VOLUME XV NO. 2 • NOVEMBER 2001 SOCIETY FOR TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION • MSU STUDENT CHAPTER
Adventures of the Average Joe
(or...the frustrations of deciphering manuals) by Adrianna Greenwald
T echnical communicators often develop
software documentation and manuals
before product completion. While
make your supervisor ooh and ahh.
At home you try to use this
spectacular new discovery. You
Imagine the rage you feel at that
moment. Why does a manual,
written as a tool for the user, make
financially sound, this practice produces follow each step precisely as you you feel capable of murder?
frustration in the user and unusable saw it done. But nothing happens. This situation occurs all the
manuals. Consider the following example You repeat each step again and still time. Can you remember the last
and fill in the names, dates, and manual nothing happens. As a user, you do time that you purchased anything
titles from your own bad experience. what comes naturallyavoid that required assembly? I can. Not
You watch in awe as a coworker does an looking at the documentation at all only did the box contain the wrong
amazing trick with a popular word costs! You call the person who screws, but the manual, written in
processing application. You know you could showed you the trick. No one English, apparently came from a
use this feature to impress your friends and answers the telephone. You then translation. Yes, the English
call the friend who knows more language can read like a foreign
about computers than you ever language. Did you know that?
Inside... want to know.
He tells you to look at the
Perhaps you did, especially if you
ever bought anything that required
manual. You know that if he tells a manual.
you to look at the manual, you Herein lies a great mystery. All
• from our editors
2 • resume tips
must need serious help. As a last
resort, you break down and look in
technical communicators use
manuals at some point in time.
the manual. You browse the table However, when we write a manual,
• contract tech comm of contents and index, and then flip we tend to forget every horrible
3 • tips, trends, trivia
aimlessly through the pages as you
silently curse. Frustrated, you
experience in our past. Our goal
becomes pleasing the
decide to try online help. Again programmers, meeting the
• communication in a crisis you search by subject, by word, deadlines, making the boss happy,
4 • cookies and you even type your question
as the program prompts you.
or leaving work before rush hour
traffic takes over the roadways.
Nothing. Nada. Zip. These goals, while worthy, ignore
• intro to listservs Like most users, you believe the user. Let me say it another
5 • internet food groups the answer lies out there
somewhere, so you search the
way the user is the only reason
our profession exists.
documentation for hours. Finally, The next time you sit down to
6 • thinking outside the box
as exhaustion, frustration, and a
mental break down threaten to
overwhelm you, once again you
write a manual, forget all those
terms like task oriented and
deliverables. Just recall those feelings
call the guru who showed you the of rage and frustration you
• plagiarism online
7 • bulletin board
function five hours ago. As you
share your story she laughs.
Thats not in the documentation,
experienced as a user when the one
thing you needed turned into the
one thing the technical
she says. The programmers didnt communicator neglected to include.
8 • meet our staff design that function until after the
manual was written.
Then start typing. Your manual
should turn out fine.
Techniques Staff From our Editors...
Adrianna Greenwald S everal members of the Minnesota
State University STC attended the
Region 6 Conference held in Minne-
impression. There is no such thing as
resting on your laurels. Every day
offers countless opportunities on
apolis on October 1 and 2. In one countless levels. Seize the day! People
Alexia Jones panel presentation, four veteran and human interaction lie at the
firstname.lastname@example.org technical communicators spoke about center of business. Embrace and
Bobby McFall our craft and one comment in particu- explore. Be open to the potential.
email@example.com lar, from Betsy McDowell, left an Good advice.
Graphics & Layout Editor
Online Editors •
Sally Spawn, self-employed technical communicator; Betsy McDowell, editor, Ashland
Steve Gage Oil; Bob Guienetti, owner, Radcom; Michelle Burkeu, web designer, Northwest Mutual.
Dave Pagel We welcome letters from our readers. Send your comments,
firstname.lastname@example.org questions, or concerns to email@example.com.
www.english.mnsu.edu/stc/myweb3/index.htm Resume Tips
by Adrianna Greenwald
D o you think your resume can
help land your dream job? Mary
Heminover, who has taught
resume should present you as
an organized person.
