Top Ten Reasons to Attend an STC Regional Conference
by Brenda Huettner, Associate Fellow, Southern Arizona Chapter
Save $$$! For a fraction of the cost of the annual conference, you’ll
get the wisdom and advice of many of the same experienced technical communication
professionals who present at the STC Annual Conference and other conferences
around the world. For less than the cost of a single course at a local university,
you’ll get professional guidance in a wide variety of subject areas.
Compare STC Regional Conference costs (typically under $200) to those of
for-profit conferences—you’ll agree, regional conferences offer
the biggest bang for the buck you’ll get all year.
Fun, fun, fun! You
get to meet and hang out with other people who understand exactly what you
do. Share war stories, exchanges tips and tricks, compare
techniques and environments.
Learn something new! You’ll find out about
the latest techniques and processes in the field, and about the ways that
making an impact in new areas.
Solve your current technical communication
quagmires—or at least
get some options you may not have thought of before! Even if you don’t
find a session that addresses your current challenges, you’re bound
to find someone who can help.
Most regional conferences have job-related
areas! Looking for work? Looking to hire? Many conferences include resume
books, interview areas, and other
resources. I’ve even seen interviews conducted on the spot.
scale of the regional conferences lets you get to know other attendees and
the presenters on a more personal level than you would at larger
A regional conference is likely to be closer to your home than other
events! This not only reduces your travel expenses, it also means it will
to follow up with all the new, local contacts you’ll make.
leaders from your own region and from other regions! Your director is your
link to the STC Board, and they want to hear what you have to say.
demonstrations let you compare vendor products easily! Because there are
fewer attendees than at the annual conference, you’ll get
more time with exhibitors to really try out the products and ask questions.
Expand your horizons by visiting a new city! As a bonus, the conference
comes with built-in hosts from the local chapter who can tell you exactly
where to find the best cup of coffee in the morning, the perfect after-dinner
or anything in between.
The New Six Sigma: A Leader's Guide to Achieving Rapid Business Improvement
by Jeff Staples, Senior Information Developer, Valley Forge/Kitba
Matt Barney and Tom McCarty. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall PTR.
[ISBN 0-13-101399-8. 105 pages, including index. $15.95 USD (softcover).]
If you are involved with quality groups and initiatives, you are probably
familiar with the Six Sigma process. Six Sigma is an initiative developed by
Motorola University for improving quality by reducing product defects. Important
elements of Six Sigma include “understanding customer requirements, continuously
driving process improvement, and using statistical analysis to drive fact-based
However, Six Sigma was not intended as a methodology for continuous business
improvement. Matt Barney and Tom McCarty contend that once organizations achieved
Six Sigma goals, they became complacent—enabling quality to deteriorate.
Thus the need for an updated initiative that improves and sustains quality
The new Six Sigma presents Motorola’s update of its quality initiative.
The authors begin with a brief recap of the history of Six Sigma and the need
for revision. The book details the new Six Sigma and its reinvention to “move
beyond defects and focus more on strategy execution and value creation.”
The new Six Sigma is a quick read, with the authors presenting their content
simply and straightforwardly. The book’s primary audience is executives
and managers who are tasked with delivering ROI in a tight environment while
With their updated quality initiative, Motorola builds on existing Six Sigma
methods by incorporating lessons learned from helping customers and suppliers
implement the methods. The result is a business improvement utility that can
help leaders enhance their business strategies “for dramatic short-term
business results while building sustained future capability.”
The leadership principles that comprise the new Six Sigma framework are Align
(create improvement targets, goals, and measures); Mobilize (equip the organization
to enable people to act); Accelerate (speed results through coaching and support);
and Govern (select, manage, review, and drive project completions). The authors
describe each principle in a Six Sigma implementation. Case studies demonstrate
the advantages of the new Six Sigma process.
No longer is Six Sigma exclusively a quality initiative. The new Six Sigma
encompasses strategy execution by shifting the focus away from reducing defects
and enhancing quality to “reducing variation around business goal accomplishment.”
The authors wrap up their text with a look at future directions for the new
Six Sigma. New initiatives include helping improve shareholder value, fostering
confidence in financial reporting, and assisting organizations to identify
leadership talent now to ensure that the organization will have the right leadership
for the future.
