STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

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

Creating and supporting a forum for communities of practice in the profession of technical communication.

Newsletter Team

Managing Editor
Nicole Wycislo

Melanie Boston
Robert Delwood
Jamie Diamandopoulos
Jim Hunt

Staff Writers
Deborah Long

President, Cindy Pao

Executive Vice President,
Rebecca Taylor

All chapter leaders

Copyright & Reprints
Address Changes

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

Vol 45, Issue 4

March/April 2006

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

R5 Report and January 2006 Board Meeting Report

Sherry Michaels, Director Region 5

Sherry Michaels

The hard part of this column is to convey to you everything that I think is important to you as members, with all the color commentary that makes it come to life. I use “color commentary” because in my mind, sports is an easy, handy metaphor to explain things that are often strategic in nature, and the Board of Directors meeting is just that.

• Thanks to Tom Barnett of the Phoenix and UK chapters, the Region 5 web site is live and functioning at / You’ll find this column and a ton more information at this site. It’s got a new, current look, and if you want to link your newsletters and other info to it, let Tom know at the Region 5 webmaster link on the home page. Thank you, Tom! Well done!

• Thanks to volunteers Ann Wiley and her whole team, and Merrick Bechini, Director of IT, we put the STC Member Forum live. It is at You must register as an STC member. It takes only a second or two, and inside you’ll see all kinds of STC interests, including STC Governance discussion areas. Don’t miss this chance to participate.

• Thanks to Rob Moran and the office staff, for the first time ever, we conducted a member survey before the board meeting. More than 1,000 members submitted what they thought STC should be doing for them in areas we knew we’d be talking about at the meeting. There were a lot of diverse opinions! This information gave us a lot of clear guidance, and we will continue to conduct this survey before board meetings. The surveys will get better and more specific as time goes on. Please don’t hesitate to take part in them.

• I received the chapter reports and compiled them into successes and concerns columns. In particular, I presented as information to the board the viewpoint of some of you that we aren’t getting enough of the right information to you fast enough. This view was helpful to shape some of our priorities. In some cases, we can’t provide more information, because the committees involved aren’t ready to present their plans for approval by the BoD. This means that some awkward situations affecting community planning still exist, despite the best efforts of everyone involved. It is an unfortunate effect of trying to shape a better Society, and we regretfully realize the uncertainty this produces. Please contact me if you have any questions at all. I will be happy to assist you.

• We included STC Society office management staff members Peg Cottrell, director of administration; Merrick Bechini, director of IT; and Maurice Martin, director of publications in our meetings. In my opinion, this has proven to be one of the single most beneficial moves we have made. We are experiencing a whole new level of effectiveness by having the staff involved while we make our decisions. They can participate by letting us know what is feasible immediately. We are no longer simply lofting demands over the wall at them with no background or context. It is a most remarkable and welcome change.

• We performed a strategic planning exercise that culminated into four priorities for functioning over a 16-month period:

1. Telling our Powerful Story. We have more than 17,000 members within a hugely diverse profession. We have the resources to impress corporations about what we do and how we do it. We have focused as a board to implement changes to make this happen. As you read through, I believe you’ll see how all the things we are doing are interrelated.
2. Building Relationships and Choosing Partners. We have significant opportunities to work with other associations and with employer companies to provide additional benefits and opportunities to our members. Some of these relationships and partnerships are already under development. In all cases, as we go carefully into this area, we are using the following criteria:

a. How is this relationship good for the members?
b. What are the downsides, if any? Can we contain the risks, if any?
c. Is the business case overall compelling enough to undertake this relationship?

3. Generating Funds to Support Delivery of Member Value. As we become a more vital organization and deliver the value requested in your surveys and conversations, it is clear that we need, as a Society, to learn how to generate funds in other ways besides through dues. Currently, member dues do not fund everything STC offers to members. Although we are eliminating those things that do not deliver member value in our current budget, these efforts alone will not sustain the demands of our members. During the January meeting, we mapped out the priorities for achieving this goal over the next 12 months.

4. Building a Business Model. This title is a little misleading. STC has always had a business model. Importantly, however, the business model has not supported the membership as it exists today. We put together plans for bringing a new, more viable model online and aligning it with the old one. We will potentially adjust the budget to include line items that we haven’t had before, but we will hold that budget to more rigid standards during BoD meetings. For instance, in order to “Tell Our Powerful Story,” we unanimously approved having a special “expert columnist” for the web site. Our hope is to get a columnist that already has national and corporate readership on a “high fame” level, because it is part of our strategy to elevate STC’s corporate and national image. It is a new line item for budget approval. Our new business model will have enough flexibility to accommodate special projects, but we will refrain from too many “exceptional expenditures.” We will view all expenditures in terms of whether they meet the majority of STC members’ goals.

• The Leadership Community Resource (LCR) is much closer to providing support to all communities. In fact, they are about 12 months ahead of schedule in some areas:

1. Some communities feel they’ve been “on the bubble” for years and have desperately needed some mentoring and advice. The Triage for Communities in Crisis will be ready to assist communities by May 2006.
2. By fall 2006, the Mentoring Students Community will be available to assist student communities that feel the need of the active support of mentors.
3. New presidents or managers of communities have a whole host of questions, including community guidelines. The Mentoring Leaders and Communities Committee will be ready by May 2006.

• The work of the board continued:

1. We approved the awards for Fellow, Associate Fellow, and Distinguished Chapter Service Awards.
2. We approved the recharter of 7 communities.
3. We reviewed the projected budget as it compares to the actual budget. Our treasurer made his report. Our budget is in good shape. The finance oversight committee made a report and found everything to be in perfect order. Our auditors submitted a report and found everything to be in perfect order.
4. We have begun and will continue a technology upgrade that will assist the BoD, office staff, and community leaders in meeting and exceeding member needs. Our technology hasn’t given our volunteers or staff the tools they need to implement well. We are pushing to change that.
5. We are implementing a communications plan that helps us to be more effective. Our goal is to make communications succinct, accurate, and timely. Our focus is to continue to get more information from you, respond to it, and get the results back out to you effectively. It is one of the toughest challenges we face. It’s a lot harder than it seems.
6. We are working on new models for getting corporations involved. Two other companies are interested in taking part in a program that involves them at the corporate level and adds new members to our ranks that would not otherwise be able to join. Here are the criteria for these programs:

a. Is this fair to new and existing members?
b. Does this provide new members that grow to be loyal members for the future?
c. Does this provide opportunities for all involved?
d. Does this make business sense for the Society and the members?

