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 /http://www.stcregion.org/region5/.
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 http://stcforum.org/index.php.
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
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 STC.org 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 email@example.com
and through the R5 Region site!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Normal.dot) 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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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”
“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.
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.
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.
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” 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)
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.
Cindy Pao, Information Developer, BMC Software, Inc.
Thanks to all of our STC Houston volunteers. Plainly put, you are the best!
Snowstorms and Christmas shopping didn’t stop these folks:
Even though many of us would clearly like to hibernate through January, many STC Houston members kept going:
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,
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:
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 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.
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."
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 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
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 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
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
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.
Cost The informal lunch is Dutch treat, but the opportunity to meet and
enjoy lunch together is free. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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 http://www.stc-houston.org/phpBB2/index.php. However, if you want to post a comment, you must become a registered user.
Begin by using the “Getting Started” forum, which provides instructions for registering and provides help to use the features of the forums.
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 email@example.com.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 (email@example.com), and be a published photographer in no time!
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
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.
Location The location for the STK is still being set, so check the STC web site
for the place.
Date Saturday, March 25, 2006
11:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
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
• “Feasibility Study of Holographic Journal Covers: Issues for
Publishers, Printers, Editors” by Mechelle Garrett
Hilton Houston Westchase
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
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
$5 (student and unemployed members)
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
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
Deliver clear and consistent messages on initiatives and programs.
Solicit member feedback on proposed initiatives and programs.
Integrate member feedback into initiative and program development.
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.
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