Seven Traits of Successful Technical Communicators


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STC Presentation to 2006 Conference in Las Vegas and STC Toronto Career Day in 2008
and STC Toronto Management Day in 2009

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  • Bernard (Welcome)
  • Bernard (introduction)
  • Visnja (Introduce Presentation)
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  • Visnja Often are those that recognize problems as opportunities to innovate and excel in the field. Are those that at interviews have found out as much as they can about the company and who the players are, what they have done, news items about the company, etc. Are those that if they say they have not used a technology or tool, have at least taken time to read about it or talk to someone to learn more.
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  • Visnja You are able to objectively review other ways of doing things and are positive as opposed to negative when new ways of doing things are imposed on you. Enjoy learning how people or groups do things differently. Do not fight change and chaos Comfort with chaos and uncertainty See change as an opportunity to learn and do something different Comfortable with moving out of their comfort zone Able to learn about different ways of doing things and recognize and champion when something might be better than what they are currently doing Are not stressed when things are uncertain or chaotic but are able to continue and follow a course of action despite the uncertainty and chaos
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  • Rob 1 minute/42 minutes Delivery mediums: the deliverables you produce Delivery mechanisms: way users access your deliverables Skills: what you need to be able to do Expectations: what folks expect you to do Tools: software/hardware you use to produce and deliver deliverables
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  • Visnja Larger audience bases tend to require: Translation Content re-use Web-based help Strict corporate style And so on…
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  • Seven Traits of Successful Technical Communicators

    1. 1. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Hiring Excellence: Seven Habits of Highly Successful Technical Communicators Past-Presidents’ Panel May 26, 2015
    2. 2. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Panelists • Carolyn Watt (1990’s) – STC Associate Fellow and former STC Board Member – President of Carolyn Watt & Associates Inc. • Rob Hanna (2005-2007) – STC Fellow and former STC Board Member – President of Precision Content Authoring Solutions Inc • Bernard Aschwanden (2007-2009) – Incoming President of the STC – President of Publishing Smarter • Anna Parker-Richards (2009-2011) – STC Associate Fellow – Co-founder of COMM4RESULTS.COM
    3. 3. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 About this Presentation • Presented to the STC Conference in 2006 in Las Vegas • Panel co-presenters/co-authors: – Amber Swope – IBM – Lisa Swallow – Mentor Graphics – Rob Frankland – Sock Monkey – Rob Hanna – ASCan Enterprises – Visnja Beg – IBM • Other presentations to local STC chapters
    4. 4. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Presentation Overview • Introduction • Seven Traits • Ethical Conduct • Technical Skills • Hiring Trends • Supporting the Profession • Q&A
    5. 5. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 What is a technical communicator? Definitions
    6. 6. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Technical writers put technical information into easily understandable language. They prepare operating and maintenance manuals, catalogues, parts lists, assembly instructions, sales promotion materials, and project proposals. Many technical writers work with engineers on technical subject matters to prepare written interpretations of engineering and design specifications and other information for a general readership. Technical writers also may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that still is in the prototype stage. They plan and edit technical materials and oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Technical Writers
    7. 7. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Develop and design instructional and informational tools needed to assure safe, appropriate and effective use of science and technology, intellectual property, and manufactured products and services. Combines multi-media knowledge and strong communication skills with technical expertise to educate across the entire spectrum of users’ abilities, technical experience, and visual and auditory capabilities. Proposed BLS Definition: Technical Communicators
    8. 8. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • A person working in a professional or technical setting, who – is able to readily adapt to a new subject area – can select and assess the type and level of communication required to • meet the needs of the intended audience, and • support the intended purpose of the information – has knowledge, skills, and abilities to • select and effectively apply appropriate tools, and • plan and execute an information solution within constraints of corporate and regulatory requirements and appropriate industry standards – ensures stakeholders and consumers benefit from safe, appropriate, and effective use of the subject product or service. STC Certification Commission A Typical Professional Technical Communicator is
    9. 9. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Technical Communicators • Technical Communicators are… – Technical Writers – Technical Editors – Information Developers – Information Architects – Documentation Specialists – Instructional Designers – Technical Illustrators
    10. 10. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Building the profile of a professional technical communicator
    11. 11. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 What We Bring to the Table Behaviours Traits Skills Technical ExpertiseHabits Ethics
    12. 12. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Traits
    13. 13. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Successful Technical Communicators are 1. confident 2. passionate 3. driven to explore 4. creative problem solvers 5. continuously learning 6. technically apt, and 7. comfortable with chaosSeven Traits
    14. 14. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • To try new things • To actively seek out needed resources • To stand up for what you believe to be right • To advocate for the user Self-confident
    15. 15. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • User champion • Pride in your work • Drive for excellence • Not satisfied with “just a job” • Works within Communities of Practice • Do you see yourself as a professional? Passionate about what you do