7. In her board report, Paula Berger announced that the first 2006 BoD meeting will be held in London, England, to coincide with the R2 conference. The BoD has met in Europe only once before, in September 1998 in Paris. Paula reported that she considered the following items in making her decision:

a. Airfare from U.S. cities to Europe is generally less than airfare within the continental U.S., thus our actual travel costs will be lower.
b. Assistants to the president will not attend this meeting unless they have a specific business case to present and defend.
c. This meeting is an important opportunity to meet a greater number of members at one time. Further, it is part of STC’s continued strategy of global image and impact.

As usual with BoD meetings, the days of the January 2006 meeting were jam-packed. We discussed many topics and made decisions or asked for business plans. Secretary Lori Fisher will be posting the minutes as soon as she can. Be sure to read them to get details without “color commentary!”

Here are some excerpts from John Hedtke’s perspective on this meeting from his letter to Region 7: “The way I think about [all the changes] . . . STC was like a room that had filled up with ratty furniture, dusty boxes of old books, and a threadbare rug. The [Society leadership] has gone in and cleaned out all the old stuff and mopped and vacuumed. The place looks clean right now . . . but it’s a little empty. What we put into the room is something that’s still being discussed, but we’ve gotten the old stuff out and cleaned up the mess.”

I do not believe we are finished with the house cleaning. Housekeeping is a nearly daily chore. I would say, however, that we’ve done a fair amount of work, and we are still thwacking away at it.

All this effort has been very effective and is very exciting. I wonder if previous BoDs have had this much fun and excitement in the past. I see “old-timers” on the board who share in our amazement and sense of adventure as we grapple the old mantras that no longer work and throw them out, replacing them with the mantra of “Does this provide member value?” It’s so cool!

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’m available at and through the R5 Region site!

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

STC Houston 2005-2006 Competitions Close

Annual Awards Banquet Held on February 3

by Alyssa Fox, Lead Information Developer, NetIQ Corporation

The STC Houston 2005-2006 Competitions wrapped up at the annual awards banquet held February 3 at the Houston Club. More than 90 people attended the banquet, including award winners, family, and friends.

STC Houston traded entries with Southern California region chapters, who suggested a new process for evaluation this year. Instead of exchanging written evaluation forms for entries, we exchanged online evaluation forms.

The result was improved readability of judges’ comments and, for the most part, quicker return of evaluation forms.

We had a great response to our call for entries this year in the Technical Art, Technical Publications, and Online Communication competitions.

This year we received 110 entries, submitted by individuals and companies in Houston and Austin. This number was a significant increase from last year’s submissions. It looks like we’re doing a good job of getting the word out about STC!

Of the 110 submissions, 75 won awards! Ten entries won an award of Distinguished and were submitted to the STC international competitions. Winners in those competitions will be announced at the STC Annual Conference in Las Vegas this May.

The names of individual STC Houston winners are shown here, with each person listed only once in each competition.

Technical Art

Winners in this competition include Roy Allice, Deborah Clifton, David A. Cobb, Deborah Crockett, Ana Ferragut, Lee French, Karen Hensley, Shauna Herman, Carol Howland, Diana Jaques, Joe Jaques, Johann Kohl, Laura Lerner, Ana McCormick, Christina Prigmore, Lori Schaub, and Caleb Schmidt.

Technical Publications

Winners in this competition include Charles Bay, Heather Brixey, Sherry Buchanan, Susan Caesar, Mona Cheatham, Rick Chew, Robin Clark, Deborah Clifton, Deborah Crockett, Ira Dember, Jennifer DeMocko, Jackie Dillemuth, Denise Donovan, Sidney K. Edelman, Ana Ferragut, Melanie G. Flanders, Alyssa Fox, John Gilmore, Lisa Harlan, Karen Hensley, Carol Howland, William Hunter, Wiley Johnson, Linda King, Kimberly Koch, Deborah Kuznitz, Terry Lambert, Laura Lerner, Susan Luedke, Joseph Mathew, Ana McCormick, Bryce Miller, Elizabeth Navarro, Bob Nicholson, Ellen H. O'Brien, Cynthia Pao, Jim Parish, Emily Perlman, Crystal Rawls, Michele Richardson, Adina Sbragia, Caleb Schmidt, Hank Schroeder, Jean Schuck, Jake Schulzinger, George Slaughter, Paul Stevenson, Scott Sweeney, Meredith Tabor, Michael A. Torok, John Turner, Kelly Wheeler, and Krystal Williams.

Online Communications

Winners in this competition include Deborah Clifton, Julia Creel, Jessie de Jong, Ana Ferragut, Cindy Goodman, Marla Lineberry, Nick McGowen, Jean Neumann, Ellen O'Brien, Jim Parish, Emily Perlman, Debra Phillips, Rick Sanchez, Lori Schaub, Bill Shields, Yvonne Wade Sanchez, and Krystal Williams.

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

JoCarol Gau Receives Associate Fellow Honors

by George Slaughter, Senior Technical Writer, The Integrity Group

The STC Board of Directors grants the Associate Fellow title to senior members who have attained “distinction in the field of technical communication.” This year, STC so honors JoCarol Gau of Houston.

