Tired of handing out business cards just to provide your phone and fax numbers and e-mail address? Besides taking up space and being cumbersome to file, business cards can easily be lost; they may be best used to present one single most important bit of information about you and your services—a Web site address.
Face it—nearly everyone in the free world is online today. And increasingly, people are developing their own Web sites for anything from displaying wedding or vacation pictures to marketing services for an international company. It’s much easier to bookmark the site in your Internet browser than it is to decide where to file a business card.
Stuart Halpryn, president of the Web Design and Developers Association, reminds us “For the individual, the Internet has shortened the distance between family and friends, allowing easy communication by e-mail, video conferencing, and even the latest technology, VOIP Telephone Communications.” He continues, “The Internet has further closed the gap by allowing families to share pictures, videos, recipes, and about anything else from their family Web site.”
Arguments have been made both for and against the use of Web sites for business marketing of products and services. One study found that similar operations, both using and not using Web sites, showed no appreciable variance in sales. However, Americans alone add approximately 2 million pages (of the 7.3 million globally) to the Web daily. Studies notwithstanding, you may find that having a Web site is a valuable asset to your business.
Halpryn assures “Leveling the playing field between businesses of all sizes, the Internet is the only venue that brings together buyers and sellers from all over the world with a click of the mouse.” Jon Szymanski, cofounder with the American Web Developers’ Association, gives examples of the “many ways to increase marketing efforts as well as cutting costs through an effective Web site. Some of the most popular are online newsletters, building e-mail databases, placing strategic ads throughout the site, and creating surveys for market research to name a few.”
Although a Web site may be the last thing you’ve considered for your business—be it writing and editing, artwork and design, or any other service—consider this: with a Web site, your portfolio is available to the world day and night with little effort on your part, once you are online.
This means no more assembling writing clips or artwork samples and hand delivering or mailing to a potential client. Moreover, you may even be able to forego much of your expensive paper promotionals. Once you have an Internet presence, you are availing clients with as much information on your products and services as they could possibly need while you are also showing them that you are technologically savvy enough to market yourself virtually. Halpryn observes, “In an era of growing consumer convenience, there is a certain additional credibility, warranted or not, given to those businesses that have a polished Web site for their clients, as shown by the ever increasing numbers of online shoppers.”
Szymanski reveals other cutting-edge uses. “One of the most unfolding marketing pieces now coming to the forefront are online product demos and company presentations done with audio and flash animation that tell their story just like you [are] watching television.”
You may choose to include other professional experience such as client lists and testimonials. Adding your educational background may further instill a sense of confidence in your credentials. Just be sure to limit your personal information to your business; those with whom you are seeking to work really aren’t interested in your family life, hobbies, or community involvement.
Another good use of a Web site is to contribute to others’ knowledge in the field. For instance, you can provide available research information and links to professional organizations and other groups to help those in your field acquire information and network with specialists in the industry.
Creative Commercial Retailers
Retailers have long ago discovered the benefits of online marketing and sales. A study by Forrester Research found that customers who use three different methods to shop—brick and mortar stores, Web sites, and catalogs—spend approximately four times more than customers who use only one method. And those who use two of the three methods still spend two to three times more than those who use one method.
One growing trend in using the Web for shopping is “click and brick.” With this combined method, shoppers find what they want online, then pick up the item at the store, saving both shopping time and delivery time. The only time spent is online and the travel time to the store.
Then there is Louis Borders, who founded Borders Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1971. After putting his store online and selling to KMart, he moved on to other ventures. His Webvan Web-based grocery store cost him around a billion startup dollars and delivered groceries that were ordered online to shoppers in Chicago; Los Angeles; Orange County, CA; Portland, OR; San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Although Webvan eventually went the way of Shoplink.com, it was perhaps was one or two decades ahead of its time, leaving the market to Peapod, HomeGrocer.com, and NetGrocer.com.
Now, Borders is attempting to sell content online with KeepMedia.com. With a $4.95 per month or $60 per year subscription, users can read new articles from an online archive, as well as stories going back 10 years. But Borders is not alone with competition from such services as Contentville.com and HighBeam Research.
Launching Into Cyberspace
To create your online presence, you first need to register your site’s Internet address or domain name, otherwise known as a URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator. Registering a URL domain lists it in the Internet’s official address book, which currently contains more than nine million names. URLs are registered through a domain name registrar, of which there are 386 as shown on Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN’s) site.
The first domain registrar in the U.S. was Network Solutions, which reportedly is handing out 15,000 new domain names a day. This registrar and all others are under the purview of ICANN. This nonprofit corporation was formed to assume responsibility for Internet protocol address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and root server system management.
There is a fee for acquiring a domain name, and it varies among companies. Register.com, for instance, charges $70 for the first 2 years and $35 per year thereafter and offers numerous tools to create and manage your site. They also provide hosting services. Other sites such as Domainsite.com charge as little as $7 per year but may offer fewer services.
Before registering a name, you must conduct a search to ensure that this domain is not already taken, and this can be done through your registrar. A Web site suffix such as .com (commercial) or .org (organization) will be assigned according to the use of the site. However, ICANN has made available new domain names with alternate Web address suffixes such as .info, .biz, .name, .pro, .museum, .coop, and .aero. Also, country-specific extensions—of which there are more than 200—may be assigned to your domain, such as .ky for the Cayman Islands, .vg for the British Virgin Islands, or .uk for the United Kingdom.
After registering your domain name, you should activate it through a Web hosting company. Your registrar may provide this service, or you can use your own Internet Service Provider (ISP). Prices for using a host’s server may vary from $8 to $30 a month, and some hosts offer e-mail accounts with the domain name. Other Web hosting services such as Yahoo! Geocities provide free “personal” Web hosting, provided you don’t mind all the display advertising and extra words in your URL.
Once you have activated your domain, you need to develop your Web site. Universities and some computer retailers offer classes on Web site design. They teach basics such as HTML programming and the use of Web design tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage. Actually designing your site may be considered the easy part because using tools like FrontPage is similar to using Microsoft Word. Applying the proper code and formatting may require more time and expertise. Here are the three primary options for generating text for the Internet:
Manually apply HTML coding as you create your Web site.
