Saturday, March 09, 2013

STC Chicago Awards Two $250 Scholarships

The Scholarship Committee is pleased to announce that STC Chicago has awarded a $250 scholarship to both:

  • Jamil Wilkins, a graduate student at New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Tracy Castro, a student enrolled at the College of Lake County in Illinois
Jamil Wilkins is pursuing a Master of Science in Professional and Technical Communication from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He received his undergraduate degree also from NJIT and is currently employed as an e-learning support specialist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ while completing his coursework. He has upcoming plans to publish his first science fiction novel, the first draft of which is expected later this year.
What attracted the judges to Jamil’s application was his attractive and robust virtual portfolio showcasing his competencies. The writing was clear and concise, and the content was well-adapted to his audience. Jamil is a natural at both technical communication and marketing himself. He is planning a trip to Chicago in March that coincides with the upcoming STC Chicago Awards banquet where he’ll be recognized.

Tracy Castro is pursuing a Professional Technical Communications Certificate from the College of Lake County. In addition to her coursework, she provides document layout and graphic design freelance services. She is also a certified MS Office instructor. Tracy has been interested and/or involved in communication for much of her adult life. After completing the program, she plans on a new career as a full-time instructional designer. Tracy is looking forward to meeting and networking with other technical communicators at the upcoming awards banquet. We certainly look forward to meeting her.

Tracy’s application grabbed the judges’ attention with her various writing samples. In particular, Tracy’s chicken pox brochure did a wonderful job of communicating the pertinent medical information to both younger and more mature audiences.
Congratulations to Jamil and Tracy. Winners will be honored at the upcoming awards banquet on March 21st. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Content Is King…We Design, Develop, and Deliver Valuable Content

The 2012 Summit in Chicago was a huge success and showcased the vibrant STC Chicago chapter. Additional STC Chicago meetings and events continue to provide the exciting exchange of ideas and in-person networking that enrich our professional careers. I am consistently impressed by these lively discussions as we share our ideas and approaches to delivering the information our audiences need. Through these discussions, we are able to learn from each other and explore new methods to deliver valuable content.
Events that facilitate the exchange of ideas are a vital part of STC. As colleagues, we challenge each other to find better ways to solve problems, and then to share those ideas and solutions. I am impressed and inspired by how our community members share their ideas, debate various approaches, and help each other find new solutions. These communities, combined with the many educational offerings organized by STC, bring a vast amount of knowledge to the technical communication industry.
I would like to serve the Society as the Vice President and I am asking for your vote. I am grateful for all that STC has provided to help me throughout my career. I would like to lend my leadership and business experience to help STC continue to serve our industry and shape future leaders. Content is king and STC should be recognized as the organization that helps you design, develop, and deliver valuable content.
STC elections are often very close and your vote is important in selecting the leaders who will help shape the future direction of our professional organization. Voting in the 2013 Society for Technical Communication (STC) election begins March 11 and ends March 22 at 5 pm ET (10.00 GMT).
I have enjoyed serving STC in many local and international roles. I have served as a Director on the STC Board, as the Chair of several Task Forces, and in many Summit leadership positions including the Summit Conference Chair for 2012 and 2013. If you would like more information about me and what I can contribute to the leadership of STC, please visit my election website at, and my section of the STC election website at Thank you for being an important part of our professional community and I look forward to seeing many of you in Atlanta at the 2013 Summit.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February Meeting: "Speed Resume-ting"

For February's chapter meeting, STC Chicago eschewed its traditional meeting format. In honor of Valentine's Day, a "Speed Resume-ting" session was held on February 16th to help attendees tighten up their resumes. Despite the Saturday morning meet-up time, roughly 10 intrepid souls from all over Chicagoland braved the sub-20s temperatures to attend.
The event, held at The CARA Group's Oak Brook headquarters, was inspired by speed dating. The following format was (more or less) followed after enough caffeine was imbibed:
  1. Everyone had stacks of their own resumes with enough copies for each other person at the table.
  2. All stacks were passed to the left.
  3. Participants were given two minutes to view and mark up the top resume on the stack.
  4. When time was up, the top resumes were placed on the bottoms of the stacks, and the stacks were passed again to the left.
  5. This was repeated until the stacks made it back to their original owners.
  6. The idea was that recruiters only look at most resumes for a few seconds to form their initial opinions. Therefore, given only a short time to view and comment, participants were able to focus on those ever-important first impressions—what worked (or didn't) and what stood out.
Attendees were given two minutes to read and mark up others' resumes.
Once everyone's marked up resumes were returned, the floor was opened to general questions and discussion. Here are some of the topics that came up:
  • Serif versus sans-serif fonts
  • Functional versus chronological resumes
  • Value of value added statements
  • Ideal section arrangements
  • Inclusion of months on start and end dates
  • Means to emphasize what recruiters want to see
  • Mixing present and past tenses for currently held positions
  • Ideal page counts
  • Tips and tricks

