in trends and issues concerning Technology

Issues Concerning Technology Responses
Writing Software Tools 35
New Media 34
Cloud-based Applications and Apps 23
Content Management Systems 22
XML 21
Content Management Tools 17
Web-Based Markup Languages 15
Wikis 9
Open Source Software Systems 6
Graphics and Video Technologies 6
Metadata 4
E-Learning Software 2


Many of the comments included here lacked context; instead, participants simply listed a technology. This was especially true for the most mentioned item, DITA (Darwin-Information Typing Architecture), which was always included without explanation (39 times).

And though DITA is an XML model, most included both of them in a list of items, again with little context. Four responses added a bit more information about the inclusion of XML (which was included a total of 21 times), including two that responded, “XML authoring,” one that said, “The burgeoning use of XML as a content architecture,” and another that said, “XML as a content architecture.” I added them here because, despite the small amount of context, I believed they were still too general to include in other categories.

Writing/information design tools and software

I placed 35 comments into this category. Of the comments included, 17 specifically cited software tools by name. And although I do not mean to privilege any particular software over others, I think it is important to list them because it identifies those tools that are viewed as important by the TC professionals who participated in this study. These were the only software tools mentioned by the 206 participants. The tools mentioned (and the number of times they were mentioned) follow:

  • MadCap Flare (9)
  • FrameMaker (3)
  • RoboHelp (1)
  • Adobe Acrobat (1)
  • Adobe InDesign (1)
  • Acrolinx (1)
  • Prezil (1)

There were also a number of mentions of categories of writing tools that did not include a product name, including “HAT – Help Authoring Tools” (1), “use of agile applications” (1), “automated style/grammar checkers” (1), and “XML authoring tools” (1).

Similarly, some participants mentioned the qualities of the software tools: “Software that allows you to focus on content without having to deal programming etc”; “Software contributions to make formatting easier”; “Improvement of XML authoring tools to be less intrusive/disruptive to writing process.”

Lastly, there were seven mentions of “Structured” or “Single-source” authoring tools without other context.

New media

The third highest number of responses (34) fell into the category of New Media. Of these, “Social Media” was specifically mentioned in 25 responses. Few specific platforms were mentioned, but those that were included LinkedIn (1), Facebook (1), Twitter (2), Instagram (1) and YouTube (4). The remainder of responses mentioned social media (or networks) more broadly.

Within this category were many cues to the respondents’ beliefs about social media. Three people alluded to the “rise,” “growth,” or “explosion” of social media platforms. Three respondents commented about “incorporating” or “integrating” social media into product deliverables or even “replacing formalized manuals.” Two discussed it as a medium for communication: one “between information developers and information users” and the other as a mechanism for “practitioners to exchange ideas.” One person cited social media as a resource “for product support” while another similarly wrote as an issue, “[h]ow to quickly respond to customer feedback via social media and/or an online documentation platform.” These were very disparate comments, and there was no consensus as to the use of social media. Therefore, I believed it better to include such comments into the New Media category.

It is important to point out that though many participants included social media, not everyone seemed to appreciate it. A single response was explicitly negative about social media: “Social media – pressure to tweet and use other forms of social media even when those might not be the best methods for certain types of communications.”

Cloud-based applications

Comments that mentioned either cloud-based applications (or apps) and software were included 23 times. Three comments mentioned specific products, including “Office, Adobe products, etc,” another mentioning “MS Word,” and still a last mentioning “Adobe Creative Cloud,” which is a platform from which cloud applications can be downloaded.

Three responses specifically mentioned cloud-based applications in the context of TC professionals. One cited “New cloud authoring tools,” another mentioned “cloud-based authoring tools,” and a final response stated “Cloud-based authoring and publishing tools.”

Two responses specifically mentioned these platforms in terms of project management and collaboration, with one stating “[a]ccessing cloud-like repositories to access data and work product from anywhere to make travel and customer support easier.” Similarly, another response cited “apps that employees can access from laptops, iPad, and iPhone.” Still, another mentioned “cloud-based information sharing,” but it is not clear exactly who is sharing the information or what information is being shared.

Content management systems

A Content Management System (CMS) is defined by Clark (2008) as a digital technology “that assists in content management by simplifying and automating the processes of the creation, approval, storage, retrieval, versioning, re-use and delivery of content objects” (p. 39). A number of individual tools combine to enable the system to carry out these tasks. As individual tools, without the system to tie them together, they are not considered a CMS. Twenty-two (22) participants mentioned some form of Content Management System (CMS) in their responses. The types of CMS varied: five people mentioned Component Content Management Systems, two mentioned Document Management Systems/Software, and the rest referred to Content Management Systems. Two people also mentioned a specific Web-content management system, WordPress.

