According to analysts at Aberdeen Group in a recent report entitled Next-Generation Product Documentation: Getting Past the “Throw It over the Wall” Approach, best-in-class companies author structured documentation, hit their product launch dates every time, and use design-based illustration, content management, 3D visualization, and translation memory solutions to meet time, cost targets.

Findings from Aberdeen’s report show, according to their press release, that structured document, content management, technical illustration, 3D visualization, and translation memory technologies are “paying off” big time for some tech docs departments. For example, among companies surveyed, “83% of best-in-class companies – those that meet product launch dates 100% of the time – use structured documentation authoring tools such as XML and help technologies.”

“Next-generation technologies allow companies to address tight time, cost, and resource constraints while publishing through multiple channels in multiple languages – by reusing textual, design, and translation content,” said Chad Jackson, Service Director of Aberdeen’s Product Innovation and Engineering practice and report author. “Additionally, the best in class are leveraging 3D visualization and collaboration technologies to transition towards graphical instead of text-based communications.”

Other technologies help companies tackle the challenge of translation time and costs. For example, best in class companies, which hit their design translation costs 97% of the time, are:

  • 51% more likely to use translation memory tools, which interactively find and suggest already translated text and close matches to technical writers
  • Twice as likely to use 3D graphics and Web-based 3D visualization tools, which reduce the amount of text requiring translation

While we don’t disagree with the overall findings, in our view, the Aberdeen report misses the mark in so many ways. The folks at Aberdeen do not truly understand the market, despite many interviews with thought leaders in the documentation arena. In particular, the Aberdeen survey was poorly-designed, overly complicated, and sought responses from technical communicators, many of whom were not qualified to provide the type of information that survey sought (at least not accurately). The survey appeared to be designed to obtain results for each of the sponsors (with questions about 3D graphics, reuse stats, and content management thrown in for good measure), instead of questions designed to paint an accurate picture of the documentation industry without regard for the concerns of sponsors.

The survey was also stupidly long. We responded by simply selecting any answers just to reach the end. Other respondents we spoke with reported using the same approach, sometimes because the survey design did not allow them to answer truthfully nor to skip sections that were not relevant to the respondents’ experience.

Additionally, we contacted several of the report sponsors, each of whom said they know the report could be improved and asked us to encourage technical communications professionals to help analysts better understand the marketplace and our issues. is planning to address these issues and others with five major analysts in briefings this month and next. We’ll keep you posted.

We’ll be publishing documentation industry survey results and analysis from Forrester, Gartner, Butler Group, IDC and others here soon.