After the general discussion, the group broke into pairs or trios so attendees could receive more detailed feedback on their resumes. Advice and business cards were also exchanged. Finally, CARA’s own Lisa Vitale, a recruiting manager for the company, was kind enough to answer some questions from the group.
Participants discuss their resumes on a one-on-one basis.
The seemingly low turnout was actually a boon; the group size was perfect for meaningful discussion with only a little chaos. Attendees left with advice, answered questions, new ideas, and (in at least one case) pastries.

Thank you to those members who made it to the event despite frozen fingers and toes—there would be no event without you. Thanks also to Linda Kelley for facilitating the event and minding the stopwatch to keep everyone on track. Finally, a very special thank you to Lisa Vitale, for sharing her experience, and The CARA Group, for sharing their space.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Selling" Your Tech Comm Project

by Mary Whalen
For our SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), time is a currency that usually is in short supply.  Though a technical communication project might have dollar funding in place, getting our coworkers' or clients' time allocated to that project can be a daily challenge for us.

I find that the biggest part of my job is actively selling my tech comm projects to SMEs, so I look to the world of sales for advice. 

Sell Benefits
From the beginning of a project, I try to investigate and discuss with SMEs how spending time helping me will help them.  Will a manual help the implementation of a new service be accepted in a more positive way?  Will release notes help my SME spend less time answering questions and emails about a product?

Repeat Your Message
Most of our SMEs are overloaded with emails and phone calls, so I try to get noticed by doing a "campaign" for their time.  After an initial email, I might leave a voicemail, set up a meeting, or stop by my SME's office or cube to make sure my needs stand out.

Change Methods to Change Results
For me, the most efficient way to get feedback on a document draft is to send it to the reviewer and have them mark up the document electronically.  My reviewer, however, might prefer processing information in an auditory rather than visual way and feel overwhelmed about reading through a document.  So my backup plan would be to meet in person and discuss the document.  Or my reviewer might have a hard time allocating enough time to review 30 page draft, so I might break down the document into smaller chunks. 

The Customer is Always Right
Especially if we are working as a consultants or contractors, our SMEs are like customers to us.  So although I know that early reviews help prevent major last minute changes and rework, I also know that SMEs cannot always follow the review schedule.  I do my best to warn clients of how missed reviews can impact a project, but I'm ready to be "less efficient" if it fits a client's needs.

I know that I'm just skimming the surface of the complex writer-SME relationship.  But simply adopting a salesperson mindset can have a huge impact on the success of your technical communication projects. 

What are some creative "sales" tactics you've used to get your busiest SMEs to spend time on your tech comm projects?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Why You Need to Enter the STC Competition in 2013

by Mary Whalen
It's a new year and many of us have set goals, both personal and professional ones. An INVALUABLE experience you could have this year would be to enter the STC international publications competition. I just finished serving as a judge for the 2012 competition, and I had an eye opening experience about how valuable entering the competition can be.

I always assumed that writers enter the competition so that they can list their awards on their resume. I also assumed that winning awards helps writers gain authority in the field and gives them a sense of accomplishment and validation. What I didn't realize was how intense of a learning experience the competition can be for entrants.

Each entry is reviewed by a team of judges. Each judge pours hours into reviewing each entry in detail, completing a six-page evaluation form with detailed comments in every applicable assessment area (there are about 30 assessment areas!). Team leaders review evaluations to make sure that judges have given helpful, constructive feedback, and teams determine an award recommendation for each entry. Then the competition committee reviews entries and evaluations and makes sure that the judges have been thorough, consistent, and accurate.

How often is there a chance to get access to such detailed personalized feedback on your work from multiple professional peers? If you view the competition as a training experience or as a consulting service, its a bargain. If your department budget is being set this month, it might be the time to start asking your boss to set aside the funds.

A couple people from our chapter deserve a huge thank you for almost a full year of work they put into the competition: Cynthia Laughlin and Cheri Noble. Their responsibilities for the competition have cost them hours upon hours of their personal time, and the STC Chicago competition could not have happened without them. Elizabeth Burke and Mary Kay Gruenberg also played key roles as members of the Senior Review Team, and many others lent their time and talents to participating as judges.