Few participants gave any context for their answers. One mentioned the “importance” of CMS, and another mentioned the “proliferation” of CMS. Lastly, one cited them in reference to “simplified (i.e. no XML required).”

Project management tools

There were 17 references to various project management software tools. The different types and number of times they were mentioned are as follows:

  • Tools that made collaboration easier (5)
  • “Doc repositories” or “version control” tools (4)
  • “Project tracking and task” tools (2)
  • Review and editing tools (2)
  • Online style guides (2)
  • Google as a tool to easily conduct research (2)

Though document repositories and version control tools are components of a CMS, they also exist outside of content management systems as standalone project management software tools. The comments neither provided the context needed to associate the tools with content management systems nor identified the types of projects the tools are used in. I therefore placed the comments about document repositories and version control tools here.

Web-based markup languages

Nine respondents mentioned HTML as an important technology, with eight of those specifically mentioning HTML5. Five referenced CSS as important (one of those was specifically CSS3). Finally, there was one reference to “J-query [sic] and client-side scripting languages.”


Nine people cited Wikis as an important technology. Only three mentioned “Wikis” (with one instance of “XHMTL-based wikis”) without context. The rest provided more context, including four that specifically cited wikis in terms of “end-user documentation” or “help systems.” Another cited “wiki-authoring” and another responded with “Wiki as a content development and delivery platform.” I believed it made sense to tie all instances of Wikis into a single category rather than distribute each to different categories.

Open-source software

There were six references to Open-Source Software, including three that mentioned GitHub, which is a repository for open-source software projects. Two mentions were more generic, (meaning without context) but one provided more context, stating “open development environments = github [sic] is one example, we all see every commit, every word, every piece of code.” One response mentioned “open access” and another mentioned “common sourcing.” The last referred to the “devaluation of proprietary systems like Author-It and the introduction of more common open source XML systems.”

Graphic/video software

There were six mentions of the availability of graphic or video software. Of these, two specifically mentioned screen-capture technologies, two mentioned video software, and two mentioned graphic software. Of these, two refer to software by name, including “Adobe Suite” and “Adobe Captivate.”

API, metadata and e-learning software

Four comments mentioned APIs (Application Program Interface). This is a technology that TC professionals typically write documentation for; however, I include this in Technology and not another category because they do not specifically discuss documentation, only the APIs. One comment mentioned the “Increase in API use”; two specifically mentioned REST APIs, including “Apis [sic] especially rest”; and the other stated that “REST APIs are less ‘atomic’ than SOAP APIs, and so need different structure.”

Four responses cited metadata as an important technology in the field, while two cited e-learning software. In the case of e-learning software, one merely stated “eLearning platform” but another cited the “[a]dvancement of eLearning creation tools to the point of requiring specific, specialized training–possibly defeating the previous Rapid Authoring capability advancement.”

Issues in Information Delivery

A total of 155 comments discussed issues surrounding the delivery of information. These comments were distributed among 11 categories (Table 3).

Table 3. Breakdown of categories and number of entries in trends and issues concerning Information Delivery

Issues in Information Delivery Responses
Mobile Platforms 49
Multimedia 28
Replacing PDF & Traditional Manuals 21
Designing for Multiple Formats 14
Responsive Design 14
Designing API Documentation 7
Designing Online Documentation 7
Designing Online Help 5
Designing for Augmented Reality 5
Changes in Search Mechanisms 3
Designing Interfaces 2
Mobile platforms

By far, the most mentioned trend or issue regarding the delivery of information had to do with mobile technology as a platform. There were 22 mentions of “writing for,” “mobile technology,” “smart phones,” or “tablets” with no other context. The remainder of the references were much more explanatory. Nine responses, for example, cited as an important issue or trend the “demand” to “design” or “develop for mobile platforms.” Two responses cited “mobile help” while a third more precisely noted “[s]upport for mobile devices, making concise help even more important.”

