The continuous advancement in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology is paving the way for the next generation of automation. However, recent advancements in AI such as ChatGPT 4 has a lot of professionals worried about their career.
In the writing realm, such AIs deliver tons of content with only a few prompts and instructions. That said, the scrapped content comes from other sources and depends on existing information on the internet.
When it comes to technical writing, such AIs still have a long way to go because it requires technical expertise, personal experience, and a clear understanding of a product, among other things.
However, the risk of automation in technical writing remains a worry for many professionals. This article collects the thoughts and opinions of 14 expert technical writers on how AI will affect technical writing moving forward.
Let’s dive right in.
1. Arthur C. Brooke, Author and Professor
The biggest question many technical writers have is whether AI is bound to replace technical writers as a whole. Many people think that while AI helps improve the process of technical writing, there is always a need for human technical writers.
In his book Strength to Strength, American author Arthur C. Brooks describes two kinds of intelligence. One, fluid intelligence refers to the ability to generate facts. Two, crystalized intelligence refers to the knowledge that person gets from a lifetime of learning and incorporating values, culture, and beliefs.
Technical writing requires both kinds of intelligence for success. However, in an AI’s case, it only demonstrates fluid intelligence and not crystallized intelligence.
Brooke comments that an AI may know how to generate the definitions of API fields, but more complex tasks baffle them, often producing generic answers.
He points out in his book, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”
2. Tirzah Alexander, Technical Writer and Editor at SAIC
Tirzah is a writing tutor who excels in creative and business writing, among other things. She thinks that while AI may assist technical writers in the future, it can’t replace human writers as a whole.
According to her, it’s still hard for AI to understand the complex nuances of various languages. She says, “For now, AI can’t detect complex nuances in language, intonation, or tone. AI is expanding, but it remains limited to what a person tells it to generate or do.”
Tirzah also believes that AI is bound to assist the writing process of technical writers by helping them overcome early writer’s block. Technical writers may ask AI to generate ideas and even early drafts to help speed up the process and improve writing quality.
She says, “I think that AI can help writers overcome an early writer’s block phase by telling AI to generate something based on the writers’ initial idea.”
Furthermore, she believes that one of the biggest challenges of technical writing in the near future is maintaining user engagement. As people’s attention spans shorten and other modes of content become available, getting people to engage is becoming harder.
That said, Tirzah believes that concise content that’s easy to skim is key, along with accompanying animations, visuals, and videos.
3. Jennifer Nelson, Senior Technical Writer
As an experienced technical writer and owner of her consulting firm, Jennifer believes that AI is on track to become a partner or a valuable tool for technical writers.
She says that “I envision AI becoming a valuable tool or partner for technical writers, generating reasonable, well-written content, detecting relevant information required for document development, in addition to auto-text formatting and basic grammar.”
In other words, AI is able to assist you with content design, giving you some breathing room to focus on tasks that require a human touch.
She also says that technical writing always requires a human element when it comes to creating effective documentation. Things like collaboration with subject matter experts, observing and verifying processes, and replicating a specific voice are all human-specific actions, for the time being.
That said, Jennifer believes that AI may speed up the writing process or lighten the load for technical writers by providing rough outlines or a first draft.
According to her, “Technical writers will need to be adaptable and remain open-minded.” It’s possible that AI may help writers think of ideas that they may not have thought about that.
4. Rachel Nix, Technical Writer at Rho
As a software engineer-turned-technical writer, Rachel offers a unique perspective on the role of AI in technical writing.
She believes that in an ideal world, human technical writers and AI work hand in hand, complementing each other. She states that technical writing is the method of approaching technical processes with human-level intuition and empathy, something that AI is incapable of today.
The method of converting vague information into easy-to-understand writing involves understanding the human condition. It requires the anticipation of a user’s needs, thought process, and communication level.
According to her, “Leveraging AI will come down to writers having the ability to really drill down into the core of whatever issue they are approaching.”
As of now, AI is capable of communicating simple concepts in basic ways. In the future, it’s likely that AI starts to adapt and communicate complex topics but there is always a disconnect because of an AI’s inability to grasp the human experience.
She puts it this way, “Until AI can really embody the human experience of all of this, I think it’s really constrained in its ability to replace technical writers.”
According to Rachel, technical writers need to realize what they need from AI and take advantage of it. You have to learn how to give current AI models the right commands to let them help you.
5. Cameron Fletcher, Technical Writer at Aptera Motors
Cameron is an experienced technical writer who believes that scientific research, intellectual property, and inventive designs are the result of human ingenuity and curiosity. “As such, it is my opinion that there will always be a need for human writers if not editors in the least.”
