Global Authoring Survey Shows Increasing Geographical Dispersion and Increasing Concerns for Consistency among Documentation Departments

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Sophie Hurst , SDL International

 

SDL recently conducted their Global Authoring Survey 2008 to technical documentation professionals, to investigate trends in global authoring over the past 2 years. Sophie Hurst, Senior Product Marketing Manager, responsible for global authoring management, terminology, and automated translation at SDL comments on the results.

SDL’s recent survey to technical documentation professionals across different industries including IT, telecoms, and manufacturing showed some interesting results. Similar surveys were conducted in 2006 and 2007 by SDL, so results are compared between the years, to show the trends in the market.

One of the clear things that came out of this is the impact that wider off-shoring strategies may be having on Technical Documentation—the drive by companies to constantly strive to be more competitive and reduce costs and time-to-market seems to be having an impact on many writing departments.

We will look at the results in detail, but some key areas were highlighted in the responses to this survey:

  • The market leaders in authoring tools seem to be consistent over the years.
  • There has been an increase in the number of companies moving to XML.
  • Geographical locations of authoring teams seem to be changing.
  • Interest levels relating to quality are also changing.

Trends of leaders in authoring tools

The results of the survey give interesting insights as to who the leaders are in terms of authoring tools. The leading authoring tool vendors are Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker. Nearly 60% of authors are using Word amongst their authoring tools, and nearly 40% are using Adobe FrameMaker. Next comes Adobe RoboHelp with 23% and then under the 10% mark are Arbortext Editor, AuthorIT, DreamWeaver, Flare, InDesign, and XMetaL.

If authors plan to move to XML, over 40% plan to move to Adobe FrameMaker, over 25% to Microsoft Word XML functionality followed by Arbortext Editor, AuthorIT, XMetaL, and Robohelp.

Trends in organizations moving to XML

A question that we asked again this year was, “Does your company plan to move to XML?” The answers show that 40% are either using XML or planning on moving to XML, which is a definite increase in interest over previous years. However, 60% of people do not know or do not plan to move to XML. It will be interesting to see how the response to this question changes in a year or two’s time.

Drilling down further, we asked how much of the respondents’ content is already in XML. This same question was asked in 2007. The number of respondents that said none of their content was in XML dropped over the year, from 60% to 54%. Additionally, there was an 8% increase in people that said 80% or more of their content is in XML already, showing a significant move of content into XML format.

As discussed above, the tools that they intend to use for this migration are mainly Adobe FrameMaker, Microsoft Word, and other XML authoring tools, such as Arbortext Editor, AuthorIT, and XMetaL.

Authoring team dynamics

Next we asked about the typical size of the authoring teams. The numbers were very similar to 2006 results with nearly two-thirds of companies who responded having small authoring departments of less than 10 authors. Over 20% had large teams of 30 or more authors, a small increase over 2006.

65% of authors believe they write for global audiences, though many of those commented that they write for a global audience but that content is not always translated—a very valid distinction to make. Many organizations today, whether their content is translated or not, are in fact writing for a global audience, since the minute they put something on the internet, it can be read by people around the globe. Additionally, people from all over the world live in the countries in which this content is produced, often purchasing equipment and software, and reading the instructions for that content in a language which is not their mother tongue. In the US, for example, 13% of the population are Latino American (exceeding the population of Canada) and the majority (78%) retain their language and culture. So even if content is only written in English and targeted at the US market, it is content that will be read by non-native English speakers.

The SDL survey asked a very interesting question about the geographical locations of authoring teams around the world. “Are your authors in one central location or are they geographically dispersed?” In 2008, 59% of respondents, versus 37% in 2006, said that their teams were geographically dispersed—an increase of 22%. This is an interesting result and points most likely to an increase in off-shoring. Generally speaking, more than a million US jobs have moved off-shore and the majority is going to India, which has more than $30 billion of revenue from off-shoring. Of course the numbers are not the same for technical documentation off-shoring, but SDL is clearly seeing an increase in off-shoring of technical documentation among the companies we work with (this trend is also supported by research from the industry analysts).

The other reason for an increase in geographical dispersion is when companies buy other companies and automatically inherit writers in those different locations. Rather than centralize the authoring function, companies may be keeping the distributed teams and using today’s more advanced technologies for supporting this mode of working.

Quality issues in documentation today

The SDL survey also shows that there has been an increase in the number of respondents with concerns about consistency. This is probably as a result of teams being more dispersed geographically. Another factor will be the increase in component-based writing in XML, which leads to more writers contributing to an end piece of content. Or it could be that there is greater awareness of the importance of quality when writing global content.

For the question “How important is consistency for you?” 60% of respondents in 2008 versus 45% in 2006 said it was very important to them. 30% in 2008 versus 45% in 2006 said that consistency was somewhat important to them and the same 10% said it was less important. That is an increase of 15% in the concerns about consistency. The reasons could be varied—many of you reading this article will have your own take on why this is the case and whether it is related to the causes outlined in the above paragraph.

Only 10% of respondents said that they were using a tool to perform quality and consistency checks and 10% said they planned to get one. SDL has seen an increase—along with the increasing concerns over consistency—in the number of organizations approaching us for tools to improve the quality of their source content.

Additionally, over 50% of respondents did not have a process for managing terminology within the company and 22% circulate terms by e-mail. 9% of organizations, however, do have a full-time terminologist who manages and agrees the use of terms in the organization.

Conclusions

The results of the survey are interesting and highlight key areas of activity going on in Technical Documentation today. An increased move towards XML seems to be apparent, with more content having been ported over the last year. A dramatic increase in the number of teams that are geographically dispersed has been revealed in the survey, possibly as a result of the current trend towards off-shoring. What is also interesting is the impact that this kind of activity is having on concerns and awareness around the quality and consistency of content that is produced. Few people have tools to resolve these issues at the moment. With the trends towards off-shoring and XML, and the need to write better quality content for your global audiences, the time may well be ripe to invest in such tools.

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