The rest of the 15 responses were quite varied, but each of them spoke similarly as those referenced above, and they further added much more context. One response stated as important the “[p]roliferation of mobile device types, and responsibility of content creators/providers to adapt/be responsive to content display. Especially in compliance to ADA requirements.” A parallel response stated there were “[a]udience expectations of information anywhere on numerous variants of mobile device [sic].” Lastly, and related, were two responses citing a “’mobile first’ mindset for technical information,” and perhaps as a result, another response noted “designing content for delivery to mobile platforms becoming integral part of standard work flow.”


Specific references to using multimedia in the delivery of information accounted for 28 responses in this category. The terms “multimedia,” “videos,” and “graphics” were included under this category. Two responses noted the “expectation” and the “demand” for video, while others noted the “rising integration” of video into technical documents. This last point was especially noted by several responses. One stated that, “Tech Comm [is] [sic] no longer just writing or even graphics—videos and demos.” Another noted the “[i]ncreasing use of videos to communicate procedural information,” while another similarly stated there was an “[i]ncreased delivery of non-text content such as videos.” Lastly, another suggested a “[r]eplacement of written instruction with video instruction (e.g., Camtasia tutorials) in knowledge transfer.”

Aside from video integration, responses referenced multimedia (5), workflow visualization (1), and infographics (1). It is also important to note that although all these respondents recognized the growing use of multimedia, not everyone agreed with it; as one comment demonstrated: “Videos (not that this is always a good thing).”

Replacing PDF & traditional manuals

I included comments specifically mentioning a move away from a format instead of a move to a format. In this case, there were 12 references to moving away from printed documentation, six references to moving away from PDF documentation, and various other shifts from older delivery types, such as the “[m]igration from compiled help systems to HTML-based documents.”

Designing for multiple formats

Fourteen of the responses referenced publishing into multiple formats as an important trend or issue. For the most part, participants simply listed “publishing in multiple formats,” yet one provided a bit more context: “I also think another big trend has been delivering your information in multiple formats. We no longer just produce long, linear documents. We make videos, quick start guides, training material, marketing material, etc.”

Responsive design

Fourteen of the respondents referenced Responsive Design as an important issue or trend. Responsive design allows information designers, through the use of CSS Media Queries, to dynamically format their content so it best matches the platform on which it is being viewed (for example a desktop computer versus a smart phone) (Marcotte, 2010). Thus, it is a method used to structure and, ultimately, deliver information. All but one of these participants mentioned responsive design in some variety without context (that is, merely commenting “responsive design”); however, one respondent provided more context by citing a “seamless transition (through responsive design) between website and mobile device as a means of delivering information—this can significantly affect the way that information is designed and delivered.”

Designing API documentation

“Growth in API documentation” and “API documentation is definitely becoming a thing” were the two more contextual responses in this category. The rest of the seven responses merely cited API documentation (in some form) as an important trend or issue.

Designing online help and designing for augmented reality

Five responses mentioned designing online help as an important issue or trend. Three were more general (stating simply, “designing online help”), but two were more specific. The first cited “[e]mbedding user assistance so it is there when needed—don’t have to hunt for help,” while the second stated “[t]he move toward context-sensitive and online help.”

There were also five responses that reported designing for augmented reality as an important trend or issue. While four more only cited the term “augmented reality,” one provided more context: “The coming shift to augmented reality, whereby the content is distrubuted [sic] to glasses or a visor.”

Changes in search mechanisms and designing interfaces

The final two topics each held few responses. The first, Changes in Search Mechanisms, was reflected primarily in the comment, “Reliance on search over structure and indexing.” The second category, Designing Interfaces, was reflected primarily in the comment, “increase in interaction between the UI and help content (more on-screen guides and text).”

Issues in Designing and Writing Information

A total of 143 comments discussed trends and issues concerning approaches to designing and writing information. These comments were distributed among 13 categories (Table 4).

Table 4. Breakdown of categories and number of entries concerning Approaches to Writing

Issues in Designing and Writing Information Responses
Agile Development 32
Minimalism 19
Single Sourcing 14
Simplified English 14
Topic-based Authoring 13
Content Reuse 13
Structured Content 12
Usability 12
Modular Documentation 5
Every Page is One Page 3
Content Life-Cycle Management Process 2
Information Architecture/Management 2
Tailored Content 2
Agile development

The largest number of responses concerned Agile Development, the software development approach of rapid development and version release (Highsmith, 2002)—sometimes also equated with iterative development. In this category, I placed 32 responses. The majority of these responses simply mentioned “agile development” as an issue. However, a small number provided context. Interestingly, each was quite similar and suggested that a programming methodology has a major impact on the approach to documentation. One comment, for example, stated “Agile/Scrum/Continuous Delivery—Some software releases daily as features become ready. Documentation must keep up and stay ahead of the releases. Single source, topic based content is vital.” Three other comments echoed this one, with one stating that this methodology “put[s] pressure on TC departments to keep up.”

