From Publications to Conversations

I am grateful to Connie Giordano for the invitation to contribute to techwr-l’s Integrated Technical Communications series. My contribution, It’s time for a New Doctrine of Technical Communications, appears today.

Connie’s request was prompted by a number of comments I have made recently on the future of tech pubs, but it forced me to think a little more deeply about where things are going. It is easy to get caught up in the constantly changing details of media and production tools, but all that stuff seems to me to obscure a much more profound change that is not a hypothetical future, but something already well underway: a shift in emphasis from publications to conversations.

There is nothing new about the Internet hosting online conversations on technical subjects. That dates back to Usenet in the 80s. But technical communications has remained focused on the publications model. Across various media and a range of tools, the product has been a publication, issued in concert with a product. But Web 2.0 technology has turned the Web into a conversation, and technical communications as conversation is not just for Usenet geeks anymore. Users of all walks of life are increasingly turning to search and social media for their technical information, and technical writers are increasingly become part of those conversations.

To my mind, this development is more than simply a change of tools. It heralds a change in the basic doctrine of technical communications. Technical communications doctrine has always been a publications doctrine. Many technical communication departments are actually called “Technical Publications”. This doctrine shapes the definition of the job, how projects are planned, and how people are trained and hired. Even the people who like to say that they “do more than just writing” largely mean that they have other publication oriented roles.

A move from publications to conversations changes all of this. It is a much bigger deal than any change in tools and media, and it will impact the definition of the job, how projects as planned, and how people are trained and hired. But I won’t rehash the argument here: go on over to techwr-l and get involved in the debate.

 

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