Use standard word processing software and save your work as an HTML file.
Use Web design software.
Web site developers can do all this for you, but their rates can be expensive at around $85 an hour. Your Web host may have developers to design your site, and they may provide additional services such as monitoring the number of “hits” (visits to your site), performing statistical analysis, and gathering demographics information about those accessing your site.
If you decide to design your own Web site and don’t have any formal training, a few points are worthy of mention. You want to be sure that your site does not overly burden the visitor while presenting you in a professional and aesthetically pleasing manner. Here are some tips.
Resize or optimize photographs and other images to ensure that they load quickly.
Until it is more widely used, stay away from special effects and other add-ons that require downloading specialty software onto the viewer’s computer. In many cases, viewers will leave the site if they can’t properly access it immediately.
Never use dark text on a dark background.
While you may be torn between a serif font such as Times and a sans serif font such as Arial, understand that an uppercase “I” and a lowercase “L” may be virtually indistinguishable without serifs: I, l.
Display the actual URL on your site such as www.mysite.com and not just a link to the page’s name such as My Site. If visitors print your information, a link will not be helpful.
Consider using counters for both home pages and secondary pages to track what Web pages visitors are finding most useful.
While many shoppers choose to use virtual bookstores instead of the brick and mortar counterparts, sellers also find cyberspace to be the perfect sales medium. Donna Snyder, chief executive officer of the American Association of Webmasters, states that “the World Wide Web has become the tool of choice for many who wish to reach new markets. . . it is always a treat to come across Web sites that operate as a one-stop virtual store.”
You may decide to provide online ordering, but this is useful only if you either accept orders on a COD basis or if you accept credit cards. If you accept credit cards, be prepared to pay a fee charged by the card provider, which amounts to a percentage of each sale for your customers’ use of their card and your use of their service, which includes ensuring that the credit card is valid and active.
If you require that all orders be prepaid by check or money order, a Web site will serve only as a marketing tool, not as a means by which buyers can place orders. However, you can provide an order form to be downloaded, printed out, and mailed to you via regular mail with payment. Customers can complete and submit such forms online if you accept credit cards. You may even choose to outsource billing services to a company such as PayPal. Look at online booksellers to see how this is done.
A Web site may be just what you need to jump start a sluggish business or to add some pizzazz to your current marketing and promotion. Just remember not to overuse visuals. Ensure that your site design is appropriate to your business.
Gary Michael Smith is a writer, editor, publisher, and educator in New Orleans. His linear, no-flash Web site is www.ChatgrisPress.com.
Artistic Copyrights From an Independent and Small Business Point of Wiew
by Robert Delwood, STC Houston
Few issues are as important to the technical communicator and so misunderstood as copyright laws. The laws intend to protect the rights of the creator but over the years they may have morphed into something completely different. Depending on your perspective, the current law and proposed laws diverge from the original intend even more.
Robert Nagle, a Houston-based technical writer, independent film maker, and interactive medium artist, follows these changes with keen interest. Nagle organizes Houston CopyNight, an informal monthly meeting for those interested in copyright laws and their possible reform. The July 2005 meeting, named Welcome to 1922, centered on the Sonny Bono Act, which extended copyrights another 20 years; material that would have been available from 1922 is now copyrighted until 2018. After Nagle’s initial thirty minute presentation, he was joined by Katie Sunstrom, an intellectual property lawyer, for another thirty minutes. An open question period closed the month’s meeting.
This may seem like an obscure topic but to independent artists, art entering the public domain is an important source of material. More interestingly, the legal trends threaten the creative commons artistic concept. Creative commons is a popular concept among artists (including technical communicators) who offer liberal copyright permissions for non commercial purposes. This encourages the use and dissemination of their works for recognition.
Independent artists and small businesses make a case that copyrights have become such a legal quagmire and are so unclear that using existing material is not worth the risk. They can be sued or asked to discontinue an artist investment. Disproving a claim is neither inexpensive nor easy. The public domain status or even the ownership of some artwork is often unclear. A class of material called orphan artwork (much of it from the 1920s to the 1940s), for example, has had its copyright accountability lost over the years; perhaps because the original owners cannot be found or have since gone out of business.
There are other issues, too. The interpretation of derivative art, such as materials that include the mere reference or allusion to other materials, may be increasingly strict. The fair use doctrine is unclear and its interpretation seems inconsistent. Even the definition of commercial use may be unclear. Recent court cases have found that the presence of a commercial banner on a individual’s Web blog makes all the material on the page subject to “commercial use.”
Nagle uses CopyNight as a forum to discuss and to disseminate information. He quickly points out that although he has his own interests and opinions on these matters, CopyNight is not an advocacy group. The national organization bills itself as meeting “over drinks” to discuss “new developments and build social ties between artists, engineers, filmmakers, academics, lawyers, and many others.”
Whether you're producing books for your company's documentation department or just trying to get your own Great American Novel between two covers, many nuances come into play. Perhaps the biggest challenges are working with printers to produce your text blocks and covers—especially if you're a one-person team responsible for coordinating book printing.
Your text block includes everything between the book covers. This includes your front matter (short title page, long title page, copyright page, table of contents, list of figures and tables, foreword, preface, introduction, etc.), actual text of the book, and any back matter (references, suggested reading, contacts, resources, index, and colophon, which Chicago now recommends to place in the back of a book).
Your first concern is to get your labor of love into a format that will remain intact during electronic transmission. Face it, the days of hand-delivering a hard copy or a disk to a printer are over—unless you happen to live in the same neighborhood. But even then you'll still want to upload or e-mail an electronic version of the manuscript to your text block printer so you end up with a first generation printout and not a photocopy of the original.
Whether you're working in a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or a desktop publishing tool such as QuarkXPress or PageMaker, you want to save the file in the most stable format possible. Which format is this? Well, the jury's still out on this one. To date, you can save text to formats such as PDF, HTML, or ASCII, depending on your personal preference. But new formats are being developed; a consortium of vendors of equipment and software for on-demand printing, called the Print on Demand Initiative (PODI), has developed Personalized Print Markup Language (PPML) for moving variable-data jobs from the software that creates them to the printing system that will output them.
