authors & audience career exploration

My centred life

My identity blurred the day I become chapter president and employed. Leaving only pockets of time to savor summer, I relished one late afternoon, on a rooftop patio, sipping coffee and being interviewed about work.

Let me back up…

STC Canada West Coast recently launched a service that connects senior technical writers with people exploring a tech writing career. The idea flowed from a planning chautauqua. Thirty days later, a big idea became a new service. The information interview was born and already had a waiting list.

Part bedside manner, part job shadow, the information interview aims to entice students and job seekers to join professional associations. The interviewer gets questions answered and receives free admission to a professional program in exchange for a donation to the local chapter. Ostensibly, the interviewer gets a glimpse of a day in the life of a tech writer. As it turns out, this form of coffee break may yield fruit.

Learn more about the Information Interview Service.

production & publishing writing & editing

Free: May issue of STC Intercom magazine

Who doesn’t like free? Well, this month’s issue of STC Intercom magazine is free and available to the public. Nice move STC!

Feature  You May Be an Instructional Designer
Multimedia  Content Evolution in the Translation Industry
Career  Now Is the Time to Design for User-Defined Content: It’s All About Metadata
Writing & Editing  The Technical Communicator’s Machine
Business Matters  Medical Writing and Editing Opportunities for the Independent Consultant or Contractor
The Strategic IA  Introducing the Strategic Information Architect

STC Intercom magazine May 2011
STC Intercom magazine May 2011
authors & audience book types & parts

The elements of style – how to dress at UBS

In case you missed it, the Swiss bank reissued their 44 page dressing directive. The fashion police have learned that temporary staffers need guidance on what not to wear in a banking environment.

Like other uniformed workers, dark suited bank employees in white shirts and red neckwear stand apart. The expectation is for customer-facing representatives to identify with and reflect the company values and culture.

How you dress “is a critical form of non-verbal communication” notes the guide. It’s okay to wear jewelry but no more than seven items for women, three for men with emphasis on watch wearing.

While the dress code aims to strengthen the bank’s brand, it remains uncertain whether a rep’s “flawless appearance can bring inner peace and a sense of security” — especially financial security.

book types & parts language & style

Comma me this

Hearing that educated women have fewer healthier children seems questionable sure, but the reporter understood the subject’s context. This Q&A is from an article in Rotman Magazine, an interview with economist, Michael Spence.
Q Why is it so important for developing countries to focus on educating young girls and integrating them into the labour force as a way to break intergenerational cycles of poverty:
A Educated women have fewer, healthier children; they have them later in life…

The comma means ‘and’; fewer and healthier children, no question.

Report style v Q&A style

The Global Health Council addresses the same subject in a report on Girls’ Education: A Self-Sustaining Investment in Children’s and Women’s Health.

Educated girls:

  • Delay marriage and first pregnancy
  • Have fewer low-birthweight babies and healthier newborns
  • Have smaller families

Same issue. Different presentation style. Know the context. Say it right.

design & typography grammar & speech language & style production & publishing writing & editing

Summer interns

A few months back I commented on the parts of technical writing I enjoy–the nuance of language, a collegial atmosphere. This month I’m adding another aspect, summer interns.

technical publications competition group
international interns, chapter advisors, and competition manager

I’ve been fortunate to work with a group of international students on a not-for-profit project. They’ve taken on planning an event for the Fall. Short of registering their friends and family they are promoting the event in every possible way. They’ve created a plan, designed a logo, multiplied the database and learned a bit about technical writing too. The students became organized as any product team might except that their buzz was about learning English, not launching a product.

International students find internships to practice speaking and listening, reading and writing in English. Passing those skills on a proficiency exam is a key to their future.

authors & audience design & typography writing & editing

Tech pubs compete

blue ribbonNow that the international technical publications competition has wrapped up it’s time to prepare for the next one. Reasons to submit an entry are numerous but mainly it’s for authors to receive a peer-reviewed evaluation. Teams of evaluators independently complete a multipoint checklist.

Areas covered

  • Content and organization—does it cover the main points, meet the purpose?
  • Copy editing—is it error-free, informative and appropriate for the audience?
  • Graphics—do they illustrate concepts?
  • Production—does it project a professional image?
  • Visual design—does it appeal, are elements integrated?

Handling flaws

Any weak areas are further evaluated. A major flaw substantially hinders the user, whereas a minor flaw might cause a momentary stumble, but doesn’t slow down the user much.

  • Major flaw examples: illogical organization; incomplete or missing content; consistently unclear style; no table of contents, headers, page numbers, or index; inaccurate page numbers in table of contents or index; procedural steps buried in text; a consistent pattern of spelling and grammatical errors; confusing terminology, difficult navigation, poor visual quality.
  • Minor flaw examples: a few instances of spelling and grammatical errors, misplaced graphics, inconsistent capitalization, or confusing terminology.

Award levels

  • Distinction — a work that is clearly superior in all areas. No major flaws and few, if any, minor flaws. The work applies principles of technical communication in an outstanding way, anticipates and fulfills audience needs.
  • Excellence — a work that consistently meets high standards in all areas. Clearly (if slightly imperfectly) demonstrates exceptional understanding of technical communication principles.
  • Merit — a work that consistently meets high standards in most areas. Applies technical communication principles in a highly proficient manner.

The two parts of a judging competition are the entries and the judges. Competition participation begins at your local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

writing & editing


It’s been a month of celebrations–Obama’s inauguration, Chinese New Year and  reason to hope for economic improvement.

After taking a time out after summer 2008 I started a program to become a Canadian immigration consultant. My own immigration experience was straightforward and so I thought I could help others wanting to move here.

Facing the Fork

I am a baby-boomer so I don’t have a long timeline to do over a career. My biggest asset is my ability to make a living but the 2008 economic downturn affected me.

What I know about occupations in general is that they fall into three categories: people, things, and ideas. They’re all in the mix for technical communicators. Immigration consulting is knowing about policies, procedures, and intercultural communication.

What about technical communication? I still want to continue doing technical writing. It’s been my occupation for 20 years and my passion. I figured out the parts of technical writing I like. While I’m not that geeky, I do like the ‘wordie’ aspect.

It all comes together in a program called Immigration Law Policies and Procedures offered through the Intercultural Communications department at University of British Columbia. I’m fascinated to hear about others’ journey to Canada — not just for a better job or for family reunification but also for a safe destination. Of my 60 classmates everyone appears motivated to learn the rules and regulations in order to help loved ones land safely.

My experience with immigration is only first-hand and it was a smooth transition thanks to a great lawyer and a patient husband. We’re eligible to apply for citizenship this year so for anyone still wondering whether we’re moving back to the U.S., nope.

"Happy New Year!"
"Gung Hay Fat Choy!"
grammar & speech tech light

Building credibility

I’m reminded of a conversation with a neighbour who decided to become a corporate trainer. This was in the early days of the web. He was telling me about “HMTL”. Yes, you read it as he said it, H-M-T-L.

Whoa! Do I tell him he meant HTML? Yes, I decided. To protect the reputation of training professionals everywhere, I will tell my neighbour that HTML means hypertext markup language.

His pet-sitting credibility remained intact.