Vol 44, Issue 3

January/February 2005


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Highlights of 2004 STC Annual Conference

Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

This article summarizes the sessions that I attended at the 51 st Annual Conference of the Society for Technical Communication in Baltimore, Maryland, from May 9 through 12, 2004.

I attended sessions on Leadership Day (Sunday, May 9), as well as technical sessions on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Most of the sessions I attended provided handouts, which I can share. Some sessions also have papers in the Proceedings (on CD), which I can also share.

Leadership Day

As incoming chapter president, I attended Leadership Day to gain knowledge from other chapter leaders.

The opening session provided an update on STC's transformation, as well the names of the chapters that won a Chapter Achievement award. STC Houston won a Chapter of Excellence award! Yeah!

After the opening session, I attended breakout sessions. These sessions gave me a lot of ideas I'd like to see STC Houston implement.

Innovative Chapter Development Ideas

STC Orlando has invented several ways to recognize their members. For example, the Jaffe Award recognizes the best technical communicator in the Orlando chapter. Members are nominated by their managers, and a panel of judges evaluates the strengths (no negatives) of the nominee. The chapter announces the winner of the Jaffe Award toward the end of the calendar year, just in time to boost membership renewal. Another program that interests me is STC Orlando's “Active Member” program, in which the chapter tracks the involvement of its members. At the end of the year, members who have attended meetings and volunteered in the chapter are recognized by the chapter, and they also receive a nifty shirt.

Art of Begging

I almost forgot that I attended this session, so I'm glad I read through my notes again. A lot of what the St. Louis chapter does would work well in our own chapter. STC St. Louis takes their big projects and breaks them up into smaller tasks. When they recruit volunteers, they do so directly, rather than using e-mail or their Web site. They also try to match the activity to a person, and they try to recruit a whole committee at once (rather than a committee manager who has to turn around and recruit members). STC St. Louis asks large employers in the area to come to a program meeting and talk about a completed project—a kind of lessons-learned session. They also ask these employers to sponsor the meeting. So they really spend a lot of time getting both the technical communicators and their employers involved in the chapter.

Marathon of Chapter Presidency

Two very important points came from this session:

First, the chapter president can't do everything; I need to pick a couple of things I'd like to accomplish, and find other people to help out with the rest.

Second, The chapter president must have something outside of STC to turn to for stress relief.

Technical Sessions

Personally, my favorite part of the conference is the technical sessions. I get a lot of new ideas for my projects, refresh my understanding of key technical communication concepts, and get some new knowledge. This year I also attended some sessions that I felt would help me with chapter operations.

Dealing with Genes by Maxine Singer

Dr. Singer is STC's 2004 Honorary Fellow, and she gave a talk about words and their meanings. As I look at my notes from her session, I see the science that was in her talk. My notes look a lot like the notes that a student would take in science class.

Dr. Singer is an excellent speaker, and it is easy to see why STC chose her as its Honorary Fellow.

Getting Started in Usability and Information Design

This progression dealt with usability from a beginner's perspective. Robin Clark presented Integrating User Experience into Task Analysis , during which she talked about task analysis, user analysis, and tying those two things together so that we document solutions and scenarios. Elizabeth Murphy presented Usability by Design at the U.S. Census Bureau , where she discussed a project that the Census Bureau undertook to improve their Web site. Finally, Susan Tacker talked about Becoming a Fearless User Advocate , where our group identified effective strategies that technical communicators can use to become user advocates.

I enjoyed this progression because the speakers have obviously worked with their users—something all of us do not get the chance to do.

Our Favorite Language Bloopers

Leah Guren subtitled her presentation “Around the World in an English Haze,” and it was easy to see why. This session was a funny look at signs, menus, packaging, and user interface errors—in English—that Leah has gathered from around the world.

This was a wonderful session to see in the afternoon!

Designing Information Deliverables Using a User-Topic Matrix

During this workshop, Alexia Idoura showed us what a user-topic matrix is and how to use it to design documentation. We were given information about a new television and asked to identify user roles and topics that the users might need in the product documentation. Then we used a grid to record the user roles and match them to the topics.

I liked learning about the matrix. However, I need more information if I want to use it in my work.

Traceability Matrix: Taking the Guesswork Out of Fulfilling User

This demonstration showed how Solvay Pharmaceuticals used a traceability matrix to help produce documentation for a new application. The traceability matrix takes user and functional requirements, design specifications, and testing references and brings them together in one document. This document helps demonstrate that the finished product will meet the users' requirements, provides a single source for project tracking, and helps keep the project on time.

