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Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Technical Writers?

In the technical writing community, there has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the profession.  There are those who contend that AI, or more accurately, Large Language Models such as ChatGPT will supplant technical writing as we currently know it.



 

Understanding the Essence of Technical Writing

Technical writing is a specialized form of communication that transforms complex technical information into clear and understandable documentation. This discipline requires a unique blend of skills, including subject matter expertise, the ability to comprehend intricate details, and an understanding of the target audience. Technical writers play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between engineers, designers, and end-users, ensuring that information is conveyed accurately and comprehensively.

Contextual Understanding

One of the primary challenges faced by large language models is their limited contextual understanding. While these models can generate coherent and grammatically correct sentences, they often struggle with grasping the nuanced details inherent in technical documentation. Technical writers possess a deep understanding of the subject matter, allowing them to contextualize information effectively. They can anticipate user queries, identify potential pitfalls, and provide detailed explanations that cater to the specific needs of the audience.

Technical Writers Tailor Content to the Audience

Technical manuals are intended for diverse audiences, ranging from novices to experienced professionals. A key strength of human technical writers lies in their ability to tailor content to the needs of different user groups. They can employ various writing styles, adjust the level of technical detail, and incorporate real-world examples to enhance comprehension. Large language models, on the other hand, lack the intuition required to adapt content for varied audiences, potentially leading to documentation that is either too simplistic or overly complex.

Subject Matter Expertise

Technical writers often collaborate closely with engineers and subject matter experts to gain in-depth knowledge about the equipment they are documenting. This collaborative process ensures accuracy and reliability in the documentation. While AI models can analyze vast amounts of data, they may lack the ability to consult directly with domain experts, limiting their capacity to fully grasp intricate technical details. Human technical writers excel in leveraging their subject matter expertise to create content that goes beyond mere information, offering valuable insights and practical tips.



Simple hydraulic schematic
hydraulic schematic

Clarity and Usability

The ultimate goal of technical documentation is to provide users with clear, concise, and actionable information. Technical writers excel at distilling complex concepts into user-friendly content. They use their judgment to determine the most effective way to present information, employing visual aids, diagrams, and step-by-step instructions. Large language models, while proficient in generating text, may produce content that lacks the clarity and usability required for effective technical communication.

Problem-Solving and Troubleshooting

Technical writing involves more than just presenting information; it requires an understanding of potential challenges users may encounter. Human technical writers excel at incorporating troubleshooting guides, addressing common issues, and providing solutions to problems. They draw on their problem-solving skills to anticipate user difficulties and offer guidance. AI models, despite their capacity to analyze data, may struggle to proactively address unforeseen issues, leading to incomplete or ineffective troubleshooting guidance.

Evolving Technology and Continuous Learning

The field of technology is dynamic, with advancements occurring at a rapid pace. Technical writers must stay abreast of these changes to produce relevant and up-to-date documentation. Human writers embrace a culture of continuous learning, adapting to new technologies and incorporating the latest industry trends into their work. AI models, while capable of processing vast amounts of data, may struggle to keep pace with the evolving landscape and may not be as adept at incorporating real-time updates into their documentation.

The Technical Writer's Human Touch

In the end, technical writing is not just about conveying information—it's about establishing a connection between the creator of the documentation and the end-user. The human touch in technical writing encompasses empathy, intuition, and a genuine understanding of the user's perspective. Technical writers infuse their work with a sense of empathy, considering the needs, expectations, and challenges faced by the end-users. This human element is challenging to replicate with AI, as it involves emotions, cultural nuances, and a deep appreciation for the human experience.

Conclusion

While large language model AI has made significant strides in various domains, replacing technical writers in the creation of operation, maintenance, and repair manuals for equipment remains a complex challenge. The unique blend of skills, including contextual understanding, tailoring content to diverse audiences, subject matter expertise, and the ability to address real-world challenges, positions human technical writers as indispensable contributors to this field. As technology continues to advance, embracing the collaboration between human expertise and AI capabilities may prove to be the most effective approach in creating comprehensive and user-friendly technical documentation. The human touch, with its nuanced understanding and adaptability, remains an irreplaceable aspect of the intricate art of technical writing.

Besides, you’ll never see a ChatGPT bot crawling around underneath a hydrovac truck trying to figure out how the hydraulic hoses are connected to the pump.

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