Volume 42, Issue 5

January 2003


Book Review

The Non-Designer's Design Book

by Nimisha Garg, Student, STC Silicon Valley

Published in 1994, The Non-Designer's Design Book , by Robin Williams, explains design and typographic principles for the novice. This book targets people who need to design pages but have no background or formal training in design.

Williams understands that an aspiring designer's goal is to learn how to make pages look better. To this end, she offers four basic principles used in virtually every well-designed page. Just by following the basic principles in this book, the designer can perform work that will look more professional, organized, and interesting. The book contains practical design exercises, optional quizzes, and a bibliography that help the designer understand the basic principles better.

Williams includes real-world examples to enliven the text, and they demostrate that she practices what she preaches. She has taken examples from newspapers, telephone books, invitation cards, and resumes and has redesigned them to increase their visual appeal.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part talks about design principles. The second part focuses on different typefaces. Finally, the third part has exercises and quizzes to test your knowledge. Each chapter has a summary that outlines the main points.

The first part describes the four design principles: Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, and Contrast—PARC.

The second part focuses on type—specifically the problem of combining multiple typefaces. Williams demonstrates that in page design, as in life, a relationship is established that is concordant, conflicting, or contrasting. Williams says that a conflict should be avoided.

The second part also covers six main categories of type which are old style, modern, slab serif, sans serif, script, and decorative. She also describes the attributes by which contrast can be created: size, weight, structure, form, direction, and color.

The third part has a few exercises, answers to quizzes, and a bibliography. The exercises are very practical and come from the real world—like selecting an advertisement from the yellow pages and redesigning it. She advises the reader to start with the focal point when designing or redesigning.

Williams wrote this book in a friendly and nonthreatening manner and offers the reader a solid foundation in the basics of page layout. This book is designed to be read quickly by someone with little or no design experience. Printed material no longer looks the same after reading this book.

Taking the "Dis" out of "Disabilities":

Special Needs SIG Seeks Support

Here's a reminder as the STC membership renewal process creeps up on its February 28 deadline. The Society's newest SIG, the Special Needs SIG, still needs new members to support its twin missions:

The SNSIG has already made significant progress: a comprehensive web site at www.stcsig.org/sn/index.shtml, which contains a detailed mission statement; an online newsletter (the first edition is posted at www.stcsig.org/sn/newsletter.shtml); and extensive support to the 49th STC Annual Conference, including publication of Guidelines for Persons with Special Needs and an Addendum to those guidelines, a successful progression, and several articles in the Proceedings (conference materials available at www.stc-orlando.org/prodev/49notes/SNC.asp).

But there is much yet to do, and the SNSIG needs more people. It is looking for both active members to join their initiatives and patrons to help secure the budget needed to fulfill objectives.

If you would like to support the Special Needs SIG, you have the following options:

In either case, to receive the SNSIG's newsletter and to add your name to the listserv without delay, contact daniel.w.voss@lmco.com or jvinegar@myranch.com.

Regular Features

Volunteer of the Month–Erika Frensley

By Rebecca Taylor, Product Marketing Analyst, Hewlett-Packard Company

STC Houston honors Erika Frensley as its January Volunteer of the Month.

Erika graduated from the University of Houston with a B.A. in History, then developed a career in technical writing, and is now a lead information developer at BMC Software.

Erika is serving her second stint as layout editor for Dateline Houston. She also served in this role during the 2000-2001 program year. As layout editor, Erika prepares the edited articles for publication.

Erika has contributed to STC Houston in other ways as well. During the 2001-2002 program year, Erika served as competitions general manager. In this role, she created a database to keep track of the many entries that STC Houston receives for its annual Technical Publications, Art, and Online Competitions. She was also active in planning the awards banquet that took place in February 2002. Thanks in part to her leadership, STC Houston gained a considerable net income from the competitions. She was named STC Houston Woman of the Year for her efforts.