The text will enlighten anyone who is working in sectors that employ Six
Sigma, as well as team leaders and members in general. For example, the Accelerate
principle advocates “combining structured education with real-time project
work and coaching to quickly bridge the gap from learning to doing.” Anyone
who has taken training courses knows that unless you put the newly acquired
knowledge to use, you will lose it. The leadership principles presented offer
practical information that can be used even if you are not involved with the
Six Sigma process.
From the President
Strengthening Our Community
by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software,
What’s that buzz you hear around STC? It’s the transformation.
The dues structure is changing, and we’re hearing a lot more about communities.
chapter is a community. So are the special interest groups (SIGs) to which
you may belong. In some cities, students may have their own community.
you hear the word community, what do you think of? Do you think of a close-knit
group of people, like the neighborhood in which you live or the church you
attend? I do, and I think that’s why the society chose this word. They
want to bring us together and strengthen the organization.
This is the theme that I have chosen for STC Houston this year. I think it
suggests so much for us as a chapter!
I like defining our chapter as a community. Ever since I got involved in STC
Houston, I’ve felt like I’m part of a close-knit group. All of
the people I know in our community care so much! We share ourselves to better
ourselves. We help when there is need. We reach out to the next generation
of technical communicators. We recognize each other for outstanding work.
to tell the truth, the transformation scares me a little, too. What will happen
to our great chapter if many members decide that they don’t want
to belong? That they’d rather belong to a SIG instead of to our chapter
and a SIG?
Simply put, we must keep the chapter great so that we retain the
community we have. We need to make the chapter so strong that there isn’t
a question in anyone’s mind about renewing their membership with us.
We must also reach out to the technical communicators who are not members,
show them what
an awesome thing we have, and invite them to join.
How will we do this? Here
are some of the ways:
Reorganize the Administrative Council so that the Directors’ work is
more evenly distributed.
Rewrite the job descriptions for positions within
the chapter; make these
jobs easier to perform.
Complete STC’s rechartering questionnaire and
take a good look at our goals, strategies, and activities.
Match the activities
we have chosen to the chapter’s strategic plan;
ensure that we carry out those activities that we have identified as important
to our members.
Put a spotlight our local SIGs. Start some new local SIGs.
and every volunteer who gives time and talent to this chapter.
I hope that
this year is a huge success for the STC Houston Community. I’ll
be working hard to make sure that it is.
If you have ideas and suggestions,
please get in touch with one of the Administrative Council members. You can
send me an e-mail message at email@example.com or find the e-mail address of the other members in the masthead of this newsletter.
look forward to hearing from you!
From the Editor
by Luette Arrowsmith, Team Leader Technical Documentation,
Being the new managing editor, and a recent import from Chicago by way of
Simi Valley, California, I wanted to introduce myself and let you know that
team behind this newsletter is amazing. I'm still getting my feet wet and
they are working hard, with no clear schedule!
Professionally, I'm currently the team leader for technical writing and documentation
at SYSCO Corporation. I also teach for the University of Phoenix (UOP) and
have 2 small children, ages 6 and 2.
I hope you find this newsletter informative. If you want to write an article,
please let me know. We are looking for contributors. If you want to learn about
something specific, let me know that too, and we will see if we can't find
someone with that knowledge to share.
My hope is that the newsletter is a useful tool—to learning, meeting
new people, and sharing your knowledge.
Looking forward to a great year in STC-Houston,
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
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
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
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Board Establishes New Membership Categories
As part of its transformation initiative, STC will introduce five new membership
categories this fall. The new categories vary in price and give members the
option of joining multiple STC communities (chapters and SIGs).
The Society board of directors recently approved the cost of member dues for
four of STC’s new membership categories. The board also decided how many STC
communities members may select. The new categories will appear on dues renewal
forms (to be mailed in November) and on new member applications for 2005. The
board will establish the amount of community rebates for fiscal year 2006 at
its annual meeting in May (the deadline to file for the 2005 rebate is September
Descriptions of the new membership categories follow. All dollar amounts are
in U.S. dollars (USD). A table describing the costs and benefits of these categories
has been provided on the STC Web site at www.stc.org/transformation/.
