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The Use of Online Collaborative Writing Tools by Technical Communication Practitioners and Students

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Purpose: This study investigated technical communication practitioners' and students' use of online collaborative writing tools (OCWTs), as well as their opinions about these tools. This family of tools includes wikis, online word processors, learning management systems (LMSs), and other collaborative tools. The data gathered were used to illustrate these tools' value to practitioners, as well as provide educators with recommendations about which tools to teach students.

Method: Surveys were deployed to technical communication practitioners and students; each group had its own survey. The surveys gathered quantitative and qualitative data. The qualitative data were analyzed through a coding system.

Results: Roughly 85% of both groups used OCWTs; however, practitioners used them daily while students used them only weekly. Practitioners primarily used tools chosen by their companies, and their most-used tools were Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, and company intranet. Students were features driven, and their most-used tools were Google Docs, PBWorks (formerly PBWiki), and Blackboard. Both groups had positive opinions overall about OCWTs.

Conclusion: Technical communication practitioners appear to be using these tools often in the workplace, and several OCWTs appear to have become standards. These tools seem to hold value for practitioners, who use them for a wide variety of collaborative tasks. Technical communication students and educators should be aware of the OCWTs and collaborative tasks found in industry so that students can learn them. These tools include wikis, online word processors, and SharePoint (or something similar, such as an LMS). Finally, some tasks that practitioners perform (single sourcing, project management, and so forth) appear unfamiliar to students— it would be beneficial if students learned to perform these tasks in the classroom.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2013

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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