2013 predictions in technical communication

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion16 Comments

Here we go again! My traditional blog topic to kick off a new year: predictions.

Last year, we predicted the following:

  • The rise of cloud-based tech comm
  • Convergence (of tech comm) with UX driven by mobile requirements
  • Divergent strategies for tool vendors (either, “oooh, shiny” or a strict focus on automation)

In 2012, I saw a good bit of discussion about Author-it’s cloud solution, but it was easyDITA that seemed to make some actual inroads in this space. Several tools that are cloud-based but not targeted specifically at tech comm, such as Drupal and WordPress, are being employed for tech comm work.

It may still be too early for the UX/tech comm convergence, but there are at least a few people thinking about this issue.

I’ll let you decide how accurate the third prediction is.

Onward to 2013. Here are my trends/predictions from this year’s webcast:



I will have much more to say about this in a presentation at the Intelligent Content Conference on February 7 and 8. Executive summary: The requirement for faster authoring, formatting, publishing, delivery, and updates is forcing tech comm into significant changes.

Mobile requirements change tech comm

Monarch emerging

Lots of people are talking about this, but I can’t ignore mobile just because it’s popular. The explosion of mobile devices means that tech comm needs to focus less on PDF and more on HTML5, apps, integrated help, and thinking strategically about how content is consumed on a small(er) screen that people carry around with them.

Rethinking content delivery

This trend is related to the others. We need more targeted delivery of content to support end users so that they are not overwhelmed. Generally, we are shipping faster, in more languages, and for more devices and formats. Now, we have to address the question of how to ensure that the end user gets the right information and not just a lot of information.

(Our guest, Bill Swallow, had a different set: PDF continues to thrive, mobile drives changes, and continued growth of localization requirements. I think we agree on two out of three.)

The webcast recording should be available shortly. What are your thoughts on 2013 trends?

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

16 Comments on “2013 predictions in technical communication”

  1. Thanks for having me on! A quick summary of the three trends I discussed:

    PDF continues to thrive – It’s a ubiquitous delivery format, and the primary means of interacting with print vendors. Until another print-friendly format overtakes PDF, it’s here to stay.

    Mobile drives changes – Real estate, intuitiveness of applications, and general attention spans require paring documentation down to the absolute need-to-know info and deliver it exactly when and how people need it. Also look for new application of mobile devices as a means of interacting with other machines, requiring attention to context beyond the main interface of the machine.

    Localization requirements – There will be a continued rise in delivering localized product, but there is an increasing need for internal localization as well. Global companies and companies who collaborate with other companies in other countries need to be able to share information accurately and completely (collaboration on content development, sharing of specifications, other internal documents). They need to do so quickly and accurately, as a delay or incorrect information can impact getting work done, and can impact localization of deliverables.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed today’s webinar and agree with many of the trends you both cited — except for the PDF. However, I do see the point made that PDF is still the best format available where strict regulation or print needs dictate the medium.

    I think the spike in mobile device usage plus social networks will continue to drive demand for ‘instant information’ that flexes, bends, and rolls around subject matter based on user needs. Being able to not only develop this kind of content but deliver it fast, translate it when required will be the areas in which we see some great leaps forward. Back when print was our only medium, it was fine to produce a one-size-fits-all doc set, but I think those days are gone. Now it’s all about customizing information, engaging users in its development, and continually updating it so it’s never static.

    One thing said on today’s call that resonated with me was the observation that technical communicators no longer control the reading sequence. This is true and challenges us to find ways to provide the right context. I also found it interesting that we’ve only barely started to consider touch screens in our work; instead, we’re repurposing old content to fit touch devices. I don’t yet own any of these devices but am excited to get my hands on one to see what new thoughts it sparks in the ways I access information.

  3. Thanks, Sarah and Bill, for another thought-provoking and relevant webcast! I think the mega-uber trend lurking beneath many of the trends you presented is that we tech comm’ers are challenged to rise to new levels of flexibility. This applies to speed, new channels and formats, and changing demands in localization and content delivery.

    I wrote up a summary and my own thoughts on my blog at http://kaiweber.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/top-6-techcomm-trends-for-2013/

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  5. The death of PDF has been predicted for a long time. It’s taking longer to die than Rosa Moline in “Beyond the Forest.” The vast majority of posts on the DITA Users list pertain to FO. The paperless office has been predicted for a long time too, and uh…nope on that one as well. We just like paper and print. We do. Maybe we shouldn’t, but it’s our guilty pleasure, like Ding-Dongs and “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

  6. +1,000,000 bonus points to Leigh for working in a Dog the Bounty Hunger reference.

    That said, I don’t think PDF will die die die. But it’s clearly losing steam as the dominant, primary requirement for tech comm deliverables.

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    1. I think customer feedback must be considered w/ care and imagination. i.e., How many customers ask for Embedded Help? (which many UA designers think highly of.)

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  9. Isn’t that for mobile devices, search-based web page content is still relevant instead of a specific format?

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  11. Pingback: Four Less Common Types of Technical Writers Companies Are Looking For | I'd Rather Be Writing

  12. Has anyone checked how many web browsers and devices fully support HTML 5? Last time I checked – not many. We are a distance down the road before HTML 5 is the melting pot for all things media.

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