Be consistent. Use parallel
firstname.lastname@example.org employment search skills at South constructions and consistent
Central Technical College for 15 years, formatting such as bullets,
gives the following advice: columns, and margins.
STC Chapter Officers Go neutral. Avoid bright colors Edit carefully. Do not give
President - Nicole Ripka when choosing resume paper. perspective employers any
Vice-President - Scott Ferderer Textured, earth-tone paper looks reason to eliminate you.
Secretary - Carrie Hendrickson best, but choose paper that Request help. Ask a qualified
reflects you. individual to critique your
STC Chapter Advisor Use moderation. Never overload resume before you submit it to a
Michelle Maack-Friederichs any area of your resume. prospective employer.
507-389-5535 Prospective employers do not
email@example.com Your resume represents an
need to see all your member- important part of the employment
ships or volunteer work. search process, but you must not
Emphasize strengths. The primary neglect the other components of the
Techniques is published by the MSU components of your resume process. Your resume may get you the
Student Chapter of the Society for include education and exper- interview, but your interview gets
Technical Communication. ience. Place your strengths first. you the job.
Material in Techniques may be reprinted Be organized. Organization Mary Heminover can be reached by email
with permission. Credit must be given serves as the key to successful for questions or comments. Her address is
to the author and a copy of the reprint employment searches. Your firstname.lastname@example.org.
must be sent to the faculty advisor.
Contract Technical Communication:
An independent point of view
by Bobby McFall
E ver dream of working at home? Barb
Goodemann of Albert Lea, Minnesota did,
and for the past four years has fulfilled her
• possess strong self-discipline.
dream with a successful career as a technical
• prepare emotionally and financially for
communicator. breaks between contracts. Save at least
While attending college, Barb worked as an three months salary for living expenses.
in-house technical writer for three years. She • do your own bookkeeping or hire it done.
began working as a contract technical • pay your own health and retirement
communicator when the company for whom benefits (no paid vacations or sick days).
she worked transferred out of Minnesota. Her
clients hale from states as far away as Texas, About the impact of our poor
but she usually works for Minnesota firms. economy
Contract lengths and work assignments vary ⇑ When the economy slows, full time
from one to eighteen months. technical communicators fare better than
Barbs business and financial background as contractors. This year hourly rates
a CPA proves beneficial in her work as a dropped by half.
documentation specialist. Additionally, Barb ⇑ When the economy improves, contract
considers herself mechanically inclined, communicators become highly sought.
intuitive, and a quick learnerall valuable ⇑ Contractors in metro areas find jobsalbeit
skills for her industry. As a sole proprietor, in housemore easily than those who work
Barb carries her own liability insurance and from their homes.
workers compensation. Her office contains
two computers, a scanner, and a laser printer.
Barb offers the following information for
Tips, Trends, and Trivia:
those of us considering a career in contract Savvy Web Development
technical communication. by Steve Gage and Dave Pagel
• Set your own schedule. (Independence!)
• Learn new applications and experience a
C onvincing audiences to return to a web
site is a primary challenge for web
designers. The following tips may help achieve
wide variety of work. that goal:
• Avoid office politics. ⇑ Wow your audience. Use Macromedias
Flash interactive movie software. Flash
• Save significant travel expense. web sites, when done effectively,
• Purchase of software is assumed by clients impress readers and generate interest in
(but you often buy your own). web sites.
⇑ Avoid animation. Animation can annoy
Tips and distract readers by creating
• Start in a permanent position to gain unwelcome visual noise.
experience. Get mentored in a workplace. ⇑ Use high contrast between the text and
• Affiliate yourself with a good contract background color.
house (Dashe & Thomson, Jill Krout, and ⇑ Make navigation simple. Create a
TMP Worldwide, all located in the Twin navigation bar containing links to each
Cities metro area). second level page in the web site.
• Post your resume on line, i.e. monster.com ⇑ Keep your site uncluttered. Massive
and dice.com. (Dice requires an agent.) amounts of information on web pages
• Create a quality resume. frustrates readers. Spread the
information or create internal links.
• Know Word and FrameMaker. (See the If web designers follow these tips and
September-October issue of Intercom.) provide useful content, the chances for return
• Network! (Join a local chapter of STC.) visitors increase exponentially.
