WritersUA 2011 Monday – Quick survey of technical communicators

This week I’m attending the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. There were a number of kickoff sessions yesterday, but today (Monday) is the first official day of the conference. These are my notes from the opening session. If you find any inaccuracies, they’ll be mine.

The opening session was called “Let’s Look in the Mirror and See What We See”, hosted by Joe Welinske, Matthew Ellison and Tony Self. After a quick introduction to the conference by Joe, we moved into the interactive part of the session. This was a quick, interactive survey of the tools, techniques and goals of the technical communicators in the audience. I found it very interesting and attention-grabbing. What a great way to open a conference!

How the survey worked

Each member of the audience had an electronic response pad. The three hosts asked us a number of multiple-choice questions, and we pressed keys on the response pads to register our answers. The survey tool registered the answers immediately and displayed the results as graphs on the screen.

The full results will be posted on the conference community website. I jotted down notes during the session, and wrote this blog post based on those notes.

A touch of fun

At the beginning of the session, Tony chastised Joe for telling Tony and Matthew that blue shirts were the uniform for this session. It turned out that Tony and Matthew had chosen to wear very similar blue button-down shirts, purely by coincidence. Matthew then informed the audience that we could easily distinguish between him and Tony, because Tony was wearing brown shoes and Matthew black. Ha ha, trust this trio to inject some humour right at the start of the conference!

The questions and answers

1) Which actor did NOT grow up in Long Beach?


  • The majority (42%) answered “Snoop Dogg”.
  • The correct answer was “Emilio Estevez”, and this answer got the fewest votes (14%).

This result caused some hilarity amongst the audience and panel.

2) Which TV show has not been filmed at some point in Long Beach?


  • The majority (30%) said “Breaking Bad”. Woohoo, we got it right!
  • But 27% said “CSI: Miami”, which Joe mentioned is almost all filmed in Long Beach!

3) Which skills are most important in your career?


  1. Writing
  2. Understanding of IT
  3. Ability to learn quickly
  4. Knowledge of tools
  5. Interpersonal


  • The majority (45%) said “Ability to learn quickly”.
  • Fewest (5%) said “Understanding of IT”.
  • 9% said “Knowledge of tools”.

4) What’s your favourite way to learn to use a new authoring tool?


  1. Trial and error
  2. Official manual
  3. Third-party book
  4. Classroom training
  5. Live webinar
  6. Self-paced eLearning


  • Majority (42%) said “Trial and error”.
  • Second highest (25%) said “Classroom training”.
  • Fewest (3%) said “Live webinar”.

5) Improving skills in which of the following might best prepare you for the future?


  1. Use of social media
  2. Delivering information via hand-held devices
  3. eLearning design, development and tools
  4. Usability testing
  5. DITA principles/practices
  6. None of the above


  • Majority (35%) said “Hand-held devices”.
  • Second (25%) said “eLearning”.
  • Lowest (8%) said “None of the above”.

6) When asked at a party what you do for a living, how do you respond?


  1. I’m a writer
  2. I’m a technical communicator
  3. I’m a user assistance professional
  4. I work with computers
  5. I’m unemployed, homeless and crashing this party for a meal


  • Majority (42%) said “I’m a writer”.
  • Second (33%) said “I’m a technical communicator”.
  • Lowest (6%)  tied position, “I’m unemployed” and “I’m a UA professional”.

7) Which of the following help controls do you use?


  1. A links
  2. K links
  3. A and K links
  4. Neither A nor K
  5. What the hell are A and K links?


  • Majority (66%) said “What the hell are A and K links”.
  • Lowest (1%) said K links.

This question came courtesy of Tony Self. Of course! He professed himself to be disappointed with the result, but he said it with one of his trademark smiles.

8 ) What’s the biggest challenge to adopting a new tool or process?


