language & style

Mind the cap

Subway riders “Mind the gap”. Word lovers mind the cap, consistently. It’s just that capitalization rules can vary by the style guide. We know the rules for proper nouns and proper names but not so much for eponyms, acronyms and initialisms. Here’s how various references cite capital letters.

  • 16th century
  • baby boomer
  • Bible, Torah, Qur’an
  • braille, often capitalized
  • Cesarean section
  • Cajun music
  • diesel engine
  • dumpster
  • eBay
  • Generation X
  • Grammy Award
  • Gypsy
  • iPod
  • k. d. lang, except when the first word in a sentence
  • medieval period
  • middle aged
  • Middle Ages
  • n/a – not applicable
  • Na – chemical symbol
  • Old Man Winter
  • Olympian
  • Petri dish
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Platonic solids
  • Q&A
  • single malt Scotch
  • T-shirt
  • the Sixties
  • the West Coast
  • thermos
  • x-coordinate
career exploration writing & editing

STC salary database uses NAICS standard

Finally, my professional organization has published the 2012-2013 salary database. I’m as excited as Steve Martin’s character exclaiming, “The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!”

While the STC salary database reports on data collected about US technical communicators, it’s still useful to those of us living and working in Canada. The NAICS standard makes it easier for North American countries to compare business statistics.

Breaking it down

A two-digit NAICS code categorizes an entire economic sector such as Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (71).
A three-digit code represents an industry subgroup such as Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries (711).
A four-digit NAICS code represents a specific industry such as Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers (7115).
Deeper breakdowns specify services (711510 Technical Writer, independent, 541930 Translation services, language) and specialties (511130 Technical manual publishers).

Interestingly, the salary database reports that translation services have maintained employment numbers. We technical writers have yet to recover jobs lost to the 2007-2009 recession. Not to panic though. We’ve gained jobs in these industries:

  • Architectural, Engineering Services
  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political Organizations
  • Employment Services
Engineering Services
  • Information Services
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
  • Semiconductor and Electronic Component Manufacturing
  • Testing Laboratories
  • Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers

Advantage Canada if you’re bilingual.

authors & audience career exploration

Be the flywheel

From time to time I’m asked to talk to groups about career exploration and career development. One thing I accept about longevity in any career is harnessing the energy that feeds it. I use the flywheel to represent that provider of continuous energy. Let me explain…

One’s journey might begin by envisioning an industry you want to work in or adopt as your role model.

To learn more, ask for an information interview. Treat it like a job interview. Gain a business connection from it. Get noticed by initiating ‘a first’, filling a deficiency and respecting connections. 
Along the way gain a body of knowledge and show authenticity while you plot a 3-year plan. As you gather momentum you will encounter conflict, friction, dead ends and deadwood. Anticipate these but keep focused on your 3-year plan. Build partnerships, credit others (blame yourself), pick great successors and remember to nurture talent.

Your accumulated effort pushed in a consistent direction will convert inertia to momentum.

Thanks to Jimmy Zimmerman for conceiving Good to Great animation, and thanks to Jim Collins for verbalizing the flywheel concept.

book types & parts design & typography production & publishing

Calls for Doc Plan limited, but if you need to create one…

Project managers verbalize the big picture in a project plan. This high-level document covers the scope and requirements. Alone it doesn’t answer all questions so the plan is complemented by subsidiary plans. Project teams manage their work through a set of formal planning documents. They cover details about department functions. Scheduling, staffing, cost, quality, risk, acceptance and communications functions are created as subsidiary plans.

I recall only a few times in the last decade when a project required a documentation plan. Depending on whether technical documentation falls under marketing or R&D will determine who manages documentation planning.

download doc plan
Documentation Plan
tech light

Tethered to a cloud

It must have been twenty years ago when Larry Ellison fascinated me with the idea of diskless desktop computers. The benefit as I saw it was that some grandmaster App would keep the department’s word processing installations up to date.

Eventually, maintaining software as a service became its own product. Known as SaaS the service is enabled through cloud computing. Other service models include infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). These services make up about a third of cloud computing activities. File sharing accounts for another third.

By offloading IT involvement, users stay focused on work. It can be argued that universally accessible tools and services promote a strong collaborative culture.

Front end applications and services
Front end applications and services

Informal results from a session on documentation collaboration.

lists & tables

Professional programs compared

Hello, my name is Spring!

I’ve resurfaced, finally, after completing a long contract. Now there are IOU lunches to plan and vacation photos to edit, and after criss-crossing Canada, it’s a must-do to get back into the swing of professional development.

They say to carry a pocketful of business cards and memorize your elevator pitch. You just never know what can become of a networking opportunity. This week I scored four professional events happening in downtown Vancouver. It’s always instructive to observe, even better to hone the pitch, and totally awesome when your card is pulled for a door prize.