Can a Listserv Serve Your Needs?
by Carrie Hendrickson
Y ou cannot locate reference materials.
You experience problems with your
software, knowing the answers exist some-
Two types of listservs exist: moderated
and unmoderated. Moderated by an
individual who reads every message,
where, but you cannot find them. You want moderated listservs filter out inappropriate
to make a career change but you do not messages. Moderated lists usually provide
know where to look for jobs. Try solving guidelines on topics they find appropriate
these problems on one of the thousands of for specific listservs. Unmoderated listservs
listservs (also known as mailing lists or sends all messages to their subscribers.
discussion groups) on the Internet. Most people prefer moderated lists.
Email discussion groups or mailing lists Thousands of listservs with hundreds of
that center on a particular topic are different topics exist on the Internet. Some
commonly known as listservs. As a of the popular topics for technical
subscriber you receive messages through communicators include copyediting,
your e-mail account. The messages posted writing, graphics, and software. Check
come from other subscribers addressing new these web sites to find the right listserv for
or existing topics. These may include you. You may make the right connection to
technical questions, career opportunities, or find the answers you seek.
helpful information. List contributors range • ListTool.com finds and subscribes to
from experienced professionals to students over 871 mailing and discussion lists
and amateurs. in categories such as art, music,
As a listserv subscriber, you can choose humor, business, law, computers, etc.
from several options. You can remain silent
and read the postings/discussions, or you
maillist.htm contains an international
can join the discussions by seeking and
list of tech. comm. listservs.
offering information pertinent to the
postings. Additionally, you can get a listing • www/lsoft.com/lists/listref.html browses
of the subscribers and their e-mail addresses any of the 17, 781 public listservs on
and correspond privately with someone. the Internet.
Cookies: Not Just for Dunking in Milk
by Scott Federer
As Internet use increases, so do fears that user logs on to MSNBC.com for the first time,
someone may be looking over your should the web site prompts the user to enter a zip
retrieving personal information or spying on code and stock tickers. The next time the user
you. In recent years, Internet cookies have returns to the web site, the server can view the
become the spotlight of many privacy discus- users cookie file to find the information
sions because of their ability to be placed on a entered by the user on his or her first visit.
without the users knowledge. An Internet strategy to post advertisements targeted
cookie is a text file placed on a computer by a specifically toward the user. (Did you ever
web server hosting a web site viewed by a user. wonder where SPAM comes from?) They do
The server gathers data about the user and this by saving (as a cookie) the searches a user
leaves that information on the users computer executes on a given web site.
for future visits to the web site. What is bad about cookies? People dont
Why would a web site want to drop a like to be tracked. Anyone who sits down at
cookie? Cookies help web servers remember your computer can go to the cookies folder
specific settings or preferences about a users and view web sites you have visited. Cookies
computer or information that the user may also pose a security hazard if theyre used to
have given the web site. For example, when a store usernames and passwords.
continued on page 5
Communication in Crisis Situations
by Alexia Jones
O n September 11, 2001 the United States
found itself transformed from a peaceful
country to a country facing violence from a
phones to work fell with it, severing cellular
communication for thousands of people.
However, one victim managed to use a
viscous terrorist attack. The crisis we survived cellular phone to call police from the rubble of
illustrates a need to look at all sources of the WTC and give specific directions to
communication from phone systems to the locations of trapped people.
black box that records information on airplanes. Black boxes, located in the tail end of
When the towers of World Trade Center airplanes, collect two kinds of data: flight data
collapsed, many people along the east coast lost and voice data. Microphones and sensors
phone service. Reporters tried to call from located throughout the plane collect and store
phone booths to report on the tragedy while this data. This information is stored on
relatives tried to contact family members. All memory boards that can endure extreme heat
received busy signals. People resorted to using and pressure. The black box enables
the Internet to inform friends and families that investigators to piece together details of what
they survived. Internet service providers transpired during the last thirty minutes of a
switched from multiple routers to other flight. For example, this technology has
emergency connections. With emergency lines confirmed what victims on flight 93 reported
the calls roll over to the next available phone to loved ones from their cellular phones. Brave
line making it possible for calls to get through heroes did fight back, in what has been
as lines become available. described by the media has a gruesome fight
During the emergency, cellular phones for control of the plane.
provided vital communication for many people. And now, as the world wages its war on
Victims called their loved ones reassuring them terrorism, modern technology will enable us
they would be okay, or, in some cases to say to receive and communicate information in
their final good byes. When the towers fell, the ways not dreamed possible as few as ten short
main receiver that makes it possible for cellular years ago.