JoCarol is a senior manager for global information development at BMC Software. In this role, she supports all products in that company’s Enterprise Systems Management business unit. Her team includes writers in the U.S., India, and Israel. She is a recognized leader within BMC Software, contributing to projects that have helped raise business unit awareness and support of technical communication. One such project involved working with managers to change the organization and focus of BMC Software writing teams. In the past, writing teams were organized by lines of business and product development. Today, in part because of JoCarol’s leadership, writing teams are organized by type of information aligned with product and solution marketing, customer support, and professional services and software consulting. This change gives writing teams constant customer contact, reflected in improved product documentation that meets customer requirements.

JoCarol is also recognized as a team builder within her company. She helped set up BMC Software’s first Indian offshoring effort for documentation, organizing both the infrastructure necessary to support a writing team and recruiting, hiring, and training the writers to staff the team.

JoCarol has participated in STC on both the local and Society levels. Among other roles on the local level, she served as volunteer recognition committee manager (2004–05), nominations committee co-manager (2001–02), and publicity committee manager (1996–97 and 1985–88). On the Society level, JoCarol was a manager of the STC 50th Anniversary Planning Committee in 1997, in which she helped to develop the 5-year plan for promoting STC’s 50th anniversary on an international level.

For her local leadership, JoCarol received the Distinguished Chapter Service Award in 1998. She has also received STC awards for her technical writing work.

JoCarol is widely known as a writer and speaker on technical communication topics. At the local level, her writing has appeared in the Houston Chronicle and in the STC Houston newsletter, Dateline Houston. More recently, her work has appeared in the Center for Information Development (CIDM) newsletter, Best Practices. In August 2005, JoCarol published “Putting Kotter’s Ideas to the Test: Leading Change through an Offshoring Effort,” in which she compared some of former Harvard Business School professor John Kotter’s theories for corporate change to her experiences in developing offshore documentation teams. She reviewed Kotter’s book, Leading Change, in that same edition of the newsletter.

Her recent speaking activities include twice participating in the Idea Exchange, hosted by the STC Israeli chapter. JoCarol presented “Offshoring experience for documentation teams: what’s working; what’s not—a U.S. perspective” at the September 2005 STC India chapter meeting.

JoCarol began her technical writing career at BJ Hughes Machinery in 1981. She worked with Halliburton Energy Services from 1984–85 before beginning her own company, InterDoc, in 1985. At InterDoc, a technical communication contracting and consulting business, JoCarol recruited and trained contractors, consulted on writing projects, marketing plans, and communications, and employed up to 15 writers at a time. InterDoc served clients in the manufacturing, medical software, and oil and gas industries. JoCarol's husband, Gerald, took over the leadership of InterDoc when JoCarol joined BMC Software in May 1998.

JoCarol earned a B.S. in journalism, with a minor in business, from the University of North Texas. She has completed continuing education courses over the years on various technical communication-related topics.

JoCarol will be honored at the STC Awards Banquet on May 9 at the STC Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

STC Houston warmly congratulates JoCarol on her richly deserved honor!

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Book Review

Degunking Microsoft Office

by Robert Delwood, Senior Programmer-Writer

Degunking Microsoft Office
by Christina Palaia and Wayne Palaia.
350 pages, $24.99.

The funny thing about using computers is that they get used. Documents lay around in odd places, system files mess up, and electronic trash—like dust around the house—just sort of accumulates whether we intend for it to or not. In short, the computer gets “gunked up.” Not only does Microsoft Windows gunk things up, but Microsoft Office is notorious for doing it.

What it is

Degunking Microsoft Office, by Christina Palaia and Wayne Palaia, addresses this problem and presents some ways of avoiding it. Gunk collectively refers to anything that slows down the computer, interferes with your operations, crashes applications, or loses data. Gunk could be anything from slow processing, files that horde disk space or eat RAM, to information being hard (or impossible) to find. Gunk also includes anything that wastes time.


Degunking is the act of removing gunk. Degunking can be specific esoteric functions involving low-level operating system details, the registry, or system administration. However, degunking is more a set of practices, hopefully that becomes habits, of continually getting rid of unwanted files and using Office to get the results you want. The truth is we should change our habits a little to conform to Microsoft Office, but those changes are good practice anyway. According to Degunking Microsoft Office, in Office, gunk is caused by three sources: complex operations, disorganization, and careless practices.

Complex operations

There was a subtle change with Microsoft Office 2003. It stopped being a suite of four tools and became a “system.” The intended seamless interaction among the applications comes at the cost of more complexity behind the scenes that inevitably causes problems.

Upgrading to new versions of Office can gunk up your computer. At best, a Typical install can overwrite existing preferences or load features you didn’t ask for. At worst, it can leave behind unneeded files or corrupt previously good ones (although this has become less common in the last two releases).

As with any upgrade or new software, different dynamic library versions (commonly referred to as “DLL Hell”) or conflicting registry entries can gunk up the system. If these files break, there is not much you can do, other than trying to repair or reinstall Office.

In staying with this complexity, Office seems to be going out of its way to create gunk. In one case, it’s the proliferation of temporary files. For example, to open a document, Word actually opens a copy of the file.

However, if your PC or Word crashes before it can close the copy properly, it leaves behind two files. One is an oddly named file (“~xxx.tmp,” xxx being part of the original file’s name). The other is a small file of the same name (with the .doc ending). Over time, these files clutter your system. If Word is not running, you don’t need these files and they can be deleted safely. Use the Windows Search tool to locate *.tmp, funny looking *.doc file names, and *.bkw (back up) files.

Another thing you can do is use the Disk Cleanup utility (Start->Programs->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Cleanup) to remove more temporary and less obvious files. It’s possible that the files got corrupted; you may see error messages when you open a file. Try to open a backup version of the file or a recently saved version. You can try to use the Office backup feature (after you open a file, a list of backup files appears in a separate window ). Use the Open and Repair option on the Open Dialog (the Open button will have several dropdown options). As a last resort, open Word in Safe mode to minimize outside influences (hold down the Ctrl key when you open it).


We are all creatures of habit, and we tend to use applications in the same way over time. This includes experimenting with features as our curiosity gets the best of us or using the same routine over and over. The result may be a disorganized methodology that does not efficiently use resources. The amusement of this wears off when the gunk builds up. This may mean documents take longer to open, scroll, or save. They can also become unstable over time, causing crashes or corrupting data within the file.