I hope that you'll consider entering the competition in 2013.  For more information on the process, visit the STC Competition page on the STC Chicago website.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Tech Comm Friday (January 4)

Happy New Year! Here's what's going on in the world of tech comm in 2013:

Here's to a successful 2013!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Tech Comm Friday (October 5)

Fall sure snuck up on us, didn't it? If you were outside today, you know it's downright cold. But, we're not complaining. In fact, it's a welcome seasonal change from the summer's heat. And the weather isn't the only thing changing. Check out these links noting all the cool trends in the world of tech comm.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Chinese Dictionaries and Technical Communication (Part 2 of 3)

In this, Part 2 of my 3 part post (the first part appeared here), I will present some basics of the organization of individual Hanzi (Chinese characters). Then I will introduce the organization of Chinese dictionaries (I had the order backwards at the end of Part 1, where I said that first I'd talk about Chinese dictionaries, then the Hanzi).              

The beginning of Part 3 will complete my presentation on Chinese dictionaries. The larger part of Part 3 will discuss aspects of both Technical Communication and the use of information.

An English dictionary usually just indexes all entries by the 26 letters of the alphabet. The situation with Chinese, though, is not that simple, because written Chinese is not a phonetic script. Our Roman alphabet, Korean (Hangul), much of Japanese, and many other writing systems are phonetic scripts.

So how do you index the individual Hanzi in a dictionary?

Nowadays there are 'pronouncing' Chinese dictionaries, in addition to the more traditional variety.

This helps but it is not a 100 percent solution.

With written Chinese, sound – pronunciation – is the main way for adult learners to 'index' Hanzi internally (in one's own mind).

If one knew how each and every character is supposed to be pronounced, then he or she could look up by sound, all of the time, but many Hanzi do not even give you a hint as to the standard pronunciation.

There are some few expert people, in China, Taiwan and Asia mostly, and some Chinese language experts elsewhere, who might be able to do this almost 100 percent of the time but even they will find the three other methods to be easier and more of a sure thing.

These other (three) methods are looking up a character by [a] stroke count, by [b] stroke order, or [c] by radical.

First – the Organization of Chinese characters
Hanzi are made up of parts and radicals. Let's just talk about radicals here.

There are 214 radicals and each of the thousands of Hanzi is indexed by the main radical that it is built up around.

Stroke order and stroke count: When a child is learning how to write Chinese, he or she learns a certain standard method of writing the strokes in order to assemble the character in mind. During the learning process he or she will learn how those strokes are normally counted, for each individual Hanzi.

But what if you are a foreigner just learning? What if you are an adult who has to use some Chinese materials in your work? Thanks to the hard work of experts over the years, very good instructional materials and other documentation is available.

Back to the topic: a Chinese dictionary will index Hanzi by [a] stroke count, [b] stroke order, [c] radical, and [d] pronunciation.

Second - What a Chinese Dictionary looks like, Part 2
As I said before, it looks like a book that has many indexes. But nowadays many dictionaries of Hanzi are 'pronouncing' dictionaries and they do indeed index by the sound of the individual words.

Yet, many of these pronouncing dictionaries will also have ways for one to 'get at' information by using the traditional stroke order, stroke count, and radical methods.

 But – and this is important – a word is not necessarily always going to be the same as a character. I also do translation and I find that there are on average about 1.6 Hanzi to a Chinese word.

You could say that a Chinese character represents what we might call a 'word stem.'

Jim Jones, award-winning Senior Member of STC, is a Linguistics degree candidate at the University of Chicago.

Jim does freelance editing and technical editing, consulting, translation, and some work with MadCap Flare and Lingo. His Web site is He is currently available.

Jim's language pairs for translation are Chinese, German, and Spanish to English. He will consider work in the other direction.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chinese Dictionaries and Technical Communication (Part 1 of 3)

Chinese character background
My aim in this three part blog post is to present to you, professionals in technical communication, some of the basics of the organization of Chinese dictionaries. An English dictionary usually just indexes all entries by the 26 letters of the alphabet. The situation with Chinese, though, is not that simple.

All of this will be presented in greater detail in Parts 2 and 3.

Written Chinese – the orthography of Chinese – is not spelled – it is not a phonetic script. Our Roman alphabet (used by most European languages too) is a phonetic script, as are parts of written Japanese and all of Korean. And, Arabic, Dari, Persian and Devangari are, or have, phonetic scripts.

