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STC PMC Newsletter 2003-08

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STC PMC Newsletter August/September 2003

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STC PMC Newsletter 2003-08

  1. 1. August/September 2003 Vol. 38, No. 1 by Brian Winter, Marc Green, and Donn DeBoard Online Competition In This Issue… Features 1 Online Competition 5 Dinner at the Diner 6 Introducing the New Web Site 8 Where Oh Where Can We Meet? Columns 2 Editor’s Voice 3 President’s Podium 4 From the Director-Sponsor 9 Membership Update 10 Book Review 11 Member Spotlight 12 Meeting Calendar continued page 8 STC-PMC 2003 Online Communication Competition Just Around the Corner hat is the Online Communication Competition? STC’s annual Online Communi- cation Competi- tion recognizes the outstanding accomplishments and innovations of technical communicators who design and develop online information. Online information development presents a unique challenge to technical communicators who employ quickly changing technologies to deliver infor- mation to their audience. This competi- tion honors those technical communicators whose online docu- ments clearly fulfill the intended pur- pose, possess superior quality, successfully integrate and organize con- tent, and use the available media and technologies of the platform to the best advantage. A panel of judges reviews each entry and determines whether the entry wins one of three levels of award (or no award): ❏ DISTINGUISHED: Clearly superior in all areas—an outstanding entry that anticipates and fulfills the needs of its audience ❏ EXCELLENCE: Meets high stan- dards in all areas—the entry demon- strates an exceptional understanding of technical communication principles ❏ MERIT: Meets high standards in most areas—the entry applies technical communication principles in a highly proficient manner Why Should I Enter? You’ll obtain review comments on your entry from a panel of experienced online documentation, help, and train- ing authors. This competition provides a unique opportunity to get valuable constructive feedback on your project from fellow technical communication professionals. The panel of judges in the STC-PMC competition has included local technical communication leaders, STC Distinguished Award winning authors, and internationally recognized online help gurus. Distinguished award winners go on to represent STC-PMC in the Society's Interna- tional Online Communi- cation Competition (IOCC). Award winners in the IOCC obtain national exposure in STC’s Intercom magazine and at the national STC Con- ference. Entering the Competition Anyone is eligible to submit entries. You do not need to be an STC member to submit an entry. You may submit work as an individual or group or on behalf of a colleague or department. The deadline for submitting entries is October 1, 2003. The entry fee for each submittal is $60 for STC members, $80 for non-STC members. Detailed instructions and entry forms will be available either at the STC-PMC web site (www.stcpmc.org) or the national STC site at (www.stc.org). If you have any questions, send an email to Donn DeBoard (donn.deboard@vertexinc.com).
  2. 2. Editor’s Voice NEWS & VIEWS 2 August/September 2003 by Lori Corbett Newsletter Staff Managing Editor Lori Corbett (610) 382-8683 Layout Editor Open ???? Associate Editors Al Brown (856) 222-7427 Jill Cassidy Rolette (215) 590-9815 Open ???? Contributing to this Issue JX Bell jx@jxconsulting.com Cheryl Cherry (215) 723-8316 Submissions and Reprints ISSN 1078-9952. News & Views, published six times per year, is the official publication of the Philadelphia Metro Chapter of STC. We encourage letters, articles, and other items for publication. Note: By submitting an article, you implicitly grant a license to this newsletter to run the article and for other STC publications to reprint it without permission. Unless otherwise noted, copyrights for all newsletter articles belong to the authors. The design and layout of this newsletter are copyright STC, 2003. Address submissions or comments to Lori Cor- bett, Managing Editor, News & Views, 834 Westridge Drive, Phoenixville, PA, 19087, phone (610) 382-8683; email stcmember@comcast.net. You may reprint original material appearing in News & Views, as long as you acknowledge the source and author and send us a copy of the publication containing the reprint. Toolbox We produce News & Views with Frame- Maker 6.0 and Adobe Acrobat 6.0 on various Pentium computers. News & Views t has been quite a while since News & Views was last published. I’ve attempted to remain faithful to the excellent layout design developed by previous newsletter editorial teams. Hopefully, the publication of this news- letter will engender a reinvigorated vitality for our chapter. Introducing Me Many of you probably don’t know me, but I’ve been around the Society for more than 15 years. When I first joined STC in 1988, I was a fledgling technical writer in Charlotte, NC. I quickly became active in the Metrolina chapter, serving in various capacities (including newsletter editor, secretary, and trea- surer) during the next 5 years. In 1994, I moved to the Orlando area and quickly got involved in the local chapter there. My involvement was even more extensive in the Orlando Chapter, as I served as newsletter editor, vice president/ programs manager, and president. Finally, in 1990, I was the support com- mittee manager for the 47th Annual STC Conference, held at DisneyWorld in Orlando. In August, 2000, I moved to New Jersey on a temporary basis to fulfill a contract assignment at Telcordia