"Erika and our competitions director, Suzanne Stuckly-Taboada, faced a real challenge in putting last year's competition together," STC Houston President George Slaughter says. "Everyone had focused on the Region 5 Conference that we hosted in October 2001, and this all came together on the heels of September 11. People wondered whether we would have a competition at all, given the stress of the times. Yet Suzanne and Erika pulled everything together, and they did it with integrity and professionalism. We had a successful competition and a successful banquet. They went out there and made it happen."

For her leadership and contributions, STC Houston is pleased to name Erika Frensley as January's Volunteer of the Month.

Letter from Linda

Awards Aplenty

by Linda Oestreich, Director-Sponsor, Region 5

Fellow STCers,

With the recent flurry around STC about membership, it seems that we often focus on getting members and forget about keeping members! I believe one of the best ways chapter leaders can keep members is to reward them. Let me share some ways STC can recognize members.

If you are pleased or helped or informed by another member, what do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

Many chapters have various rewards that they give out monthly or annually. Here are a few ideas you can offer to your members:

The final group includes the rewards given at the Society level, such as Associate Fellow, Distinguished Chapter Service Award, and the Jay R. Gould Award (for teachers of technical communication). Of course, each of these begins with a nomination by someone who knows of the person's good work. Paperwork must contain a list and description of the work that person did. To help yourselves with this, keep a database of jobs performed by your volunteers. You'll find it much easier to fill out the forms if you know what they've done for your chapter, for the profession, and for their fellow members.

Another suggestion is to add a volunteer coordinator to your administrative council. Have that person not only recruit volunteers, but recognize them (they can also be responsible for that database!).

Give rewards. Give LOTS of rewards. You'll be happier for it. That's another great thing about rewards...it feels just as nice to give them as to get them! And remember, people who receive a heartfelt phone call thanking them for a task well done will be more likely volunteer to do another.

Blessings to you all,

From the President

From Old to New

by George Slaughter, Information Developer, BMC Software

When we were planning last year's STC Houston 40th anniversary party, someone came up with the idea of making a special appeal to the former chapter presidents to attend. Many of them came, and everyone had a good time at the May 2002 event. This month I'd like to address the issues of keeping former presidents involved and getting new members involved in STC Houston activities.

Past Presidents Club

Actually, the idea for a way to keep past presidents involved in current affairs has been discussed for some time. When someone finishes his or her term as president, how does STC Houston keep him or her involved and interested in chapter activities? What role does he or she play when their council tenure concludes? The experience that a former president brings to STC Houston is invaluable as new members get involved and the chapter continues to serve its membership and to project a professional image.

Jim Hunt, one of our senior members, and Deborah Long, our immediate past president, had a great idea to address this issue. They proposed, and the STC Houston Administrative Council approved (in December), a Past Presidents Club for former chapter presidents. The purpose of the club is for former presidents to meet in a fun social setting for sharing STC stories and providing feedback to the current chapter leaders as requested.

Deborah expects to hold the first meeting this spring. Expect to hear more about this innovative idea.

New Member Breakfast

Each year STC Houston hosts a new member breakfast to welcome new members and give them some time with chapter leaders. This is an opportunity to make new friends and get active in STC Houston. Membership Director Pat Bishop and Membership Committee Manager Ron Hartberger are planning our breakfast this year, though the details haven't been finalized. Our web site will have the information when it's available.

From the Editor

Living by the Golden Rule

by Rebecca Taylor, Product Marketing Analyst, Hewlett-Packard Company

As I was reviewing my experiences of the past year, I realized that of all that I learned, one thing resonates most deeply. It's something--a life-truth, if you will--that has unexpectedly impacted every single aspect of my life. I have rediscovered the spirit of the Golden Rule.

"Do unto others . . ." was a common comment from my mother as I was growing up. It's not as if I didn't know what it was or how to apply it to life. But I discovered that I had lost sight of why it's so important!