Your best bet, however, is to keep it simple. Adobe Acrobat lets you save your source file to a PDF format that remains basically the same during electronic transmission across a variety of platforms. Notice I said "basically" the same? This is because your printer probably will still want you to look at a proof to ensure that nothing has changed from the electronic version to the printed proof.
PDF seems to be the most stable file type and the type most preferred by specialty digital printers. And how do you get these files to the printer? This is another beauty of Acrobat—it compresses files. One of my books is 25 MB in the source format (MS Word), but when saved as a PDF file it shrinks to just over 1 MB. While this size can be e-mailed, my printer prefers that clients upload files to their web site by using online file transfer protocol (OLFTP). Built directly into the web site, OLFTP allows customers to fill in a few fields on an online form, browse their hard drive to find their file, and then upload the file to the printer's web site.
We're not talking about a quick print shop for such production. While the equipment is similar (and in some cases identical), you need to use a specialty print shop that specializes in book production. Such companies have staff trained in the proper layout for book printing, and they also know how to clean and maintain equipment for a quality product.
Once you have approved the proof, you need to approve the book cover. Here, you have two choices of printers: a traditional offset printer who will require a minimum of several hundred to a thousand covers, or digital offset printers who are more than happy to print anywhere from one to more covers, but at a cost of around $2 to $3 each. At this point you may discover that your text block printer cannot or does not print cover stock. This is not uncommon, as these mediums of printing are different. Just ask what's available and get prices.
And while you no longer need to deal with (or pay for) such services as layout and design and stripping of negatives, there are other tasks and expenses:
Bleed, stock, and lamination. When you are designing your cover (or having it designed), be sure that enough extra space is provided on the edges to be trimmed later. Known as "bleed," if this space is absent be prepared for covers with some of your artwork chopped off.
Spine thickness. You don't have to actually design the spine, other than telling the printer that you want the short title, author's last name, and press name. However, you need to know exactly how thick it needs to be. This is easily calculated by determining the exact number of sheets of paper that will be needed (page number divided by two) and the exact brand and weight of paper. The printer will take the right number of sheets and simply measure for correct spine width.
Back cover barcode. Today, booksellers require books to have at least an ISBN bar code, and a price bar code (extended bar code) if possible. In the old days you had to buy a strip of film with this information on it, but nowadays digital printers can apply your bar code directly to the cover for a $25 to $30 one-time charge.
Author photo. Always a question of vanity versus publicity, whether or not you include an author photo is a matter of choice. But if you do go with a photo, be sure the printer gets the highest resolution image from you in a format such as a JPEG. Ask them what they prefer and at what resolution to be sure you get the best picture printed.
Registration/alignment. Once your printer has finished with the cover, you will be provided with a proof copy. This is your last chance to look at such quality issues as resolution of images, registration and alignment in relation to the paper stock edges, and crop marks over the bleed areas. Make any necessary adjustments now before you give the go-ahead to begin the pressrun.
Regarding cover printing, Kolleen Herndon of Garrison Digital Color, Inc. of Harahan, Louisiana tells us that, "It's of utmost importance that we get the best resolution images for
front and back covers. We prefer files in TIFF or EPS formats at a minimum of 300 dpi to ensure optimal quality in digital offset printing."
When you're happy with the covers and the text block, it's time to bind the two together. While personal binding machines are available from such companies as UniBind, it's easier to let a printer do it for a nominal fee—often around a dollar a book or less. Your text block printer or your cover printer should be able to perform the binding, but if not there are binderies around that specialize in such work. Ask your printer if they can perform the service or recommend a bindery.
Registering your book probably is the single most important task. It puts your book "on the map" so librarians, bookstores, and wholesalers and distributors can find it. Three registration aspects are most important:
Acquiring an ISBN. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique machine-readable identification number that is specific to every book. Although many companies will sell you an ISBN, R.R. Bowker develops them and also will sell them to publishers.
Previously unchanged since its inception in 1970, ISBNs will display a new 13-digit number as of January 1, 2007. Conversion of current 10-digit numbers is quick and easy and can be accomplished by going to www.Bowkerlink.com and clicking on the ISBN-13 Transition link. At the web page that opens, select the Conversion Tools and Services link, then click on For Publishers, Wholesalers and Distributors or For Retailers, whichever you are. The ISBN-13 online converter web page will open, and all you have to do is input your current 10-digit number and click SUBMIT. Your new 13-digit ISBN will display in the Complete 13-digit ISBN field.
Go ahead and start printing this number on your title page verso in the following format: ISBN-10: 1-873671-00-9 with ISBN-13: 978-1-873671-00-9 directly below it. For all newly published books, you should convert your 10-digit ISBN to a 13-digit number and include both in the book. However, don't worry about putting the longer number on top of the barcode until January 2007; the barcode already has your 13-digit number embedded in the stripes. The "eye-readable" number should reflect the new 13-digit number only for titles published after January 1, 2007; barcode numbers prior to January 2007 should still show the 10-digit number. Moreover, after January 2007 the 10-digit number should be removed from the title page verso and the 13-digit number should be added to the back cover in eye-readable numeric format.
Listing in Books In Print. Books In Print is the ultimate database for books. R.R. Bowker sends listings to major outlets such as Barnes & Noble and Borders daily or weekly. Once you have created a login profile, you are able to update or add titles yourself. This is perhaps the second most important step of registering a book after obtaining an ISBN.
Copyrighting with the Library of Congress. Copyright is a protection that covers published and unpublished works, whatever the form, provided such works are fixed in a tangible or material form. Copyright laws grant the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly. While any work created by you is considered copyrighted, you may be hard pressed to prove it in court without a formal copyright from the Library of Congress. Some authors will mail works to themselves so that the postmark proves a creation date, but this practice is best used as a preliminary act while waiting for your copyright to be received from the Copyright Office.
Copyrighting is easy. Go to www.copyright.gov, scroll down to Publications, and select Forms. Then scroll down to find the form that's appropriate for the work you want to copyright. Form TX or Short Form TX are the primary ones to use for books. The cost is $30 plus two copies of a printed and bound book or one copy of an unbound book.