The classic membership entitles members to the paper versions of Intercom and Technical
Communication and to access to the online versions; full access to the
members-only area of the STC Web site; and a choice between the following
options for membership in STC communities:
one chapter and one SIG
The costs of classic membership are as follows:
U.S. members: $145
Canadian members: $145 + $15 postage
Overseas members: $145 + $35 postage
Retired members: $72.50
Members who choose classic membership may join additional SIGs at a cost of
$5 per SIG and additional chapters at a cost of $10 per chapter. To be eligible
for the retired member rate, an individual must be retired and have been an
STC member for ten years. As in the past, retired members will not be counted
in the calculation of chapter rebate amounts.
E-membership entitles members to the same benefits as classic membership, except
that e-members will not receive paper copies of Intercom and Technical
Communication. E-members may join additional SIGs at a cost of $5 per
SIG and additional chapters at a cost of $10 per chapter. E-membership costs
$135 for members worldwide.
Limited membership includes subscriptions to the paper versions of Intercom and Technical
Communication and full access to the members-only area of the STC Web
site. Limited memberships do not include membership in communities (chapters
The costs of limited membership are as follows:
U.S. members: $125
Canadian members: $125 + $15 postage
Overseas members: $125 + $35 postage
Student members receive the same benefits as e-members but have no voting rights.
Student members may join additional SIGs at a cost of $5 per SIG and additional
chapters at a cost of $10 per chapter. Student memberships cost $50.
To allow for further study, the board has postponed a vote on the costs and
benefits of corporate membership.
Prorated Dues for New Members
As in the past, new members who join STC in 2004 receive prorated credits on
their first renewal. The amount of credit new members receive does not depend
on the membership category they select.
A member’s credit is based on 2004 dues ($140 for regular members, $56 for
students) and the month he or she joined the Society, as shown in the table
below. These credits will appear on new members’ renewal invoices. New members
who join the Society in November and December 2004 are considered paid in full
Renewal Credits for New STC Members (in USD)
Credit toward 2005 Dues
(2004 dues = $140)
(2004 dues = $56)
Members who join in September pay $140 dues (plus a $15 enrollment fee) for
a membership that extends until December 31, 2004. According to the prorating
schedule, these members will each receive a $112 credit toward 2005 dues. Those
who select e-membership on their 2005 renewal invoice will pay $23 ($135 minus
$112). A U.S. member who joins in September and selects limited membership
at renewal will pay $13 ($125 minus $112), while an overseas member who joins
in September and selects limited membership at renewal will pay $48 ($125 plus
$35 postage minus $112).
The 2004–2005 seminar series is the Society’s
most ambitious to date. Among the scheduled presenters are members who have
published widely, served at high levels in the Society, and received outstanding
scores for their conference presentations. Following is a list of seminars
scheduled for November and December; to view the complete 2004–2005 seminar
schedule, please visit stc.webex.com.
November 10, 2004:
Introducing Windows 'Longhorn' Help
Experience Level: All Levels
Seminar Type: Web-Telephone
Presenter Char James-Tanny, a senior member with the Boston chapter, is president
of JTF Associates and has almost 25 years of experience as a technical writer.
Well known in the Help community for her knowledge of online Help tools and
concepts, James-Tanny is also an author, IT Certified Consultant, and a 2004
Microsoft Help Most Valuable Professional (MVP).
December 8, 2004: Highlighting Hazards: Mastering Warnings and Error Messages
Experience Level: All Levels
Seminar Type: Telephone
Presenter Leah Guren entered the field of technical communication in 1980.
Her experience as a writer, editor, technical publications manager, and consultant
her to develop a variety of specialized training programs in the field. Leah
currently trains new writers through the course she developed for In Other
WORDS, Israel’s leading technical communication company; she also conducts
seminars and in-house training for technical communicators and engineers internationally.
Her clients include many of the top high-tech companies in Israel.
Each seminar costs $99 for STC members. The nonmember rate is $149. In addition
to offering high-quality training at an affordable price, STC’s seminar
series features a quick and simple online registration process. Members can
sign up for seminars and view detailed descriptions at stc.webex.com.
Please note that registration closes 24 hours prior to event.
More information about presenters and seminars will appear in upcoming issues
of Dateline Houston and on the STC Web
site. Be sure to check the Web site
frequently for an up-to-date list of seminars.