Standards are critical to all industries because a standard defines an agreed way of doing something. Fundamentally, a standard is the collective knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs) who have an advanced understanding as to the needs of the groups they represent. When these needs are understood, processes involving trade, regulations, and overall quality of business, become universally beneficial. However, defining an international standard is somewhat difficult. This is because there are more than one governing bodies creating and maintaining these standards. However, the most well-known, and largest international standards organizations, are:
- The International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
- The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
- The International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
These three organizations comprise the World Standards Cooperation (WSC) Alliance.*
In relation to technical communicators, standards provide a platform from which to communicate technical ideas at an international level, to an international audience, in the most effective way possible. The idea of standardizing technical communications is relatively new, and still in development, due to the fact that standards are first composed at a voluntary-level with multiple SME contributors. However, the IEC is paving the way for technical communicators to collaborate on issues such as how documentation is optimized.
The standard IEC 80279-1 encompasses principle ideas such as documentation preparation requirements, how to minimize risk, how to maintain a consistent terminology database, and more. IEC 80279-1 is designed with the creation of user manuals in mind, but can be applied in a broader documentation creation sense. The strength of this standard lies not directly as to its content, but, as tekom wrote, to its mere existence. As a groundwork standard, it is ensuring that technical ideas achieve state-of-the-art communication, a level that has for too long been insubstantial and disparate in the industry. In this age of rapidly developing technologies, ensuring that technical communicators, those at the forefront of explaining such ideas, who can agree on the best way to share information, is key to ensuring seamless development, understanding, and progress.
If you are looking to strengthen your documentation, and pursue international audiences, learning what technical communication standards are in development will help you to understand what processes are already working well for you, and what gaps you need to target, in order to create truly exceptional technical documentation.
* For concision purposes, the list of international standards organizations has been limited to the focus on WSC due to its inclusion of the IEC. There are numerous technical standards organizations that encompass, technology, transport, medicine, and more, as well as industry- and sector-based standards developing organizations (SDOs) that maintain industry specific standards in alignment with national standard bodies (NSBs). It is recommended that you discover which standardization bodies best suit your product or service, and learn what the latest industry developments are in that focus area.
Additionally, this will allow you to identify specific gaps you need to target in order to create truly exceptional technical documentation.