One comment suggested that following this trend is a mistake and seemed to suggest that it was actually in decline:

The decisive refutation of extending the Agile methodology to software documentation by requiring technical writers to continuously rewrite the documentation every few weeks, adjusting to whatever changes are being made to the software. Technical writers were once assured that it was perfectly acceptable to have much lower quality standards.

However, this sense was not shared in all responses. In fact, one directly countered this position by stating “AGILE writing teams. Yes [sic] you can develop good content quickly.”


The documentation methodology called Minimalism was referred to 19 times, making it the second most cited approach to writing. While most every response simply listed the term, one comment stated, “less content is more approach,” and so I placed it in this category as it states the basic thesis of the methodology though it does not name it. Another cited “(stealth) minimalism” without explaining what it meant.

Single sourcing/multiple outputs

There were 18 responses that mentioned either “single sourcing” specifically or publishing “multiple outputs from a single source.” Most comments simply referenced single sourcing; however, one comment stated that “[s]ingle sourcing content has enabled us to share content more freely between our marketing writers and technical writers, bringing the two departments closer together.” Another, however, suggested that “[s]ingle source authoring is not an easy challenge.”

Plain language/simplified English

In this category, I placed references to two competing standards for writing—Plain Language and Simplified English. Plain Language was referred to a total of six times and Simplified English was referred to five times. The remainder of comments referred to changes in writing style, specifically that audiences expect a more casual tone in documents.

Topic-based authoring

There were 13 references to topic-based authoring. One response suggested that “topics-based authoring is now de facto standard for all mediums.”

Content reuse

Similarly, there were 13 references to content reuse. As for topic-based authoring, one of the responses suggested content reuse was now standard: ”Management of content for reuse no longer an optional nice-to-have but at the center of the work flow.”

Structured Content

I placed 12 responses into the Structured Content category. These alternated between comments noting “structured content” and those noting “structured authoring.”


Usability was placed in Issues in Designing and Writing Information, because it was mentioned in the context as something that assists writers in designing information. Three users merely cited “Usability” as an issue; however, three more brought up issues related to the use of data mining to understand how users responded to the information the company provides. For example, one commented about “[t]he ability to monitor the topics in an on-line help system, which provides the documentation team the ability to narrow their focus to what appears to be the most important to the customer/end-user.” Another comment, however, was more concerned about ethical issues, citing “[u]sers [sic] privacy vs automated silent data collection.”

Modular documentation

Five responses mentioned either “modular” or “granular” documentation.

Every page is one page, content life-cycle management process, information architecture/management, tailored content

The final four categories comprised only nine combined responses. In this group, two comments provided context. The first concerned Every Page is One Page, an approach to writing proposed in the book of the same name by Mark Baker (2013): “EPPO (Every Page is Page One) . . . This was a complete game changer as far as I’m concerned.” In his book, Baker argues for a topic-based approach to structuring information rather than an approach that relies on a sequence (like a user manual).

The second comment referenced Tailored Content and stated that there was a trend toward a “[d]emand for tailored content (only presenting content based on user preferences or profile).”

Issues in the Technical Communication Field

A total of 132 comments specifically discussed a trends and issues specific to the field of Technical Communication. These comments were distributed among 12 categories (Table 5).

Table 5. Breakdown of categories and number of entries in trends and issues concerning issues in the Field of Technical Communication

Issues in the Technical Communication Field Responses
Changing Roles or Requirements for Technical Communicators 30
Users as Writers 25
Translation/Localization/Globalization 17
Offshoring 15
User Experience 11
Professional Development 10
Accessibility 6
Status of Technical Communication 5
Working Remotely 5
Budget Issues 4
Professional Education 4
Changing roles or requirement for technical communicators

The most frequent responses that addressed trends or issues in the TC field considered the role and requirements of TC professionals in the workplace. Of the 30 responses that fit this category, 7 observed that technical communication and marketing were growing closer. Contextual comments addressing this included “[c]ontent marketing blurring with tech com [sic],” “tech comms moving into Marketing [sic],” and “Moving technical documentation into technical marketing.”

