Online groups, summer 2008

This quarter sees a change in the reporting of the Discussion Group and the Independent Authors SIG (IASIG); I will be reporting on both groups in a combined column. Thanks to Catherine Sharp for her previous Discussion Group reports.

Hotmail and Discussion Group e-mails

Some Discussion Group members who use Hotmail are not receiving e-mails from the group. The moderator points out that the default policy settings for a Hotmail account result in rejected traffic from the ISTC Discussion Group. To overcome this, members who use such accounts should add these addresses to their safe senders list in Hotmail:

Blogs about technical communication

Gordon McLean ( maintains a list of RSS feeds about technical communication, and he observed that there aren't many from the UK. If you have a professional blog that is related to technical communication (or just a specific part of the profession), let him know. If it is suitable, he will add it to the RSS feed. To view the blogs, you can download the RSS feed.

Large Word files

One member wanted advice for dealing with Microsoft Word 2003 documents that have more than about 500 pages, and which contain embedded illustrations and photographs.

Richard Pineger suggested using Author-it ( You tidy up the Word documents so that they use consistent styles, import them into Author-it, and publish them back to Word (or PDF) files. You then continue to edit and manage them in Author-it. Author-it creates a new Word document each time you publish, and so avoids the difficulties that are normally associated with large Word documents.

If you have to use Word, Lois Wakeman ( recommends using RD (Referenced Document) fields to include smaller sub-documents, at the chapter or section level. That way you can have an overall table of contents and an index in the document that contains the RD fields, although you cannot automatically cross-reference between the documents. Linking to graphics is a good idea, but this makes the document less portable. To reduce the file size of graphics, use optimized GIF or PNG files. For line art, vector formats minimize the file size. Crop photos in a bitmap editor, rather than cropping in Word.

Construction industry authors

A vacancy in the construction industry prompted Adrian Young to mention that the construction industry adopted ICT later than the manufacturing, retail, and service industries. He works in the construction industry as a freelance, and as far as he knows, only a few technical communicators work in that sector. He suggested that it is fertile ground for someone who can spread the related technologies that are common elsewhere.

Umbrella organizations

For 95% of the time, Alison Peck ( operates as a sole trader, and that works fine for her and her clients. To satisfy agency requirements, she occasionally needs to work in another way. She doesn't want to start her own company, because it is unnecessary for the bulk of her work, so she was looking to find an umbrella organization (thus giving her PAYE status).

Many umbrella organizations charge a flat fee to contractors. For people who work full-time on a contract, that is an attractive option, because you know how much the service costs. Moreover, umbrella organizations often do not charge if the contractor does not work in a particular period. However, that would not benefit Alison, because she would end up paying the fee even if she worked only a few hours a week.

Alison wanted an umbrella organization that charges a percentage. She followed up on the four suggestions from the group. All of them balked at the few hours she would be working some weeks, and they all decided that their scheme was not suitable for her. Bizarrely, one even claimed that if she worked only four or five hours a week, she wouldn't earn enough for the minimum wage, so they couldn't take her on.


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