His experience at a solar mobility startup, creating content stemming from never-before-seen novel ideas is proof of it.
That said, he believes AI is a great tool for brainstorming ideas, catalyzing the drafting stage, and generating multiple outlines. It’s possible to use it to find reference documents and applicable specifications.
Cameron believes that rather than thinking of AI as something that is bound to change a technical writer’s role, think of it as another tool for the writer’s tech stack, an additional skill to hone in on.
He also thinks that depending on AI today is not a good idea and that AI-based content needs consistent proofing and editing phases, along with a human element.
However, moving forward, Cameron also said, “Just as a new software can upend a once static industry, AI will, at a minimum, become a tool that I think content creators of all types should stay up to date with.”
He advises that technical writers need to take initiative to learn how to leverage AI and understand the underlying technology behind it.
6. Steve Arrants, Technical Writer at Agilent Technologies
As a long-time technical writer, Steve believes that similar to how there’s technical debt when a developer leaves, the same is true when technical writers leave a company.
“Developers talk about technical debt, but we ignore the debt tech writers create when they leave.”
He believes that while AI is already assisting technical writers today, humans are always going to be necessary. AI may help with “background research and discovering sources” but it doesn’t have the intuition and expertise of a human.
In a way, AI may allow technical writers to get more creative because of the time saved using AI-based research. However, for that, writers need to learn how to query AI.
While companies move toward lower-cost documentation, Steven thinks some companies may use AI to create such documentation, leading to users complaining about missing information. At that point, customer support may take over.
At any rate, he believes technical writers need to learn everything about AI and its uses in technical writing to stay ahead of the curve. “Learn all you can about AI. Use tools such as ChatGPT to get an idea of what you can do.”
7. Heather Flanagan, Lead Editor at OpenID Foundation
Also the owner of Spherical Cow Consulting, Heather is an experienced technical writer who also has experience in project management and management consulting.
She believes one of the biggest challenges of technical writing in the future involves taking shortcuts using AI. She thinks that while AI may help in the development of the text, a lack of actual reviewing may be the real issue.
“Even where a tech writer is involved, the developers and architects are not reviewing the content or providing enough detail.”
That’s why there’s always a need for human writers, as someone needs to be there to review the content, ensuring its relevance, accuracy, and style.
“AI is not going to get it right all the time, and you can’t predict when and how it’s going to get things wrong. It always needs review.”
Heather says that there may be things that AI is better at, such as API documentation. However, things like describing new technologies are something that always requires human input.
While AI is unable to replace human writers as a whole, it’s still a valuable tool to make processes more efficient.
“AI cannot replace everything a tech writer does, and there are areas where AI can’t really help at all beyond grammar checking.”
She notes that technical writers need to keep practicing and experimenting with AI to learn how to leverage it and “see where it works for them and where it fails.”.
8. Shane Copland, Senior Technical Writer at Amazon
Focusing on developer productivity, Shane has past technical writing experience with companies like Google and ServiceTitan.
He has a personal example of asking ChatGPT how to throw a pass in John Madden Football. The response to his question was to “press buttons to move the quarterback and press buttons to throw the ball.”
Therefore, AI today does not have the level of detail technical writing requires. However, Shane does believe that AI may have that capability in the future and that’s why, “to be safe we should all learn AI maintenance.”
As of now though, AI is a helpful tool for research and first drafts. That said, to ensure AI provides quality drafts, writers need to provide “the context only humans can provide” because only they are able to have empathy for the reader.
9. Edith E Bell Ph.D., Technical Writer
Edith is a seasoned technical writer and owner of Bell Design Technologies. She thinks that despite AI providing multiple benefits, it’s still a “man-made technology that has its faults”.
Therefore, complete dependency on AI is not an answer because credibility has a huge role in technical writing.
“Due diligence is important to achieving credibility” and, on the part of a company, is crucial when it comes to retaining high-quality content and meeting industry standards.
As a result, Edith believes that if a technical writer is leveraging AI, they “need to proofread and fact-check the AI output for understandability and accuracy.”
10. Elizabeth C. Haynes, Technical Writer at SceinceIO
As a creator of API documentation, Elizabeth understands the nuances of technical writing and developing self-service learning assets.
She believes that AI is bound to make a lot of companies feel that they don’t need a technical writer anymore. However, this is bound to “cause the overall quality of documentation to suffer at those companies.”
That’s why companies that value skilled writers and use their expertise to develop documentation are bound to grow and move forward.
Elizabeth says that “technical writing involves a lot of thought about human thinking and behavior, as well as an understanding of adult learning techniques,” to ensure that the technical content is effective and digestible. “I don’t think AI is capable of replicating those skills yet.”
11. Jeanette DePatie, Senior Technical Writer
As a long-time technical writer and a senior instructor, Jeanette thinks that in the next few years, inexperienced companies are bound to give less value to technical writing.
She believes that for technical writing to stand out, it “needs to add insight and foresight into the mix”, something that only humans are able to provide. Meanwhile, writers may use AI as a time-saving tool for research.
Jeanette also thinks that AI may lead to a price drop in entry and mid-level technical writing. However, this only means that technical writers need to figure out new ways to distinguish their work.
“Entry and mid-level technical writers may do well to figure out how to distinguish their voice from the AI voice and help their clients move up in the search engines and gain a following.”
She also thinks that as long as new products and technologies develop, there is a need for human technical writers. While AI may generate content for older tech and products, new tech requires hard-to-find expertise available through a human.
Furthermore, while AI is a great tool to develop first drafts, Jeanette thinks it may lead to spending insufficient time to find a unique angle, leading to generic technical content. And as we move forward and AI progresses, the need for that uniqueness and distinguished voice is going to increase.
She says, “I think there will be a continual battle between the ability for AI to create a unique writing “voice” and the human ability to distinguish his/her/their voice.”
According to her, many companies use AI to come up with new terms for technological processes. However, human suggestions are often better than what AI comes up with.
Her belief is that technical writers need to update themselves on AI developments and advances, looking forward to “a cooperative relationship.”
12. Jen Heller, Technical Writer at CuneXus & National Student Clearinghouse
Skilled in technical writing and resume writing, Jen doesn’t believe that AI is able to replace human technical writers.
Writing for human users involves understanding your audience and tailoring your documentation. “A big part of technical writing is analyzing your audience and customizing your documentation to them.”
It’s important to grasp concepts like accessibility, usability, cultural influences, and human-computer interaction to develop good technical documentation.
You want the user to feel confident, accomplished, and satisfied after going through a document. However, “bad documentation can make them feel frustrated, confused, and angry.”
Therefore, you need to understand how human emotions work, something AI is not good at for the time being.
Jen says, “No matter how advanced it is, AI is still a computer program, and it can’t experience what users experience while using documentation.”
13. Kevin Halaburda, Senior Technical Writer at Keithley Instruments
With over a decade of experience in technical writing, Kevin thinks that changing content delivery methods are among the biggest challenges for technical writing in the future.
Furthermore, with the evolution of AI, “tech communicators need to start promoting trust in human-produced content.”
He thinks that, at the very least, a human needs to check an AI’s work. “For example, asking an AI bot for information or help might result in errant results. Those results might *seem* to be accurate, at least at first, but, maybe 30 minutes into an assembly procedure, all of a sudden you need a special tool that wasn’t mentioned earlier.”
Therefore, the involvement of human technical writers remains important. It’s possible that a new branch of assistive technical writing jobs develops.
“True AI, to me, is also learning-based; right now, AI is still basically pulling from human algorithms and databases of information.”
In any case, AI is bound to push technical writers to develop better experiences. To keep up, writers need more development and coding skills to leverage existing AI.
For example, technical writers may use AI to simplify delivery mechanisms. “Let’s say that a user is engaging an online bot for help on a company’s website. Maybe the help itself wouldn’t be written by an AI bot, but the bot could respond with several links to human-composed documents, videos, or anything.”
14. Scott Clark, Technical Writer
As a technical writer and web developer, Scott understands how to translate complex concepts into digestible bits. He thinks that with sufficient training data, AI may be able to do the same too.
“I believe there will be many businesses, especially in countries where English is not their primary language, that will rely upon generative AI to write documentation and technical manuals.”
That said, there’s still a need for human writers as they are capable of “precise analytical thinking, along with a deep understanding of the human condition.” That, along with the ability to empathize with users is key to creating user-first technical content.
He thinks that AI has the potential to write good documentation but then technical writers may have to shift their focus toward fact-checking and copy editing.
Scott says, “Content that is created by generative AI will need to be fact-checked, and human writers will have to ensure that it is free of biases.”
That means AI is bound to become another tool to use, helping supplement a technical writer’s work rather than replacing it.
“Technical writers should be aware of developments in AI, particularly generative AI, and they should become familiar with the intricacies of the more mainstream AI applications such as ChatGPT, the new Bing, and Google Bard.”
For the most part, technical writers are looking forward to the introduction of AI into technical writing because it provides an easier way to research, brainstorm ideas, and develop early drafts.
Meanwhile, technical writers are able to focus on the human and creative side of technical writing, ensuring they develop user-first content.
Therefore, technical writers don’t need to worry about AI taking over their jobs, rather they need to focus on how they may leverage AI to their advantage.