Using Google Trends in Technical Communication

Google Insights is now officially Google Trends. According to Google, the combined capabilities are Insights into what the world is searching for.

As a technical writer, I have used Google Insights from time to time when choosing between a variation in spellings or choice of term. Not every term choice can be accounted for in a company style guide,

the Chicago Manual of Style, or the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (4th). In these situations, especially for topics that address new or emerging technologies, when I need to choose between words and no clear style is apparent, I have turned to Google Insights.

From what I can tell, the migration of Insights into Trends does not affect how I have used Insights in the past. When researching for this post (to be honest, I just noticed the Google blog post and my “research” was 1 Google search for “using google insights in technical communication”), I came across an STC India blog called Technical Writing in India: Google Insights for Search. They describe how the “Trends” portion of the now-defunct Insights can be used to trace interests over time. In their case, they examined how “technical writing” and “technical communication” were being used over time and whether the STC’s push to move to “communication” was taking hold.

Making Rhetorical Choices

As I mentioned, the few times I have used Google Trends to actually make a term choice was for a new product at my company on an entirely new platform (not surprising to many, it was for Mobile devices) and when writing about a new process that changed as a result of new technology.

In this example, I performed a search of a variation of how to word a user action: to log in or to log on. I would imagine that most company or department style guides would have an entry for this common example (as Microsoft’s Manual has a definitive entry on page 329) but how often do we question or examine popular use of “common” terms.

  1. First, go to http://www.google.com/trends/
  2. Search for the first term you want to check by typing it into the search field and then click Explore.
  3. On the left under “Search terms”, click + Add term  and type in the second term you want to compare.
  4. Pressing “enter”, clicking outside the field, or pressing the “tab” key will submit the information.
Google Trends example search terms comparison

Google Trends example comparing the search terms “log in” and “log on”

As you can see from the graph, log in was more popular than log on in Google searches. The Microsoft Style admonishes that the “on” form must be used unless “in” appears in the user interface.

Usability and Audience Analysis

As is often the case, we come back to audience and how the rhetorical choices we make affect how users interact with the software or products we write about. I think of the Declaration of Independence and its guidance about prudence and how it should dictate that word choices long established “should not be changed for light and transient causes” but who decides when this change should occur?

Does anyone else have other uses for Google Trends in technical communications? Feel free to share them here as I have not used this service extensively but I think that it has a great understated value.

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Filed under How-to, Rhetoric, Social Media, Technical Writing

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