Cookies (continued from page 4)
What should the average user do about
cookies? Web browsers such as Microsoft Define meatloaf, cookies and spam.
Internet Explorer and Netscape have say something about Internet food
methods for users to stop accepting cookies. groups...
They do this by prompting the user before a
cookie is allowed on the users computer.
Browser software can also allow only
specific web sites to place cookies on a users
machine, or to check the web servers cookie
security level. Another precaution users can
take is to periodically delete the cookies on
their computer. On PCs, a directory called
c:\windows\cookies contains the cookie file.
Overall, the Internet is safe, but a slight
chance exists that something undesirable or
unethical can happen with cookies, and it is
always better to be safe than sorry.
Thinking Outside the Box
by Marge Freking
A dvertisers, graphic design artists,
software developers, and entrepreneurs
of all types think outside the box. Technical
interesting ways to approach old ideas.
Read mysteries to get new perspectives from
the twists and turns of plots and thinking
communicators must learn to use this patterns. Humor provides a rich tapestry for
strategy everyday. creativity. Reading comedy helps students
At age three, my son became discern how the author turns something
frightened to the point of terror, thinking ordinary into something extraordinary,
Mans mind giants occupied our land and that they giving readers new ways to view everyday
stretched to a new might hurt us. What can a mother do? situations. Doodling with the non-dominant
idea never goes She can reverse the situation. I told him, hand awakens the other side of the brain
back to Since weve never seen giants or any and starts thinking processes in new and
its original evidence that they exist, we must be the amazing directions.
dimensions. giants. Therefore, we must be very Become more aware of the world. Take
careful not to hurt little people if we see time to walk through the leaves; watch
Oliver them. That solved that dilemma. squirrels gather nuts; share a sunset;
The point of the story suggests that examine the chain on a twenty-speed
thinking outside the box presents little bicycle; watch a baker toss a pizza crust.
difficulty. Creative ability lies within each Wonder exists everywhere. Allow yourself
person. Writers, and especially technical the luxury of awe and speculation. Ordinary
communicators, must learn to tap into that things aid innovative growth in imaginative
expertise to excel in any enterprise they and exciting ways. Limiting yourself
undertake. Advertisers need new and belittles your abilities. Use your eyes to see
sometimes snappy promotions to encourage and your ears to hear in singular and
new generations to buy their products. They eccentric ways.
depend on their ad people to think in new Take a chance today, and try thinking
and distinctive dimensions and to add new outside the box!
perspective to old campaigns. All
communicators need that kind of expertise
to make their points.
For job seekers, simply creating business
cards or writing resumes requires
imagination to spark an interest in them
and/or their abilities. Nothing causes more STC Scholarship
yawns than seeing the same old thing day Applications Available
after day. Imagine the recruiter who sits in Each year, STC offers scholarships to
her office reading resumes. Seeing unique full-time graduate and undergradu-
and new approaches to commonplace ate students pursuing careers in
situations makes an individual stand out as a technical communication.
valuable, contributing, and thinking asset for
Fourteen awards of $2,000 each will
any company. Why do you suppose so many
be granted for academic year 2002-
resume-planning clinics exist on college
campuses and in corporate America? People
managing those clinics help attendees tap Application deadline is
into their ingenuity, encouraging them to
February 15, 2002
make their marks in commercial endeavors.
Sometimes defining ourselves and/or our Application forms and instructions
unique abilities requires imagination. are available from the STC office:
However, we can improve our presentation 901 N. Stuart Street, Suite 904
skills by using simple strategies. Great Arlington, VA 2203-1822
literature helps readers see new and (703) 522-4114 www.stc.org
Plagiarism in a Digital World
by Carrie Hendrickson
C an you name one of the most dreaded
words in the English language that a
writer or software programmer hates to see
• Request information using an e-mail
address listed on the web page.