Let's face it. The last year or so has been rough for members of our chapter, including me. For the first time in my life, I could call myself a cynic. Cultivating the Golden Rule in my own life has restored my optimism. Surrounding myself with supportive people and then providing support for others has reawakened my hope.

How do we as communicators promote the Golden Rule in our everyday lives? What you give, you shall receive: Do your best work for your colleagues, and your colleagues will give you their best work. Share your experiences with others, and they'll share their experiences with you. Remain steadfastly loyal to your colleagues, and they'll be more loyal to you. Always be professional, and those around you will be courteous and professional to you. Help coworkers in a time of need, and they'll be there during your time of need.

The lesson here is that the Golden Rule starts with you. Every seed of hope that you plant, every root of confidence that you help cultivate, every person you support spreads this spirit. I recognize a difference now in how I see the world around me. I can even see the difference in the people around me--now they are spreading the seeds of the Golden Rule and making their world a better place, too.

Are you going to make the choice to be a gardener of the Golden Rule? I truly hope so! You won't regret it!

Planning for the Future

Striving for Excellence

by George Slaughter, Information Developer, BMC Software

One of STC Houston's priorities this year is to create a five-year strategic plan. In recent years STC Houston has made several attempts to create such a plan. (Your chapter president has the paperwork to prove it.)

To better focus on long-term planning, and to encourage a more member-inclusive process, STC Houston hosted a strategic planning workshop last October. Region 5 Director-Sponsor Linda Oestreich and Society Immediate Past President Judy Glick-Smith were our featured speakers. Linda and Judy shared with us their observations about strategic planning, and they also shared with us a process that the STC Board of Directors used to create its long-term plan.


Using this process, we came up with six objectives:

We put them in this order because the excellence we strive for comes as a result of meeting the first five objectives. Excellence is a byproduct of all the things we do for our community, our profession, and our Society.

Strategies and Tactics

Now that we have objectives in place, we need to develop the strategies and tactics to meet those objectives. For example, one of our strategies for promoting ethical and professional behavior is to develop and communicate an ethics policy. STC already has such a policy, and we look forward to creating our own chapter-level ethics policy.

As you read this, we've already developed strategies and tactics for the first objective. This spring, STC Houston will be developing long-term strategies and tactics for the other objectives. We welcome your input as we plan for STC Houston's long-term growth and success.

For more information, contact me at gslaughter@flex.net.

Chapter News

2003 Competition Awards Banquet

February 7, 2003

Join us for a chance to network with your friends and colleagues and exchange technical communication ideas at the 2003 STC Houston Awards Banquet, as well as see the winning entries from the competitions.

Learning from the experiences of your colleagues will help you Master Knowledge for Success in 2003.

The festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. with a viewing of the winning entries, followed by the banquet and awards at 7:30 p.m., and after-banquet viewing at 9 p.m. It all takes place at the Hilton Houston Westchase & Towers at 9999 Westheimer Road (at Briarpark between S. Gessner and Beltway 8) on Friday, February 7.

Look for your invitation in the mail. Or if you want to ensure that you have the latest information, go to the STC Houston web page at www.stc-houston.org/competitions.html.

Photos from the Employment STK Session

January 11, 2003

January Program Meeting Highlights
Career Growth and Development Progression

Our progression gave people the opportunity to listen to three different topics during the meeting. Each speaker was seated at a different table in the room, and when one session ended, people moved to the next one.

Bring a Friend!

Because we wanted to reach out to the technical communication community, the January meeting was free to members who brought a guest who was not a member. Non-member guests also received free admission when they left their name, street address, e-mail address, telephone number, and employer name. For members who did not bring a guest, normal fees applied.

The following topics were presented:

How to Write a Dynamite Resume by Joan Bolmer

Writing your own resume is one of the toughest writing jobs you will ever have! In today's talent-flooded market, a resume gets between 10 and 20 seconds of review before it is read or discarded. Many resumes are sorted and selected by computer on the basis of key words before reaching human eyes. Therefore, it is critical that the first few sentences on your resume grab and hold the readers attention and that the key words used throughout the resume are specifically targeted.