Another seven responses discussed specialized skills or domain knowledge. Examples of responses that evidence this include “Increasing requirements for tech writers to have specialised [sic] domain knowledge” and “In the last 5 years, hiring managers shifted from focusing on writing skills and experience to focusing on technical knowledge and experience.”

Five responses pointed out that the roles of technical communicators are expanding. Two responses, in fact, used the same expression to state that TC professionals do many different things in the workplace. The first stated that “[t]echnical writers ‘wear many hats’,” while the second gave a more expansive view, stating “[t]echnical writers wear many hats, including QA, project management, scrum management, and user experience among others.”

Still, another five noted a trend in the workplace regarding how others view them. One cited “[t]he recognition of skills that technical writers can bring to the development team as usability experts and user interface designers,” while another similarly noted the “[r]ecognition that technical communicators are more than ‘just’ writers or editors.” The other responses likewise suggested that workplaces or people in those workplaces are now viewing TC professionals as “partners” in the process, rather than people delivering a “service.”

The remainder of responses gave different, varied views of this trend or issue. Three discussed different, new roles or duties, like “course developer,” “project management,” or “content strategy.” Another stated that degree or certifications are becoming a requirement in the job market. The last comment provided much more detail by discussing the “development of content curator (as opposed to content developer) as a role that technical communicators may need to take on.” The respondent further stated, “[t]his recognizes that some types of content is [sic] already available through multiple channels/sources and it’s not always best or necessary to develop it from scratch.”

Users as writers

Twenty-five responses were placed in the category of Users as Writers, as they all noted the trend that users were generating their own content. In fact, seven of the responses merely consisted of a form of the comment “user-generated content.” All of the responses, though, recognized that users are creating and distributing information. Some commented on the role that put users in, for example, “decentralization through the web (now everyone is a technical writer).” This thought was echoed in another comment that also spoke to the potential negative perception this could have for TC professionals: “Crowd-sourcing, meaning, forcing the question as to ‘why do I need in-house TC’s if the customer will anyway Google their questions?’”

Searching for and finding technical information via Google was mentioned in an additional four other comments. Further specific types of user-documentation that were mentioned included blogs, wikis, and social media. The mechanism by which user-generated content occurred was referred to as “crowd sourced” in two comments.

Of the 25 responses, most seemed neutral (neither positive or negative about the user as writer), with the exception of the one referenced above questioning why TC professionals are needed and one other that suggested a very negative view of user-generated documentation by referencing “[a] general trend for software companies to reduce expenses by trimming technical communication staff in favor of grossly inflated fantasies that customers will document their own software by donating their employers’ time through social media contributions.”


In this category, three responses simply noted “localization” and three noted “globalization.” However, many others provided much more information. Three comments concerned translation via automation, such as “[e]nsuring (as best possible) accurate, automated translation”; and “[t]ranslations by software”; however, the third commented, “translation interfaces that are NOT machine translations.” Three comments simply noted the trend of translation: “[c]ontent availability in multiple languages simultaneously within a single location”; “the increased need for documents, etc. to be translated into many languages”; and “global access to information and localizing information to different audiences and countries / areas.”

The remainder of the comments considered different aspects of the category’s topics, including the cost of translation, making it better, where to place translation in the process, writing for translation, and the changes to content that writing for translation requires.


There were 15 comments concerning offshoring—the business strategy of outsourcing certain business activities (such as technical writing) to international service providers. Twelve of these comments specifically mentioned offshoring technical communication jobs to international organizations or independent contractors. Two of these specifically mentioned offshoring to “non-native English speakers.”

There were two responses, however, that noted differences in this trend. One noted “[U.S.] firms as the competition as opposed to overseas TC’s.” The other response even suggested “[c]ompanies are returning documentation departments to the U.S. from off-shore locations.”

User experience

Eleven comments concerned User Experience (UX). Four of those simply stated, “user experience,” while others suggested the trend of adding UX to product design and documentation. One elaborated more by adding “holistic understanding” after user experience and yet another commented about a trend to “[w]ork closely with User Experience designers and product management—even before a feature is coded sometimes.”

Professional development

Three of the 10 comments related to professional development made points about changes to outlets for professionalization. Two participants specifically referenced conferences, each saying more were available but then suggesting that they have become more segmented into specialized gatherings. The third, however, also referenced STC, noting the “[d]ecline of professional organisations (eg STC) and rise of more informal groups (Meetup, WriteTheDocs)[sic].”