    16. 16. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Natural curiosity and desire to innovate • Interested in all aspects of the technical communication business • Regularly makes time to explore • Does not wait for others to tell them what the best solutions are • Not afraid to try something different Driven to explore
    17. 17. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Able to identify problems and act independently to solve them • Sees the opportunity in adversity • Can identify and effectively explain issues before they become problems • Persistent • Think creatively Creative problem solver
    18. 18. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Industry isn’t static • It’s up to you to keep learning – New skills – New technologies – New tricks • Develop and revise career goals to stretch beyond your current state • Make your own personal investment and don’t rely solely on your employer Continuously learning new things
    19. 19. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Quickly learn new technology • Be able to train others • Understand the domain about which you write • Be able to communicate this knowledge Technically apt
    20. 20. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Sees change as opportunity • Capable of moving out of their comfort zone • Adaptable • Able to surf through the chaos Comfortable with chaos
    21. 21. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Behaviours
    22. 22. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Ethical Conduct • Ethical behaviour supports the theory and practice of technical communication so that businesses and customers benefit from safe, appropriate, and effective use of products, information, and services • John Hedtke describes ethical conduct as: – Abiding by professional standards, and – Complying with appropriate laws
    23. 23. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Abide by Professional Standards • Be honest in communication and about qualifications in circumstances that might lead to conflicts of interest. • Strive for excellence in delivered products and processes. • Acquire and maintain professional expertise. • Help others understand the value of technical communication. • Honor professional commitments.
    24. 24. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Comply with Appropriate Laws • Honor copyrights, patents, and other property rights and acknowledge the authorship and ownership of intellectual property. • Avoid harm to others through incomplete or inaccurate communication. • Honor confidentiality and respect the privacy of others. • Obey the laws and policies concerning technical communication and data privacy and security of my country and my company.
    25. 25. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Skills
    26. 26. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Technical Skills • Requisite skills are under constant change • Important to focus on the applicant’s adaptability and willingness to learn new skills • Look at categories of skills rather than specific skills with a single technology or piece of software
    27. 27. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Project Planning • Project Analysis • Solution Design • Organizational Design • Written Communication • Visual Communication • Content Development • Content Management • Final Production Competencies • User, Task, Experience Analysis • Information Design • Process Management • Information Development • Information Production Practice Areas Assessing Areas of Practice
    28. 28. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 2 8 • Demonstrate your skill in planning projects for delivering information products. • Factors include developing a plan for creating and tracking the implementation of an information product. Documentation Planning
    29. 29. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your skill in analyzing requirements for developing information products. • Factors include analyzing audience, task, and data requirements for developing an information product. Documentation Analysis Filippo, Elizabeth. “The Road to Personas" Intercom 56.1 Jan. 2009: 22
    30. 30. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your ability to design high‐level solutions for implementing information products. • Factors include research methodology and synthesis of research results into an overall design solution. Solution Design
    31. 31. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your ability to design the organization of information products. • Factors include selection and construction of an organizational framework that defines the information architecture. Information Architecture
    32. 32. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your ability to compose content and communicate in written form. • Factors include writing style, use of structural elements, appropriateness of presentation for the intended audience, and consistency. Written Communication
    33. 33. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your knowledge of visual communication principles that support written content. • Factors include templates, styles, graphics, signal words, layout, and navigation. Visual Literacy Dragga, Sam; Voss, Dan. "Cruel Pies: The Inhumanity of Technical Illustrations" Technical Communication 48.3 Aug. 2001: 265-274
    34. 34. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your knowledge of content development principles and ability to develop content. • Factors include your ability to review, edit, and verify content. Content Development Read Don Bush, STC Fellow “The Friendly Editor” in back issues of Intercom online
    35. 35. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 DITA XML METADATA WIKIS • Demonstrate your knowledge of content management principles and ability to manage content. • Factors include – collaboration and workflow – topic‐based authoring – structured authoring – single‐source authoring and reuse – metadata – version control and archiving Content Management
    36. 36. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Demonstrate your knowledge of final production principles and processes. • Factors include handling for both electronic and print outputs. Production Processes
    37. 37. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Hiring excellence
    38. 38. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Hiring Excellence • What to look for as a hiring manager – How do you determine who is likely the best candidate from a resume and interview? – Questions and techniques to use to “weed out” and identify excellent candidates. – Know what position you are looking to fill but also what skills are lacking on your team or may be useful. – Understand the personality traits that will enable the candidate to fit in to the team, the environment, the company.
