Monthly Archives: July 2007

54th Annual Conference — Trip Report for Technical Communication Summit

Michelle Corbin

Hello SIG members! It’s been a week since I returned home from the Technical Communication Summit, and I have recovered from the time away from the office and I wanted to share a few tidbits from the conference.

We attended leadership day on Sunday, and gathered invaluable information that will help us plan our next set of activities. I learned a great definition of leadership from incoming president, Linda Oestreich: “Leadership is the ability to cause others to act in desired ways for the benefit of the organization.” Ultimately, each community leader was encouraged to determine what we wanted to do from year to year, and then just go do it; that is, don’t do everything and don’t do what you think you “should” do, but just do what your members want you to do and do what your volunteers sign up to do. So, Technical Editing SIG members, what do you want us to do? 🙂

We had a very interesting keynote speaker, Simon Singh, who spoke about the making of his documentary about a mathematician solving the proof for an age-old mathematical equation. Although the specifics and details about that mathematical equation did not stick, I did take away two things from listening to his experiences — first, when choosing to edit something, you must consider the audience and context and make sure that it is right, and second, the technical accuracy of your content is critical as you run the risk of losing your audience’s trust.

A very popular session this year (as in past years) was “The Myths and Trends in the Changing English Language.” They talked through several common issues, such as ending a sentence with a preposition, use of the serial comma, and passive voice. As a fellow “word nerd,” this session was a light-hearted treat, where I got to learn what “snarky” meant. My one golden nugget from this session was to be reminded that “goodwill is more important than being right.” As editors, we sometimes need the goodwill more than the rightness of a rule or guideline.

The Technical Editing SIG had its own session of progression table topics — all about editing! Many thanks to our moderator, Diane Feldman, who helped coordinate these topics with the help of you, our SIG members! Each table was full each time, and everyone seemed to really engage in the conversations. Perhaps each presenter might consider summarizing their session in an article for our blog and newsletter!

The closing keynote speaker (yes, we got two keynotes this year) was Ze Frank, who told two great stories about the designs of airline safety cards and about “accelerated anxiety” and the changing landscape of how everyone wants to join the media conversation — the explosion of blogs, MySpace, YouTube, etc. He is a designer at heart, but an excellent communicator through his designs. I laughed out loud frequently and left the conference with a smile on my face.

Although I attended other technical sessions, which I might try to summarize in other posts or articles, I wanted to highlight these above from my experience at the conference. Did you attend the conference? What was your favorite session? Please consider sharing your experiences with our other SIG members!

STC Summit 2007 Report

Virginia Janzig

I attended the STC Summit for the first time in about 10 years. In addition to being a presenter in the Editing Progression, I attended many of the sessions that were offered, and spent worthwhile time in the vendor showcase, especially the bookstore.

Three things stand out to me.

First, the organizers had clearly paid attention to the comments received about prior conferences. The  conference was more focused on writing and editing, and much less on tools. And the variety of different kinds of writing topics was tremendous: everything from processes and procedures and structured language to highly technical online documentation. Having recently taken a job in a courseware development group, an area about which I know very little, I was pleased to find more than one session on instructional design. The two I attended were quite helpful.

The editing progression had several presenters on a wide range of topics, and it was well attended. A couple of other sessions on language were also well attended and useful, as well as entertaining. And our language is nothing if not entertaining.

Second, several sessions on various topics provided information for both beginning and advanced writers. Assessing an audience and its needs is always a challenging task, but I think that the organizers and presenters did an excellent job of delivering to both ends of the spectrum.

Third, I was especially glad to see sessions on careers, not only what kinds of careers are available in the technical documentation arena, but also how to progress in a career: what opportunities to look for, how to build skills, and how to present yourself (not just your resume) in a professional and business-like manner.

The Minneapolis Convention Center was a great venue, and the city had a lot to offer. There were plenty of rooms for all of the sessions (although a few of the most popular were standing room only), and the vendor showcase area had refreshments and Internet access. The incredible walkways made it really easy to get from hotels to the convention center and to lots of other businesses.

In closing, I was pleased to see how many young people attended the conference. Clearly, technical documentation is perceived as a legitimate career and career path, and, if we can help persuade the U.S. Department of Labor to update its definition of this job, then I think that the STC and technical documentation as a whole will benefit, and the technical community will be well served.

Paper, Screen, or Scissors? Editing on Hard Copy or Soft Copy

Tim Slager

The question posted in our discussion list: Should editors edit on hard copy or soft copy? The answer: Yes. Or, it depends. Essentially it is not a matter of should; it is a matter of personal preference and what works best in different situations.
The exchange on the STC Technical Editing SIG discussion list in response to this question went on for several days and included 20 posts, which is higher than average for our moderate-traffic list. Apparently, we tend to be passionate about how we do what we do.