Once your books are printed, bound, registered, and being sold, your job still isn't over. You must properly maintain files of your book. Such files may consist of the source files for revisions as well as PDFs, JPEGs, or other formats of your final text block and cover for additional print runs. Be sure your printers provide you with any file formats that they are using so you and they have a copy, which serves as a great backup plan.
Steps to Skip
Depending on the type of publishing you're involved in, you may be able to skip a few steps. For instance, short pressruns are not eligible for certain types of cataloging.
Cataloging in Publication. Cataloging in Publication (CIP) is a bibliographic record that is prepared by the Library of Congress for a book which has not yet been published. When the book is published, the publisher includes the CIP data on the copyright page, facilitating book processing for libraries and book dealers.
But not everyone can use CIP. For instance, only U. S. publishers who publish titles that are most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries are eligible to participate in the CIP program. Book vendors, distributors, printers, production houses, and other intermediaries are not eligible. Also, self-publishers and publishers who have published the works of fewer than three different authors are ineligible.
There is no charge for CIP processing; however, upon publication participating publishers are obligated to send a complimentary copy of all books for which CIP data was provided.
Preassigned Control Number. Publishers who are ineligible for the CIP program may be eligible for the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program. The Library of Congress assigns a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) while the book is being cataloged. Under certain circumstances, however, a card number can be assigned before the book is published through the PCN program. Only U.S. book publishers are eligible to participate in the PCN program. These publishers must list a U.S. place of publication on the title page or copyright page of their books and must maintain an editorial office in the U.S. that is capable of answering substantive bibliographic questions.
Library of Congress Control Number. An LCCN is a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Librarians use it to locate a specific Library of Congress catalog record in the national databases and to order catalog cards from the Library of Congress or from commercial suppliers.
The Library of Congress began to print catalog cards in 1898 and to distribute them in 1901. The LCCN was used to identify and control catalog cards. LCCNs now are used primarily by librarians for authority, bibliographic, and classification records. If you print your books in short pressruns and, consequently, do not sell through major wholesalers or distributors, the Library of Congress will not grant you an LCCN.
Gary Michael Smith is a publisher who is based in New Orleans. He can be contacted at www.ChatgrisPress.com.
Overextending Metaphors Can Lead to Communication Breakdowns
by Geoff Hart, STC Associate Fellow
As scientific communicators, we rely heavily on metaphors and other image-heavy text to communicate complex concepts. This can be a powerful tool for simplifying complexity, but unfortunately, significant problems arise when we lean too heavily on those images and forget about the consequences of carrying a metaphor too far. The problem lies in our attempt to make the complex simple: some concepts really are too complex to express simply, and oversimplifying them can create vexing communication breakdowns.
Paul Berg, interviewed in the April 2005 issue of Discover, illustrated the kind of problem that can occur when a word or image acquires a connotation that conceals the real meaning and the underlying complexity associated with that meaning: "For example, the word cloning. What do you think resonates in the minds of the general public when a scientist says he wants to clone stem cells? Well, right away, they associate it with cloning people. But we're all agreed we shouldn't clone people . . . But the word cloning just triggers fears. What do you see? The Boys from Brazil, Star Wars."
A recurring example involves a cliché that has become part of the repertoire of popular science writing about genetics. One of the fascinating recent discoveries in molecular genetics is how strongly some genes have been conserved in different species despite thousands of years of evolution. Unfortunately, evolution is a complex science, and genetics even more so. Inevitably, this makes writing about both at the same time difficult. To simplify the task of communicating this complex interaction between evolution and gene conservation, authors usually try to demonstrate how similar humans are to other species by comparing our respective genomes. Thus, in studies of primates, you'll often hear the claim that chimps and humans share 99% of the nucleotide sequences in our respective genomes. This number sounds high, and indeed, each of us would be deliriously happy to score this well on a university genetics text-and it's this visceral understanding of the number that makes the comparison so effective.
But the initial impression generated by that clear image fails under closer examination and proves to be dramatically misleading. In this case, it's not the number that I dispute, but rather the effect of citing it. Here's the problem: there are something like 3 billion nucleotides in the human genome. A 1% difference that seems insignificant on a test becomes very significant indeed once you understand that it represents a difference of 30 million nucleotides. Of course, nucleotides aren't genes, so let's consider genes instead. Current estimates suggest that there are something on the order of 25,000 genes in the human genome, which means that the aforementioned 1% difference represents a difference of 250 genes between humans and chimps. Worse yet, a phenomenon known as alternative splicing means that each of those 250 genes may be responsible for the production of two, three, or more proteins that have important and sometimes even crucial regulatory effects on our bodies.
Clearly, there will be no hybrid chimp-human embryos anytime soon, despite that 99% similarity between us.
Another familiar example from evolution has been the anthropomorphism that organisms evolve to adapt to their environment. In fact, classical evolution tells us that organisms unable to adapt die before they can reproduce, and only those that can adapt to changes in their environment will survive to pass on their genes. It is the genes that survive through the generations and the species, not individual organisms, that evolve. Richard Dawkins famously captured this image in his book The Selfish Gene, which clearly and convincingly describes how genes seem to "selfishly" compete with each other for survival, sometimes at the expense of the organism's own goals and desires. Dawkins and his colleagues revolutionized the study of evolution by demonstrating the importance of this process.
Yet genes clearly have no consciousness, despite the implications of the word "selfish." Forgetting this can mislead us into believing that all organisms are guided solely by their genes. While this may well be true for lower organisms and is demonstrably true to some extent for even the highest organisms, this image can lead us to miss an important point: that humans may well be the first species on Earth that can think beyond the simple urging of our genes and make decisions (such as genetic engineering) that directly contradict the supposed urgings of our genes. Moreover, larger processes that are more difficult to quantify, such as social structures (e.g., religion, laws) and learned behaviors (e.g., the teaching of our parents), can exert behavioral influences every bit as powerful as those of our genes.