This session was OK, but I don't think I can fully appreciate the matrix yet.

Section 508 for Dummies

This progression, conducted by members of the AccessAbility Special Interest Group (SIG), provided guidelines for developing information products that conform to the government's Section 508 requirements. Rosemary Gibert gave an “Overview of Section 508 and the Law,” where she defined what information products must conform to Section 508 and where technical communicators can go to find more information. Lori Gillen presented “Conducting a Usability Test for People with Hearing Impairments,” where she identified some guidelines for building accessible Web sites and told us about a good Web site that is accessible. Last, we heard about the “Top 5 Roadblocks to Accessibility.”

This progression could have been better. A number of the scheduled speakers did not attend, leaving those who showed in the lurch.

White Papers in Your Future

Beau Cain talked about how technical communicators can expand their portfolios by developing white papers. He defined ten types of white papers and gave some references that provide more information.

Beau has a great speaking style that made the attendees want to participate in the talk, and we did just that!

Writing Clear, Concise Instructions

During this workshop, Alexa Campbell talked about the basics of writing good instructions. She actually began the session by defining instructions as explanations of how to do things. Then she went on to tell us that instructions should be given in numbered or ordered lists. At the end of the session, Alexa gave us some exercises in which we picked apart some instructions and figured out how to make them clearer.

As I reviewed my notes from this session, I realized how valuable the information is. I need to blow up my notes and hang them on my office wall!

Mentoring, Coaching, and Encouraging Creative Thinking

I attended this session because I wanted to get some more information for STC Houston's own mentoring program. Mentoring is a power-free facilitation of learning for both the mentor and the mentee. Mentoring programs can be either formal or informal, but there should be a mentoring agreement.

I didn't get as much out of this session by by Elizabeth Bailey, Vanadis Crawford, and Stephanie Morgan as I thought I would. Unfortunately, a mentoring program within a company has more emphasis behind it because the program is probably part of someone's objectives. If STC Houston is to succeed with its own mentoring program, we have to get more members involved.

Honors Banquet

For fun at the conference, I attended the Honors Banquet. STC Houston was well represented at the banquet with me, Jim Hunt, Jocelyn Williams, Linda King, Rebecca Taylor, George Slaughter, and Linda Oestreich attending. We were all thrilled that Jim was made an Associate Fellow and that STC Houston was recognized as a Chapter of Excellence!

After dinner, there was dancing, and Jim managed to teach me to two-step. I still have two left feet, but I feel like I have a bit more style now.

Keep in Touch

If you'd like to look at any of my notes, handouts, or the Proceedings CD, let me know. You can send me an e-mail at president@stc-houston.org .

STC Board of Directors Welcomed to the Bayou City

by George Slaughter, Senior Technical Writer, The Integrity Group

STC Houston welcomes the STC Board of Directors to Houston for its January, 2005 meeting. Approximately 20-25 Society officials are expected, including elected Board members, assistants to the president, STC Executive Director Peter Herbst, among other STC leaders.

The Board meeting is open to STC members, with only certain activities held in executive session. The meeting sessions provide local members the opportunity to expand their social and professional networks, and see how the STC leadership works.

Planning the reception

STC Houston plans to host a welcome reception for Board members on Friday, January 21, 2005. As of this writing, the plan is to host the reception at Canyon Café, 5000 Westheimer, Suite 250. Menu includes Pancho’s Chicken Enchiladas, beef fajitas, and Adovo Pasta (a chicken pasta, only with chicken removed for our vegetarian guests). Side dishes include Southwestern rice, black beans, warm flour tortillas, and pico de gallo.

Soft drinks, water, tea, and coffee will be provided, and a cash bar will be available for guests wishing to enjoy other beverages.

Cost is $25, and members will be asked to RSVP and use PayPal to secure their tickets, following the same procedure for program meetings.

Securing the meeting

The Board holds its meetings in August, January, and May. The Society president chooses which cities will host the August and January Board meetings during his or her time in office. The Board holds its May meeting in the city hosting the STC Annual Conference. Often, when it becomes apparent who the president will be, chapters will begin lobbying to host the Board meetings.

To help persuade Andrea Ames, then the Society president-elect, to choose Houston as a meeting site, STC Houston sponsored a poetry-writing contest in which participants wrote poems touting Houston’s virtues. Holly Jahangiri, who works at Hewlett-Packard, submitted the winning entry.

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