Inside this issue:
Bust out the beach umbrellas and cash in those vacation hours. Summer time is fast approaching!
It’s a thrilling time for me, and not just because I recently found tech comm work or because I can actually don my photochromic frames without attracting bewildered stares. The main thing on my mind this week is our chapter’s upcoming End of the Year Banquet, and all of the accomplishments we will get to celebrate while we dine on some delicious entrees and network with one another.
Besides that, I’m going to keep this issue short and sweet. Our chapter breaks for a month after the banquet, meaning that Memo to Members will return in August—perhaps with news about our newly elected leaders. (See more about the impending election in this issue!)
Until then, just wear lots of sunscreen and have a blast. Read on, dear communicators.
Editor, Memo to Members
By: Mary Burns
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC
Happy June! It’s time again for our end-of-year banquet. I love this chapter tradition. The camaraderie flows as we raise a fork and a glass, share news and jokes, applaud chapter and member accomplishments, and await the unveiling of this year’s active member shirt!
I wear my shirt to work twice a month—for the administrative council and chapter meetings—and my boss usually comments, “Oh, you’re going to a meeting tonight.” Then he often asks what we’ve been doing. The shirt is visible affirmation that I’m using the investment my company has made in my membership.
The dividends continue to roll in. Just this week, I went back to the Intercom article “Editing Modular Documentation: Some Best Practices” by Michelle Corbin and Yoel Strimling to reinforce my commitment to clearly defined topic types for a new documentation project.
I end this chapter year with mixed feelings. I’ve enjoyed serving as Vice President and am grateful for mentoring by seasoned leaders, but for personal reasons, I am not running for office for next year. However, I plan to continue serving the chapter and doing what I can to keep making it the valuable resource that it is.
I hope you will join us at the banquet. We’ve got a great venue and menu lined up. What better way to start the summer professionally?
By: R.D. Sharninghouse
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“No offense to Mr. Emerson, but in software documentation, consistency is a virtue sometimes difficult to achieve and sustain.”
“A style guide is the key to enhancing consistency in writing and editing without lowering productivity.”
“This presentation offers tips for developing a department- or project-specific style guide to use in conjunction with style references.”
On Thursday, May 21st, the Orlando Central Florida chapter held their monthly meeting at the Winter Park Civic Center. Mary Burns, current Vice President of the STC Orlando Central Florida chapter, gave a presentation that shared “Five Tips for Wise Consistency.”
1. Piggyback on a style manual
2. Be a collector
3. Be a collaborator
4. Be flexible
5. Be a listener
The first step reminds the audience that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The second suggests saving frequent edits and emails on style decisions, since some may be incorporated into the style guide. Tip three is about working with others to put together the material. Number four focuses on bending or amending a rule to preserve user-friendliness or consistency. Finally, tip number five is about listening to the details of the project and knowing any additions to terminology, spelling, capitalization lists, or any other important information.
These tips may seem basic, but they are very important to the process of technical documentation. Thank you, Mary, for giving a wonderful presentation.
We have some critical events coming up. Very soon.
The first of these is our impending chapter election. Please download the ballot below (courtesy of W.C. Wiese) and consider promptly mailing it to us for Thursday’s banquet. You would be doing your chapter a great service!
Next order of business:
This year’s STC Summit in Columbus, Ohio is fast approaching. If you wish to attend but have not yet signed up, you will have to register onsite at the event. Still, check out the link about the summit below and see what you think!
By: Mike Murray
STC Associate Fellow
Former Three-Time Chapter President
But fear of failure is not an option
It’s 5:00 in the morning on September 7. I haven’t been able to sleep, and I suspect that’s for two reasons. Leg cramps are one of my symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) [sic], and at 2:00 this afternoon I will be attending the funeral of a dear friend (I’ll call him Thomas) who was diagnosed as having PD 22 years ago.
Before continuing, I feel the need to make an important point. In spite of obituaries, articles, news programs, movies, etc. that would have you believe otherwise, PD is not fatal; however, the Center for Disease Control rated complications from the disease as the 14th top cause of death in the United States. There is no cure for PD, but it is treatable, and, again, it is not fatal. I will include much more information about PD in an upcoming blog.