To properly give credit when the search
or hear about their work? PLAGIARISM! In for the source proves unsuccessful, list the
todays world of easy access to the Internet, web address, the date you found the
the rate of digital plagiarism continues to information, and any page numbers or links.
rise. Educators face this problem with Information from sources such as list
students who plagiarize their sources. serves and program codes pose a difficult
Recent studies indicate that approximately problem. The writer must adopt an ethical
thirty percent of all students may be point of view and determine how to best
plagiarizing on every written assignment give credit to the source.
they complete. Plagiarism.org Plagiarism in Some writers find the following tips When
the academic world usually means an F helpful in adopting an ethical point of view: in doubt,
on the paper but in the professional world • Review the code of ethics for the tell the
the consequences can prove even more professional field from which you
severe. The possibility of job termination,
obtain the source.
loss of credibility, or even lawsuits makes
plagiarism a concern for writers.
• Check your companys code of ethics
Definitions for plagiarism include and handbook for guidelines on
citing sources. Twain
copying or using other peoples words,
ideas, visual concepts, logic, etc. without • Use the STC code of ethics.
properly acknowledging the source. How • Use reasonable criteria (e.g.
do you give proper credit for information obligation to yourself to act in your
such as web design, information from a list own best interest and according to
serve, or software programs? In the digital good conscience, stand by the clients
world the writer must actively search for and customers to whom you are
information and make ethical decisions bound by contract, and obligation to
when his or her search for the source fails. your company to advance its goals,
Tips for finding source information respect its policies, protect
include: confidential information and expose
• Review the web page. If the conduct harmful to the organization.)
credibility of the information should The commitment to avoid plagiarism will
be questioned. benefit you personally and professionally. A
• Check all links. Links may lead back clear, crisp, and honest writer will make the
to the original source. extra effort to locate and cite sources.
MSU STC Chapter wants your input! STC Twin Cities Chapter Information
Email us your ideas, opinions, etc. on The Twin Cities STC meets monthly on the
topics and speakers for our meetings. 2nd Tuesday (September through June).
STCMU@yahoo.com For additional information regarding the
Twin Cities STC Chapter call 612-259-1410.
Meet Our Staff
and Alexia Jones
A drianna Greenwald plans to graduate
with high honors in the summer of
2002 with a bachelor of science degree in
A lexia Jones graduates from MSU
with a major in technical
communications and a minor in psychology
technical communication and a minor in in about a year. She works part time helping
psychology. She sees her experience as a people with mental disabilities while
student at MSU as one of the happiest times attending the university full time. Alexia, an
in her life. Ameri-Corps alumnus, still helps interview
Adrianna contributes to Techniques and incoming AmeriCorps members. When
serves as a copy editor. She enjoys reading Alexia served with AmeriCorps, she assisted
everything and anything. She visits her people in hospice care as well as adults in
family in New Mexico whenever possible, the Living at Home Block Nurse Program.
Adrianna Greenwald and her ten younger siblings make each Alexia spent last summer inDorchester,
visit home unforgettable and precious. Bath, Boscastle, and Penzance, England
Married four years, Adrianna enjoys learning about British literature, especially
vacationing and exploring the great the writings of authors Jane Austen and
outdoors with her husband. Thomas Hardy.
After graduation, Adrianna wants to In her spare time, she relishes the
pursue a masters degree in technical opportunity to travel, mostly to the east
communication or a related field, with a coast where she visits friends and family.
focus on writing, editing, and designing She also enjoys reading and hiking. Her
documents. Adrianna appreciates the plans include the purchase of a Harley with
people and the scenery in Minnesota, but a side car for her cat, Bos.
hopes to relocate to Colorado or New Alexia serves as a copy editor for
Mexico to be closer to the mountains and Techniques this semester and also assists with
Alexia Jones her family. layout and graphics.
The mission of the Society for Technical Communications to improve the quality and effectiveness of technical communication for audiences worldwide.
SOCIETY FOR Postage
MSU Student Chapter
Department of English
Minnesota State University, Mankato
230 Armstrong Hall
Mankato, MN 56001