Joan Bolmer, business and career coach has, for the last two years, been a part-time consultant for Thompson-DBM, one of the three largest international outplacement firms in the world. Joan is an expert on the latest techniques in resume writing, job search, and interviewing. She led an interactive session, sharing with participants the structure and dynamics of resumes that are read and acted upon.

Independent Contracting: Another Option for Career Growth by Ryan Bernard and Melanie G. Flanders

Many people dream about being their own boss, but few have tried to turn that dream into reality. This is your opportunity to hear from two people who have. Ryan Bernard and Melanie G. Flanders taught the ins, outs, ups, and downs of independent contracting. People learned how to get started, how to weather the hard times, and what makes independent contractors tick.

Ryan Bernard is president of Wordmark Associates Inc. with over 25 years experience as an independent contractor, book author, and consultant to some of the top names in the Fortune 500.

Melanie G. Flanders is chief information architect with KnowledgeMasters, Inc., a firm that provides information design, development, consulting, and training services. Ms. Flanders has more than 25 years of experience in technical communication, seven as an independent contractor and consultant.

Marketing Yourself by Having an Expert Reputation by Cathy Stucker

Everyone wants to work with the expert, and you can be that expert. You have a unique set of skills and experience that give you expertise no one else has. Cathy Stucker will show you how you can gain the respect of others in your industry by generating publicity, writing articles, speaking, teaching, and taking other reputation-building actions. Then you will learn how to use the prestige of your expert status to get the job you've always wanted, start and grow your own business, and discover new opportunities.

Cathy Stucker, www.IdeaLady.com, helps entrepreneurs, authors, and professionals attract customers and become famous. She is a published author, speaker, and seminar leader. Her articles appear on major web sites and in national publications. Ms. Stucker has appeared on Houston television programs and on radio shows from coast to coast. She has been featured in the Houston Chronicle, Houston Business Journal, Black Enterprise, and Woman's Day.

Nonmanagement Career Path for Technical Communicators by Deborah Silvi, Susan Stotzer, and Jamie West

Writing groups are challenged to find ways to attract and retain high-quality writers. After several years writing for a particular company, the job can become boring and stale. If writers are not interested in management, they may feel as if they are trapped in a dead-end job. To further their careers and keep the job interesting, they might move into development, usability, or QA. Or they might move on to another company. Either way, the result is the same--the writing group loses a talented writer. This presentation discusses a solution—a technical career path. This presentation outlined the benefits of a technical career path and provided suggestions for proposing the idea to management and implementing this program.

Deborah Silvi is an information development manager at BMC Software, where she established a documentation consistency group for a number of related products. Deborah has been a technical communicator for over 20 years and has served in a number of roles, including managing programmers and writers, coordinating product releases, writing manuals and training materials, and developing online help. She is a past president of STC Houston and an Associate Fellow.

Susan Stotzer is an information development specialist at BMC Software, where she specializes in HTML-based help development. Susan also develops training information, procedural documentation, templates, and style sheets for other BMC Software writers. She has worked as a technical writer for nine years and is a senior member of STC. She has a degree in technical communication from Texas Tech University, where she was the secretary of the STC student chapter. Her honors include an STC regional technical publications competition award.

Jamie West is a lead information developer at BMC Software. Jamie has been writing technical documentation for nine years with emphasis in online help development. She has a master's degree in technical communication from Texas Tech University, where she was president of the STC student chapter. She is a senior member of STC. Her honors include regional and international technical publications competition awards.

What Software Companies Look For by Paul Mueller

The NetIQ interview process involves multiple stages with various skills being evaluated during each stage. During this session, we walked through the interview process and discuss the skills examined during each phase. We also discussed how the NetIQ environment affects the candidate requirements and how other software development environments may have slightly different requirements. This session provided valuable information for both job candidates and those responsible for their company's interview process.