I had been thinking about Thomas for several weeks and finally decided to call him. Looking back, I think fear of what I might find led to my procrastination. Seconds later I was listening to a stuttering, monotone, recorded voice saying, “The number you have dialed is no longer in service.” To shorten this story a wee bit, a wonderful lady at the high school (we’ll call her Claire) where my friend had worked did some searching and found that Thomas had been placed in a nursing home and then moved to a hospice facility. The following weekend, my wife took me to see him. When our eyes met, I could tell he recognized me.
I have read and personally observed that seemingly no two people with Parkinson’s exhibit the same symptoms. (There are many.) My friend’s most obvious symptoms were shaking, stiffness, general weakness, and difficulty speaking. His speech volume was very low, which doesn’t fit well with my deteriorating hearing. I wanted to ask him so many things, but I simply could not hear his responses.
On my next visit, I brought along an inexpensive amplification device that I use to hear the television. All Thomas had to do was speak into the microphone while I wore the headphones. Unfortunately, he could only hold the microphone close to his mouth for a few seconds at a time and pulled away any time someone tried to hold it for him. I could tell that he was deteriorating cognitively (i.e., mental processes). I could also sense that he was giving up. He no longer wanted to live.
Not being one who gives up easily. I scoured the Internet and found what I felt was the perfect solution – a powerful amplifier with speaker. A headset would position the microphone close to Thomas’s mouth so he wouldn’t have to hold it. In order to pay for the 100-dollar unit, Claire contacted several of Thomas’ friends at the school who quickly came up with the money to pay for the amplifier. She ordered the unit, which only took three days to arrive at my house.
Not wanting to wait until Saturday so my wife could take me, I excitedly made arrangements to be picked up by an access-equipped bus and was at the hospice facility just before noon on the following day. I found Thomas sitting in a wheelchair in a hallway next to his room. As I approached him, he gave no indication that he knew me, but the thing that mattered was that I knew him. I put on my biggest smile, greeted him, and put my arm around his shoulders. I could feel him trying to pull away, but I was persistent. I talked with him about how we first met and some of the good times we have had together.
I explained to Thomas how the amplifier was used and demonstrated it on myself. But when I tried to place the headset on his head, he quickly recoiled and put both of his arms in front of his head in a defensive position. I was shocked at the same time my heart sank. I was too late.
Over the next few days, Claire visited and tried to get Thomas to use the amplifier. She said he left the headset on one time for about five minutes and that “it worked perfectly.” Stressful situations amplify my Parkinson’s symptoms, so it was almost two weeks before I could face my dear friend again. But before I could get there for one last hug, Claire distributed an announcement that he had passed away.
As I sat in my power chair at the cemetery, dark clouds fittingly rolled in and began soaking everybody. I learned a long time ago to “feel my feelings” so that I can let them go. I did that in the car with my wife.
I thought for a very long time about calling Thomas, but I kept putting it off. Just as you would do for a malady of your own, counsel your friends about seeing a medical professional as quickly as possible. Trust your instincts. The sooner you are treated, the more likely it is that your malady can be slowed down or corrected.
As my wife and I sat in our car, both completely drenched from the now heavy downpour, she started the car and turned on the heater. At that moment, I realized that we were shaking from the cold rain, but I didn’t feel cold. Instead, I was filled with warm thoughts. I felt grateful for the wildlife that remained happy and healthy. I felt grateful for Central Florida’s many pristine lakes looking even more beautiful now with their new supply of “liquid sunshine.”
“Ready to go?” I barely heard my wife’s question, but managed a head nod. Mentally, I was no longer in the car. I was at the school’s football stadium, and Thomas was walking toward me with his hand extended and a smile on his face. “Hi there, Michael!”
Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
By: Tavia Record
Editor, On the Record
Orlando Central Florida Chapter, STC
***The views expressed in this interview are personal. They do not necessarily represent the views of Lockheed Martin.
Alex Garcia, also known as the “Rocket Writer” because he actually is a rocket scientist and a technical writer, leverages his combined background in engineering technology to provide documentation solutions at Lockheed Martin as a technical writer and instructional designer in Mission Systems and Training.