Degunking Microsoft Office reminds us that, fortunately, prevention is as simple as tailoring Word to meet your needs. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting or trying new features; Word was designed for this. But keep in mind that each operation can leave behind a trace, a new file, or unwanted preferences.

The trick is, when you create a process, you really want to perform the process only once. For example, set your template (such as the default so that the font, autotext, and styles are consistent each time you create a new document. Although this practice may be an obvious time saver (and have to be performed less frequently than you would guess), the degunking implication is that a myriad of different styles and temporary settings don’t get created.

Careless practices

We all get sloppy in our bookkeeping from time to time, and place files in odd locations. Although this practice is seemingly minor, it becomes harder over time to find files—and wasted time is a type of gunk.

One culprit is the My Folders location. It was never intended to be a single storage location for all your documents; rather it was meant as a convenient location on a computer that is shared among different users. It’s logical to think that, if all your files are in one place, they’ll be easy to find. In practice, the opposite is true.

One thing you can do to avoid this problem is to change the default Open and Save As locations, a feature that is useful as you change projects at home or work. Select Tools->Options->File Locations, and highlight Documents. Click Modify, navigate to the new folder, and click OK.

Understanding how Office stores files is an advantage. For instance, Word uses the last place you saved a file rather than the last place you opened one. E-mail attachments are stored in odd default locations as well, such as C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\OKL7. As a result, it is easy to forget or even lose a file. It gets worse with saving Web source files.

Three time-saving suggestions presented in Degunking are to enable AutoRecover, background saves (but not fast saves), and backup copies. These options are on the Tools->Options->Save tab. They are similar but serve distinct differences.

  • Autorecover is the first line of defense by saving the document periodically as an *.asd file. When Word recovers from a crash, it automatically looks for these files and presents an option to open them. They are displayed as “filename (Recovered)” and are complete files, independent of the originals. You can even specify where those files are stored (Tools->Options->File Locations tab, click Autorecover, and click Modify).
  • Background saves is a shortcut, saving your document periodically. This option is the same as selecting File->Save, but it doesn’t interrupt your typing.
  • A backup file is a copy of your file before edits. Macintosh users will recognize this as the Revert option; it allows you to go back to the file as you opened it. Like most things in Word, this option is not straightforward. Word creates a backup file only after you have saved the original twice. The first Save (or Save As) creates the original document as usual. On the second save, Word saves the edits to the original document but also saves a copy of the file before your last set of edits (with the name “Backup of filename.doc”). Backups can create gunk by making too many of these files.

Other suggestions

Other suggestions that the authors make include showing recently used documents on the File menu, customizing Autocorrect, using picture placeholders in large documents, not using master documents, and customizing spell checking.

Degunking Microsoft Office asserts that it may take a little effort to get and keep Microsoft Office in prime condition, but there’s a payoff. The payoff comes from having fewer crashes, not losing files and, finally, preventing that feeling of wanting to throw your computer out.

For additional information, see: Degunking Microsoft Office.

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Surveys—Your Gateway to Knowledge

by, Gary Michael Smith, Senior Publications and Documentation Specialist, CACI

Kevin Neilan once stated, in an Saturday Night Live news update that “a new survey shows that Americans are tired of new surveys.” But many surveys that help us decide our next career move—from career advancement to salary negotiation.

For years STC has published its annual Salary Survey for the United States and Canada. And this information has helped countless technical communicators by providing up-to-date information about national demographics for wages in our field.

But the STC survey doesn’t detail state-by-state or even individual community (chapter) information.

This is why I decided to conduct salary surveys for two groups: the Louisiana satellite of STC Houston and the Mid-South (Memphis) chapter.

Adapting from the STC survey with the help of local administrative councils, I was able to accumulate valuable information about region-specific demographics.

My surveys included such information as job titles and the cities employing technical communicators holding these titles. Gender and age were also included as were years of experience, experience level, and length of STC membership.

All such data is valuable how you compare with others in the profession. It’s also fascinating that, while many technical communicators have an education base in English, journalism, or science and technology, some have majored in creative arts such as drama, communications or theater as well as “soft sciences” such as philosophy and language arts.

Without such regional surveys we would never know the diversity of our colleagues and as other pertinent information such as how long they’ve been technical communicators, and how many are fulltime, part-time, or work on a contract basis.

We also learn about the companies employing our fellow STC members, such as the number of employees, their job functions, and the type of industry in which to company is involved.

Because of all the potentially valuable data at our fingertips, I encourage everyone to participate in salary surveys.

The information gathered is important to all of us and can help convince companies that they may not be paying what’s appropriate for the education and experience of their employees and the tasks their employees are required to perform.

I have used such salary surveys more than once to negotiate a better starting salary and better adjustments.

I encourage organizers to conduct salary surveys within your own organizations.

With more than 150 communities in STC, there is a potential gold mine of information within reach. It’s simply a matter of designing an effective survey, emailing it, and compiling the results. If enough surveys are conducted, STC may be convinced to set up a page or a link on the STC site to allow members to view the results of individual surveys. Imagine how such data could help those of us who, by desire or by hurricane, find ourselves looking for work in other lands.

Regular Columns
STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

From the President

When the President Gets Writer’s Block

Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

I was having a really hard time coming up with a topic for my column this time. Then I started thinking about the quotations that people sometimes include in their e-mail signatures. Some people have inspirational quotations, while others have humor. Some have no tagline at all.

Why do we pick what we do? Let’s see if we can figure it out!

This Quotation Says a Lot

“The next best thing to being clever is being able to quote someone who is” (Mary Pettibone Poole).

My Very First Tagline

I think that the very first tagline I had in my e-mail said “De do do do de da da da is all I want to say to you” from the song of the same name by the Police. I thought this tagline was rather irreverent, and that people would take notice of it. Nothing profound, mind you, just funny.