Offerings Agile Vancouver Editors’ Association of Canada International Association of Business Communicators STC Canada West Coast
Event Name Domain Driven Design Practices Plain Language Certification How to Network Effectively H.A.T. Tricks
Presenter Eric Evans, author Domain-Driven Design, Addison-Wesley 2004, thought leader in software design and domain modeling Katherine McManus, Director of SFU Writing & Communications Program Karen Lee, IABC Canada – Master Communicator, teaches for the University of Victoria in the Public Relations diploma program Neil Perlin, internationally-known online content consultant
Date March 18, 2013 March 20, 2013 March 21, 2013 March 19, 2013
Time 6:00-9:00 pm 7:00-9:00 pm 5:30-7:00 pm 6:00-8:30 pm
Topic Exploring and Distilling the Core Domain: An Anonymized Case Study SFU’s role in grant-funded project to launch international certification in plain language Industry expert advises how to effectively network your way through an event Overview of help authoring tools and history
Format Standup presentation, slides Standup presentation, slides, voice recorded, photographed Instructor led presentation (no slides) and networking practice Webinar, remote presentation
Networking Before and after Pre meeting dinner, before and after Before and after, and during as an activity Before and after
Venue Renaissance Harbourside Hotel YWCA Harbour Centre, SFU YWCA
Freebies Coffee and tea Door prizes, fruit, homemade cookies Door prizes, donuts, juice Tea, cookies, grapes
Registration Online thru Eventbrite, at door Online, at door Online, at door, by phone Online, at door
Seats Filled 80 33 20 12 (+9 remote)
Member $10 $0 $0 $5
Non-member $10 $10 $10 $20
book types & parts production & publishing

SIPOC tool

The process map is an information type in the Information Mapping Method. Similarly, SIPOC is a tool from the Define and Measure phases of a Six Sigma project. SIPOC takes its name from Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers. These segments in the process map define where a process starts and ends. Here I’m going to show how the SIPOC tool is used to write process documentation. This is a quick exercise that serves process improvement.

  1. ID the process. Name the key point. What does it do? What is its purpose?
  2. ID the outputs. What happens, whether desirable or not. What are the deliverables, outcomes, and results.
  3. ID the customers. Who becomes the recipient? Think ‘voice of the customer’ and whether the customer is internal or external.
  4. ID the inputs. What series of events causes or triggers a process? Are they manual? Automatic?
  5. ID the suppliers. Who provides the resources? People? Systems?

SIPOC templates are readily available to help you sketch out this info using a particular flow. Or make your own template:

  1. Hold a piece of paper horizontally and fold it in fives.
  2. From left to right title each folded column, one letter per column, S-I-P-O-C.
  3. Then working in reverse from right to left identify the Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers.
design & typography

Font-challenged learners

If fonts were cars, the Arial Light would be fitting for night driving. I imagine it having a softly illuminated dashboard and headlight-cancelling rearview mirrors. Reading too should offer the same adaptations–flick a few switches to give us the best fonts in pleasing shades so we don’t ruin our eyes.

Twelve-point Comic Sans MS, if it’s not banned outright the silly font just might be critical to learning. A psychologist at Princeton University found that the harder a font’s readability, the better the recall. A block of text set with 50% leading is easier to read than text having no line space where ascenders and descenders touch. The point size can be used as a unit of measuring type and line space. For regular newspaper and book text, 8pt to 12pt usually satisfies.

Economist article, Learning Difficulties: Making something hard to read means it is more likely to be remembered.

authors & audience

Letter wizard – what the family pack proved

My mother remembered birthdays without fail. She’d pre-write cards for all December-borns, penciling the recipient’s DOB in the postage stamp corner. Three to four days later a Hallmark greeting arrived like clockwork. Given the scale of mom’s birthday card sending, a request for backup was reasonable at Christmastime. Dad enlisted to sign cards going to his brothers and sisters.

My father adopted a penmanship habit that resembled stretching before a run. He limbered up with a few air pen swirls, then pen on paper swirls. He completed the first card from our family to his eldest sister’s family.

When mom read the closing, well, I wasn’t sure if she’d throttle him or crack up laughing. It read Mr. & Mrs. John DiStefano. Not the formality you’d expect from a sibling everyone called Johnny.

Mom was not one to waste anything but a ruined greeting card was about as bad as a forgotten one.

terms & abbreviations

Holidays & Observances

Canadian poppy
Today, we paused to remember those who served. My father who served in WWII called it Armistice Day long after the US renamed it Veterans Day.

He’d fasten the poppy’s wire stem through a buttonhole. By December the poppy hung like mistletoe from the Ford’s rear view mirror.

Nations render their own design of the poppy pin. At last week’s meeting on the European debt crisis, we saw leafed and non-leafed variations adorn lapels of heads of state.

Remembrance Day, has now passed. Yet we vow to never forget.