Online groups, autumn 2014
The message 'Promoting awareness of Technical Communicators' started a very long discussion. Some members think that the ISTC does not promote technical communication sufficiently. Rachel Potts is a member of the ISTC Council, and she replied to the comments.
Each year, Council members look at a list of all the things that the Council wants to do. That list comes from members through conversations, surveys, e-mail messages to the ISTC, and comments in the online groups. Also, Council looks at what other organizations do. Council creates a shorter list of items that fit with the direction for the ISTC and what Council thinks is possible with the available resources (skills, people, money).
During Rachel's 6 years on Council, ISTC did many things, but it did not do everything that it wanted to do. However, "members tell us about getting a job via an area group, getting help with projects through this discussion list, feeling proud of giving their first ever presentation at TCUK, and appreciating the help of a mentor during their first steps in their tech communication career."
ISTC receives questions about technical communication as a career or as an area of expertise from many people and organizations. Examples are universities, Nature magazine, and the BBC. Many recruitment agencies and employers use the online groups to advertise jobs. The requests for collaboration that ISTC gets from other organizations, and the contributors, the sponsors, and the advertisers for TCUK and for Communicator show the respect that people have for the things that the ISTC does.
What will you do to help the ISTC achieve the things that you think are important?
A member is developing a content management system (CMS) that will supply PDF manuals on a website. He must decide whether the URLs contain issue numbers. He wants to know the advantages and the disadvantages of these options:
- If the URLs do not have issue numbers, the customer can only download the latest issue, which is the best option for new visitors.
- If the URLs have issue numbers, the CMS will supply the latest issue. However, people can 'hack' the URL to get an earlier issue. (Possibly, the CMS can index the earlier issues.)
- Members gave this advice:
- If customers want old issues, give them the option. Do not make them 'hack' the URL.
- Use evidence to decide which documents the customers need. Find a technical solution for that need.
The map inspired Ellis Pratt to develop the 'Cherryleaf Survey - Location of Technical Authors map' for technical communicators who are in the UK (www.cherryleaf.com/useful-resources/cherryleaf-survey-2014/). If you are a technical communicator in the UK, add your location to the map.
An editor of instruction manuals wrote that when engineers review documents, they "…demand editorial changes based on their personal preferences… the changes sometimes conflict with the house style, other engineering review comments and eventually customer comments." How do members help engineers to restrict their comments to only technical information?
Members suggested these things:
- Be as clear as possible about what you want the engineers to do.
- Tell reviewers to restrict their feedback to technical information only, because the document will be reviewed for English and formatting later.
- Tell the engineers that the formatting is not completed. Thus, they can ignore problems with formatting.
- Supply a checklist for reviewers and show who is responsible for what.
- Put a large red box at the top of the document that contains a bulleted list of what to review and what to ignore.
- Tell the engineers that if they review only the technical content, they decrease the time for their review.
- Put the content into a new document that has no formatting.
- Ask the engineers questions. Instead of "please review the technical content only," ask "does this section accurately reflect the hardware?"
- Ignore comments that do not agree with the style guide or with good English. Usually, reviewers do not make sure that their comments and 'corrections' are used.