What is the future of technical writing in the digitalized world? Or should we say Technical Information? The answer is that there are many possible futures that are in progress as we speak.

The digitalization of the aftermarket makes the traditional technical writer perhaps not obsolete, but requires more of us all in our role. What historically was good enough was to write educationally and technical correct instructions, and also if needed, create illustrations. This was/still are then pushed out to the customer, and sometimes forgotten.

The requirements are coming on one solution handling coordinated technical information, interactive training, and marketing information in formats chosen by the consumers of this information. Al and media will also be in focus.

What to do then? Well, let’s start to look at what happens first, and then let us discuss what we think we must do.

But first, what is the difference between Digitization and Digitalization?

The Wikipedia definition for digitization is distinct: “…the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal (usually an analog signal) by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of its points or samples. Strictly speaking, digitizing simply means the conversion of analog source material into a numerical format.”

Digitalization is tougher. For example, the management consulting company McKinsey says, “It’s tempting to look for simple definitions, but to be meaningful and sustainable, we believe that digitalization should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things.”

To help make this definition more concrete, McKinsey brakes it down into three attributes:

  • creating value at the new frontiers of the business world
  • creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences
  • building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure

Well, not crystal clear, but let us make an example: “I could scan a document, then I would digitize it. But if I should digitalize a factory, it means connecting all equipment, visualize measurable data, and probably calculating formulas how to optimize the production.”

Changes in requirements

We do not want to scare all of you experienced technical writers away now. There will always be a need for classical writing of manuals for manufacturing companies, but tools in both engineering and technical writing starts to handle a lot of time consuming tasks so we see that the work that consumed 100% of our time, will probably go down to 50%. If the engineers can produce both texts and illustrations with higher quality in half our time, we understand why companies go along these lines. We need to find other ways to add value to an information product and we need to find good arguments to be able to sell them.

The “new” market with digitalization will also drive new types of requirement. Will it be time to stop being a specialist and be more of a generalist? There is not a straight answer to this but we believe that we as a community need to be more aggressive in learning new skills. There is both a window of opportunity and a threat. Our world will change regarding the need for information and type of information and we need to step out of our safety zone.

More of all this will be covered in more articles from FTI this autumn/winter.

Björn Nord / Boo Engstrand