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Dateline Houston is the newsletter of the Houston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, a nonprofit organization. Ten issues are published each year (September through June).

Luette Arrowsmith

Cathy Bettoney
Melanie Boston
Jamie Diamandopoulos
Jim Hunt

President, Cindy Pao

Vice President, Nicole Wycislo

All chapter leaders

Copyright & Reprints
Address Changes

Vol 44, Issue 1

September/October 2004


Top Ten Reasons to Attend an STC Regional Conference

by Brenda Huettner, Associate Fellow, Southern Arizona Chapter

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Learn something new! You’ll find out about the latest techniques and processes in the field, and about the ways that technical communicators are making an impact in new areas.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The smaller 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 events!
  7. 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 be easier to follow up with all the new, local contacts you’ll make.
  8. Meet STC 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.
  9. Product 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.
  10. 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 drink, or anything in between.

Book Review

The New Six Sigma: A Leader's Guide to Achieving Rapid Business Improvement and Sustainable Results

by Jeff Staples, Senior Information Developer, Valley Forge/Kitba Consulting

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 decision making.”

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 results.

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 lessening expenditures.

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.

Regular Features

From the President

Strengthening Our Community

by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

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.

Your 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.

When 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.

Strengthening Our Community

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.

But, 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.
  • Recognize each 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 or find the e-mail address of the other members in the masthead of this newsletter.

I look forward to hearing from you!

From the Editor

by Luette Arrowsmith, Team Leader Technical Documentation, SYSCO Corporation

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 the 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,

Chapter News

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

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

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




Society News

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 30).

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

Classic Membership

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
  • three SIGs

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

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 or SIGs). The costs of limited membership are as follows:

  • U.S. members: $125
  • Canadian members: $125 + $15 postage
  • Overseas members: $125 + $35 postage

Student Membership

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.

Corporate Membership

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 for 2005.

Renewal Credits for New STC Members (in USD)

 Credit toward 2005 Dues

Month Joined

(2004 dues = $140)

Student Members
(2004 dues = $56)

January ’04



February ’04



March ’04



April ’04



May ’04



June ’04



July ’04



August ’04



September ’04



October ’04



November ’04



December ’04



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).

If you have questions regarding prorated dues credits, please contact the STC membership department.

Networking Opportunities

If you have a networking opportunity to share, please tell us! Go to

Upcoming STC Seminars

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

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 allowed 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.

Seminar Cost

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 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.

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