There are many other misleading word choices I encounter frequently. Consider, for example, the "no artificial chemicals" blazon on "organic" products. The word "organic" clearly communicates the fact that the product contains none of the really scary artificial (man-made) compounds that lead to the 300-word ingredient lists for even the simplest Kraft products. Yet none of us believes that "natural" chemicals such as arsenic, lead, cyanide, ergotamine, and digitalis are safe simply because they're natural. Similarly, there is much talk in agronomy about the merits of "organic" fertilizers versus "chemical" (inorganic) fertilizers-as if organic fertilizers are not, themselves, composed of chemicals. The simplicity of these and other wordings does make an important point clearly, but that's not good enough.
As scientific communicators, we must beware the temptation to simplify "facts" to the point that they become misleading. The high similarity between chimps and humans fails this test, and as a standard for comparison, it's tempting to propose (as I have done in the past) that it should be retired from our vocabulary. Similarly, those of us who must write about evolution and genetics learn to avoid oversimplifying evolution as either a process of conscious change by individuals or as malicious and selfish control by sentient genes. Those of us who write about chemistry must be careful to use precise terms such as "inorganic" or "artificial" rather than "chemical" and equally careful to use emotionally loaded words such as "natural" judiciously.
But there's a better solution than merely to avoid using simplistic wordings. Instead, I would propose an easy strategy for preserving the power of simplicity without sacrificing clarity: introduce concepts simply, but just as any good manuscript begins with an introduction and moves onwards to elaborate on that context, so must we build on that simple introduction and use it as a tool for delving deeper and revealing the true underlying complexity. That's a more challenging communications task, of course, but it's also much more satisfying when we succeed.
Geoff Hart is an associate fellow of STC and manager of the Scientific Communication SIG. He has nearly 20 years of experience in editing scientific and technical information, especially for ESL authors. Visit Geoff online at http://www.geoff-hart.com.
This article was reprinted with permission from the April 2005 issue of The Exchange, the newsletter of STC's Scientific Communication Special Interest Group.
Have you seen the 1984 movie Romancing the Stone? There's a line in
it that I frequently think of these days. Michael Douglas delivers it after he
and Kathleen Turner slide down a muddy slope to escape assassination: "Hooo-ha!
What a day!"
STC is the midst of a time that can only be described as "Hooo-ha! What
Since induction at the annual business meeting in Seattle, the newly elected board of directors has dealt with a number of significant issues. Among the most impactful have been the resignations of STC Executive Director Peter Herbst and STC First Vice President Mike Bates. We are also continuing the work initiated by previous boards of moving STC into becoming a more responsive and open association for its members. In addition to that work and those events, we continue to develop better ways of communicating STC events and progress and accountability to our members.
Our most important task, that of visibly making our actions accountable to
the members, and communicating them is taking time to develop. The STC board
does not act in a vacuum. Every decision must be deployed and enacted by using
one of three resources:
a competent, highly leveraged office staff
committees made up of members like you and various board members (recruited and elected from members like you)
outside consultants, which we obtain for below market price, to whom we refer for expertise outside that of the board
Such deployment demands creativity, reasoned approaches, and the responsible use of our finite resources to meet the member needs.
If I were to outline priorities that interest you most, I'd start with the following:
First, Suzanna Laurent, our president, developed steps of a process and appointed a committee to begin selection of a new executive director. Suzanna then sent a message to community leaders (via the president's mailing list) that we had change underway in this position, and the steps she took to manage the situation. When the committee finds worthy candidates, they will present the candidates to the board to decide upon. If we need an interim executive director, the committee has sorted through the resources and has plans in place to manage this potential issue.
Next, Mike Bates had responsibilities as a committee member for Governance, Finance and Education Support. These are all vital committees charged with improving STC into the future. Mike's resignation also left a decision vacuum that we had to fill immediately. According to the current bylaws, Suzanna appointed Second Vice President Paula Berger to step into Mike's first vice president position. Then Suzanna filled the second vice president position through appointment of Linda Oestreich (who had been a candidate for second vice president in the last election and had won the second highest number of votes). Linda has served on the board and has been actively dedicated to STC for more than 20 years. I believe that with so many of us new to STC governance, it's a very good thing to have the legacy knowledge that Linda can provide. A balance of progressive, new, reform-oriented board members and learned, knowledgeable board members can only be good for the membership of STC.
Linda will serve as second vice president through the May 2006 annual board business meeting.
An essential piece of providing support and mentoring of community leadership is the Leadership Community Resource (LCR). The 2004–2005 board heard you when you said you needed the support of the "sponsor" side of director-sponsors. In response to your voices, the board asked Judy Glick-Smith to put together a resource pool that acts as a "triage" resource to any community that wants it. Judy and her team are developing a database that contains volunteer mentor names that LCR committee members can assign whenever a community wants advice on anything, such as leadership roles, volunteer recruitment, member recruitment, financial management and so forth. In the meantime, while Judy and her committee members are developing the structure and putting it together, directors still will perform the director-sponsor role.
Finally, in September we will approve our 2005–2006 budget. The approval process generates a great deal of examination, questions, and recommendations by the board members. Our newly elected treasurer, W. C. Wiese, asked for and received a number of questions from each of us. The responses to those inquiries and the inspection and discussion of them will lead the board members to an informed and balanced budget approval.
In addition to my role as the director of Region 5, which means I am responsive to members and I vote responsibly for those members, my "other job" is to complete the rechartering process for our communities. In that effort, I report to committee manager Victoria Koster-Lenhardt, director of Region 2. Rechartering is part of the Community Affairs committee, and I serve on that committee with Bob Dianetti, director of Region 4, and Vici. For the sake of managing STC committees well, STC presidents team each new director with a second-year director and a third-year director. Bob is in his second year as a director, and Vici is in her third. This process protects STC (the members) by assuring the passing on of legacy information. For the sake of managing the STC board well, the STC board has a reporting structure. I report to the second vice president, who was Paula Berger, but with the new changes in effect as of August 12, my STC "boss" will be Second Vice President Linda Oestreich.