And now for something completely different: the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. How do you pronounce one of these? You have to know the system but the system has precious little to do with the actual glyphs. How does one learn the system? Well, by referring to what we technical communicators know as 'the documentation.'

Again, something completely different: Japanese is of course not Chinese, but its writing system is much closer to how it sounds and so is a bit easier to handle (by a foreigner who is learning it, for example).

Written Japanese consists of hiragana, katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and katakana are phonetic systems but the Kanji (these are similar to the Chinese characters) must be memorized by rote. There are about 2000 Kanji that are in use in everyday life.

Back to the topic: Chinese dictionaries and other items of documentation are really important to users of Chinese. And, in this online age, online references and documentation are very useful to them too.

Chinese is important in the world of commerce yet how you look up individual characters in the dictionary (and online too), albeit there is a well developed, long-accepted and good system for this, is kind of roundabout.

The glyphs or pictograms that are the Chinese characters are fun to learn but there are many of them. There are about 3000 that are used in daily life. For a foreigner to feel as though he or she has made the first step, the first level is about 700.

What a Chinese Dictionary looks like

A book that has many indexes. Individual Hanzi (Chinese characters) will be indexed by stroke order [1], stroke count [2], radical [3], and also pronunciation [4]. Yes, pronunciation – how you are supposed to say a character in Mandarin – is usually there too.

Finally, English spelling

Lest you consider Chinese to be just too complex a thing, remember that [1] it is not too complex for billions of Chinese, who have grown up with it for generations, and [2] our own English spelling system itself is not all that easy a system to learn.

English and its spelling is frought with many little exceptions and hellbending rules. Most other languages are quite regular in their spelling. Even Chinese is regular (easy, logical, having few exceptions) in how it is spelled phonetically.

As many a writer has done, as a youngster I did pretty well learning the spelling system of English – but looking back on the experience, I must admit that all of those spelling rules that I internalized so well does represent a really large body of knowledge.

In my opinion the situation with Chinese characters is about the same. I learned Chinese as a foreigner, in college here in the US. I would not have been presented with nor would I have mastered all of the little intricacies, exceptions to rules, and details that the entire system has grown to possess over the centuries.

But those who grow up learning this system must deal successfully with a large body of knowledge.

Parts 2 and 3 will discuss

  • The different parts of a Chinese dictionary
  • The different parts of a Chinese character
  • Chinese dictionaries and the presentation and ease-of-use of reference information

Jim Jones, award-winning Senior Member of STC, is a Linguistics degree candidate at the University of Chicago.

Jim does freelance editing and technical editing, communication consulting, translation, and some work with MadCap Flare and Lingo. His Web site is He is currently available. He can be reached at

Jim is currently editing a memoir for a NASA physician, and he edited a book for retired technical editor Jean Weber (of

Jim also does cartooning and illustration, and Mandarin coaching and tutoring. 

Jim's Mandarin pronunciation is highly regarded. Hear a clip of Jim delivering a short Mandarin tongue twister, via the link on his Twitter page. He is also available for recordings and voiceovers for things such as software tutorials. His accent is a very standard mild Beijing.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Call Me Maybe?

In our time of virtual – well everything! – CIOs may wonder why they should bother worrying about where their IT support staff is located.  If you can have instant communication with anyone, at anytime from anywhere in the world – who cares if their man power is located out of state, out of country or out of continent?

The answer is that you should care. I would challenge that, in some situations, nothing can replace humans.  We had a client who used to be in the same building as us when we lived in the South Loop, and they called us one afternoon absolutely frantic. Water was rushing down from the ceiling, and it was starting to accumulate in their datacenter. Aside from just being ten extra sets of hands that could run down and help sponge and soak up the pool of water, our team was prepared to physically failover their entire infrastructure and help move their servers out of the racks. Had we been housed out of NY or LA, our client would have been SOL. Our client support would have stopped at the phone call; we would have been too late.

Even in less dramatic situations, having help on-site can expedite workflow and improve business processes.  By emerging ourselves in client environments, we frequently catch issues through observing and becoming part of operations. It’s easier to identify wasteful practices, underutilized systems and unexploited technology resources when you’re right there – you can just do a better job.

In some scenarios location may not matter (and the powers of WebEx, conference calls, iLo and RDP can solve all your woes), but when you’re drowning, proximity counts!