Later Taglines

After that, I discovered that you could look up quotations on the Internet, so I looked for inspiring words spoken by women:

“Independence I have long considered the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue”(Mary Wollstonecraft).

“I would rather die a meaningful death than to live a meaningless life” (Corazon Aquino).

“Although they are only breath, words which I command are immortal” (Sappho).

“You can stand tall without standing on someone. You can be a victor without having victims” (Harriet Woods, Missouri state senator).

“I believe that in our constant search for security we can never gain any peace of mind until we secure our own soul” (Margaret Chase Smith).

I chose some of these quotations because they are inspiring. Others are beautiful combinations of words. I find myself wondering how the speaker came to think the thought and how she chose the words. Did she intend for her words to be used by others, or was she responding to a question on the spur of a moment?

Women also say funny things. Here are a couple of my favorites:

“I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is, no comparison, and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened” (Nancy Mitford).

“You have to run ahead of people sometimes and try to kill them” (Melissa Zegans, on catching cabs in Manhattan).

“I am just too much” (Bette Davis).

Men Are Funny, Too

George Carlin and Al Franken are funny guys. Some of the humor they put in their books seems a good fit for other writers:

“Do you ever open the dictionary right to the page you want? Doesn't that feel good?” (from Napalm & Silly Putty by George Carlin, 2001).

“But that’s what an artist owes his audience. This book is, in a sense, my gift to you the reader. It is a gift of my talent and my dedication. It is a solemn pact, as it were, between you and me. You keep your side of the bargain by buying the book. I keep my side by investing every fiber of my being into the work” (Al Franken).

Someone Else’s Tagline

One of my friends at BMC Software had this tagline for a time:

“Be kind, for everyone you know is facing a great battle” (Philo of Alexandria).

These seem good words by which to live. They just kind of remind us that we’re here together, and we should be good to one another.

The Final Two

The final two quotations, somehow, don’t have categories. To be sure, the quotation by Gertrude Stein could be included with the preceding ones, but I didn’t want it there.

“What is the answer?” she asked, and when no answer came, she laughed and said: “Then, what is the question?” (Gertrude Stein's last words).

Think about Ms. Stein uttering these words as her last. Do you think they mean anything? Or do you think they are just the last words of a dying person? Maybe, just maybe, they refer to the meaning of life.

Last is Albert Einstein:

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving” (Albert Einstein in Ideas and Opinions, 1954).

How humble of him to attribute his success to the work of others! Yes, certainly, he used the work done by others, but he did so much himself! Would that we were all this gracious; maybe we wouldn’t have to engage in so many ethics discussions. I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think so.

Keep in Touch

I’m here for you! Send me e-mail at

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

From the Editor

The Art and Science of Transition

Nicole Wycislo, Managing Editor

Most of us know how to write a transitional phrase or sentence; however, being in a state of transition is something different. With downsizing, offshoring, outsourcing, and all of the other “ings” occurring in the corporate world, nearly all of us will find ourselves changing careers or jobs—willingly or not.

Being in transition myself, I humbly share here some practices that make a difference for me. They help keep me sane and centered when life is crazy beyond belief.

Be curious

One of the surefire ways to prove that you are an idiot in a new career or job is to pretend that you know it all. You’re new and everybody knows it. Unfortunately, most of us are the last ones to know this about ourselves.

Having been a contractor for 10 years, I’m always new on the job—even if it is with a client I’ve had for years. Inevitably, the products for which I develop information are brand new products or upgrades to existing ones, so information about them isn’t easy to find. Ask a seasoned career veteran or coworker to show you the ropes. No one expects you to know everything; however, your peers expect you to initiate your training. Take some classes and read some books. Educate yourself.

Shut up

Shutting up has come in handy countless times, especially when my bobble head kicks into high gear. Shutting up can help you get smarter because it allows you to think. Shutting up is the best advice that parents give to children (Thanks, Mom and Dad!), and it works great for adults, too. I’ll admit that it is hard sometimes to keep the old trap shut.

A few years ago, I managed a project with two client employees on my team. One was a new employee—an experienced technical writer who was a former software engineer and manager. Despite her six years of technical writing experience, I learned that she was a true novice to the industry. She told me that project planning is useless, wondered aloud who would be stupid enough to spend $30 on a book to learn information design, and made sure I understood that grammar is not important. In this situation, my talking would have been a big mistake. I kept my mouth closed, for both our sakes.

Let go

“Let go” is my mantra. Let go of getting it right the first time, of looking good, and of always having your act together. You can be graceful under the pressure of transition by just letting it be what it is. Transition is downright awkward and can give you the feeling of being a gangly, clumsy adolescent again. If you unwind and enjoy yourself, you may find yourself having a second (or third) childhood.

Being skilled in the art and science of transition is a necessity for the new economic reality. It takes practice, not perfection. Practice for the sake of practicing and, before you know it, you’ll become a transition master. I’m practicing right along with you.

My best,

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

[Members Spotlight] [No One is Missing!] [Member Spotlight] [New Senior Members]

Members Spotlight

Volunteer Spotlight

Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

Thanks to all of our STC Houston volunteers. Plainly put, you are the best!

December Volunteers

Snowstorms and Christmas shopping didn’t stop these folks:

Gary Foster

Ann Liggio

Jowell Lydon

April McAnespy

Elizabeth Navarro

Janis Rudd

Meredith Tabor

January Volunteers

Even though many of us would clearly like to hibernate through January, many STC Houston members kept going:

Terry Devlin

Jessica Dickerson

Verna Dunn

Heather Eyles

Peter French

Shauna Herman

Holly Hildebrand

Heather Hurst

Ann Jennings

Kate Jerden

Molly Johnson

Robin Kessler

Terry Lambert

Ann Liggio

Melody Locke

Jowell Lydon

Donna Marcotte

April McAnespy

Jack Molisani

Janis Rudd

Deborah Silvi

Gem Smith

Jeff Staples

Mark Stevens

Meredith Tabor

Susan Tacker

John Turner

Lee Turner

Nicole Wycislo


No One is Missing!