As for communications, Suzanna appointed STC Fellow Lory Hawkes as Communications Committee manager. Paula Berger, Cindy Currie (director for Region 1), and I serve on this committee. We are working on several initiatives to get you more information and get it to you faster. We've gotten a lot of really good ideas from every source, and we will be implementing them as soon as we can. Our objective is to get information out to you, and to funnel information from you quickly, proactively, responsibly, and fully.
STC is a mature, big association. It is the biggest association of its kind, in the world. It takes the combined skills of volunteers (reform oriented and legacy), a very loyal and hardworking staff, and skillful management to ensure that your trust as a member is well placed.
STC is in the process of transitioning into a more dynamic, responsive organization that serves members more fully. In accomplishing this task we will no doubt encounter roadblocks and events that at times seem overwhelming and seem to be larger than our combined leadership experience, as diverse as it is. In these times we ask your indulgence as we work steadily, competently, and as quickly as we can in our volunteer capacities to move STC into a better place.
To sum up activity in STC at the board level over the last three months, I simply have to borrow from the script of Romancing the Stone. Hooo-ha! What a day! What a great new day for STC!
STKs: Innovative Thinking, Strategic Thinking, and Leadership
by Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.
On Saturday, August 20, 2005, STC Houston welcomed Linda Oestreich to town. Linda Oestreich is the 2nd Vice President of STC and the Manager of the technical publications group at Peregrine Systems, Inc., in San Diego, California. Linda presented three Share-the-Knowledge (STK) sessions, where participants learned to use both sides of their brains to become better writers and better leaders.
Innovate, Illuminate, Evaluate, Activate!
In the first session, Linda talked about creativity. During introductions, participants addressed whether or not they feel creative. This discussion informed us about each other in a different light from STC monthly meetings. Participants’ creative activities included helping design a training program for a company intranet, a previous life as an artist, and designing and teaching an online course while living in Nigeria.
We filled out worksheets that list some enhancements and barriers to creativity and then used a creativity matrix to determine where we are on the road to being an “active creative thinker who applies creativity successfully.” Linda encouraged all of us to keep the checklists and matrix visible at home or at work to remind us how to stay creative.
Later in the morning, we worked on a Mindmapping exercise using large paper, crayons, and our artistic muscles to create colorful representations of a project we need to complete.
Commodity Writer to Strategic Thinker
After lunch, we moved on to the strategic part of the workshop. Linda adapted a presentation from Andrea Ames that addresses the job of the technical communicator now and where it may be headed. Using a matrix that charts leadership attributes and value to the customer, we learned about the roles technical communicators can play: commodity writer, communicator, profit maker, or strategic contributor. As we move up the matrix from commodity writer to strategic contributor, we provide more value and greater leadership in our companies, which helps us stay valuable to the
company. Linda offered the following tips for becoming a strategic thinker:
Know what’s core, key, and strategic to your field.
Know what’s beyond the core skills and knowledge.
Know what’s key in developing your product or what’s important in your industry.
Know what’s key in your business.
Know what companies believe are core, key, and strategic in employees. Linda also handed out a comprehensive checklist that technical communicators can use to expand their skills, add value, and influence strategy.
Leadership: What Does It Mean?
In the last session of the day, Linda talked to present and future leaders of STC
Houston. Addressing leadership in general, Linda presented some of the myths of leadership and some leadership theories.
Linda addressed what she calls the “major key of leadership,” which is communication. Linda said that recognizing and practicing good nonspoken communication is important, especially in this global age. Think about it: Have you ever had an e-mail message misinterpreted or misinterpreted an e-mail message from someone
else? Linda gave the chapter leaders a couple of questions to consider:
What is our end product?
What is our measurement technique?
At the end of the session, we asked questions and discussed answers that pertain to our STC community.
To me, learning to exercise my creative muscle was the best part of the day. Too often, I find myself doing my jobs the same way I’ve always done them. With the techniques we learned—or relearned—on Saturday, I feel better equipped to help our STC community achieve greatness again this year!
Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.
Several weeks ago, I joined the Reform STC group on Yahoo! I'm pretty much just a lurker, but I've picked up on a tidbit or two while reading through the posts. I think that the purpose of this Yahoo! group is to improve STC at the international level, but that's not what I'm taking away from it. I'm trying to find ways that we all can improve STC Houston.
Make your opinions known:
Send me an e-mail message.
Send everyone on the Admin Council an e-mail message.
Line up a speaker for a monthly meeting or share-the-knowledge (STK) session.
Help out with the Channel 8 pledge drive.
Write an article for Dateline Houston.
Take some action this year to make STC Houston a better organization.
Not Just Words
I understand that words are an important part of what we do, but they aren't everthing. For every book we write, we probably include some pictures. We must also publish the book. For every newsletter article I write, I must send it to a newsletter copy editor. Then the layout editor must incorporate it into the newsletter.
For every complaint, I hope we can identify an action to fix it and an STC Houston member who will lead the way.
I Have a Point to Make
STC Houston is a volunteer organization. No one in STC Houston gets paid for working for STC Houston. Furthermore, everybody has something else to do besides STC. When things don't go 100% right, don't give up. Give it another chance. I'll be talking to you.
Enough said? You can talk to me, too. I'm available by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call me at work at 713-918-5272.
by Nicole Wycislo, Managing Editor, Dateline Houston
It's September, and October is just around the bend. Kids–big (like me) and small–are back to school, the weather is waiting for its turn to become cool, and the Great Pumpkin will soon show its funny face. For most of us, docs are scheduled for bed.
Speaking of doc schedules, I've often wondered why deadlines are "dead" versus "live" (as in lifelines). (Hey, if anyone knows why, drop me an e-mail!) Perhaps it is because people report feeling like they're dying while trying to meet deadlines. Over the years it seems like I've collapsed a lung or two to meet a project deadline. Surprisingly, I feel most alive after the project is laid to rest, on time. Deadlines are actually lifelines because they indicate when projects end and give rise to new ones; and who doesn't love new beginnings?
by Dean Liscum, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.
Do you speak in a monotone, using clipped, short sentences? Do you tell your significant other to log on when you have something momentous to say but then get so excited that you forget the key combination for the heart emoticon? If you've answered yes to either of these questions, you've been either a victim or a perpetrator of emotion. Like it or not, emotions influence everything you do, including communicate, even at work.