Linda is the founder, owner, and CEO of YJT Solutions, a Chicago-based provider of IT consulting and managed services to companies in a variety of industries that depend on technology.  As the primary director of all YJT operations, she provides vital technology guidance to YJT clients who include large financial institutions, trading firms and hedge funds. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tech Comm Friday (August 28)

First off, thanks to all who made it out to our August Kick-Off meeting in Elk Grove Village this past Wednesday. We all enjoyed hearing Chris Ward talk to us about turning tech comm into ROI. Check out our blog post recapping the meeting. Here's what's going on in the world of tech comm this week:

Enjoy your weekend and make the most out of the last few days of summer. Goodbye August, hello September. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tech Comm as ROI - August Chapter Meeting

Vice President Cheri Noble welcomes attendees to the August program meeting

Wednesday night, STC Chicago members gathered in Elk Grove Village to hear Chris Ward of Web Works  talk to us about generating ROI out of our TOCs. Get it? Here's an overview of some of his key points.

Technical documentation is the most pivotal department to the company's success. 

Chris made a key point that I found particularly insightful: technical writers need to separate procedure and strategy. Writers are usually good at keeping procedure in mind. We know what to do and how to do it. We get the job done. However, we need to rise out of the day-to-day tasks and take a closer look at the strategy surrounding our documentation solution. How are we managing our time? How are we interacting with clients? How are we listening to users' needs?

"The Evolution of Online Help" put out by ePublisher documents some primary ways to start thinking strategically.

    • Maintain number one - it's your job to make sure you have best in class documentation. Always make this your top priority. 
    • Find ways to reduce cost - but not at the risk of not listening to customer needs.
    • Always be different than your competition - know who your competitors are and stay abreast of what they're doing. Don't play catch-up. Set the pace.
    • Clearly deliver your value message - always have a mission and a goal and make sure you users know what that is. Make sure your users know what they're supposed to do from the  first page they access to the last.
    • Don't miss changes in the market - if you stay ahead of the competition and are in tune with your clients, you won't miss the changes in the market; however, you want to make sure you're able to adjust as the market does. 
If you have an open line of communication with clients and users, you're in tune with their likes and complaints. Think about it. If you invite open feedback, chances are you'll receive unabashed, uncensored opinions about your product, documentation, or both. 

Technical communication can increase profitability no matter what strategy a company decides on. 
  • Marketing - make your docs just flashy enough to get your customers' attention. 
  • Sales - understand the need and provide a solution for that need.
  • Usage - allow your documentation to influence the usage of the product and how your users behave.
Measure your success! A successful system will always have  way to measure success. 


A big thank you to Chris Ward! We'd love to have him back to talk more about ROI in tech comm and other interesting topics. 

Stay tuned for more information about our next meeting in September. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Five Reasons You Should Attend WebVisions Chicago

Sure, conferences are great fun and offer a chance to hobnob with fellow professionals, but sometimes your boss needs a little more than a simple reassurance that the event will offer real value for the money. Fear not, here are just a few good reasons for your boss to happily sign off on sending you to the show:

  1. Explore the future of web and mobile design, UX, digital media and technology from an all-star lineup of visionary speakers. 
  2. Take in-depth workshops that dig into subjects like HTML5 and CSS3, interface design, user research and game development. 
  3. Network and meet people from around the globe--potential partners, clients, business associates and mentors. 
  4. Show off your company as a strategic thinker and leader in digital media, mobile, and interactive. 
  5. Share the WebVisions experience and help guide the future of your organization. 
From the beginnings of WebVisions, leading companies such as Weiden & Kennedy, Waggoner Edstrom, Yahoo, Netflix, Nike, Intel and Hewlett Packard (to name a few) have retooled and reshaped their web and mobile strategies, establishing new processes and streamlined operations to become online leaders. Won't you join them?

To receive a 25% discount on the conference, see our webpage.

Find out more at about WebVisions at

Monday, August 13, 2012

Interested in Judging a Technical Communication Competition?

Chapter's PR entry is a winner
If so, then we have a great opportunity for you. We're getting ready to kick off our annual Technical Communication Competition and we're in need of several judges with varying degrees of tech comm experience to evaluate the entries.

Judges are placed in three-member teams with a designated team lead. The team members receive three to six entries that they must review over a two-month period. Each judge reviews the entries using a four-page form that highlights different elements of technical communication. Responses are shared within the team and modified if necessary. Once the judging team agrees on an award level for an entry, the team lead communicates with the judging manager.

If you'd like to pursue being a judge this year, visit our 2012 Judging page on our website and fill out the form. Let us know if you have any questions!

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