Vol 44, Issue 1

September/October 2004

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Chapter News

Upcoming November Program Meeting

Pillars of Professionalism

It’s the Information Age, so why are technical communicators so nervous about their professional futures? Because with electronic distribution, downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring, and other business changes, we feel the ground shifting under our feet. How can we secure a future for ourselves in this new world order?

John Sweney, co-founder and CEO of Brookwoods Group, notes that even in times of less change, “Too often we find ourselves squandering our real talents, ignoring our reputations, blind to the trust that others have for us, and selling ourselves as commodities. The result is not usually obvious, but emerges as an underlying discomfort with the state of our professional lives, a sense that somehow things could flow better, and an uneasy realization that the source is within ourselves.”

At the November chapter meeting, Sweney will present key concepts from his professional workshop, “Pillars of Professionalism,” that have helped to transform the careers of others. He’ll provide an overview of the roots of our talents as technical communicators, a reinforcement of the value of trust and reputation, and a roadmap for enrolling others to work with us.

Speaker Profile

John Sweney’s company, Brookwoods Group, has been offering contract professionals in marketing and marketing communications to Fortune 500 clients since 1998. For nine years before that, Sweney was responsible for product public relations, mergers and acquisitions, and Internet initiatives at Compaq Computer Corporation. In prior lives, he was a public information officer for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, a speechwriter to the President of IBM, an advertising and PR executive for General Electric Company, a press secretary to the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, and an all-news radio anchor.

New Membership Drive

To encourage new membership, the STC Houston chapter will waive the November program meeting fee for each nonmember that signs up as a new member prior to or during the November program meeting. Membership applications will be provided at the door, so new members can register and pay during the meeting, or they can register and pay online prior to the meeting. If you register online, bring proof of payment to the meeting. If you decide to register at the door, remember to bring a check or money order for the full membership fee.


Hilton Houston Westchase
9999 Westheimer Road


Tuesday, November 9


5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
6:20 p.m. announcements
6:30 p.m. program


$10 (members)
$15 (nonmembers)
$ 5 (student and unemployed members)
$ 10 (student nonmembers)


A drawing for various prizes is held at the end of each general meeting. Proceeds benefit the Marx Isaacs Student Scholarship Fund.

September Meeting Report

Hone Those Critical Networking Skills

by Deborah Long, Contract Editor, BMC Software, Inc.

At STC Houston’s 2004–2005 kickoff program meeting in September, we reconvened after a long, hot, summer break. It would be nice to think that the Houston job market for technical communicators heated up as well, but we still have a less-than-perfect scenario, with some folks experiencing difficulty in finding work and others accepting less money than their work is worth.

Enter Carolyn Harvill, a professional coach and storyteller, who presented her light-hearted take on how to hone your networking skills. Although Carolyn’s humorous anecdotes made us laugh, they also caused us to look at our own behavior and think about how we come across to others—in the company cafeteria line, at professional conventions, just about every place we go.

Attendees listened closely as Carolyn encouraged us to “talk to everyone” we meet and unabashedly promote ourselves (even to the person running the neighborhood dry cleaners). The idea being, you never know who knows someone in need of your skills. We cannot get anywhere in this tough market by being shy and retiring, expecting someone else to notice us. Today’s competitiveness demands that we lift our heads up from our computers and do something simple, like smile, strike up a conversation, and essentially make a memorable impression.

Yes, it is a reality that people hire and promote those that they “like.” You want to be the one who comes to mind when a project lead has an opening on the team. Get the picture?

To learn more about Carolyn Harvill, visit her web site at www.carolynharvill.com.

President Cindy Pao making announcements prior to the program

Speaker, Carolyn Harvill, at the book table

Speaker, Carolyn Harvill

Audience participation during program


Attendees meeting new people during the networking hour

October Meeting Report

Usability—Time to Become a Customer Advocate!

by Deborah Long, Contract Editor, BMC Software, Inc.

October’s STC Houston chapter meeting featured yet another relevant topic: “Basic GUI Design Principles for Information Developers.” Sound a bit on the “techie” side? Not really, when you consider that usability has many faces, some of which we already know about. For example, we are already on track as we strive to understand the users or audience for which we are writing. Next, we need to watch out for familiar things such as alignment, grouping, clutter, consistency, redundancy, reading ease, and so forth on the GUI (much as we do in page layout of hardcopy and especially in online documentation). Are you with me? I don’t mean to oversimplify or take all the mystery away, but this is not rocket science.

So let’s get with the program because technical communicators are finally being asked for our input pertaining to graphical user interface design. And in some cases, we are moving more aggressively into writing the text that appears on software screens. Yes, content is another frontier where we can add value as user advocates; this is a good thing. Now is the time to bone up on the basics that Susan Tacker of NetIQ Corporation presented.

Usability, according to Tacker, goes beyond just expressing a general “opinion” about the look and feel of screen layout. If we are to be taken seriously, we have to back up our ideas with facts. That means providing specific rationales for why certain screen elements do not serve the user’s best interests, which are to receive and learn information via simple, natural, and logical navigation and flow. Susan showed many examples of common pitfalls in user interface design. The design should support usability concepts (including prevention of errors and creation of a low-risk environment). She also stressed the importance of trying out an application on actual users and then making changes according to their feedback.

Susan recommended books on usability, such as User and Task Analysis for Interface Design (Hackos and Redish) and GUI Bloopers (Jeff Johnson), to gain more knowledge and hone our visual skills in recognizing the do’s and don’ts of user interface design. For further information, she can be contacted at susan.tacker@netiq.com.

Gary Foster leading discussion at the Employment table

Lisa Alvardo accepting entries for this year's competitions

Speaker, Susan Tacker


Susan Tacker and Linda King conducting raffle drawing



Copyright © 2006 Houston Chapter, Society for Technical Communication
P.O. Box 42051, Houston, TX 77242-2051 | 713-706-3434