Technical communicators tend to concentrate on communicating "just the facts," eschewing subjective aspects of information such as perspective and emotion in an attempt to purify the data. In doing so, they miss opportunities to harness the power of emotion by providing indicators of the significance and meaning of the information. This tendency interferes with communication by suppressing important information. Kelli Newman can help you control and capitalize on emotions when doing what you do best-communicating information.
Why Now? Why Kelli?
It's the internet, silly. The internet may not have improved your social life, but it's done wonders for information. Data seems to increase daily, and you know that all information is not created equal. Knowing the interdependencies between emotion and information gives you one more set of criteria with which to evaluate the importance of one datum versus another. Kelli knows those interdependencies.
Kelli is the vice president of Newman & Newman, Inc., which provides for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations with public relations services. These services include communications of all sorts from marketing and training to internal communications to fundraising and televised programming. Accredited in 1989 by the Public Relations Society of America, she's spent a number of years working as P.R. Counsel for Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital. She's earned numerous awards and accolades. The most compelling factoid in her bio, co-ownership of the company with her husband, indicates that she practices what she preaches and can judiciously employ her emotions from 9 to 5.
What You'll Get
Of course, you'll leave the program full of feelings of well-being and harmony (you've gotta expect her to work her magic on you), but you'll also leave with some practical knowledge, such as:
an understanding of the tangible value of emotions
a grasp of how ignoring emotions can inhibit your ability to communicate
a set of guiding principles that will help you effectively and appropriately use emotion on the
Location Hilton Houston Westchase
Date Tuesday, September 13
5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
6:20 p.m. announcements
6:30 p.m. program
Cost $10 (members)
$5 (student and unemployed members)
New Membership Drive
To encourage new membership, STC Houston will waive the September program meeting fee for each nonmember who
signs up as a new member before or during the meeting. Membership applications will be provided at the door, so
you can register and pay during the meeting or you can register and pay online before the meeting. If you
register online, bring proof of payment to the meeting. If you register at the door, bring a check or money
order for the full membership fee.
If you're not sure yet, attend September's meeting with an STC member and get
Location Hilton Houston Westchase
Date Tuesday, September 13
5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
6:20 p.m. announcements
6:30 p.m. program
Drawing A drawing for various prizes is held at the end of each general meeting. Proceeds benefit the Marx Isaacs Student Scholarship Fund.
STC Houston meets on the second Tuesday of each month, September through June. For more information, see
http://www.stc-houston.org/. STC is the world's largest professional association for technical communicators and provides unparalleled opportunities of continuing education, peer networking, and access to its job openings database. For more information about the international organization, visit
Call For Technical Competitions Entries
Promote Your Career and Show Your Value
By Alyssa Fox
Is your work on top of the world? Are you an explorer who charts new directions in technical communication? Is your work receiving the recognition it merits?
You can advance your career, impress your boss, and receive recognition for your work by entering the Society of Technical Communication (STC) Houston 2005-2006 Competition.
The STC annual competitions can map new territory for you and your company in recognition, reputation, and excellence. Enter now to expand your horizons by receiving feedback from other technical communication professionals. Feel great knowing that your work meets or exceeds the standards set by your peers. You can stretch your capabilities and learn new techniques and strategies to make your work groundbreaking. Show your manager, company, and potential employers how much value you add.
Entries are accepted in three categories: online communication, technical art, and technical publications. The judges present one Best of Show award for each of the three competitions. You can also win awards for Excellence or Merit. If your entry wins Distinguished Technical Communication or Best of Show, STC automatically promotes it to the STC International competition. Brace yourself for international recognition—your work could circumnavigate the globe!
STC Houston competition is open to anyone who publishes a technical communication worthy of recognition. You do not have to be a member of STC to enter, but there are a few rules. You can find all the entry details, online entry forms, and submission guidelines (including the fee schedule for members, nonmembers, and students) on the STC Houston Web site at
The deadline for all STC Houston chapter competition entries is September 13, 2005. Awards will be presented in February 2006. Mail entries to:
PO Box 42051
Houston TX, 77242-2051
The administrative council met on Saturday, July 23, 2005. The minutes from the June 14 and 25 meetings were approved, as were the Reconciliation Summary reports from March, April, May, and June. The strategic plan, future programs, and next year's budget were discussed. Several changes were approved for competitions, including: /p>
Four copies of each entry are required instead of three.
The submitter must have his or her name in the contributor field (if applicable). Only names in the contributor field will receive certificates.
Everyone who submits entries must use the online form. This requirement will be enforced this year.
Any additional certificates will cost $20 instead of $15.
The fees will be based on each contributor's membership. Previously, the fees were based on the membership status of the submitter only.
If the submitter chooses to use the company name instead of individual names, a $75 fee will be charged.
The next meeting of the administrative council will be held on August 16, 2005, at SYSCO Corporation, located at 1390 Enclave Parkway in Houston from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. For additional information, contact Cindy Pao at
The page you are looking for no longer exists. Perhaps you can return back to the site's homepage and see if you can find what you are looking for. Or, you can try finding it with the information below.
Imagine a two-day course covering the things you need to advance your career in technical communication-an in-depth, focused course taught by some of the most respected names in the field. Now imagine that you have a choice of five such courses, each covering a different subject within technical communication. That's the STC Training Program-a new learning venue designed for today's professionals and scheduled for October 20-21.
The five two-day courses, described in detail at www.stc.org/training, cover the following subjects:
The Architecture of Content Instructor: Jonathan Price, STC Fellow
Creating and Using Personas to Improve Usability. Instructor: Whitney Quesenbery, STC Associate Fellow
Focusing on Content: Making Web Sites Work for Users. Instructors: Janice (Ginny) Redish, STC Fellow, and Caroline Jarrett
Leadership in Information Management: Developing the Business Framework and Implementation Roadmap for Single Sourcing, Content Management, and Knowledge Management. Instructor: Benhong Rosaline (Roz) Tsai, STC Associate Fellow
XML: From Hand-Coding to WYSIWYG Authoring. Instructor: Neil Perlin, STC Associate Fellow
The STC Training Program will take place at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Crystal City, Virginia (near Washington, DC). Register by September 21, 2005, and the cost for STC members is $1,095 (with hotel, $1,295-see note) and $1,255 for non-members (with hotel, $1,455-see note). After September 21, cost increases $150.