Paul is a senior information development manager for NetIQ Corporation, which develops e-business management software for corporate networks and applications. He received a B.S. in computer science and a B.S. in mathematics from Pennsylvania State University and has been involved in technical communication for more than 15 years. His past notable projects include the initial help system prototype for IBM OS/2, the RISC System/6000 online library, and embedded help solutions for NetIQ's products.

Portfolio Development—Show Your Stuff by Connie Davis and Everett Puckett

Connie and Everett spoke about the do's and don'ts of presenting your best work to prospective employers and clients. They presented a sample portfolio.

Connie and Everett work with Kitba Consulting Services, L.P.

Society & Industry News

STC News

Don't Lose Touch with STC

The Society office encourages all STC members to update their membership information with home addresses, home phone numbers, or home e-mail addresses. Many members provide only their work contact information, and the office often loses track of these members when they change jobs. To update your membership information, complete the STC address change form at: www.stc.org/address_change.asp.

Complimentary Membership for Non-member Conference Attendees

Editors Note : If you have coworkers who haven't joined STC, this is an excellent opportunity to share your STC experience with them.

Non-members who register at the full conference rate for STC's 50th Annual Conference, to be held May 18-21, 2003, in Dallas, Texas, will be invited to join STC--free--for the remainder of 2003. The STC office will include an application for a complimentary membership with the conference registration confirmation receipt letter.

A nonmember can return an application to the Society office by mail or fax; a drop box will also be available at on-site registration at the conference. The deadline to return the application to the STC office by mail or fax is June 30, 2003. Please note that the sooner nonmembers forward their applications, the sooner they can take advantage of STC's many services and benefits.

STC's 2003 Election: New Procedures

The annual STC election will be held in early 2003, and only those members who have paid their dues by February 28 are eligible to vote. This year, STC has established new procedures to streamline the election process.

An option on the dues renewal forms and new membership applications for 2003 allows members to receive their election materials by e-mail. In March, members who selected this option will be e-mailed the slate, candidate biographies, and voting instructions. Members who did not select this option will receive these materials by first-class mail.

The election closes April 15, so renew by February 28 to have a say in STC's future!

Educational Opportunities

STC Telephone Seminars

In recent years, STC membership surveys have indicated that one of the benefits members most appreciate and desire from the Society is educational opportunity. Telephone seminars are a convenient, affordable way to provide presentations on diverse topics by experts in technical communication, and they are a valuable complement to chapter programs. Feedback from two recent seminars indicates that nearly 99 percent of participants would participate in another telephone seminar.

The cost of a telephone seminar ($145; price varies outside North America) reflects expenses for the technology that makes the seminars possible. But because the price is per participating site, not per person, chapters can train many members for one flat rate. Some chapters arrange with local companies to provide a meeting room where people can listen to a presentation and participate in the question-and-answer session that follows. This arrangement allows participants to split the cost. Telephone seminars have also been very helpful in providing geographically isolated members access to quality professional training. These members are often unable to benefit from chapter programs because they live too far away to attend meetings.

Details about the following STC telephone seminars have been posted on the STC web site at www.stc.org/seminars.asp:

Wednesday, February 5:

Creating Persuasive Executive Summaries
Presenter: Stacia D. Kelly

Thursday, February 13:

Fast and Easy Time Management
Presenter: John V. Hedtke

All seminars take place from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (noon to 1:30 p.m. Central time). Members can register online and view announcements for the seminars at www.stc.org/seminars.asp.

Because you pay only for the connection, not the number of people participating, telephone seminars are a cost-effective way to train groups of technical communicators. Costs per site are as follows:

An additional $10 will be charged for registrations received less than five business days before the seminar. Registration information for these four seminars can be found in the December 2002 and January 2003 issues of Intercom, and on the STC web site.

Networking Opportunities

If you have a networking opportunity to share, please tell us! Go to www.stc-houston.org/contacteditor.htm.

Volume 42, Issue 5

January 2003