Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services
July 1, 2019

One of the most popular children’s series during the 1980s and 1990s, was Bantam Book’s Choose Your Own Adventure series, which sold more than 250 million copies between 1979 and 1998. In these books, geared toward children aged 7-14, the reader assumes the role of the protagonist and makes choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome. After a couple of pages of reading, the protagonist faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings, which not only included the proverbial “happily ever after”, but also other less-than-perfect endings, up to and including the equivalent of “You have died and brought eternal shame on your family.”

The popularity of the books hinges on the child’s desire of being in control of the action – of not simply being told a story, but being part of the story. Eventually, however, children outgrow these stories as they eventually learn that all of life is an unending Choose Your Own Adventure. Within that giant adventure are hundreds of subplots, with a significant one centering around the choice, preparation, and execution of a career. Imagine putting your day-to-day activities as a technical communicator into the format of one of these books:

“Time is running out. Although Betty sent questions to Jack three weeks ago, he doesn’t seem inclined to answer. Betty must deliver a draft of the user guide to her editor by Friday.

  • If Betty walks over to Jack’s desk and confronts him about her outstanding questions, turn to page 65.
  • If Betty leaves draft-comments in her draft blaming Jack for the lack of information, turn to page 34.
  • If Betty guesses at the answers and writes them up as facts, turn to page 97.”

“User demands and expectations are changing. Sam has just received another round of feedback from the company’s technical documentation survey and the demand continues to grow for video instructions.

  • If Sam sets the results aside and continues working on updating topics for the next release of the PDF installation manual, turn to page 13.
  • If Sam sends an email to his manager about taking a video writing course, turn to page 104.
  • If Sam pulls out his cell phone and starts recording himself installing the product, turn to page 70.”

“At their recent stand-up meeting, Krystal’s Scrum master indicated that the developers were falling behind in writing the error messages required for the user stories in their current sprint. Historically, those messages have always been written by the development team.

  • If Krystal keeps her head down and concentrates solely on perfecting the topics she has been assigned, turn to page 47.
  • If Krystal talks to the Scrum master about prioritizing her topics and the messages that remain to be written, turn to page 175.
  • If Krystal volunteers to take on the error message writing in addition to her current duties, turn to page 203.”

Many of the choices we face in technical communication today seem tied to the definition of technical communication. What falls within our purview? Do we stick with writing manuals and help systems? Do we expand to other media? Do we encroach on content traditionally written by developers and UI designers? What do we have the time for, and equally important, what do we have the skills for? There’s no question that the demands on the technical communicator are growing and changing. The question in our Choose Our Own Adventure journey is what are we going to do about it.

The theme for the CIDM’s summer online IDEAS conference is “The Many Hats of the Technical Communicator.” Presentations cover topics such as the technical communicator as architect, user advocate, UI designer, taxonomist, publisher, and developer. Experts who have taken on these roles as part of their technical communication umbrella share the things you need to know to do the same.

The decision is yours: