web-coding Writing with digital technologies

Our community shares their advice for what digital writing technologies students should know how to use.

As students head back to campus, we wanted to share recommendations for what students need to know about technologies in digital writing. So we asked our community: What's one digital writing technology that students should know how to use by the time they graduate? Here's their advice:

Chris Hermansen says tech writers should add spreadsheets to their toolkit:

One thing I have noticed that my work colleagues tend to have in common - they feel quite comfortable using Word or LibreOffice Write or OnlyOffice Document, but most don't know much about using the companion spreadsheet tool. Oh sure, most writers can use a spreadsheet to make tables and calculate row and column totals, but many fewer are comfortable with pivot tables, statistical functions, string processing and other more "advanced" features.  If you want to stand out in the crowd of fellow scribes, learn to do complicated stuff with your spreadsheet program!

AmyJune Hineline says a little HTML can get you pretty far:

HTML(5) is the backbone, some say building block, of most websites and digital assets; most major web browsers support HTML, so you're not limiting your content consumer to one specific browser. Understanding the basics allows you to look at the code and envision what you can do and how to ask for help.

Knowing the Semantic HTML tags also helps with your digital asset accessibility skills, ensuring the most inclusivity in your writing.

Seth Kenlon suggests learning a little programming to help automate your work:

Learn a little bit of Python, or something like it (your school may justifiably push Java, so take a look at Groovy, a Python-like Java interface). The ability to think like a programmer, or maybe like a program, provides you new insight into how technology works and doesn't work.

And pragmatically, once you've learned a little Python, you'll be able to invent new ways to get your work done faster. I attribute a significant portion of my productivity to the little automated systems I've developed for myself.

Robin Bland suggests knowing when to use DITA:

We've found DITA is a powerful tool in technical writing. If you work on projects that require copying and pasting content between documents to make a new document, then that's a great use case for DITA. So I'd say learn how and when to use DITA.

You don't really write DITA by hand. I mean, you can, but there's a lot in DITA so it's easier to use a tool to do the hard work for you. But you still need to know about the different ways to use DITA: Topics to describe a thing or process, Tasks to describe the steps in a process, References to provide just the facts about something, DITA Maps to bring everything together and create your final product.

Melissa Champeau also says DITA and HTML:

I graduated in 2014 and technical writing was very different from what it is now. Back then it was very Microsoft Word heavy, and while things are advancing, Microsoft Word is still the greatest tool we use in our industry. I believe DITA and HTML to be the future of Technical Writing and I think it would be wise to invest the time into these technologies.

Jim Hall recommends learning some HTML:

I'd recommend that students know a little HTML. You don't need to be an expert in HTML, but you should know enough about how HTML works that you can get around comfortably. When you write web page content, you'll use a web content management system (CMS) anyway - but sometimes the CMS will mess up and you'll be left wondering "why is my bullet point way over there?"

If you know how HTML works, especially the difference between a block element and an inline element, and that if you "open" a tag then you need to "close" it later (like <p> to start a paragraph and </p> to finish it, or <strong> to start bold text and </strong> when you're done) then you'll be able to fix things without making things worse.