Tele- communications in Piscataway. After that contract, I developed a training class for Computer Associates, based out of Princeton. The events on September 11, 2001, affected my world when all contractors were terminated at Computer Associ- ates by the middle of October. Yes, there definitely was a recession out there. For the first time in my working career, I had difficulty finding employ- ment. I was extremely happy to start work at PFPC, Inc. in King of Prussia on May 20, 2002. I had never even considered moving to Pennsylvania, but since I’ve been here, I’ve enjoyed the work, loca- tion, and people I’ve met. Whether I’ve been working as a con- tractor/consultant or a direct employee, STC helps me expand my network, learn new tools, and become aware of industry trends. I truly feel that I’ve received more from STC than I’ve given to it. Consider Volunteering to Work on News & Views Publishing a newsletter is quite a large task. I hope you’ve noticed the open positions in the column to the left Even more importantly, I hope you’re moved to volunteer for one of these positions. First and foremost, we need a Layout Edi- tor. This task involves approximately 12-16 hours of work every other month. Although I used to be a typeset- ter, my skills in this arena have gotten extremely rusty. If you could possible bail me out by taking on this responsi- bility, I will be extremely grateful. Can’t contribute quite that much time? How about becoming a Column Editor? Maybe you’d like to write an article for inclusion in the newsletter as a Contributor. Any topic related to technical communication is acceptable. I look forward to working with YOU to help make the Philadelphia Metro chapter shine! ■ A New Editor
  3. 3. President’s Podium August/September 2003 3 NEWS & VIEWS Chapter Officers President Nad Rosenberg (856) 848-6593 Vice President Sheila Marshall (610) 933-9573 Treasurer Steve Lungren (267) 620-2421 Secretary Jill Cassidy Rolette (215) 590-9815 Immediate Past President Jeff Stein (856) 728-1254 Region 1 Director/Sponsor Jon Baker (978) 443-3049 Chapter Committee Managers Employment Giacomo DeAnnuntis (215) 482-1255 Hayden Rochester (856) 429-7512 Programs Gloria Reisman (610) 660-5118 Julia Margulies (610) 397-2448 Membership Mike Sharp (856) 854-2141 News & Views Lori Corbett (610) 382-8683 Nominating Mike Sharp (856) 854-2141 Web Site Lois Shank lbshank@ptd.net Online Competition Donn DeBoard (484) 595-6216 Marc Green (610) 358-0631 Brian Winter (610) 640-4200 Address correspondence for the Philadelphia Metro chapter of STC to STC-PMC, P.O. Box 60069, Philadelphia, PA 19102-0069. by Nad Rosenberg Mission Statement: Designing the Future of Technical Communication. The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is an organization dedicated to advanc- ing technical communication. Membership is open to those employed in, interested in, or concerned with the profession of technical writing, publishing, or associated disciplines. Contact STC at 901 N. Stuart St., Suite 904, Arlington, VA 22203, (703) 522-4114 or http:// www.stc.org. STC-PMC Leadership Society for Technical Communication About Goals ne of my goals for 2003 was to become more active in the local STC. I thought I could start with some- thing sort of non-tax- ing, like working on one of the committees. Then Mike Sharp pitched the idea of running for president. After some hemming and hawing (and the results of the election), here I am writing from the President's Podium. Now that I’m settling into the role, I’m really excited about the things we can do together this year. For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been an STC member for more years than I care to remember (some- time in the mid-80s). Throughout the years, I’ve given presentations at chap- ter meetings and at national confer- ences. And during this time, I’ve gone from working as a technical writer to managing technical writing depart- ments to owning my own technical writing company (techw.com). Basi- cally I’ve experienced our craft from many points on the professional com- pass—and I’m now hoping to give back a little of what I’ve learned to the orga- nization. That’s why I find myself here, today, writing this column. But enough about me and my goals, how about the chapter and its goals? I’ve put together a list of goals I feel we should work toward in the upcom- ing year. As usual, it’s difficult to prior- itize these goals—I would like them all to be “number one.” With that said, here’s the list: 1) Improve meeting attendance and participation. To implement this goal, we can establish less expensive meet- ings, ensure meeting communication is handled effectively, reach out to mem- bers to become involved, and to non- members to join the organization. For more on the task of establishing less expensive meetings, see the article enti- tled Where Oh Where Can We Meet? 2) Improve communications. This means getting the new STCPMC web site up and running and re-starting the newsletter. I’m happy to report that we’re making progress on both fronts. We had a meeting in mid-July about the new web site, and thanks to the continued on page 6 Advertise in News & Views Reach more than 400 technical communicators through one of STC's top chapter newsletters Advertise to really get the word out! Advertising Policy News & Views accepts advertisements that promote products or services of professional interest and/or benefit to professional communicators. The editors reserve the right to reject any advertis- ing that does not meet this standard. For information, contact the Managing Editor, Lori Corbett, at (610) 382-8683 or stcmember@comcast.net.