Hard Copy

On one side are those who print a copy and mark it up. Several people mentioned that they notice more errors when they edit hard-copy documents. Hard copy also has these advantages:

  • Easier to flip back and forth to compare for consistency
  • Very portable
  • Easier to see punctuation marks and spelling errors
  • Easier on the eyes
  • Less risk of computer-related stress injury for the editor
  • Easier to mark suggested moves of text
  • Often easier to see corrections in contrasting ink

But the tide is turning, even for those who prefer hard copy. Some people will compromise by marking up hard copy, and then scanning it to make a PDF file. One poster likes to edit hard copy and make changes in soft copy. Another marks up the hard copy and then transcribes comments to soft copy, both for legibility and to tone down “intemperate remarks” (on those rare occasions when one makes it onto paper).

Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste: an “online version of the document is helpful…but I still prefer to deliver markup on hard copy.” One poster still prefers “my trusty red pen.” Another suggests: “Perhaps that is in part due to eyesight issues and in part due to lifelong habits and learning modes.” Some prefer “a quieter, slower paced approach,” and believe it leads to better quality.

Soft Copy

Not everyone wants a slower paced approach, however. When there is a lot of work to be done, speed counts. For some, hard copy may be the preferred approach, but “time and cost considerations” take precedence and “in my current job, I work most often with soft copies.” Several noted that soft copy is faster, and time is money. “Online editing is a cost-saving measure,” said one poster “I can return a document for author review in nearly half the time it takes the other editors.”

The “flipping back and forth” in hard copy can be distracting to some. You might notice structural problems that, in some cases, are better left alone.

The tools that are available with a computer offer a big advantage to online editing. Several people noted that searching for repeated problems is easy with soft copy. One commented, “I’m sure I provide better edits now that I have access to PDF files” for searching. Change tracking tools can be troublesome at times but allow writers to view markups in much the same way they can with hard copy.

Certainly, for many of us soft-copy editing is a big part of our job responsibilities. In fact, later posts in the thread turned mostly to an exchange of advice for how to work with Adobe Acrobat, Word, and other online editing tools as well as with document management and version control software.

One editor took a job on the condition that she could “continue working… completely online.” She goes on to say, “I definitely prefer soft-copy edits, and will do a hard-copy edit only when specifically requested by the author.”

Another noted, “I’ll edit on hard copy if I have to, but I much prefer soft copy at this point.” I sense some ambivalence here, though: was there a change in preference? Someone else perceived that “younger team members do prefer soft copy; it seems they are more comfortable with the technique and it is quicker for them.”

There’s More Than One Way to Do Things

The person who observed the preference of younger editors for soft copy, counters by noting that “many others my age or older might still prefer hard copy.” Different people and different circumstances call for different approaches.

One editor summarizes it like this: “Both types of editing can yield acceptable results. As to preferences, different editors will give you different answers. I might give you a different answer at different times, depending on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.”

Another says, “I think that both are acceptable….I prefer to edit hard copies when proofreading but I vastly prefer soft copies for comprehensive editing.”

This either-or view seems to characterize the variety in the larger community of editors. No one implies that their approach is the only one.

There seems to be a general, if at times reluctant, sense that the move is toward more online editing. One post states that the choice of software that is used for soft copy editing is pivotal, and that such tools keep improving. It concludes with, “I doubt that there was much serious copy editing going on at PC screens 20 years ago, but ten years from now doing it on paper might also be a relative rarity.”

The first response to the question of which method was better begins with what sounds like a hard-line opinion: “Editing hard copy is best.” But this same post ends with “I edit by reading hard copy and making changes in soft copy. That seems to combine the best of the choices. Hope this opinionated answer helps.”

In the end, it seems to be a split opinion.

General Impressions: “The Technical Editor as Diplomat…”

Michelle Corbin

I recently re-read the journal article “The Technical Editor as Diplomat: Linguistic Strategies for Balancing Clarity and Politeness” by Mackiewicz and Riley (Technical Communication, Volume 50, Number 1, February 2003, pp. 83-94(external link)).

This article discusses 8 different strategies, based on linguistics research, for balancing clarity and politeness when making editing comments, in the hopes of building and enhancing the author-editor relationship. Although I do not agree with all of the strategies and conclusions that the authors make, I did find it a fascinating article – one that made me actually think about and try to articulate my own thoughts on the role that politeness plays when I make my editing comments.

Although this is not a recently published article, I thought it might be nice to use it to kick off this new type of newsletter article in the Technical Editing SIG blog/newsletter. We receive so much information that it is difficult to know what to take the time to read, and the SIG is trying to help you make a decision as to whether to read an article or not – we want to entice and encourage you to read these articles (and who knows, maybe join a conversation about them on the blog or in our discussion list!).

Do you remember reading this article? Did this entice you into reading it (or re-reading it)? Do you have some thoughts about this article? Please consider sharing them on our blog or as part of our discussion list (I decided to cross-post this to both places, in hopes of encouraging cross-reading/cross-participation in our blog and discussion lists. (:biggrin:) ).