Halfway there: Technical communication trends in the 2010s

In a couple of weeks we’ll have reached the midpoint of a decade. Five years ago we turned our calendars to 2010, and five years from now we’ll stand at the threshold of 2020.

crystal ballIt’s fun to look back five years (which is, of course, an eternity in Internet time) and see what people were predicting for the new decade. What changes, and what new opportunities, would the 2010s bring for technical communicators?

One pundit predicted that we’d see credentialing or certification: “As technical communicators vie to prove their value, I expect increased interest in finding ways to differentiate ourselves in the job market….Perhaps there’ll be a PMP-like course for content strategists or information architects.”

Oops. While STC did launch a certification program a couple of years ago, they put it on ice when demand didn’t match expectations. Now nobody is talking about certification, as far as I can tell.

So what knucklehead made that prediction? That would be me.

Fortunately, I did better at spotting some other trends.

The rise of the content strategist

In 2010 I didn’t fully appreciate the holistic nature of content strategy. I didn’t understand that content strategy, done right, support’s business goals by providing an enterprise-wide approach to creating, publishing, maintaining, and governing content. Even so, I knew that content strategy was going to be a big deal.

Now, I believe the last half of the 2010s will see an increasing drumbeat of successful case studies in which businesses deployed content strategies and reaped the rewards. Content strategy, now seen by many as cool and edgy, will move into the mainstream.

Continued commoditization of technical writing

Sure enough, companies in traditional markets like the U.S. have continued to cut costs by moving tech comm work offshore.

In 2010 I wrote “This trend will only accelerate as workers in emerging markets like India and China improve their writing skills. Writers in traditional markets will have to reinvent themselves to remain viable.” I stand by that prediction today.

More and more media choices

Since 2010 our smartphones have gotten a lot smarter, and they’ve been joined by tablets and other devices.

While wearable tech might be more hype than anything else, we still can expect to see new media come into the marketplace. For example, I think that augmented reality will offer a ton of possibilities.

Fortunately, we as a profession are positioning ourselves to be ready for the coming innovation. We’ve already started defining techniques and best practices for adaptive and intelligent content — and in the next five years I expect our mastery of those things to evolve rapidly.

New ways to define the value of our work

BalloonsFive years ago, few technical communicators wanted to think about making a business case for what they did. Now, most of us understand how vital it is. (See “commoditization” above.)

Businesses are starting to understand that good technical information helps build their brands in the marketplace — leading to increased sales. We’ve come a long way in this area, but we have a long way to go. I’ll repeat what I wrote five years ago: “It’s up to us, the professionals, to hone these messages and make sure that they’re well understood in corporate boardrooms.”

What do you think? What other trends will affect us and our work in the next five years?

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2 thoughts on “Halfway there: Technical communication trends in the 2010s

  1. TechCommGeekMom

    Hi Larry,

    I still think there’s something about credentials that might work. Perhaps the STC’s solution at the time didn’t work, but I think there’s still room to figure this one out. It’s like having a degree–would you rather hire someone who has a degree or one without? This is not to say that the person without a degree isn’t capable, but the degree is a type of credential. I know that my MSPTC has opened doors that weren’t open to me before and provided more chances for opportunity. So, maybe we haven’t gotten the credentialing figured out quite yet, but I think it’s still a plausible goal in the future.

    Reply
    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Danielle. We shall see. The tricky thing with credentialing is that there needs to be demand in two different market segments: practitioners, and the people who hire them. And it’s pretty near impossible to gin up demand in one segment if it’s not present in the other. If we do see credentialing for technical communicators, I expect it will evolve slowly, starting with rather modest credentials and moving up from there. Check back in 5 years to see if I’m all wet.

      Reply

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