  4. 4. From the Director-Sponsor NEWS & VIEWS 4 August/September 2003 by Linda Oestreich, Director-Sponsor Region 5 Report on the Spring 2003 STC Board of Directors Meeting ow! What a confer- ence, and what a board meeting (held on Saturday, May 17, in Dallas, Texas) to precede it! The general topics of discussion included the upcoming retirement of STC executive director, Bill Stolgitis, and the selection of Peter Herbst as his successor, realignment of membership dues and rebate structure, chapter loans and grants, and the state of the Society in relation to the changing world we live in. Ed See, our immediate past presi- dent, shared his thoughts about the past year and extended his heartfelt thanks to the board for successfully navigating a tough year that included budgetary reductions, decreases in expected con- ference attendance, and the selection of a new executive director for the Society. The following actions were taken at the May board meeting: ❏ Approved the minutes from the pre- vious two board meetings. ❏ Approved chapter rebates as fol- lows: Each chapter will receive $30.00 USD per member for the first 150 members on their rosters; $20.00 USD per member for each member over 150; $13.50 USD per member for stu- dent members, and $100 USD per sus- taining member. ❏ Approved membership dues as fol- lows: regular membership per year will be $140; student membership dues will be 40% of regular membership dues; and retired membership dues will be 50% of regular membership dues, effective with the dues for the year beginning January 1, 2004. ❏ Approved a chapter loan in the amount of $3,000 to the Alberta chap- ter for the 2003 Region 7 conference, with repayment to begin no more than 60 days after the conference. ❏ Accepted the Society treasurer’s financial report. ❏ Approved the formation of a special committee to recommend to the board a means of transforming STC’s opera- tional model so that the Society can better support its many communities of practice, enable growth, and stabi- lize revenue. This ad hoc “transforma- tion committee” is managed by Mary Jo Stark, STC treasurer. ❏ In addition, the board selected recipients of Chapter of Distinction and Chapter Pacesetter Awards. The following items were discussed at the board meeting: ❏ During the discussion that led to the appointment of the transformation committee, the board insisted that the foremost principle of any new approach to STC governance would be to “do no harm” to current processes and entities. Rather, the objective is to look at ways to strengthen the commu- nities of practice within STC and explore how the Society can respond to and support those communities, including the geographical communi- ties represented by STC chapters. ❏ Because of the present global econ- omy and the importance of member- ship growth to the Society’s strength and stability, the Board discussed sev- eral tactics for increasing member- ship—both on the Society level and by helping chapters work toward that goal locally. ❏ If you have questions or comments about the STC board of directors or any of the items mentioned in this arti- cle, please contact your director-spon- sor or the STC office.■ Editor’s Note: The Philadelphia Metro chapter is in Region 1. Our director- sponsor is Jon Baker (jbaker2525@earthlink.net). September 18 Effective XML: Leveraging Structure- Based Markup at Bentley Systems in Exton, PA. October 17 Usability Case Studies: Turning Usability Findings into Design Solutions For location and reservation details see the STCPMC website (www.stcpmc.org) Aug 20. STC Telephone Seminar: Winning New Business: Preparing the Proposal 101 to be presented by Judith Herr. October 2-4. Region 7 Annual Conference, hosted by the Alberta chapter at the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary, Alberta. For information, contact Brian O’Mally, Conference Manager: manager@ region7conference. com or visit www.region7conference.com. October 9-12. Region 5 Conference, “Tech Comm Stampede,” hosted by the Austin Chapter at the Omni Austin Hotel. For more information, contact Diana Barkley (512) 239-6642, dbarkley@tceq.state.tx.us, or visit www. stcaustin.org/confregion5. October 11-13. Region 5 Conference, “Invention, Innovation, and Ingenuity.” In Houston, TX. For information, contact nicole@verb1.com or visit www.stc- houston.org/r5conference. May 9-12, 2004. 51st Annual Conference. in Baltimore, MD. STC-PMC 2003-2004 Calendar STC Around the World