    39. 39. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Then and Now • As evidenced by the pace of change over the past few decades, our profession is under constant change • Some believe that we are on the precipice of a major technological change not just in technical communication but in the way we all communicate – Gollner, Joe; Stilo 2008
    40. 40. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Twenty years ago – Exacting researcher – Efficient organizer – Skillful reporter – Accomplished teacher – Publisher’s apprentice – Science and engineering devotee – Graphic arts patron Trends in Hiring Practices
    41. 41. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Today – Knowledge of online publishing technologies – Creation of metadata – Content management – Localization – Audience-centric focus – Write well – Visualize Information Trends in Hiring Practices
    42. 42. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Role of technology • Then – Technical writers wrote about technology • Now – Technology is embedded in what we write about technology – We write less and manipulate text
    43. 43. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Technological advances • You must develop with the industry • Changes in 20 years – New delivery mediums – New delivery mechanisms – New skills – New expectations – New tools – New technologies
    44. 44. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Looking at technical skills • Review resume and probe the use of the tools they have used. – How much knowledge in the tools and for what purpose they used them – Probe use of various writing methodologies – Knowledge of tools/skills, how much? – Possible use of standardized technical aptitude test
    45. 45. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Looking at soft skills • Are they presentable? • Do they project an aura of confidence but not cockiness? • Do they answer questions without hesitation and are able to present examples of what they have done in certain situations? • Use behavior based interviewing that probes examples of how candidates have dealt with various situations (BBSI).
    46. 46. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Professional development • Technical Communicators need to stay connected with changes in the field • Look for candidates that identify with the profession outside of 9-5 • Look for candidates that make an ongoing effort to connect, renew, and develop through professional associations
    47. 47. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Technical Communication Certification
    48. 48. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Certification Drivers • Legitimize the contributions of, and respect for, our profession • Establish uniform worldwide performance standards • Increase the employability and earning potential for certified practitioners • Reduce risk for employers • Satisfy employers’ expectations
    49. 49. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 4 9 • Certification is an objective, portable, personal credential that is associated with higher salaries, job-hunting advantages, and better job opportunities The Value to Practitioners
    50. 50. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Value to Employers • Employers find that certified professionals are more often competent and successful than uncertified ones • Employers spend less to hire, train, and replace certified employees • Therefore, employers seek out and pay more for certified professionals
    51. 51. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 • Certification first discussed in 1964 • First STC-sanctioned Ad Hoc Committee on Certification in 1975 • Membership surveys: 1975, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1995, 1997 • Certification RFP issued in 1985 • Feasibility study commissioned in 1998 • Began work on Body of Knowledge (BOK) in 2007 • Benchmarking report on professions in 2008 • Approved by STC Board on 30 April 2010 • First certifications issued: 2012 • Certification program suspended: 2013 • Program relaunched: 2015 Certification Milestones
    52. 52. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Expanding Certification Beyond Writers • Areas of practice can be weighted • Specialty certifications (future) • Opportunity for partnerships with other organizations
    53. 53. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 0 50000 100000 150000 200000 250000 300000 350000 400000 450000 PMP Growth, 1984–2010 2010: 412,000 PMPs 2002: 50,000 PMPs1993: 1000 PMPs
    54. 54. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Example of Salary Impact
    55. 55. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Role of the STC in your career
    56. 56. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Badge of a Professional • Hiring an STC member means hiring a professional with all the tools in his/her toolbox • Hire an STC member and get access to a vast network of professionals and resources
    57. 57. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 The STC Supports its Members • Traditional Channels – Publications – Online Resources – Local and Virtual Communities – Competitions – Learning Opportunities • Emerging Channels – STC Body of Knowledge – Professional Certification
    58. 58. Past-Presidents’ Panel 2015 Questions?
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