The Information 4.0 Writer
The changes that are happening in Industry 4.0 will change the role of the technical writer. How and When are the questions to be answered. As technical writers we explain things, processes, and how to perform tasks. With Industry 4.0 that will continue but the technologies we write about and those that we use will change along with Industry 4.0. Information 4.0 is the change in technical writing that corresponds with Industry 4.0; the trends and technology that will make technical writing possible. Information 4.0 brings technical writing to a highly advanced technical level.
Because Industry 4.0 is beginning now, Information 4.0 is only a concept. We do not have all the answers to how to create materials, what tools (do the tools even exist), or what materials to create. Preparation is our best ally in this phase. We can evaluate what we know now, and we can plan for the changes as we see them happening.
The Information 4.0 Consortium has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.
- Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
- Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and findable.
- Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
- Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.
Let’s say you need to produce instructions for 5 new system changes for 6 different users or types of users who have 4 distinct roles as users. This means that you will have to produce numerous sets of instructions; unique to each user. The difficulty is in managing these permutations of content without error.
Without a tool that applies these characteristics to content, it is just theory. With a tool, these characteristics can be implemented. There is not a tool that can be used to implement all the characteristics to content. The best strategy for us as writers is to be prepared for what we image the changes may be:
- Set standards and enforce/teach them: For a standard that content is to be independent of format, instruct writers to avoid inline formatting and use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting.
- Keep tools up-to date: When using a technology tool, take each update. If you try to move from version 8 to version 12 there may be some functionality that has depreciated. Deprecated features are features that remain in software but are not updated. At some time, these features will be removed. If the leap between the past and new software versions is too great, there can be functionality issues.
- Seek out new industry tools: Whether you look for new tools to solve an existing problem or are just watching new trends in the industry, new tools will be developed to handle Information 4.0. Here are a few organizations and standards to watch for developing tools:
- Dublin Core: an initiative to create a digital library card catalog for the Web made up of d15 metadata elements. Metadata is data about data.
- Resource Description Framework (RDF): World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications for how to describe Internet resources such as a Web site and its content. These descriptions are referred to as metadata.
- Fluid Topics: Captures content in any format to deliver on-the-spot knowledge tailored to the reader and suited to the channel.
- Keep up with training: It is best to participate in training of existing and new technologies. A common misconception is that workers are smart enough to pick up the material or can research and teach themselves. Thought this is true, there is a possibility of bad habits being perpetuated through the organization if the self-taught employee teaches others their ‘bad habits. It is best to learn how the tool works and should be used by those who designed the tool or by industry experts.
As industry changes and technical writer tools change, so must the skills of the technical writer. Let’s look at machine generated text as an example.
For example, if there is a system for hospital equipment maintenance and repair and during a routine automated inspection of a piece of equipment a repair is determined to be necessary. The system will generate necessary reports for management and financial, as well as a full description of what was fixed for an automated fix or a set of repair instructions for a manual fix.
In this case the technical writer will not write the text. The writer becomes a rule maker and curator or the content; they will setup the system to generate specific pieces of content, for specific users, under specific situations.
With this content tailored approach writers will be geared toward writing 500 one-page documents rather than one 500-page book. The content is written in smaller chunks that can be put together in any order, for any different user, for any different state or condition. The tools to come will handle the mechanics of how this occurs, but writers must understand the mechanics of what data, for whom, when and under what conditions.