Alex has been the treasurer of the Orlando Central Florida Chapter of Society for Technical Communication since June 2013 and also has experience as the chapter’s newsletter editor of Memo to Members.
T: Dispel three myths about technical communicators
T: How would you describe what you do, and how did you come into this profession?
A: Right now, I take buckets of complex information from engineers, sift it, organize it, and edit it into a concise operations and maintenance manual according to very stringent military standards. These manuals are used by our men and women in uniform to run some pretty intricate machines.
When called upon, I design and write scripts for computer based training. This involves choosing the screen layout, images, animation, and then managing the production of the courseware with a team of artists and developers.
I came to be a technical communicator partly by need of some sanity as a sophomore engineering student at the University of Central Florida. My English Composition II professor, Mary Ellen Gomrad, was also a technical communication professor, and encouraged me to take the introductory technical writing course, which lead to me eventually pursuing the minor, and then completing the Technical Writing track of the English degree in addition to my degree in Engineering.
I landed an opportunity to work for five years as an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center where I witnessed the Space Shuttle project to completion in 2011.
Through my connections with the Orlando Chapter of STC, I learned about a contractor position at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control within 10 days of completing my assignment at the Kennedy Space Center.
T: What does your job entail as an instructional designer, and how does this role differ from your work as a technical writer?
A: Instructional Design is just that—design. It is multidisciplinary and entails adult educational theory, writing, editing, quality assurance, and light graphical skills. Unlike a manual, you need to test your user to verify that they retained what you taught earlier. You also get the chance to flex your creative muscle and bring in multimedia to improve your presentation of information.
T: Describe the relationship you would advise young technical communicators to foster with their Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
A: Don’t be afraid to get out of your cubicle and go down on the floor. Get your hands dirty and show that you are a part of the team. Sit in on planning meetings, design reviews, and just try to absorb as much information as you can.
T: How would you define a Technical Communicator? What makes us tick?
A: We are Technical Communicators, emphasis on the word TECHNICAL. We are geeks, understand technology, and have the desire to bring that technology (or a description/review of it) to the masses in a way that they can understand. We are the type of people who read live blogs of Apple and Google keynotes like it is Christmas morning.
T: Can a person’s interests, experiences, or involvement outside of the common technical fields of engineering, software development, and information technology help them in their work as a technical communicator?
A: Absolutely. Nowadays, anyone can start a blog and write about whatever they want. The aforementioned keynote addresses usually result in hundreds of blog articles about highly technical specifications of new gadgets. Those authors break that information down into information Joe Q. Public can understand. My philosophy is that everything we are involved in has its own jargon and someone, somewhere, wants to learn more about it. That’s where we come in.
T: Let’s talk software! What are you currently using in your work projects? What are some of the strengths and learning curves you’ve observed while using it? Would you recommend it to other technical communicators?
A: Unfortunately, in the defense industry our customer expects deliverables in PDF and MS Word. It is pretty vanilla, but that’s not to say I can’t do some pretty awesome things with MS Word styles and templates.
Some of my team is starting to organize workflows in Atlassian Jira, which is an agile content management system.
T: How have you used your ability to speak both English and Spanish in your work as a technical communicator?
A: I hope to incorporate more of this in the near future as language breaks down barriers and enables connections to be fostered with end-users in various countries and or continents.
T: If you could commit to making it possible, describe your dream-come-true role in the technical communication field.
A: It would be a position where I can blend my engineering background with my writing skills to make information available to the widest audience possible. I want to go down to the shop floor to work alongside technicians and engineers to help optimize their documentation. I don’t need a fancy office; I could be embedded in a far-flung facility as long as my work matters.
T: Why do you value your membership in STC?
A: I love the way STC provides a platform for me to mentor, network, and socialize. Sometimes my work schedule can make it challenging for me to get out and meet new friends. The monthly events that the chapter hosts allow me to connect with new people and build friendships. Some of my best friends are people I see at STC meetings.