  5. 5. August/September 2003 5 NEWS & VIEWS by Cheryl Cherry COST: $599 for both days (includes 32 sessions, 2 keynotes, foot/receiption, materials) TRAVEL: Conference hotel rooms avail- able at $99/night (register early) DATES: October 6-7, 2003 WEB: www.doctrain.com PDF: www.doctrain.com/pdf/ doctrain2003.pdf Keynote Speaker David Pogue: New York Times technology col- umnist and one of the world’s best- selling technical how-to authors, with over 2.5 million books in print. David’s topic is “Interface Design: The Last Stumbling Block.” Vincent Flanders: Author of two best- selling books on Web design. Vincent’s topic is “Web Design for Online Learn- ing and Training.” Sessions: ❏ Content Management ❏ Content Design ❏ Content Development ❏ e-Learning ❏ Simulations ❏ Globalization ❏ Multimedia ❏ .NET Documentation and Training Conference at Boston University Allentown Dinner at the Diner A subset of our chapter meets occasionally at a dinerneartheAllentown exit of the NE extension of the PA turnpike. We eat dinner, network, and discuss work-related topics. Our next informal get-together is Wednesday 24 September 2003. All tech writers are welcome! If you can’t join us on the24thofSeptember, but would like to be added to the list for future emailed announcements, contactCherylCherry (cacherry@ comcast.net). What: Tech writers' informal get- together over dinner When: Wednesday 24 September 2003, 6:15 PM Where: Chris's Family Restaurant, 5635 W. Tilghman St., Allentown (near exit 33 of PA Turnpike and the Route 22 exit of Route 309) Who: All tech writers are welcome. If you have colleagues who are not mem- bers of STC, bring them along! Cost: We’ll order from the regular menu (separate checks). Most entrees at Chris’s are under $10. RSVP: If you plan to attend, please email or phone Cheryl Cherry by noon on the 24th of September . My email address is cacherry@comcast.net and my phone number is (215) 723-8316 For direc- tions, go to http://www.stcpmc.org or ask Cheryl. Start Your Own Dinner at the Diner If you live far from the sites of monthly chapter meetings, but also far from Allentown, consider starting your own informal get-togethers with other tech writers in your area. It is so easy to get started. Just pick a date, time, and casual restaurant at which to meet. Send the info to the Lois Shank, the STC- PMC Webmaster at lbshank@ptd.net- and Lori Corbett, the News & Views Editor at stcmember@comcast.net. These sessions are a fun way to meet your fellow writers who don’t have time to travel to chapter meetings. Chatting with a small group in an informal setting gives everyone a chance to exchange ideas with other local writers. ■ STC meeting event receipts, for all events, are self-serve from the chapter’s web site http://www.stcpmc.org/pdf/ receipt.pdf
  6. 6. STC-PMC Technology Update NEWS & VIEWS 6 August/September 2003 by JX Bell arlier this year, the STC-PMC leadership met to discuss ways to make our chapter more vibrant and ful- fill the needs of our members. We decided a revamped web site would better suit our needs. Not only was the current design out of touch with web navigation and user interface standards of 2003, it required central coordination and web development knowledge to add or delete new articles or calendar infor- mation. Although I work full-time as a technical writer for MapQuest, I have experience in web develop- ment. I volun- teered some time to create a web site for STC-PMC. Because of the organization’s use of articles on different topics (such as from past “newsletters”),events,announcements, and a desire to add more information quickly, I researched free content man- agement systems that don't require HTML and web development knowl- edge to extend the site on a day-by-day basis. Introducing Postnuke The new site is based on Postnuke, a free web application framework. Post- nuke displays all web pages and solicits the help (when needed) of software plug-ins called modules. Unlike most traditional web sites, most of the data (like articles and events) are stored in a database, not in files. For those who are familiar with web tools, I should men- tion that Postnuke is built on top of the PHP webdevelopmentlanguage. Check out the Postnuke site at www.post- nuke.org for more information. Compared to other (free) competi- tors that met STC-PMC’s needs, Post- nuke has the most active developer community and user community. New Site Features Thanks to the built-in rich content editor in Windows Internet Explorer, users can create rich content (HTML) with no need for the chapter to have multiple licenses to Dreamweaver or other HTML editors. (Although you could use such things if you want to.) Here are some of the new features you’ll find on our revamped web site: ❏ Basic site navigation (navigation bar, appropriate links to the STC). ❏ The ability to post “articles” that provide useful information and/or show off the writing skills of members. ❏ The full-featured calendar lets you browse events and automatically show current and upcoming events. Events that have already occurred are auto- matically removed from the front page when