At our January meeting, Admin Council members enjoyed the opportunity to talk with so many people. In turn, we were able to find a few new folks to help out.

If you haven’t been asked, then consider this a request. Will you help out in STC Houston? Send an e-mail message to Cathy Bettoney, vice president over Volunteers, at


Member Spotlight

Versatility of Our Members

by Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Staff Technical Writer, AspenTech
Deborah Long, Consultant, An Eye for Content

This month's membership spotlight illuminates the versatility of our members. Even though we share a common passion for technical communication, our backgrounds and interests are incredibly diverse. The Membership Committee would like to acknowledge the accomplishments of the following members:

Luette Arrowsmith
Congratulations to Luette Arrowsmith, who recently accepted an invitation to become a certified Dale Carnegie instructor.

According to the Dale Carnegie Web site, "Dale Carnegie Training emphasizes practical principles and processes by designing programs that offer people the knowledge, skills and practices they need to add value to the business."

Karen Ball
Karen Ball is a senior member of STC and past president of the Twin Cities chapter. She contributes to STC Houston by serving dutifully on the administrative council, judging annual competition entries, and voicing her opinions about chapter issues. Karen recently completed the MBA program at the University of Phoenix. She immediately put her new degree to work in a manager position at Cyberonics, Inc., a biomedical device company in Clear Lake.

At Cyberonics, Karen has implemented sophisticated software tools and templates to improve patient, product, and physician manuals. Upon FDA approval these changes will be applied to all of the company's user manuals.

Karen works closely with Cyberonics engineering, clinical, and regulatory teams to ensure that the documentation complies with strict guidelines of U.S. and European government authorities, which control the quality and safety of medical devices.

Cindy Pao
You recognize Cindy Pao as our STC Houston president, but did you know that Cindy recently became a certified archery instructor? Guess that explains why she is always "on the mark."

Anne Wollam
Congratulations to Anne Wollam, who recently passed the Association for Operations Management (APICS) Detailed Scheduling and Planning exam, the third module that is required for Certified in Production and Inventory Management certification.

According to the APICS Web site, "APICS certifications are recognized worldwide as standards of professional excellence and quality within the manufacturing and service industries."

It's About Accomplishment

Congratulations to these members for accomplishing personal and professional goals. Their achievements encourage us all to set and accomplish our own goals.


STC Houston Welcomes New Members

by Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Staff Technical Writer, AspenTech

Lauren Allen
Lauren has a Masters degree in Technical Communication from Texas State University–San Marcos. She is a technical writer for the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Lauren’s interests include instructional design, visual rhetoric, and workplace ethnography.

Meghan Parrish
Meghan graduated from Louisiana State University in 2001 with a degree in Public Relations. She started her career in marketing but has moved into technical writing. Meghan is a technical writer for Equifax in Baton Rouge.

Jamie White
Jamie graduated from Louisiana State University in 2005 with a Bachelors degree in English (with a concentration in Writing and Culture). She is employed part-time as a freelance technical writer for Carrollton Tech, a communications company that is based in Baton Rouge. Jamie develops content for hurricane recovery Web sites.


New Senior Members

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

According to the STC bylaws, the grade of Senior Member is conferred upon those who have held the grade of Member for five consecutive years. The following STC Houston members have recently achieved Senior Member status:

• Jessica L. Dickerson
• Christina Y. Lee
• Kent M. Mize
• Rachel M. Parker
• Nadja S. Pollard
• W. Keith Rabe
• William D. Rizer
• Yvonne Wade Sanchez
• Linda L. Turnbaugh
• Monica H. Waddell
• Patrick R. Wilson
• Gordon D. Wood

Congratulations on this achievement!

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - March/April 2006

[New Member Luncheon] [The STC Houston Forum] [Administrative Council Meetings] [January 2006 Program Review] [What? No Pictures?] [The Elections Are Coming…] [Mary Wise to Present STK on March 25] [March Program: UH Masters Presentations] [April Program: The Accidental Saleswoman]

Chapter News

New Member Luncheon

Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Staff Technical Writer, AspenTech

Each year STC Houston hosts an event to welcome new members and introduce them to the STC community. This is for new members who joined STC Houston in the last year and others who want to learn more about the benefits. Please take this opportunity for new members to meet chapter leaders, make new friends, and get active in STC Houston.

Saturday, March 11 at 11:30 a.m.

Logan Farms Honey Glazed Hams, 10560 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77042.

The informal lunch is Dutch treat, but the opportunity to meet and enjoy lunch together is free. Please email by March 3, 2006. We need to give the restaurant an accurate count of participants.


The STC Houston Forum

Creating and Providing Value

by Rick Sanchez, STC Houston Forum Moderators Manager, AspenTech, Inc.

Once more, the STC Houston, Louisiana Forum, calls its members into action. This time, the management of the STC Houston Forum would like to recognize the efforts of Marilyn Barrett-O'Leary, STC-Louisiana Comanager and Forum Moderator.

In her post, Ms. Barrett-O’Leary addresses two vital issues that affect her immediate audience and the entire technical communication industry. The issues center on career growth and current market developments.

Specifically, Ms. Barrett-O'Leary shares her career development path and provides the following anecdotal evidence for breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling: “The title of communicator takes one much farther than the title of writer!” Such a claim is developed further as she explains that the change in her title was the beginning of a transformation that includes the completion of a master’s degree in technical writing, affiliation with the STC, and, of course, hands-on experience that allows her to apply her writing expertise to, ultimately, validate her belief that the title opened additional opportunities.

Undoubtedly, her qualifications alone are enough to break through her figurative glass ceiling; however, one can ascertain that networking, as her post invites readers to do, is critical to learning and career advancement.

Ms. Barrett-O'Leary’s post succinctly delivers a motivational plan to success, but attached to her career path/plan, however, is a level of accountability that calls for introspection and ownership.

