easyDITA has completed its second annual State of Collaboration survey of technical communicators in information development organizations. Our goal with this research is to better understand current state practices and identify ways that product documentation teams can collaborate more effectively with subject matter experts (SMEs), reviewers, approvers, and customers.

We will be sharing our results in a few blog posts leading up to the joint release of a white paper with the Center for Information – Development Management. In our first post, we will compare the 2013 survey participation to the previous year’s to see if we can determine any trends.

What industries are adopting DITA?

Because the survey was largely promoted on DITA-related LinkedIn sites and followers of CIDM and easyDITA, it is not surprising that 73% of the respondents had at least partially adopted a structured authoring approach to information development. That number included technical writers, technical documentation managers and content strategists from a wide range of industries.

Information Technology – Software remained the top segment, and in all, IT and High Tech Manufacturing accounted for more than half of all responses. Semiconductors, Life Sciences, Education, and Aerospace were also well represented, which confirms the results of other research on DITA adoption by industry. Other responses include Banking, Insurance, and Other Manufacturing.

Who cares about collaboration?



Technical writer/Information architect (36%) and Tech pubs manager (24%) remained a majority of respondents, while the job roles of Other management, Consultant, Sales, Marketing, and Information Technology were part of the mix. Under “Other,” people identified their roles as Content technology strategist, Training & Development – Instructional design, Manager of Information Experience, and QA Docs – Standards Advocate. The variety of responses indicates that content collaboration issues are commanding increased attention from areas of the business beyond product documentation teams.

What types of deliverables are being developed?



It’s interesting that the numbers reflect only a gradual shift towards digital delivery. According to the recent “Following the Trends” survey that CIDM conducted with Data Conversion Laboratory, users want more web and video content. However, Information technology departments reported having a hard time getting the funding and time needed to meet those demands. Delivering content via Social Media is gaining adherents but still not widespread, despite its ability reach a large audience and engage them in an interactive dialogue.

What is the State of Collaboration?

The biggest challenges of collaborating on product documentation include gathering input from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), incorporating that input into the documentation while maintaining version control, making draft content available for review, and managing the approval process. The survey revealed that many organizations are still passing around hard copy documents and manually collecting input and approvals.

As we noted in last year’s survey results, our belief is that because Microsoft Word and email are so widely available, they are still the tools of choice for collaborating with SMEs. That means re-keying information and copying and pasting between document formats, a time-consuming and error-prone process.

At the end of the survey we asked people, “If there was one thing you could do to improve the state of collaboration in your organization, what would it be?”

Not surprisingly, many people focused on this problem of sharing information and incorporating input from a wide range of contributors. While a few complained about “SME availability and commitment to knowledge capture and transfer” and asked for “Mass firings of all the stubborn people”, another said, “Our issues aren’t based on willingness to collaborate.”

Many pleaded for a way to get out of the vicious information development circle: hard copy – email – copy/paste – re-key. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • “Centralize content development and review so collaboration does not rely on email.”
  • “Centralize content to make changes to documentation more efficient.”
  • “Get an HTML-based review tool, ditch the PDFs.”
  • “Implement an online technical review process tool,” a “central, single tool/process.”
  • “Get everybody in sync on best practices for reviews: formats, tools, scope, tracking, etc.“
  • “Be able to do online reviews.”
  • “Use of a collaboration platform that includes a CCMS.”
  • “Use one CMS.”

In short, people need a single, online system for managing content from authoring to approval.

In our next post we will explore more ideas about ways to improve collaboration across the enterprise, including “using customer feedback to drive change” and “Simplify the review and approval process of both the English masters as well as the translations.”

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