Don't miss out on this unique opportunity. For information or to register,
please visit www.stc.org/training.
Note: Hotel accommodations include up to three nights lodging in Crystal
City, Virginia. Registration includes two breakfasts and two lunches. Discounts are available for multiple registrants from the same company.
IEEE Professional Communications Call for Papers
Special issue of IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication to focus on Examining International Outsourcing: Perspectives, Practices, and Projections.
Texas Tech University
Department of English
Deadline for abstracts
October 1, 2005
International outsourcing (or offshoring) has become a topic of increased interest and concern, primarily because of the effects it is having on the nature of knowledge-based work. While a great deal has been written on the effects of international outsourcing in relation to the information technology and the customer service industries, relatively little has been published on the effects international outsourcing is having on professional communication. Similarly, relatively little has been written on how international outsourcing practices might change the nature of specific technical communication practices or change the field in general. Such perspectives, however, are essential to technical communicators who must re-think the nature of their jobs in an age of global business practices. Additionally, such perspectives are important for educators who train the technical communicators of tomorrow.
This special issue will examine how inter national outsourcing is affecting professional and educational practices in technical communication and how international outsourcing could shape future practices in both areas.
Topics of interest for this special issue include:
Which technical fields seem poised to engage in large-scale
international outsourcing in the future? What implications will such
outsourcing have for technical communicators working in related
What technical communication tasks or practices are particularly
susceptible to international outsourcing?
What lessons can technical communicators learn from how
international outsourcing has affected other professional fields?
Which nations seem poised to become international outsourcing
providers for technical communication tasks? How well prepared are
workers in those nations to perform such tasks?
How have international outsourcing practices in other fields shaped
the ways in which technical communicators interact with SMEs in
What technology developments can facilitate the international
outsourcing of technical communication practices? What developments
could affect how technical communicators interact with SMEs located in
Which international legal factors affect international outsourcing
practices? How do technical communicators fit into that legal framework?
How should educational practices change to train technical
communicators to work effectively in an environment of international
What implications does online education have for the training of
technical communicators in other nations? How might such situations
affect the outsourcing of technical communication practices?
Please include the following information in your abstract:
title of the proposed article
name, institutional affiliation, and contact information for authors
overview of proposed article topic
discussion of the contribution this article will make to research, teaching, or other professional practices in the field of technical communication
Abstracts due: October 1, 2005
Invitation to submit full papers for peer review: October 15, 2005
Full papers due: December 15, 2005
The invitation to submit full papers for review does not mean a paper has been accepted for publications. Rather, all full papers will undergo a peer review process, the results of which will be used to determine whether the paper will be published in this special issue of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.
Questions should be emailed to the Kirk St. Amant at email@example.com, and prospective contributors are welcome to contact the guest editor to discuss prospective topics for an article.
Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 is the most popular Web development tool in the world, yet most users have only scratched the surface of its functions. Through live demonstrations and examples, this two-part seminar helps bring Dreamweaver users to the next level of Web authoring.
Users will understand both the "how to" and "why" of a number of Dreamweaver functions, occasionally taking a peek at the underlying HTML. Because of the complexity of topics covered, this seminar is split into two 90-minute sessions. It is not necessary to take both parts of this seminar.
Part 1 Overview
In Part 1 of this two-part seminar, participants will cover the fundamentals of Dreamweaver, learning how to:
Understand the basics of Dreamweaver MX
Create external Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
Create and manage repeatable content: libraries and templates
Create framesets and define content
Part 2 Overview
Part 2 walks participants through Dreamweaver MX's advanced features. Participants will build on the knowledge gained in Part 1 to master Dreamweaver's advanced features, learning how to:
Understand and apply Dreamweaver behaviors
Use the Macromedia Exchange
Use the Macromedia Extension Manager
Use popular extensions
Mike Doyle has a combined 22 years' experience in technical publications as a manager, writer, and teacher at a Fortune 100 computer company and at a technical publications consulting firm. For 15 years, he served as the senior instructor in the technical communications certificate program at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Since 1995, Mike has taught courses and presented sessions at professional conferences on HTML and Web tools and technologies.
Mike is a Macromedia certified Dreamweaver MX developer and instructor, and has published Dreamweaver MX e-Learning Toolkit (2003) and Maximum Dreamweaver (2004), both through Wiley Publishing. Because his unique "start from scratch" approach to examples and demonstrations makes complex concepts easily understandable, Mike consistently ranks as a top presenter and instructor.
Event: Project Planning and Quality Checks: Parts 1 and 2
Date and time
Wednesday, October 19, 2005 (Part 1), 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Wednesday, October 26, 2005 (Part 2), 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Why is technical documentation an "afterthought" in the minds of some of your co-workers? Why do some of them secretly perceive producing documentation as a "necessary nuisance" in the product development cycle? Solid, well-considered project and documentation plans can help you alter counterproductive viewpoints and get co-workers on the same page-literally-by showing them how technical documentation is one of many product components. In Part 1 of this two-part seminar, John will present general project planning and user analysis techniques before delving into detailed documentation planning practices. He will wrap up these planning strategies in Part 2 before discussing quality criteria and techniques for faultless quality checks. Because Part 2 continues the discussion held in Part 1, students should plan to attend both parts of the seminar.
Think of your document as a round of golf. Now think of each help desk call your document produces as a golf stroke. This two-part seminar will help improve your "handicap."
John Wilson coaches students, directs startups, and advises multinational corporations. From 1992 to 2001, John was managing director of his own technical communication and training consulting company in England. As a guest lecturer at Oxford University for three years, he taught technical communication seminars and helped develop similar courses for the university. Recently, John created an online help system that contributed to MIB Group's win of the 2005 IBM Share Award for Excellence in Technology.