they are no longer relevant. ❏ News items appear on the front page until more current news replaces it. ❏ The site is upgradeable. In the future, our chapter will be able to integrate software that other people (or other STC chapters) have written. Also STC-PMC could upgrade the fea- ture set when the next version of Postnuke or its modules are avail- able. ❏ Site-wide search engine. ❏ An optional sophisticated privi- leges model. For instance, we can define user access so that many people can create articles or events, but only one person can approve things for posting. ❏ Password-protected “Job Board” so that only STC-PMC members can access it. ❏ All the software is free! Where Is the Data? For the geeks who are interested, the data is stored in the open source MySQL database hosted by the same Announcing the New STP-PMC Web Site continued on page 7
  7. 7. August/September 2003 7 NEWS & VIEWS web hosting ISP. New Internet Service Provider We’ve also changed Internet Service Providers (ISP). Although it isn’t strictly a web issue, the system at the new ISP features a sophisticated mailing list manager that enables us to provide our mailing lists in the intuitive format newsletter@stcpmc.org, as well as pro- vide key officers or offices have their own mailing address. The mailing list server (called Mailman) has a nice web interface and has been thoroughly tested by thousands of web sites. The STC-PMC leadership identified the effective use of mailing lists as a require- ment for the organization, which was too expensive and awkward at our old ISP. Stay tuned for more announce- ments about STC-PMC mailing lists during the next few months. Volunteer Opportunity Some chapter members have already expressed a desire to help, and have been partially trained on the system. My personal interest is to get the system up and running and then step aside so that people could add articles, news, FAQs, events, etc. If you would like to help with the web site or add content to it, contact Lois Shank at lbshank@ptd.net. By the time you read this article, the revamped site should be live. The STC-PMC leadership hopes you enjoy the improved appearance and new features as they are incorporated into the site during the next few months. Be sure to keep checking the site (www.stcpmc.org) as we add to our site! ■ STC-PMC Technology Update continued from previous page
  8. 8. NEWS & VIEWS 8 August/September2003 President’s Podium continued from page 3 hard work of JX Bell, we should be making the cutover to the new site this summer. As far as the newsletter goes, you're probably reading this article in the newsletter, which has just been re- energized by Lori Corbett. 3) Manage the chapter more effec- tively. This means holding monthly “leaders” meetings before the “real” meetings (and in the summer), evaluat- ing decisions based on financial data, and getting more people involved. 4) Improve professionalism. This means re-establishing the pubs compe- tition and expanding the roles of com- mittees so that they interpret their roles with a focus on this goal. For example, Employment will now han- dle more than just posting jobs-this committee will now be responsible for handling all career-related issues such as: presenting at the chapter's annual conference on employment-related issues, providing outreach and support for unemployed and underemployed chapter members, etc. What Do You Think? I’d like to get your feedback-and, hopefully, your involvement in meeting these goals. If you would like to add to or modify items on my list, please drop me a line (twnad@techw.com). But what’s more, I hope I can count on you to help make this chapter a robust pro- fessional resource for all of us during the upcoming year. ■ Judging the competition Being a judge is a great experience. It’s a great chance to mingle with fellow seasoned professionals and talk shop about design and development con- cerns. It’s also an excellent opportunity to see a broad sampling of work being done by your fellow professionals. Being an online competition judge requires a commitment of time and energy, but it’s more than worthwhile for the experience of coming together with fellow authors, learning from their collective wit and wisdom, and sharing constructive feedback to help the entrants and each other produce even better work in the future. If you’d like to join us, send an email to Brian Winter (brian.winter@ vertexinc.com) by September 19, 2003 to let us know you’re interested. ■ Online Competition continued from page 1 Where Oh Where Can We Meet? his is a question for all Philadelphia Metro STC members and nonmembers. One of our goals this year is to lower the cost of meetings in order to boost attendance and participation. Essentially, we're looking for free or inexpensive places to hold meetings. As you know, we typically hold meetings at hotels, which give us the room for free if we guarantee a cer- tain number of dinners. These dinners tend be in the $25 to $30 range. If we have the meetings at venues where we can bring in our own food (for example, trays of cold cuts or snacks), the cost of the meetings will be much lower ($5 to $10), and hopefully more of you will be able to attend. So the issue is ... do you know of any locations into that fit into this category? Some possible options are: company meeting rooms, educational institutions, public buildings, etc. If you have any suggestions, please contact Sheila Marshall (sheilam@mindspring.com) or Gloria Reisman (greisman@netaxs.com). ■
