Video has not killed the tech comm star

Alan Pringle / Opinion6 Comments

Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf asks: How important is video to technical authors?

Graham argues you cannot afford to ignore video. Whilst it is a requirement for your company’s online (i.e Web site) presence, do audiences expect it in the online Help and other forms of support documentation? Possibly not yet, but how long will it be before video is a fundamental part of User Assistance?

I’m not sure I agree that video is a requirement for an online presence, but I do think it’s important to think about how video will affect what the tech comm profession does to reach end users. We shouldn’t implement video, though, just because it’s cool or what we perceive to be The Next Big Thing.  Considerations to evaluate before implementing video include:

  • Audience. If your audience is video-savvy and expects video, you probably need to deliver video. On the flip side, don’t use video as a way to get around providing text when your users really prefer the written word (in print, online help, knowledge bases, PDF, or whatever).
  • Accessibility. How does your video content accommodate those with visual and hearing impairments? Not only is it just plain wrong to shut out a whole group of end users, you can also get into legal trouble for not providing accessible information.
  • Hardware/software requirements. A lot of video right now is Flash-based. That’s a problem if you’re delivering content to many smartphones now on the market.

That list is hardly exhaustive. (Yes, I borrowed it from my original comment on Ellis’s post. Consider it single sourcing!)

I know video can play a useful part in user assistance: I’ve watched video clips on YouTube to figure out how to use features on my phone, and Scriptorium included short clips with voiceovers with the FrameMaker workbooks we wrote years ago. I don’t think, however, that video will supplant the work we do. It’s another medium for delivering information to end users, and we should use it only when it’s suitable for a particular audience and after developing a business case that lays out the requirements and ramifications.

P.S. There’s no way I’m going to pass up the chance to post this video:

About the Author

Alan Pringle


Content strategy consulting. Publishing (electronic and print). Eating (preferably pastries and chocolate). COO at Scriptorium.

6 Comments on “Video has not killed the tech comm star”

  1. For the reasons you mention, and others, I agree that using video just for video’s sake is the wrong direction to go. However, judiciously used video can significantly improve the help experience (or any technical communication experience) for the receiver as long as the video is not too long and is not the sole method of communication.

    One of the things I hear most frequently about video is its linearity. You sometimes have to go through minutes of video to find the nugget that you might have found scanning a page in less time. That’s very true, but if you can parse a video into relevant components for each step of a task, then the video becomes a powerful aid to helping you achieve a goal.

    I wrote a while back about trying to assemble a toy and the sticking point was in the middle of a 6 minute video and I had to rewind multiple times to see how to do it right. I wasn’t a very happy customer by the time I got the toy completed and would have preferred having written instructions so I could refer as I was working.

    It boils down to different strokes for different folks, but video is an important and viable way to communicate that can’t be ignored. It just has to be used intelligently.

  2. I agree. Video will not replace written documentation. Video will augment it in the same way that screenshots augment our existing content.

    If it becomes more prevalent, will we see the emergence of a new role in technical communications? The tech-comm narrator?

  3. Great points by both you and Julio. I guess my main point is: will Technical Writers be bypassed? If someone else is given the job of creating videos, will this be to the detriment of Technical Writers?

  4. I don’t think technical writers will be bypassed. On the contrary, they will be necessary more than ever to explain tasks and concepts in plain English (or whatever language), and the topics they write can be used as a basis for a storyboard. That’s how I learned the job: think of graphics (not screen shots!) first, and then write your text.

  5. Video presents a compelling reason for technical communicators to put some time and effort into learning to SPEAK effectively. If you’re going to narrate a video, you owe it to your audience to do it well.

    Our profession has historically ignored speaking skills; it’s time to start cultivating them. Toastmasters International is a fabulous resource for learning to speak well, at your own pace, with people who want you to succeed. (Find out more at

    Don’t make your audience suffer through a badly-narrated video. Learn to use your voice as effectively as you use your keyboard.

  6. Tech communicators have to be aware that SMEs may become the sole authors of videos with or without narrative, especially as management might think this is a time-saver. So I think there may be a threat from the community, albeit the internal community within a company. As usual we will have to prove that tech communicators can add value to the process.

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