A Technical Communication Conversation — Kit Brown Hoekstra

This is part of the series of conversations that I originally published in ContentHug, in 2015.

Thank you Kit Brown Hoekstra.


[CH]:Technical communication has really evolved from merely user manuals to ROI driven approach, UG content, and web based authoring tools. I must say these are all integration points with content strategy, towards the common goal. Considering this convergence, what exactly ‘content’ community needs to address? For example if we talk about titles, what can be the next title of a senior technical writer or a documentation manager that can explain it? If not for title, what next in terms of content ownership or value to a business?

[KBH]: The tools and technology are finally mature enough to allow us to take a more holistic approach to content, such as with intelligent content and content strategy. We need to see ourselves and what we do as business assets, and to set up our processes and interactions accordingly.

Often, technical communicators are among the few people in an organization who interact with most of the organization. This interaction gives us unique insights into our company’s needs, goals, strengths, and challenges — if we are paying attention.

We need to communicate effectively with our audience of upper management to help them see how we can design holistically with the world in mind, improve communication across the organization and with our customers, and demonstrate our value. To do this, we shift our self-perception away from being “Schleprock” r “Eeyore” and toward being the positive and critical assets that we are.

[CH]: Assume that you get your dream job or contract, lead or otherwise. What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far that you will put into practice there?

[KBH]: Be curious, ask lots of questions (especially the impertinent ones that people are afraid to ask), listen, make sure you are talking to all the stakeholders. I like concept of “beginner mind” that the Dalai Llama and Thich Nat Hanh speak of. It frees you to approach the situation with fresh eyes, and to ask questions.

[CH]: There are times when we need to push things around, such as to get a buy in. Can you share some experience when you had to take a really tough call, such as for style guide, for user education, for a new authoring environment, or for deliverables?

[KBH]: Any time you make major changes, there will be someone who is uncomfortable with the change or who will push back. You have to be strong enough to both listen to constructive feedback and to know when to push back. This is where good change management comes into play.

All the technology in the world is not going to make your team successful if the human side of the equation is dysfunctional. I prefer trying to identify and address as many of the issues as possible BEFORE they actually become issues. Involving the team being affected in the planning and development phases often results in better buy-in and, often, in better solutions.

[CH]: How do organizations address the content ownership concerns when we have content strategists, content marketers, technical communicators, and even data scientists? How do you see your role in defining the content ownership process.

[KBH]: As a consultant, I often play the role of mediator and facilitator to ensure that all the stakeholders are talking to each other. Most organizations are not yet to the point where they’ve resolved the roles/responsibilities overlap, and most don’t have a global content strategy. Part of what I do is help them make progress toward that goal of an integrated, global content strategy.

[CH]: What role technical communicators can have in disruption–technology or otherwise?

[KBH]: Because we touch many areas of the organization, we have a unique opportunity to facilitate the introduction of technologies that will improve content and communication across the organization.

We can experiment with our training, user doc, and other content to find cost-effective and creative ways to reach our audiences. We need to be constantly on the look out for technologies that help us accomplish our goals. STC, for example, is invaluable in giving us a forum for discovery and a built-in network of experts, who are often very generous in their willingness to bring others up to speed.

[CH]: If you could weave a magic wand only once, what you wish for your current role at work?

[KBH]: If I could wave a wand, I would wish that every technical communicator in the world is globally savvy and multiculturally aware and creating well-internationalized content that is efficient to localize. I would also wish that every technical communicator has business acumen and a passion for making the world a better place through their work and their interactions with their colleagues around the world.


Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories. I am a EEES (External Eye Experience Specialist) for startups and their goals, for content, UX, and customer experience.

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