Compassionate technical writing, at STC Summit

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). I’m blogging my notes from the sessions that I attend. Thanks and all credit go to the speakers. Any mistakes are my own.

Robert Perry’s talk was entitled Technology for Good: Helping Organizations Do (More) Good with Technology. He spoke about how his organization has created solutions to make technology available to non-profit and educational organisations. He also introduced us to the concept of compassionate technical writing.

These are the primary points in Robert’s task

  • Embrace Industry 4.0 in your career and writing. (Industry 4.0 is also called Fourth Industrial Revolution, FIR, or Information 4.0.)
  • Use technology responsibly and for social change.
  • Create content that people can learn from and relate to.

Challenges and opportunities in Industry 4.0

We’re already living the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says Robert. Innovations are transforming the world we know, and changing how we work and play. This is how Robert characterised Industry 4.0:


During the session, Robert talked us through the first (steam in the 1700s), second (electricity in the 1800s) and third (computing in the 1900s) industrial revolutions. Each of these triggered profound changes in society.

Then he focused on Industry 4.0. It has benefits and disadvantages. It’s disr

Industry 4.0 is moving far faster and is having a wider effect than any of the other three revolutions. It’s affecting almost every country and society. Technologies include biotechnology, robotics, 3D printing, Internet of things, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality.

These technologies are also changing customer expectations. Customers expect more valuable connected experiences, personalised content, and contextualised content. Customers are not afraid to move to a different provide to get those.

Technical writers can help improve the customer experience. New categories of jobs are arising at the same time as others disappear. New opportunities are becoming available.

Customer feedback is becoming crucial, as is creating personalised, contextualised content delivery. There’s lots and lots of data coming in. Data feeds artificial intelligence, which can help make businesses and documentation smarter.

Trends for technical communication:

  • Intelligent content
  • Automated content generation
  • Dynamic delivery of content
  • Neural machine translations
  • Service-oriented content rather than document-based product manuals
  • And more

Robert said that metadata will drive many of the content delivery models. Metadata will become richer and more complex.

Technical writers will become knowledge managers – people who curate information, and enable the delivery of data-based dynamic content.

Technology for good

People must own the shaping of technology. Businesses are at the forefront, so they should also drive the sense of social responsibility. These are some of the things a business can drive:

  • Education and training programs for all
  • Ensure equal pay for equal work
  • Equality for every human being
  • Protecting our planet

There are hefty moral implications for these new technologies, for both good and bad. We build the things we admire, so we must make sure we understand the implications of what we build. We need to ensure that the economic benefits are available to all, not just to a small group.

Compassionate technical writing

The doc team at Salesforce (Robert’s employer) has started an initiative to write docs that show awareness of the customer’s situation. So they’ve started telling stories.

They ask themselves whether they write with a real human understanding of what it takes to use the product. Are we inspired and passionate about our work? Do we feel connected with the user?

Remember that readers should experience patience and compassion while they read. They may be in the middle of a frustrating experience.

How to write compassionately?

  • Be yourself.
  • Tell a story to help people identify with the documentation.
  • Take care of your reader.
  • Don’t force it on them. Be judicious – some areas of tech writing don’t lend themselves to compassion.
  • Anticipate the questions your reader may have, and answer them.
  • And more points from Robert.

The primary point is that every document must be technically accurate and excellent.

Robert recommends a book by Ann Handley, “Everybody Writes”.

In conclusion

Thank you Robert for a thoughtful look at technical communication and our changing world.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 8 May 2019, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: