Techcomm Survey Results: How Technical Writers Collaborate Today

In our recent survey, we asked technical writers at the tcworld Conference how they manage documentation content, and how they collaborate with other communicators, developers, and experts

Here are the results – and some of them might surprise you.


Spot Check at the tcworld Conference

Everyone who visited K15t Software at our tcworld Conference booth was invited to participate in our survey on key technical communication metrics. We wanted to find out how technical writers collaborate today, and which tools they use to manage their documentation content.

1. Technical Writing Team Sizes


26% (32/121) have > 10 writers.

18% (22/121) have 5–10 writers.

26% (31/121) have 2–4 writers.

30% (36/121) are lone writers. 

Most techcomm writers are part of a team of authors (70%). And nearly half of all tech-writing teams comprise more than five members.


But 30% of tech writers are ‘lone writers’. These communicators do not have to collaborate with other writers – but they face significant challenges when they need to work with other stakeholders in the organization (see question 3).

What’s the size of your technical writing team?

2. The Type of Documentation Tool or Platform


51% (56/110) follow a document-centric approach, using software such as Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign.

35% (38/110) use a CMS, such as Schema ST4 or TIM-RS.

16% (18/110) use wikis such as Atlassian Confluence.

15% (16/110) use a help authoring tool, such as Flare or Author-it.

Over half of the technical writers we surveyed are still pursuing a file-based approach to their technical documentation (e.g. authoring in Microsoft Word, or creating multiple FrameMaker documents). One in three tech writers utilize a content management system (CMS). Some organizations have decided against using a CMS, and have instead opted for an enterprise wiki such as Atlassian Confluence (16%), or a help authoring tool, such as Flare, RoboHelp or Author-it (15%).


Please note that respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer for this question – and a few answers included platforms and technologies that we couldn’t align to the options given on the form.

How do you create technical documentation primarily?

3. Number of People Involved in the Content Lifecycle


25% (26/105) have more than 20 people involved in the content lifecycle

14% (15/105) have 11–20 people involved in the content lifecycle

31% (33/105) have 5–10 people involved in the content lifecycle

30% (31/105) have 2–4 people involved in the content lifecycle

Technical writers rarely work alone. In many cases, they link knowledge between multiple stakeholders within their organization – from the planning of content delivery, to authoring and reviewing documentation, to gaining approval and, finally, publishing technical content. 70% of techcomm content lifecycles involve more than five individuals.


One in four technical writers now interacts with 20 people or more during the content creation process. This trend is likely to continue, especially as more writers deploy documentation platforms that make it easy to obtain valuable feedback from readers.

How many people are involved in your content lifecycle?

4. Stakeholders Collaborating Within the Authoring Environment


Development 55% (42/77) 

Product management 35% (27/77) 

Quality assurance 22% (17/77) 

Marketing & sales 22% (17/77) 

Service & support 25% (19/77)

Other departments training, consulting, content publishing, data analysis 8% (6/77)

Only technical writers 17% (13/77)

Apart from technical writers, who else works inside the techcomm authoring environment, and contributes to manuals and other technical content? That’s what we wanted to find out by asking this follow-up question. Respondents were able to choose multiple answers.


Collaboration with stakeholders from other departments is increasingly vital to technical writing teams. 51% of respondents involve two or more departments in the technical writing process; in most cases, these departments are responsible for development (55%) and product management (35%). 26% of those surveyed collaborate with three or more departments –   and each department is able to contribute, review and approve content within the authoring environment.

Today, around half of all technical communication is produced in the form of file-based documentation, using desktop publishing and word processing tools such as Adobe FrameMaker and Microsoft Word (see question 2). With this in mind, these results indicate that many stakeholders do use the same tool. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re using a common platform with collaboration and content management functionality.

At least 17% of technical writers still create and manage technical content in their authoring environment without any input from other stakeholders. These writers need to perform manual tasks – such as emailing drafts, or merging of paper-based feedback – if they need input, feedback or approval from colleagues elsewhere in the organization.

Who contributes inside your authoring environment?

5. Number of Users within the Main Documentation Tool


16% (16/103) have more than 20 people working inside their authoring environment.

11% (11/103) have 11–20 people working inside their authoring environment.

25% (26/103) have 5–10 people working inside their authoring environment.

33% (34/103) have 2–4 people working inside their authoring environment.

16% (16/103) are working alone inside their authoring environment.

Finally, we wanted to find out how many of these stakeholders actually work with the technical writer’s toolset. Access to the same documentation tool is crucial – it helps to prevent error-prone conversions and manual updates, and eliminates each department’s redundant information silos.


Compared to the results for question 3, it appears that only a small proportion of stakeholders actually use the same authoring platform as the technical writers. This is particularly true of larger organizations, where more than 20 people are involved in the process. Smaller organizations are more likely to share the same tool, probably because they tend to create file-based documentation, e.g. using Microsoft Word. 

Other users who work together within a common authoring environment may be using a wiki-based content collaboration platform. Finally, 16% of individuals surveyed stated that they work alone inside their authoring environment.

How many people contribute inside your authoring environment?

Conclusion

Technical writers are collaborating on a regular basis, but their tools often hinder their ability to get input from others, e.g. when peer-reviewing content and gaining approval for publishing. This is because many of the people involved in the content lifecycle do not work directly within the documentation authoring environment.

Many companies, particularly smaller organizations, still utilize word processing or layout software. This enables stakeholders to collaborate using the same tool (e.g. Microsoft Word) when authoring and editing content. But these tools tend to lack content management and social collaboration functionality, and may not provide adequate support to ensure compliance with documentation standards.

Larger technical writing teams require easy-to-use documentation platforms that facilitate collaboration between all stakeholders in the content creation process. Against this background, many organizations are finding that a wiki-based approach is the answer. This is proof positive that at K15t Software, we’re on the right track to bring technical documentation into the 21st century.

 

What about you? How does your technical writing team collaborate with others, and which tools do you use?

Please let us know in the comments below, or drop us an email at info@k15t.com.


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