Of the remaining comments, five discussed the need for ongoing training and one noted the ease with which training was available via online means. The last comment suggested that more TC professionals need to be taught skills in “equipment manual writing” and focus less on “IT writing.”


Six responses cited increased attention to accessibility. Two of these specifically mentioned accessibility as a legal requirement.

Status of technical communication and working remotely

Five responses suggested that the status of TC as a profession has increased. Three of these discussed technical writers being involved earlier in the development process, and one stated that the profession has “bounced back” after “a near total collapse in 2009.” I argue these indicate status, because it means that the perceived value of TC professionals is increasing, both within the workplace by colleagues and by organizations that are again hiring them.

Working remotely was likewise mentioned in five responses. All these comments stated that the trend was growing and that it was easier to do so because of increases in bandwidth and technology.

Budget issues

There were four comments that discussed budgetary pressures that TC departments or projects were facing. Three of these specifically cited a trend toward using “metrics” to “prove” the value of their work. The last comment cited “[t]he shift from invisible cost center to a potential revenue driver.”

Professional education

The final three comments discussed various issues concerning education. One response suggested a decline in the number of students entering TC programs while another suggested that more college programs were available than before. Finally, the last comment suggested that access to educational programs was easier due to online programs.

The following section discusses some of the more notable responses and their significance toward the practice and instruction of Technical Communication.

Conclusion and Discussion of Responses

Many of the subcategories, though separated during coding, were still quite connected, which is an expected and natural occurrence in qualitative research. This is also true for different subcategories across different parent categories. This speaks to the importance of the issue in the TC workplace.

The most obvious example of such a connection is seen in the following related subcategories that span three of the four parent categories. A full 157 responses out of 679 (23%) concerned the sum of the following issues and trends:

  • DITA
  • Writing Software Tools
  • XML
  • Metadata
  • Designing for Multiple Formats
  • Single Sourcing
  • Topic-Based Authoring
  • Structured Content
  • Modular Documentation

All these subcategories are interrelated. For example, DITA is an XML Data Type Definition. It is used in certain types of software tools used by the TC community, such as MadCap Flare and Adobe FrameMaker. These tools help writers develop structured content delivered in multiple formats from a single data source. The final products are modular in design and are typically organized by topic. While many of these subcategories, such as single sourcing and DITA, have been around for at least 15 years (Rockley, 2001; Priestley, Hargis, & Carpenter, 2001), these issues are clearly still very important in the field.

However, just because some of these topics have existed for years does not mean they have been in any sort of stasis since their adoption. Rather, it is apparent from other categories and responses their use is evolving and is once again important due to new trends. This was especially revealed in the many references to adopting information for online delivery and mobile platforms. The following subcategories accounted for 96 (14%) total references:

  • Mobile Platforms
  • Replacing PDF & Traditional Manuals
  • Designing for Multiple Formats
  • Responsive Design
  • Designing Online Documentation
  • Designing Online Help

Organizations and TC professionals must redesign documents to accommodate new and changing technologies. Information delivery via apps or information that is simply viewed on mobile devices is becoming common place (comScore, 2016), so traditional forms of user-assistance and documentation (such as manuals and PDF documents) are being left behind. New design approaches, such as Responsive Design, are needed as TC professionals turn toward online help and documentation. Understanding how to design and deliver to multiple viewing platforms—mobile especially—with decade-old technologies is therefore an increasingly important issue.

Another interesting note is the number of responses that suggested the role of the technical communicator is changing. There were many different roles mentioned, including marketing, and the “blurring” between technical communication and marketing. If you consider the relevance of moving documentation online and then also note what was said about the ability of users to find information via Google searches, then the “changing role” becomes much more significant. Consider someone trying to find information about performing an action with a specific technology. If the documentation is now online, there is a very good chance it will be found and used. Therefore, documentation starts taking on the role of marketing materials by spreading and promoting the brand.

Other roles included project management, user experience, and content development. Each of these was the subject of its own subcategory indicating their importance as issues or trends beyond simply stating that they are new roles for TC professionals.

The last issue on which I would like to focus is the relationship between the development of technology products and the product’s associated information development. Agile Development, for example, was referred to 32 times. This is interesting, because it is not an approach to documentation but to software development. However, the use of Agile Development is changing the approach to creating the product’s associated documentation because, as some responses noted, the use of Agile Development forces documentation teams to quickly produce updated materials as new software versions are released.