  1. Lack of funds
  2. Intrastructure constraints
  3. Resistance from personnel
  4. Enough time to do it


  • Majority (45%) said “Enough time to do it”.
  • Fewest (11%) said “Infrastructure constraints”.

9) Where do you think AIR Help will be 5 years from now?


  1. Widespread
  2. Used in isolated cases
  3. Not sure
  4. What the hell is AIR Help?


  • Majority (37%) said “What the hell is AIR Help?”
  • Close second (36%) was “Used in isolated cases”.
  • Lowest (8%) said “Widespread”.
  • 19% were not sure.

These are interesting results coming from a set of technical communication professionals, particularly from Adobe’s point of view.

10) Have you considered using a wiki for SMEs to review content?


  1. Using one now
  2. Yes, but not doing it
  3. No, but it’s worth looking into
  4. No, we don’t want SMEs (subject matter experts) fooling around with our content
  5. What the hell is a wiki?


  • Majority (33%) “Yes, but not doing it”
  • 26% “No, we dont want SMEs fooling around with our content”
  • 25% “No but it’s worth looking into”
  • 15% “Using one now”
  • 2% “What is a wiki?”

11)  Which of your hosts is known for being somewhat feeble-minded?

In case you hadn’t already guessed, this is just our three panel members having fun. 😉


  1. Tony
  2. Joe
  3. Matt

At this point, Joe attempted to influence results by asking the question in a somewhat vague manner! He also assured us sincerely that he has not rigged the results! Tension mounted.


  • 57% “Joe”
  • 36% “Tony”
  • 7% “Matthew”

12) How do you keep your users up to date on software changes?


  1. Newsletter
  2. Webinars
  3. Blog
  4. Other
  5. We can’t keep up


  • 56% “Other”
  • 19% “Newsletter”
  • 13% “Can’t keep up”
  • 7% “Blog”
  • 6% “Webinars”

Panel members remarked that the high proportion of “Other” is worth investigating, to see how people are coping with this problem.

13) How often do you telecommute to work each week?


  1. Never
  2. Less than 1 day
  3. 1 or 2 days
  4. 3 or 4 days
  5. Full-time


  • 31% “Never”
  • 30% “Less than 1 day”
  • 19% “1 or 2 days”
  • 12% “Full-time”
  • 8% “3 or 4 days”

14) In the past year, what has been your primary method of non-sales contact with users regarding their needs?


  1. In person
  2. Teleconference
  3. Email
  4. Other
  5. No contact


  • 30% “No contact”
  • 25% “Other”
  • 23% “Email”
  • 13% “In person”
  • 8% “Teleconference”

Panel members remarked that the high proportion of “Other” is worth investigating. It could well point to a wide usage of social media.

15) What type of smart phone do you have?


  1. Blackberry/RIM
  2. iPhone
  3. Windows Phone
  4. Android
  5. Noikia
  6. Other
  7. No smartphone


  • 40% “None”
  • 23% “iPhone”
  • 16% “Android”
  • 13% “Blackberry/RIM”
  • 4% “Other”
  • 3% “Windows Phone”
  • 0% “Nokia”

Another report on this session

Chuck Martin has blogged about this session too, over on the 2011 WritersUA Conference Blog.

My conclusion

Kudos to Joe, Matthew and Tony for designing and carrying out such an interesting and attention-grabbing session to open this great conference!


About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 15 March 2011, in technical writing, WritersUA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ahhh, I felt like I was there. Thanks Sarah
    Say “waddup” to Amber for me…

  2. Very interesting read and sounds like a great session.

  3. I wouldn’t have been able to answer #6. No option that fits.

    • Hallo Bill

      Yes, I had the same problem. My reply is always, “I’m a technical writer”. Then I deal with the incomprehension that follows. 😉 So I just chose option 2 (“I’m a technical communicator”) because it seemed to imply the direct reply rather than a workaround. What is your answer to such party questions?


  1. Pingback: WritersUA Conference, 2011: Day One « CyberText Newsletter

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