Conversation design in technical communication

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If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work in France as a technical communicator, then check out this podcast episode with Firehead’s Cajun-Swede director CJ Walker, who has lived in France for 23 years.

Earlier this year, she joined Ellis Pratt on The Cherryleaf Podcast to talk about the technical writing scene in France. In the half-hour podcast, they discussed work hotspots, what it’s like to live and work in France, training in tecCJ Walkerhcomm, do you need to speak French or English (or both), and whether to kiss your boss when saying hi and bye.

The future of work and information delivery was also on the table and where CJ sees technical writing going in future. She said:

“At Firehead, we are very linguistics-based, which partly comes from my background in linguistics. But also I think the future is going to be with the robots and AI – and for technical communicators that is going to involve a lot of conversation design. Technical writing is going to be writing for the robots. And there are going to be machine-human exchanges in the interfaces rather than just a list of procedures. A conversation is a very different thing to define in this context.

“For example, you’re going to have conversations where a human is asking a robot a question to get user assistance – and the robot can be programmed to answer them. But then when it comes back to the human, there’s a choice [of responses]. The robot has to be able to understand those different paths, so there are going to be conversation branches that at one level break into trees – that’s a rules-based conversation.

“You’ve also got AI-based conversations now. I’m working with a partner in South Africa who has designed a chatbot that is completely AI-based. Just to train the chatbot is a monumental process. The skill is in designing it.

“Firehead has also been working a lot with Germany’s Industry 4.0 – a model created for robots, data exchange and automation in industry – and there is a subset of that we are calling Information 4.0. That’s where I think technical writing is going to come in.

“As a recruiter in the digital communications field, I’ve already hired a fair few conversation designers – although they would say they are technical communicators who are now writing chatbot scripts! Personally I don’t like that phrase because it doesn’t give enough credit for how much work goes into it. It’s conversation design. As a training and services provider, we are also developing a course in machine-human interfaces that is based around chatbots – both rules-based and AI-based. The problem is the AI stuff is so complicated, it can be hard to simplify it.”

To find out more about techcomm trends and the France market, listen to the full podcast at Cherryleaf Podcast no87. Cherryleaf regularly posts podcast interviews and interviews around becoming a better technical and business communicator. You can sign up to its excellent podcast series on the App Store and Google Play.

Cherryleaf and Firehead are partners in the techcomm space. Check out for more info about what they do, too.

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