But perhaps the trend of moving documentation to online platforms enables this change. After all, Agile Development is nothing new. However, in the past, when organizations published documentation as hard copy manuals or PDF documents, it limited their ability to publish brief, quick documentation updates. In contrast, publishing online is more cost-effective and can be carried out more quickly.

Thus, while the technology development trend (that is, the Agile Development methodology) seems to be dictating the changes to the TC workplace, it might also be a combination of a number of seemingly unrelated factors. These include the trend toward mobile platforms as primary information consumption technologies, the responding change toward designing online documentation, and even changes in the way people search for information.

Ultimately, an extensive number of trends and issues were identified in this study, and many of them seem related or somehow connected to each other. The findings create a complicated understanding of the current TC field to be sure, but they also present a wealth of information that we can use both in the workplace and in classroom. I specifically think that most of the trends and issues coded from the survey responses demonstrate three important aspects about technical communication. First, they demonstrate how the TC workplace is changing. Second, they demonstrate that TC as a field is also changing. And finally, they demonstrate that technologies and methodologies that have existed for years are still relevant and important.

The Changing TC Workplace

The tasks and the tools with which TC professionals work are undergoing significant changes. The shift by information consumers toward mobile platforms is one of the main driving forces behind many of these changes in the TC professional’s workplace. As noted in the responses, the way co-workers collaborate is affected by mobile technology and related online platforms, like social media, wikis, and even online style guides. Cloud-based applications and software, downloaded and available on mobile devices, allow consumers to access information anywhere anytime. Likewise, these same technologies allow TC professionals to work anywhere anytime.

Related to this is the high availability of digital access. Technical writers can perform their work from any location, and so associated trends include rising instances of remote working or of organizations hiring contractors and third parties that work at a distance. These include the continued issue of offshoring, but for some (as noted in the responses), it is transforming this issue so that technical communication work is being relocated back to the United States from offshore.

The tools TC professionals are working with range from the familiar to the new. As delivery platforms evolve (from hard copy manuals and PDF files to online documentation) new technologies and tools are needed. Professionals are finding more demand for multi-media, requiring a familiarity with new software applications. There is also a growing trend in changing how documentation is written, not just in terms of the platforms or tools used, but even in the tone and the language used in the information products. Participants noted the move toward either Simplified English or Plain Language. Both of these are formal movements supported by different entities, the AeroSpace and Defense Industries Association of Europe (ASD-STE100, 2015), and the Unites States Government (plainlanguage.gov, 2011), respectively. However, participants also noted that language has generally become less formal and more casual, and that their audiences do not want what one person labeled “elevated diction.”

Perhaps related, but certainly also affecting the workplace, is the rising issue of the many users who choose to create their own documentation. Survey participants noted that their audiences can find technical information in a number of places, like blogs, forums, YouTube videos, and even social media. These different channels, combined with the ease of access and the refinement of Internet search engines (particularly Google), dramatically change the dynamics of a TC professional’s workplace. Whereas in the past, they were the sole provider of information to the users of their products, they are now “competing” with those same users or with other organizations publishing information on the internet.

The Changing TC Field

As noted by many others, the TC field itself and the roles of those in it are also changing dramatically. Others have suggested that technical writers are evolving into the fields of content management (Andersen, 2014) or user experience (Brumberger & Lauer, 2016), but the results of this survey suggest the changes are much more varied. I noted two responses that used the same metaphor to describe these changes (“technical writers wear many hats”). The “hats” these responses speak of include content management and user experience but also marketing, curation of information, usability quality assurance, project management, and multi-media and interface design.

Considering the changes taking place in technology, from the way people consume information on mobile platforms or through apps to the increasing bandwidth and data availability, the changing roles for professionals in TC seems natural. Technical communicators have always designed information, after all. The label “technical writer” was applied when the only medium or delivery mechanism for information was written. Now, however, as noted throughout the survey responses, this is no longer the case.

Because people can quickly and easily access information products like videos, for example, on their smart phones, they want or expect such user-assistance products. Some responses noted the rise in multi-media integration (especially videos) in their documentation. This matches both what the users expect and what technology enables. So, while content management is certainly a role that technical communicators play, I think it is just one aspect of the field in the future, perhaps even one of many duties that information designers will have as the field continues to change.