In her subsequent point, Ms. Barrett-O'Leary invites forum members to contemplate the current and future state of the profession by offering the following statement: “Our profession is not expanding properly because we have not been creative enough to meet the changing times. How can we turn this situation to our advantage?”

In her post, Ms. Barrett-O'Leary introduces several reasons why the technical writing profession has evolved into what it is today. The post entices you to ponder your own involvement in the field of technical writing and how, perhaps, by lack of involvement, “in many ways communication is becoming sloppy.”

The management of the STC Forum hopes that by highlighting Ms. Barrett-O’Leary’s efforts, her call to action will be well received and that other members of the STC Houston Forum community will be encouraged to take on a similar and proactive approach to forum participation.

Read more about this topic and the views of other Houston and Louisiana members by visiting the STC Houston Forum at

Getting Involved

A reminder: In the forum, interactions take place between registered STC Houston Forum users. You can view these interactions by visiting the STC Houston Forum at However, if you want to post a comment, you must become a registered user.

Getting Started

Begin by using the “Getting Started” forum, which provides instructions for registering and provides help to use the features of the forums.

To register, follow the instructions provided in “STC Houston Forum Registration” at

Questions and Comments

The STC Houston Forum is here to serve you, so take advantage of this local benefit.

If you want to learn more about the STC Houston Forum or if you want to express your concerns, ideas, or recommendations, please contact Rick Sanchez at

Administrative Council Meetings

Trena Fellers, Chapter Secretary

The Administrative Council met on January 10, 2006, from 8:37 p.m. until 9:45 p.m. in the Hilton Houston Westchase conference room. The minutes from the November 8, 2005, meeting were approved, as were the Reconciliation Summary, Transaction Detail, and Balance Sheet reports from November and December. The chapter ECH membership, community calendar, and events, including the Employment STK, were discussed.

The Administrative Council will not meet in February. The next meeting of the Administrative Council will be held on March 14, 2006, at the Hilton Houston Westchase located at 9999 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77042, immediately following the STC Houston program meeting. For additional information, contact Cindy Pao at


January 2006 Program Review

Looking to the Future with Terry Devlin and Robin Kessler

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

For the past few years, January has been Employment month for STC Houston. This year, Dean Liscum brought in two folks who gave us advice to help us find jobs.

First, we heard about how to network effectively from Terry Devlin. Then, we learned how to write a competency-based resumé from Robin Kessler.


Terry Devlin, a career counselor, is a popular speaker at STC Houston meetings. This time, he addressed how to network in such a way that you will find an awesome job.

Terry talked about his own experience losing his job and the steps he tried to find a new job. Later, after he had become a career counselor, Terry worked with a group of engineers. This group discovered more job opportunities when the job seeker reached the third level of contact with people who might have job leads.

This is how it works: You, a job seeker, make contact with someone who might have a job or job lead for you. The first person doesn’t, but she knows someone else who might have a job or a lead. This second person doesn’t have anything for you, but it just so happens he has heard, through another contact, about a position that sounds perfect for you. Contact number 2 gets in touch with contact number 3, and you get an interview!

Terry also talked about LinkedIn, which is a virtual network of professionals that all of us can join to chart a course for the future.

Competency-Based Resumes

Robin Kessler, president of a human resources and career consulting firm, joined us for the first time. She talked about a new way of writing resumés that emphasizes the value you can add to an organization.

Robin told us that over 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies are hiring based on competency-based resumés. They are looking for key performers who can help the company be successful.

What is a competency-based resumé? Robin told us that this type of resumé identifies your accomplishments and lets you provide a potential employer examples of where you did superior work. A competency-based resumé is not a format but is more the information you include in whatever format you choose.


If you are not in the market for a new job right now, you might ask how the information from this meeting is beneficial to you. Truth be told, I wondered that myself. But this is relevant!

When Terry talked about the wrong way to network, I could think of at least two people who’d been told to network with everyone they know—even me—to find a new position. Would I do the same thing, if I were looking for a new job? Not likely, after hearing Terry talk.

And how about your resumé? How up to date is it? Mine is woefully old. I made a note that I should update mine by writing a summary. Just a little step I can take to be current. Furthermore, I can update my resumé with competencies and share that information with my manager to help update my career development plan and quarterly objectives.

You never know when a good job opportunity might present itself to you. That’s why you should keep up with employment information!


What? No Pictures?!

Do you miss photos with your meeting summary article? Did you know that we have photographer positions available in the chapter? If you like the thought of being the one who’s never in the pictures, get involved! Send an e-mail to Cathy Bettoney (, and be a published photographer in no time!


The Elections Are Coming…

by Lee Turner, Senior Member

At the April 11, 2006, meeting, STC Houston will hold annual elections. We can vote to elect our Administrative Council members for next year (June 2006 to June 2007).

Our Administrative Council provides the leadership, guidance, and structure to help STC Houston serve its members. As STC continues its transformation efforts at the national level, our Chapter leaders need to stay informed and identify ways for our members to benefit from these changes. Working closely with our members, the Administrative Council leads our Chapter into the future.

If you cannot attend the April 11, 2006, meeting, please download and print a proxy ballot and mail it to STC Houston, as directed on the proxy ballot. For more information about the candidates or to download a proxy ballot for the election, see


Mary Wise to Present STK on March 25

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

Mary Wise, past president of STC, comes to town for a share-the-knowledge (STK) session on Saturday, March 25, 2006.

Follow the Arrows: Seven Lessons from the Circus

Clowns, acrobats, jugglers, and flyers: These are the performers who present a wonderful show for you. Behind the scenes, though, are many other people who are vital to the success of the show. Roustabouts, prop handlers, and office staff ensure a smooth operation.

How does a circus resemble a career in technical communication? Who are the performers, and who are the supporters? How can you, as a technical communicator, ensure that your performance receives rave reviews? Mary, a former circus clown and current technical communicator, shares the lessons she learned from her show-business career.

