Tom Johnson’s predictions of 2018 technical writing trends

I’ve been following Tom Johnson, a notable and influential technical writer in the Silicon Valley, for some time. For the past few years, he’s posted a list of technical writing trends for the year, and he’s posted 2018 trends.

I’m not going to try to summarize his words, but I do have a few thoughts on one very impactful prediction – the trend towards becoming generalists.

Yes, after all these years of the industry pushing specialists, we may run the opposite direction and become a jack of all trades. Is this a bad thing?

Complex technologies seem to be the driving factor. I’ve heard managers say that their product is entirely too complicated for a technical writer to learn, so the writing will be done by developers and the technical writer will assemble their notes and make them human readable. This sentiment was expressed exactly by Tom and now that he’s mentioned it, I think he’s right. I have first hand experience in this area and, well, I do believe it diminishes the value of a technical writer. My previous posts have touched on this subject because we do much more than make documents look good. However, as Tom mentioned and my own experience has shown, this allows us to develop our content strategy skills. There is so much information floating around in organizations, there is now a demand for someone to tame the beast. If you’ve ever put together a manual, you can develop a content strategy (overly simplified comparison, but you get the point).

However, I’ve noticed that those using complex writing tools are more interested in developing specialists. I have sat through a number of “DITA isn’t so bad” or “DITA – Taking the pain out of it..” presentations. I’ve also seen a number of job postings that want a DITA specialist to assist the teams struggling with it. Those DITA teams seem to have an increased need for specialists to own a particular set of tasks within an overall process.

Either way, you’re likely now to have the choice of pursuing a generalist or specialist route. Start thinking now which direction to go.

Outside of the generalist trend, Tom has made more predictions that are a must-read. Be sure and check it out here.


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