In Scriptorium’s “Ask the experts” webcast on 17 April 2012, Sarah O’Keefe, Nicky Bleiel and Tony Self reflected on frequently asked questions and trends. Here’s a timed play-by-play synopsis, so you can access the bits in the recording that interest you.
I try to provide teasers, not spoilers, so scoot right over to Scriptorium’s blog and check out the meaty answers for yourself!
The panel starts with the questions they hear most often, from the underlying architecture via the tools to the deliverables.
5:46 – What is the best help/XML/CMS tool to use?
Tony tackles this first question. While there is no clear, short answer, Tony sums up some criteria which can guide your choice to selecting a system that works for you.
9:20 & 14:20 – What should we be delivering?
Nicky hears this one frequently – and often the underlying sentiment is: “So many outputs, so little time.” Again, there’s no simple answer that suits everyone, but Nicky outlines how to make an appropriate decision. And once you throw single sourcing in the mix, you’ve likely got a scenario that works for you. (They go back to this question after the next one, that’s why there are two timestamps!)
11:54 – Should we implement DITA/XML?
Sarah has several answers for this question: Showing an ROI is tricky, but most compelling – and it is more likely in some scenarios than others. The strategic aspect of making your content future-proof helps, but it may not be sufficient for your business case.
Next up are some more or less controversial questions:
18:50 – Should we use a wiki for documentation?
The experts chime in with several perspectives that can help you make a decision. Tony thinks it can be a valid format for many use cases, Sarah cautions of the very different processes a wiki brings.
25:10 – Content strategy: Is it a fad or fab?
The experts’ answers focus on what content strategy actually means for technical communications, from “we’ve basically been doing it for years” to embracing it as part of our profession’s maturing process to new job roles and titles.
30:30 – The tech comm career: Is it awful or awesome?
This one is interesting: The experts see both, the glass half empty AND half full. The consensus is that the role for technical communicators is changing, and fast, so there are challenges and opportunities to those who adopt.
Audience participation time
For the last round, the webinar audience submits some questions for scrutiny:
37:50 – Can tech comm be complex when products get ever simpler?
The panel is not ready to dumb down documentation at all costs. Complexity may be warranted depending on the products and audience expectations.
42:15 – Is agile good or bad for tech comm?
Agile can be good for tech comm, when it’s implemented well. Tony also points out that agile may give technical communicators a stronger role in the development process.
45:55 – Can product specs be turned into docs with a single edit?
It’s hard to tell without knowing the details. But probably not.