Familiar Technologies and Methodologies Are Still Important

It was interesting to note how technologies and methodologies used for the past 10–20 years were considered important trends or issues over the past 5 years. I question why participants would include such things like single sourcing, content reuse, or even minimalism in their answers. To be honest, I did not expect these responses and instead was looking forward to new methodologies and approaches.

Minimalism, for example, was introduced by John Carroll in 1990, yet it was frequently and specifically mentioned in the responses (19 times). Similarly, single source publishing (that is, “single sourcing”), mentioned in 14 responses, was referred to as a “new technology trend” (p. 145) by Hart-Davidson in 2001. The same is true for Topic-based Authoring (Priestley, Hargis, & Carpenter, 2001), Content Reuse (Priestley, 2001), Structured Content (Rockley, 2003), and Modular Documentation (Greene, 2000). None of these are what we might consider new.

In terms of technologies, both DITA and XML were also named as important. Here, too, we see older tools included in considerations of what are the most important issues or technologies from the past five years. As a mechanism for facilitating technical writing, DITA was created in 2001, and subsequently, SGML was replaced by XML as the preferred markup language for creating documentation (Priestley, Hargis, & Carpenter, 2001). Therefore, once again, these two technologies are far from new in the field.

And, lastly, the writing software tools themselves were prominently mentioned: not only writing-specific products like Adobe FrameMaker and MadCap Flare, which have existed since 1995 (History of Adobe Systems, 2012) and 2006 (Lufkin, 2007), respectively, but also more broad responses that included the types of tools that carry out the functions of the specifically named software products (for example, the mention of “single sourcing” software).

Implications for the Workplace and the Classroom

For the workplace, it is easy to see that TC departments or professionals should expect change. Not only are the methods for creating and delivering information products changing but so are the roles of the TC professionals and perhaps the expectations for them within their organizations. It will be important to understand how these changes affect the approach to TC within individual organizations. Will they, for example, be tempted to more explicitly integrate departments so that TC will more fully or easily collaborate with marketing or other entities?

Technical communication professionals might also be expected to further upgrade their knowledge of not only technical topics but also different and more varied software tools and practices. For example, responses noted a growing call for videos and multi-media in user support products. Therefore, current TC professionals may be required to not only become proficient with the tools that accommodate such needs but also to learn the methodologies and best practices for producing those products.

Also, there will be a growing expectation in the workplace to move all user-assistance products not only to online platforms but to mobile-friendly platforms. This was noted in a number of different responses. There are many implications connected to this trend. New software tools, for example, must be measured against whether they can publish to mobile platforms, most likely through Responsive Design. Further, each new software tool and design methodology will likewise require new skills and training for existing TC professionals.

New TC professionals, however, are going to face a wealth of new knowledge skills that graduates from TC programs did not face five years ago. Undergraduate and graduate technical communication programs may have to use a broader definition of “design” than they previously used in order to accommodate a movement toward videos and multi-media user assistance. Also, TC programs will need to prepare students for online user-assistance and information products designed for virtual consumption. The participants in my study indicated a movement away from hard-copy and even PDF manuals to various types of online documentation. These ranged from context-sensitive help systems to documentation as Web pages. This will require programs to ensure that students receive training in Web-based scripting languages and design approaches. This is especially true for mobile-based design methodologies, like Responsive Design.

Students will further benefit from learning about different roles they might play in the changing TC workplace. These roles, like marketing, may require different skills than typically taught in a traditional TC program. Finally, there are significant implications in the responses suggesting the importance of technology and methodologies from one or two decades ago. It is easy to believe that such tools or approaches are outdated and that perhaps there are other, more important issues to focus on. However, the responses made clear just how crucial the understanding of technologies like DITA and XML or methodologies like minimalism still are for TC students.

Ultimately, this study developed several new potential avenues for further research. More importantly, it provided a glimpse into where the TC profession is going from the perspective of the people actually performing the work.


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The author would like to thank the Society for Technical Communication for facilitating this study through the use of its email list and access to its LinkedIn group.

About the Author

Clinton R. Lanier is an Assistant Professor of English at New Mexico State University, where he teaches in the Rhetoric and Professional Communication Program. He has worked as a technical writer in the software industry and as a technical editor for the U.S. Army. He currently owns a digital marketing consulting practice in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His scholarship and teaching focuses on Web design and development, digital marketing, social media, user-assistance, and user-generated documentation. He can be reached at clanier@nmsu.edu.

Manuscript received 15 August 2016, revised 29 April 2017; accepted 1 May 2017.