About the Speaker
Mary R. Wise is a Senior Communications Manager at Fannie Mae, where she designs and develops e-learning courses that help mortgage professionals work effectively with Fannie Mae. She has over 20 years experience in technical communication, including stints as a word processor, technical writer, instructional designer, and staff manager. Her STC service includes positions as annual conference program manager, Region 2 Director-Sponsor, and Society President.

Although she has a B.A. from the University of Maryland, Mary feels her background as a circus clown prepared her well for both her corporate and STC jobs.

STK Details

The location for the STK is still being set, so check the STC web site for the place.

Saturday, March 25, 2006
11:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

$10 (lunch is included)

Sign up on the STC Houston web site!
Still Have Questions? Send Cindy Pao an e-mail message at


Upcoming Program Meetings

by Dean Liscum, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.

March Program: UH Masters Thesis Posters and Presentations

It’s time to get schooled in the new ways of technical communication. At the March meeting, Dr. Molly Johnson will lead an informal discussion about posters developed by her master’s degree students, and then three master’s candidates will present their thesis research. The topics and presenters are:

• “Using Blogs to Facilitate Knowledge Sharing and Improve Critical Thinking” by Penny Clowe

• “Challenging Style and Format Guides: Can or May?” by Monica Hamilton

• “Feasibility Study of Holographic Journal Covers: Issues for Publishers, Printers, Editors” by Mechelle Garrett

Hilton Houston Westchase
9999 Westheimer

Date and Time
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
• 5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
• 6:20 p.m. announcements
• 6:30 p.m. program

April Program: The Accidental Saleswoman: How Women Can Be More Persuasive and Effective in Their Job, Family, and Life Regardless of Job Title

Because sales is a component of all professional jobs, even technical writing, every one is an “accidental saleswoman.” Many people are especially gifted in connecting, which is often viewed as a feminine trait. However, we can all learn the pitfalls and opportunities of this female-oriented strategy, no matter whether you sell products, services, ideas, opinions, points-of-view, or sanctuary, and no matter whether you are selling to your boss, your coworkers, the community, or your customers, you can use this key to sales success—building connections.

This meeting is graciously hosted by HP and coordinated by HP Women At Work.

About Michelle Nichols
Michelle Nichols is the sales columnist for BusinessWeek Online with over 100 columns published. She's also a professional sales speaker and consultant. Her "Savvy Selling" column is sent by BusinessWeek to 200,000 subscribers all over the world. Her readership spans every industry and over 50 countries.

Ms. Nichols is a long-time, successful salesperson, sales trainer, and a entrepreneur. She has lived and sold on all 3 coasts—East, West, and South—and currently resides in Reno, Nevada. Ms. Nichols is married and the mother of three children, two big dogs, and two pet frogs, both of which resemble technical writers, but neither of which are named after them.

HP Houston campus (Hwy 249 at Louetta), Commons Conference Center, Ontario Room

Date and Time
Tuesday, April 13, 2006
• 5:30 p.m. networking (hors d'oeuvres)
• 6:20 p.m. announcements
• 6:30 p.m. program

Cost for Each Program
$10 (members)
$15 (nonmembers)
$5 (student and unemployed members)

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Society News

Future Perfect…

by Mark Clifford–candidate for Second Vice President 2006–7

There's an old Chinese curse that you may have heard: May you live in interesting times. Well, for STC, the last year has been one of its most interesting times! Over the last year, we have achieved much towards the strategic advancement of technical communication. The focus now is to push the society to become the leading professional body globally.

But how will this be achieved? In a society as diverse professionally and culturally as ours, it can be difficult meeting the needs of members all the time. We can start with a few fundamental areas that can achieve real value and show real gains for all members. STC has always played a role in educational program development. But with our diverse membership, just what education and skills are needed? Our own perception is coloured by our own needs and desires. To focus our educational developments we must understand the market need. This means involving businesses on two fronts.

Firstly, I want to raise awareness within the business community of the value of both good technical communication and its practitioners. Secondly, we need them to provide us with input on what they perceive as the skills and attributes they'll be hiring in the future. Armed with this information, we can really give added value to members, and their employers, by designing programs to suit all professional levels, meet industry's needs, and move a long way towards providing a skilled, employable, workforce.

The debate continues on whether it's better to be a certified communicator or not. Certification itself is not a guarantee of quality work, though it can help. It seems to be time to reopen the discussion on professional certification. Regardless, STC needs to maintain links with academe and continue to work to develop programs that address the needs of TC professionals from trainee to senior member and beyond.

Over the last few months, two issues have become more prominent than others- communication and availability and transparency of information. STC leadership has made great strides this year, and the leadership is continuing to improve both. I want as much openness and transparency as possible. One of my objectives will be to reduce information restrictions to near zero. If there is no legal reason not to publish information then I will do so. However, when it comes to rolling out new initiatives, there's no point in promoting half-baked plans and ideas.

To ensure we can maintain our strategic direction and move forward with initiatives and programs that are sanctioned positively by our members, I believe we need to:

  1. Deliver clear and consistent messages on initiatives and programs.
  2. Solicit member feedback on proposed initiatives and programs.
  3. Integrate member feedback into initiative and program development.
  4. Develop and deliver comprehensive rollout plans for all initiatives and programs to members prior to implementation.

To meet these goals, I will introduce a system where new initiatives will be tested through focus groups. The focus group comments and feedback will then be used to help shape the further development of the initiative, ensuring member input and involvement throughout development and implementation. Change, like death and taxes, is one of life's certainties. The major benefit of starting as 2VP is continuity. Things begun can be seen through to fruition. This opportunity to accomplish truly beneficial change is one of the main attractions for me.

I want to lead STC in the right strategic direction while ensuring that members are aware of strategies and feel that their participation and feedback on the tactical implementations is valued. I have a strong passion for our profession and a deep desire to see STC meet its global objectives as the profession’s leading body. Let's make that vision a reality together.

If you have any questions for any of this year's candidates please go to

You can contact Mark Clifford directly:
' +44 1234 355522
È+44 7866 694083

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Networking Opportunities

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

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