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Newsletter of the East Bay Chapter of STC

Supporting technical communication in the
San Francisco Bay Area since 1962
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Third Quarter 2016 Issue

President's Message ****  Editor's Message
Feature Story: Teachers Meet Authentic Technical Writing in Summer Workshop
September Program Recap ****  Touchstone Call for Entries

President's Message

What happened during our chapter's summer vacation? The timing of this year's two-month break gave EBSTC leaders the perfect opportunity to find a new resturant for our monthly dinner meetings. On September 8, we had an exceptional turnout for our first event at The Brass Door in San Ramon. Its three private banquet rooms are very popular with local groups, so be sure to ask staff at the door to direct you to the STC room -- or you may end up sitting in on the dog society's meeting (this really happened!).

On Friday, September 9, your chapter president became a blushing bride after 33 years of unwedded bliss. Turns out that "little piece of paper" does offer benefits as we approach retirement age.

Liz Miller
EBSTC President

Editor's Message

Welcome back to another issue of the Devil Mountain Views. As we move towards the final quarter of 2016, STC has opened the 2017 membership seasonmembership season. Renew today to get a discount on your membership. (Use the promo code STC2017 on the last page of the online application.)

The final quarter of the year also means it's time for Touchstone, the Northern California Technical Communications Competition. The deadline for submission is Saturday, October 8, 2016. You can learn more in our article about Touchstone.

In this issue, we also bring you the resources and details of a technical writing workshop held by T.R. Girill (STC Fellow). T. R. has been elemental in leading and promoting our technical literacy project. You can also read about our September meeting and access the presentation on how to lead and thrive in a content-rich world.

If you are interested in writing a newsletter article, a dinner meeting report or a book review, we welcome your participation. Please contact me with your ideas.

Ashwini Tharval
Managing Editor

Teachers Meet Authentic Technical Writing in Summer Workshop

In their 2012 article on "Reading, Writing, and Thinking Like a Scientist" Gina Cervetti and P. David Pearson summarize the evidence that

embedding direct instruction of comprehension strategies in extended, knowledge-building investigations...supports students' literacy development better than direct instruction of comprehension strategies that are divorced from the context of explicit and theme-based knowledge development. [Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 55(7), 580-586, April, 2012, DOI: 10.1002/JAAL.00069]

In other words, not only can K-12 students learn to read and write (nonfiction) in science class, but (for comparable effort) they will actually gain more literacy skills there than in traditional English/literature classes. This is the recurring theme that the 18 local teachers who attended either of the two sessions of my "Technical Writing for Science Class" (TWSC) professional development workshop during June or July, 2016, encountered and explored.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory offered TWSC as part of its annual suite of "Teacher Research Academies" to enhance the preparation of Bay Area science teachers in biology, physics, computer modeling, and technical literacy. LLNL's external relations officer (Nadine R. Horner) greeted the TWSC attendees and they sampled the lab's Discovery Center program for visiting fifth-grade classes during their lunch break. But the focus of most workshop exercises, case studies, and activities for two days was that "authenticity predicts growth in both reading and writing" (Cervetti and Pearson, p. 581).

For example, attending teachers:

  • reconstructed technical (engineering) descriptions from scrambled pieces by exploiting the organizational clues embedded in the text,
  • compared how the instructions and descriptions relevant to handling a chemical responded to the different needs of different audiences in the 12 sections of its safety data sheet, and
  • refined draft project abstracts using iterative-design techniques scaffolded by a matrix that makes the usability constraints here explicit.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) now used in California schools frame the communication practices of scientists and engineers (like giving explanations and sharing information) as supporting and enabling the traditional investigational practices such as experimentation and data analysis (as the diagram suggests). TWSC activities showed teachers how to coach those NGSS communication practices and integrate them into their on-going classroom science lessons using real-world cases. And I shared links to the many EBSTC online literacy-building resources that teachers can easily borrow or adapt to suit student needs. Strong positive reviews and persistent attendee engagement confirmed that this workshop brought technical content and technical writing together successfully.

For more information on how we develop the next generation of writers, see the EBSTC Technical Literacy Project.

T. R. Girill
STC Fellow

September EBSTC Program Recap

Leading and Thriving in a Content-Rich World

In our September program, Eeshita Grover (Technical Communications Senior Manager, Cisco Systems), shared her perspective on how technical writers of today can prove to be the most valuable asset for a business. Here are a few highlights from the meeting:

In a content rich world, technical writers are a rich resource of skills that have not been tapped into. Can they evolve into any of the more popular job roles like content strategists, curators, Search engine optimization (SEO) experts, and more?

Technical writers are product SMEs and content organizers with a role in SEO, linguistics, digital content, CM systems, content curation, editing and illustration. Change will not come if we wait for another person or another time.

  • Content strategists can make objective calls on all content usage, not just technical communications. We can say "Wait, why are we doing this again?" We can be good as user advocates and govern consistent messaging in all places that content is used.
  • Content marketers write and manage "customer journeys" in the revenue stream. For example, how does Apple track vendor content regarding its products? Metadata makes it possible.
  • Content curation is an activity, not a job, but it is part of content governance, cultural aspects and relationship building for specific users. Collaborative authoring (Wiki), which is newly emerging at Cisco, will be used once products are mature post release.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is used to get Google and other crawlers to serve content to consumers.
  • User Experience design is big with companies that are dependent on end users. For example, Uber or Facebook. As technical writers, we already develop wireframes and personas and use design tools.
  • Information architecture is another area where we need to be flexible. Information architects must be tactful and willing to adjust the rules for the content creators.
  • Video learning is growing. Cisco customers appreciate the video content on how to set up a server or use a new user interface.

For more information, see Eeshita's presentation, Leading and Thriving in a Content-Rich World.

Touchstone 2016-2017 Call for Entries

Be Recognized for Your Technical Documentation!

The 2016-17 Touchstone Technical Communication Competition is now accepting entries in the following categories:

  • Technical Print Publications and Documentation
  • Online Technical Communication
  • Technical Art

The deadline for entries is Saturday, October 8, 2016. For more information and instructions on how to enter, to:

What is Touchstone?

Touchstone advances the field of technical communication by recognizing outstanding work. Touchstone awards can bring recognition from professional peers and increased visibility with employers and clients.

The competition will culminate in an awards ceremony in January 2017. Workplace awards presentations may be arranged for those who request them. Workplace presentations are often attended by entrants' peers, managers, and company executives.


  • Touchstone's experienced judges provide feedback to help entrants improve their work. Many entrants prize this feedback as a valuable benefit of having entered.
  • p award winners in the Touchstone competition are sent on to compete in the STC international technical communication competition.
  • Beyond the direct benefits you receive from entering the Touchstone competition, its existence and continued success help to educate clients and employers about the value of what technical communicators do.
  • Competition proceeds support the STC Kenneth Gordon Scholarship. The Gordon Scholarship benefits the profession by providing scholarships to students in technical communication programs in Northern California.

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Last updated: Sunday, September 18, 2016