Devil Mountain Views is back in your inbox after a long hiatus. We are starting back slowly – with a newsletter every quarter initially – and will advance to our regular monthly schedule soon. Currently, we are in the process of creating a new look for the newsletter; including a new logo. I welcome your suggestions and ideas.
In this issue, you can read the highlights from our last three meetings: Tool Trends Panel, Remedial Documentation and the Contract Technical Writer, and Taking charge of Microsoft Word. You can also read a delightful article about spelling checker – that handy tool we all love.
Lastly, now is also the time to renew your STC membership. Don’t forget to use the code STC2016 to get a discount on your membership fees.
EBSTC September Program Recap
Lori Meyer was our panel moderator on Thursday, September 10 at Mimi’s Café in Dublin. Lori is a technical communication specialist with more than 20 years of experience as a writer, editor, online help author, and curriculum developer. She is an STC Fellow, and the immediate past president of the East Bay Chapter. She also coordinated the Trends Panels both this year and in 2014.
Meet our panelists
Liz Fraley is the founder of Single Sourcing Solutions, a dedicated provider of PTC’s Arbortext Software and Certified Training services throughout North America. She is also creator/coordinator of the popular TC Camp unconference program held in the Silicon Valley each January.
Robert Hershenow is a senior member of STC and is Co-Manager of the Instructional Design and Learning SIG. He has worked as a writer, editor, graphic designer, and trainer for more than twenty years.
Nicki L. Davis, Ph.D. has pursued her goal of enhancing the user experience by whatever means are appropriate to the task, whether it’s improving the user interface design, the documentation, or both.
Quotable panelist observations
- A tool is a tool! Use the right tool for the job.
- Tools are 10% of the success; people contribute the other 90%.
- Focus less on the tools and more on the quality of the deliverable.
- Avoid the trap of “same mess, different tools.”
- Use the best tool for the intended output; dependency on using a specific tool limits collaboration.
- Resist going after the new, shiny, best-rated tool.
- Before deciding to adopt a new tool, spend time examining your team’s requirements. What will this tool do to contribute to your goals?
- Some companies won’t hire you if you can’t at least talk knowledgeably about their primary tool.
- Keep your “scannable” resume up to date with all of the tools you know. Breadth of tool categories is good; specific, recent tool experience is much better.
- Conceptual knowledge during an interview at least gets your foot in the door. Once there, we technical communicators are good at learning most applications on the job.
- Seek out online resources that let you learn about and get hands-on experience with tools you can’t access otherwise.
- Tools aside, domain expertise is a way to access work in specialized fields, for example medical writing, network architecture, or chemistry.
Tools of the future
- Emerging tools are frequently designed to help programmers and coders. Rather than resisting or fearing the new and the changed, writers looking to support what these people develop should keep abreast of what’s hot and learn about the concepts driving them.
- No tool will ever replace the human components that make a good writer or editor. Technical communicators are the user advocates. We know how to organize information to make it as usable as possible for the intended consumers.
- Having strong core skills counts more than the tools we use: we know how to structure a sentence, interview technical experts, and anticipate the user’s perspective and knowledge level.
Lori closed the discussion by reminding all present that tools may come and go, but maintaining membership in STC — where we have many opportunities to learn from and network with our peers — keeps us informed of tool trends every year.
EBSTC October Program Recap
EBSTC was delighted to host Bruce Poropat at our October dinner meeting. His topic was Remedial Documentation and the Contract Technical Writer. It was enlightening to hear Bruce describe his system for handling the typical problems encountered by a contract (and often employee) technical writer hired to document a company’s or team’s tool or system.
The early problems he described sounded familiar:
sparse source materials, SMEs hoarding key information, scattered resources and a scope that looks different from each team member’s perspective. Such is the world of technical writing.
But what Bruce did next was tell us that it doesn’t have to be that way. When a company recognizes the value of bringing in a technical writer early enough in the project to develop the necessary “remedial documentation,” it saves hours of time and effort (and money) because the writer isn’t forced to do so much research, SME chasing and catch-up work before beginning to tackle the more complex project deliverables she was hired to create.
Of course, that’s a perfect world. Bruce’s presentation described how to clarify the client’s expectations up front and where to start excavating the hidden treasures stored in their spreadsheets, notes, requirements documents, heads and diagrams. He gave tips about dealing with gate-keeper SMEs who resist sharing their secrets, and what tools can be helpful to ease the pain of remedial documentation.
EBSTC November Program Recap
At the November 5 dinner meeting, EBSTC members learned priceless tips to improve access to our favorite power tools and disable the worst Microsoft® Word annoyances in the featured presentation, Taking Control of MS Word.
Hilary Powers, author of Making Word Work for You: An Editor’s Intro to the Tool of the Trade and its successor, Making Word 2010 Work for You started by describing Word 2010 out-of-the-box as Microsoft’s version of a simple hammer. They configured it with unwanted automations and dozens of tabs, commands and options hidden away so as not to overwhelm the majority of users who “just want to get it done.” Those of us who know it’s actually a vast multi-tool must deal with finding favorite features and undoing Word’s “helpful” autocorrects.
After a lively networking session over dinner, a small group watched with rapt attention as Hilary gave a tour of her personal Word setup. She showed how to relocate and customize the Quick Access Toolbar with commands and buttons (including your own macros). She revealed how a simple right click on the status bar at the bottom of the application window opens a menu of available document information to display there. Using memorized keyboard shortcuts, she accessed important dialog boxes, such as the AutoCorrect Options where multiple tabs dictate how Word responds to what you type. These are all customizable!
Mouse use can be significantly reduced through a macro, which should be a healthy goal for all Word users. Hilary demonstrated how to record one and add a button for it on the Quick Access Toolbar to turn off Track Formatting Changes with just one click. Hallelujah!
Attendees received a handout with the code for unrecordable macros that can be typed directly into Visual Basic: 1) to temporarily turn off Track Changes, delete selection and turn on Track Changes; 2) a one-click paste command that strips source formatting; and 3) a one-click command to display the reviewer comments pane.
It was tempting to continue this fascinating demo and discussion late into the evening, but all good things must end. As solace, several folks went home happily clutching a copy of Hilary’s Making Word 2010 Work for You.