  9. 9. August/September 2003 9 NEWS & VIEWS Membership Update September 18, 2003 Effective XML -- Leveraging Structure-Based Markup Presented by Melissa Kenig, Building Documentation Manager, Bentley Systems, Inc., Exton, PA Learn how to use XML effectively by creating new documentation deliverables without modifying content. XML is a highly organized markup language that provides valuable metadata for documentation reuse. Melissa Kenig from Bentley Systems, Inc. will show how her department enriched and embellished their documentation deliverables by manipulating existing content. Melissa Kenig is the Building Documentation Manager for Bentley Systems, Inc. based in Exton, PA. During her nine years there, Melissa has seen the department move from a desktop-based system to an advanced-markup system. Melissa was one of the chief architects of their current XML system. Location: Bentley, 685 Stockton Drive, Exton PA 19341 Fee: $15 for all Directions: http://www.bentley.com Times: Networking and Hors d’oevres: 6:30; Program: 7:30 October 16, 2003 Usability Case Studies: Turning Usability Findings into Design Solutions Presented by Robert Tannen, Director Human Factors, Electronic Ink, Philadelphia, PA The corporate web site of ISI was redesigned annually for three years. Usability studies conducted on each design produced interesting insights into the ever-changing web world and the adaptation to these changes by our users. What were originally con- sidered unacceptable “all the way back” in 1998 were simply non-issues in 1999. And by 2000, users had come full circle— requesting features that users of the original site had wanted removed! What can we glean from these studies? Are our users really that fickle? We find that as technology changes, so do our users and their expectations. Come hear what our users thought worked, as well as what didn’t. You may be surprised by our findings. Location: Doubletree Guest Suites, 640 West Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting PA 19462 Directions: http://www.doubletree.com/en/dt/hotels/directions.jhtml?ctyhocn=PHLGHDT Fee: Member: Dinner and Program $20, Program Only $10 (remainder subsidized by chapter) Nonmember: Dinner and Program $30, Program Only $15 Times: Networking and Dinner: 6:30; Program: 7:30 ■ September and October Meetings ongratulations to the following members of the Philadelphia Metro chapter, who have achieved senior membership status: ❏ Joe Dawson ❏ Marcia A. Jacquette ❏ Mark R. Myers ❏ Barbara R. Green ❏ Drew Knox Welcome to our new members for the month of July (and their employers as available) are: ❏ Marian Hall ❏ Robert Christian Hudson ❏ Rick R. Miller, Verizon ❏ Anne L. Schier ❏ Emily M. Shoup Also welcome the following mem- bers who have transfered to our chapter from other chapters: ❏ Susan E. DeSerio ❏ Criag E. Laird ❏ Natosha L. Morris. ■ Congratulations and Welcome
  10. 10. Book Review NEWS & VIEWS 10 August/September 2003 by Al Brown have to say up front that, the titles aside, I’m partial to the Dummies books. Usuallythey’repragmatic and objective, and serve as a good place to start if you want to find out about a topic. And the touch of humor keeps things from being too intimidating. I’m not a snob: I’ll take good infor- mation wherever I can find it, even with a cover that pretends to insult my intel- ligence. So we should be flattered, I suppose, that our profession is considered impor- tant enough to merit a new title in the catalogue. Unfortunately, Sheryl Lind- sell-Roberts’ Technical Writing for Dummies will reinforce the prejudice of those who refuse to go near any book in this series. Why read the book? “Learn about the red-hot market of technical writing and how masterful technical writing will enhance your career....” It covers a variety of document types, from user manuals and specifications to presenta- tions, in print and electronic formats. Interestingly enough, Ms. Lindsell- Roberts doesn’t seem too comfortable with technology. Her section on presen- tations doesn’t even mention Power Point. The chapter on online help, argu- ably the core of contemporary technical communication, lacks coherence; it doesn’t clarify the difference between online help and online documentation, and contains several misleading defini- tions. And when was the last time you were in a library with a card catalogue? The author centers her method around a two-page “Technical Brief,” which itemizes the content require- ments; audience information; and time, budgetary, and production constraints. The Dummies books make effective use of informal diction and humor to take the edge off of technical complexity. This is standard stuff—know your audience, know your company, know your SMEs—that’s more useful for an engineer or a novice tech writer than for a veteran. The chapter on style, “Going In for a Tone Up,” has something useful for everyone, regardless of experience. This is one of the few books I’ve seen that takes a realistic view of the passive voice; the two appropriate uses are when “you want to place the focus on the action, not the actor,” and when “you’re hiding something.” The Dummies books make effective use of informal diction and humor to take the edge off of technical complex- ity. As the chapter title cited above indi- cates, this volume takes that idea over the top. Even captions are all puns and no information. The normally desirable personal tone becomes self promotion. Judging from her biography, Ms Lind- sell-Roberts concentrates on writing seminars and business writing. This may explain why some of the analogies are slightly off kilter. She introduces the section on parallel constructions by talking about parallel bars in gymnas- tics. It doesn’t quite make sense, but in a seminar the presenter is on to some- thing else before you’ve had a chance to think about it; on the page it’s another matter. Aside from the odd structure—and a chapter on applying for patents that seems to have wandered in from a dif- ferent book—there’s nothing wrong with the content in broad outline. It’s in the details that the author goes astray, with results ranging from misleading to absurdly wrong. Lindsell-Roberts traces the origins of technical writing all the way back to World War II, for example, and distinguishes serif from sans serif type by the presence or absence of ascenders and descenders. These bits of trivia, along with a num- ber of key typographical errors in examples, this makes me wonder where the editor was. It may be unfair for an experienced person (i.e., someone who’s belonged to the STC for a year or more) to criticize a book like this. Even so, the negatives of Technical Writing for Dummies far out- weigh the positives. There are too many other good books aimed at different skill levels to justify adding this one to anyone’s library. ■ Lindsell-Roberts, Sheryl, Technical Writing for Dummies®. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-7645-5308- 9 (paper). $19.99. Technical Writing for Dummies® by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts
  11. 11. Member Spotlight August/September 2003 11 NEWS & VIEWS by Jill Cassidy Rolette s we resume the activi- ties associated with the newsletter, we look for- ward to the opportunity to introduce you to some more members of our chapter. How do we decide on whom to turn the “spotlight”? Well, it’s not a very scientific selection process, that is for certain! Often times the spot- light tends to shine on those who return my emails requesting an interview! If you know someone that we should introduce to the chapter through the “Member Spotlight,” or if you would be willing to play “Twenty Questions” with me yourself, please contact me at jcassidy@nbme.org. I thoroughly enjoy the process of highlighting the achieve- ments and aspirations of our members, and I look forward to meeting many of you as the result. Meet Lois Shank We begin this year by introducing you to Lois Shank, our new website administrator, as well as program and brochure designer. While Lois has been in the field of technical communication for ten years, she has been an STC mem- ber for three years, just long enough to find her niche in the volunteer network that keeps the chapter running smoothly. Lois found herself in the world of technical communication after spend- ing some time serving in support roles. She was drawn to our field by a love of learning new things and translating them for others to learn. Not that she views our field through rose-colored glasses; Lois identifies her biggest fault with the field as being “other depart- ments ‘hoarding’ information and access to new software for political rea- sons.” A common complaint for all of us at times! Even after ten years, Lois is eager to learn, and hopes to continue to take on the new challenges of single-sourcing and other new technology. She encour- ages others in the field to never “stop learning, even after you get your first job. You never know when you might have a chance to use it later. User assis- tance is as important as the code itself. The software is useless if no one can fig- ure out how to use it.” Lois defined some of the most signif- icant changes in the dynamic world of technical communication as both tech- nical and non-technical. She sites the technical changes as being the push to be “more” than a technical writer and knowing at least three different field- specific tools. Non-technically she sees the field “expanding in several different directions. Many companies are look- ing for writers with dual majors; (for example, writers/QAers, writers/train- ers, and writers/validation analysts.” Along with the growing list of responsibilities a technical writer now has in the workplace, Lois notes that the workplace itself appears to be shift- ing. Her most recent job search yielded more contract openings than perma- nent job opportunities. She envisions that the changing face of the technical communicator’s job market to be a hall- mark of how people desire to work in the future. Lois has extensive background in technical communication, which has made her an ideal volunteer within our chapter. She identifies the benefits of STC membership to include the access to information and presentations by writers on topics outside [her] experi- ence. She also appreciates the opportu- nity to tackle new responsibilities that wouldn’t normally be a part of her daily workload. She is excited about the growth and changes our chapter has experienced recently, and she encour- ages other members to find a way to get involved. She suggests “if you are an expert at something, or even just know something that might be useful, con- sider doing a presentation to share your knowledge, or write an article for the newsletter.” Our chapter is beginning a “new chapter” in its history and now is one of the most exciting times to become a part of the significant changes and growth we will experience. Just as Lois culti- vates the many (around 45!) different varieties of old-fash- ioned roses (many with origins in Victo- rian and Medieval gar- dens), she has become a vital part of the new growth of our chapter. Introduce yourself to our website administrator at our next chapter meeting…and ask yourself how you can join our happy team of volunteers. It’s good to be back! ■ Lois Shank - Helping Us Grow
  12. 12. Newsletter Address News & Views Lori Corbett 834 Westridge Dr. Phoenixville, PA 19460 stcmember@comcast.net First Class Mail NEWS & VIEWS 12 August/September 2003 Upcoming Meetings DEADLINE FOR NEXT ISSUE: September 15, 2003 The information in the following table was correct at the time News & Views was published. Be sure to check the web site (www.stcpmc.org) for details and to check for late-breaking updates to the schedule. For all Thursday meetings, reservations are due by the Monday before the meeting. Note that the Workshop and Conference in March will require special registrations. Date Meeting Topic Location September 18, 2003 Effective XML: Leveraging Structure-Based Markup (details on page 9) Bentley System, Exton PA October 16, 2003 Usability Case Studies: Turning Usability Findings into Design Solutions (details on page 9) Doubletree, Plymouth Meeting, PA November 20, 2003 Managing Remote Employees / Telecommuting / Preview of Annual Conference in Baltimore Siemens, Malvern, PA January 15, 2004 eLearning TBD February 19, 2004 Back to School: Local Area Technical Writing Programs Philadelphia University March 19, 2004 Jared Spool Usability Workshop University of Pennsylvania, Great Valley, PA March 20, 2004 Second Annual Philadelphia Metro Conference University of Pennsylvania, Great Valley, PA April 15, 2004 Contracting Panel TBD May 20, 2004 Content Management presented by Cheryl Lockett Zubak Doubletree, Plymouth Meeting, PA A Look Inside... ❏ Get ready for the Online Communication Competition. (p. 1) ❏ Managing editor Lori Corbett introduces herself. (p. 2) ❏ Meet the chapter’s new president in Nad Rosenberg’s first President’s Podium. (p. 3) ❏ Learn about the Board of Directors meet- ing in the month’s Director-Sponsor article. (p. 4) ❏ Cheryl Cherry discusses Dinner at the Diner for members near Allentown (p. 5) ❏ Learn all about the revised STC-PMC web site in JX Bell’s article. (p. 6) ❏ Do you know about a great place we can meet? (p. 8) ❏ Meet our newest senior members and newest members (p. 9) ❏ Get the scoop about the September and October meetings (p. 9) ❏ Is the latest Dummies book on technical writing worth your investment? Find out in Al Brown’s review. (p. 10) ❏ Jill Rollette spotlights webmistress Lois Shank in the Member Spotlight. (p. 11)

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