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    20.06.2023 — 9 min read

    The Latest Buzz in Technical Communication

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    The Latest Buzz in Technical Communication - Blog - Solteq

    I attended the Spring Seminar of Finnish Technical Communication Society in May, along with a couple of my colleagues. The seminar was held in the cozy premises of the Tampere University, and featured presentations and discussion panels focusing on the current hot topics and emerging trends on the field of technical communication.

    The presentations of the first day mainly dealt with new content management solutions and technology, with special focus on artificial intelligence-based technologies. The second day included presentations centered on accessibility and localization. Below are some of my musings on the themes featured in the conference, as well as how they relate to my current work at Solteq.

    AI Has Arrived

    It is safe to say that the numerous possibilities and threats posed by AI are currently a sizzling hot topic in technology-related discussions, and the field of technical communication is certainly not an exception. There is a notable undercurrent of uneasiness in the discourse, because a number of commentators have expressed that widespread usage of AI might endanger the livelihood of technical communicators. However, at least based on the presentations and discussions in the seminar, it seems there is no cause of alarm just yet: Using AI-based technology presents very exciting possibilities indeed for making technical communicators' work easier, but AI is still nowhere near a serious contender when pitched against the rather complex combination of competencies, experience, and mindset which technical communicator brings to the table when acting as an intermediator between technology, technology experts and the recipients of technical information. A good comparison could be made with machine translation, which when first introduced was thought to make a huge number of technical communicators obsolete. Nowadays it more or less has taken its place as just one of the tools that technical communicators can utilize to perform some of the more mechanical tasks automatically and easily.

    I personally am at the very beginning stages of utilizing AI-based technologies in my work, as in: Charting out the various possibilities presented by them. At the moment my main concern is ensuring that we at Solteq have the technical readiness to utilize AI technology in documentation work, which means that the documentation must be sufficiently well-organized, and that it can be easily edited without losing the history data, as well as ensuring that reviewing the technical information must be effortless. In addition, the possibilities provided by the aforementioned machine translation technologies also interest me a great deal, and the tools we currently use (Atlassian Confluence and assorted add-ons) are relatively easy to integrate to various systems which utilize machine translation technologies.

    From One Document to Many

    A big part of the current documentation technology -related discussion is concerned with how to create and manage documentation which can be published to different recipient groups, via multiple channels, and in several languages if needed. Technical document no longer refers to simply a linear file or printout which contains text and perhaps a few images; instead, it can take the shape of a customer help portal, pop-up help integrated into the UI, wiki space, audiovisual presentation, or even an interactive environment in virtual reality. User documents are also no longer strictly a one-way communication method; instead, users may have the possibility to add their own notes to the instructions, provide direct feedback about them to the creators, or interact with the other users of the document, just to give a few examples.

    Personally I've felt for quite a long time already that the requirements above are the very key issues when planning and implementing documentation systems, and that extra care should be taken to devise systems which are future-proof. Nowadays creating technical documentation in the format which makes it possible to both produce and publish it in suitably-sized "chunks", in different formats, and via multiple channels is one of the most important issues in technical documentation. Maintaining documentation in multiple languages as well as for different product versions and variants is also major requirement. Users of the documentation should also be provided with the capability to make fast searches, and the documents need to be easy to find and use with both desktop and mobile devices.

    Currently the user documentation for multi-channel e-commerce system Solteq Commerce Cloud is available in the Internet in English and Finnish. The brand new user manual for Solteq's Tekso system is also available online, and the users can select whether to view the instructions for the variant used in fashion retailers or hardware stores, for example. Our documentation is continuously being improved and expanded, and both updating and delivering the documents is markedly fast. We have also added customer feedback channels to the documentation, and are working on a customer support portal which includes a help article knowledge base.

    In Search of Accessibility

    During the past few years, accessibility has certainly become one of the most important issues in the field of technical communication; in the end, customer documentation is always created to meet a particular need, and accessibility is a key component in providing this user experience. However, promoting accessibility in documentation is not always simple matter, and I, for one, can confess that reading my own documents "through someone else's eyes" can be quite challenging. A certain chronological distance to the created content might help in these situations, but this is not always convenient or even possible in relatively fast-paced documentation work which is closely connected with the software development project cycle; in many cases, the created content must be published quite soon after it has been finalized, and cannot really be "kept in wraps".

    From my viewpoint, the number one factor improving the user-friendliness of our documents is how well I can become acquainted with our customers and their needs. To fulfill this obligation I will strive to have more and more interactions with the users of our products and readers of our documents. Naturally I'm also hoping that the integrated feedback channel mentioned above will provide me with more and more opportunities to gain insight on what works and what does not work in our documents from the customer perspective. I strongly feel that developing and improving the usability of the documents must be an ongoing process whose results can be published relatively fast for our customers, even if the actual technical information content per se is not changed. In the end, everything I do is meant to benefit the users of our products.

    Do you have questions or comments regarding Solteq's customer documentation? Contact me: