FSBO: Selling Yourself with a Free Personal Website

FSBO

Things are looking up for tech writers. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts an above average growth trend for technical communicator positions nationally. Despite the good news, many of us still face a competitive and often frustrating job hunt. We mine through job postings, submit cover letters and resumes, attend job fairs, and meet with college career counselors. Yet, we still cannot land that dream job. What’s missing? How can we get a competitive edge?

More and more people are discussing the benefits of having a personal website while searching for a job. Forbes staff writer Jacquelyn Smith believes that personal websites are now crucial resources for the job hunter. She finds that a majority of “hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool.” Yet, only a small minority of job hunters actually has one. Considering this increased interest by hiring professionals, job seeking technical communicators, always mindful of their audience, should give hiring personnel what they want.

WWWThe personal website becomes a single dwelling that houses all the relevant information necessary to evaluate the prospective employee. Smith provides a list and explanation of the necessary requirements to promote your qualifications, which includes both traditional forms, like resume and writings samples, and more innovative forms, like links to blogs and multimedia. Including links to your works published online gives employers a sense of your capacity to write in multiple genres.

For the tech writer, the personal website becomes an online portfolio. Portable and easily updated, the online portfolio provides human resources personnel an opportunity to review functional examples of your work prior to an interview. Tom Johnson suggests including a “quick reference guide, a user guide, online help file, video tutorial, newsletter article, release note, magazine article, and any other format you can think of.” Experienced tech writers can be discriminating in what to place on the site. Students with limited samples should put what they have available and create samples of other genres. Examples should highlight your diverse skills and demonstrate your ability to communicate persuasively in a sophisticated, relevant, and technically savvy manner.

If you remain reluctant, thinking that perhaps it is too expensive to launch this innovative job hunt tool … DON’T.

A personal website designed to market yourself as technical communicator par excellence does not require a domain name or expensive hosting. Rather, you can easily create a personal website through various do-it-yourself website builders at no cost. Beautifullife offers a comparison of the top fifteen free website builders and their basic features. Among those making the list, I personally reviewed Wix, Doodlekit, and Moonfruit and found each user-friendly, requiring no coding knowledge whatsoever. All three provide user support to set up and maintain the website. Wix and Moonfruit offer video tutorials, as well as help forums to assist users in the website development. Doodlekit offers a more limited help page through a support forum. Each of these website builders provides various template designs to create the job hunter’s professional online image and to house the owner’s sample work and credential information. Wix, however, offers the most variation and sophistication in its gratis offerings.

One notable absence from Beautifullife’s listing, which reviewers note, is Google Sites. Google Sites allows those Google Gmail account holders to create multiple, individual websites – something the other three sites do not allow without a charge. Google SitesMore streamlined than Wix, Doodlekit, or Moonfruit, Google Sites can still generate an aesthetically pleasing self-marketing website through its dozens of templates. Like other website builders, Google Sites offers step-by-step instructions and includes links to video tutorials on YouTube. Easy to use and effective for creating an individual’s basic personal website, Google Sites may serve all the functions you need. One downside of Google Sites, however, is the limitation of situating images on the pages. For the job hunter wanting to include images on the personal website, Wix, Doodlekit, and Moonfruit allow greater maneuverability.

Using one of these free website builders not only saves you money, but it also allows you to emphasize your technical communication skills through creative and effective design. Technical communicators, more than most other professionals, benefit from this novel means of presentation because the website itself becomes an example of their work and, if done effectively, should make the sale.

-Val Mullaley

Typography and You

Typography and You

Today we will be discussing a fundamental building block in the basic pragmatic and aesthetic functions of document design and technical communications: font choice. Although to some, choices in font may seem arbitrary, a matter of taste or preference—choices in font are vital to a document’s ability both to be pleasing to the eye and to be easily legible. Particularly when dealing with longer documents, maintaining both of these aspects of presentation will result in a document that is easier and less tiresome to read, which is ideal for your user. While certain technical documents will be dictated by a style guide that pre-selects the appropriate font and sizing, many times a choice in font will be left open to interpretation, and in those moments it is useful to have a few design principles in your back pocket to understand typography better.

First, let’s discuss three of the basic types of font categories, their characteristics, and their uses.

Serifs

Serif fonts are globally some of the most popular typefaces, and are recognizable by the linear flourish or flares emanating out from the letters, emulating brushstrokes. These marks are the serifs themselves. Examples of popular serif typefacing are fonts such as Times New Roman, Palatino, or Garamond. Serif fonts endure in popularity in part because they are so easy to read as large bodies of text. While they may not have the contemporary style and clean lines of a san-serif font, your general serif font such as Times New Roman will look best in a long body paragraph like an essay or long email. Serif fonts are especially useful when employed in ink-and-paper, non-electronic print media.

Sans-Serif

Sans-serif fonts, are—as the name implies, fonts that have been stripped of their brushstroke emulations in favor of a cleaner typeface style that is more congruous with bold statement pieces of texts such as headings and logos. Examples of common sans-serif fonts are Verdana, Arial, and Helvetica. Helvetica has been favored in use in both advertising, and infrastructural signage in part because of its clear and legible style that can be rendered in many languages. Sans serif font allow the designer or communicator more creative control with the size, weight (how thick or thin the typeface seems), and kerning (letter spacing). However, it should be noted that since sans-serif fonts do not guide the eye along in a horizontal fashion like serif fonts do, sans-serif fonts are best employed for emphasis and for short-form pieces of text.

Script

Script typefaces are the most formal and elaborate forms of typeface, meant to mimic calligraphy or handwriting. Script fonts are essentially cursive, and have the most flourishes of any font type. Because of this, they are perhaps the most aesthetically distinctive and expressive of the typefaces, but they are also the least legible and least suitable for bodies of text. Due to all of their flourishes, script fonts also tend to take up the most space on the page. It is important when using script fonts to pay attention to the size and kerning of your font choice, since all of those flourish-heavy letters will often compete for space and attention with one another. The most appropriate uses for script fonts are for cards, invitations, letter head, and other formal and announcement-based contexts for typeface.

For more information on typography, check out: http://bestfontforward.wordpress.com/

-Hannah Ross

Introducing 10-Minute Tech Comm, a new podcast from UAH!

The UAH Business and Technical Writing Program is excited to debut a new technical writing podcast, 10-Minute Tech Comm. The podcast features interviews with technical communication practitioners and scholars who can give practical, useful advice in ten minutes or less. The podcast is available through Podcast Machine and on iTunes! You can listen to the first episode now, which features Bart Leahy of Heroic Technical Writing talking about freelance writing.

http://podcastmachine.com/podcasts/17390

10MinuteTechComm

Proofing in a pinch

Are you stressed out because you have a document or project due soon and you were not allocated enough time for proofreading? So now you are under a time crunch, right? Luckily for you, I have a solution to your problem. This quick fix will help you correct some of the most common mistakes found in technical writing. Think of this blog post as you would SparkNotes; as an analogy of sorts: SparkNotes is to a novel as “Proofing in a pinch” is to proofreading. This guide is an immensely abbreviated version of proofreading, but these few easy steps will undoubtedly come to your rescue the next time you find yourself with too little time to do too much correcting.

Step 1. Spelling

With all of the awesome spellcheck tools, who can mess this up, right? However, one of the most overlooked spelling mistakes I have seen during my several years of experience of document writing and editing is incorrectly spelling or improperly referring to the company’s name. Writers often overlook this because we are too preoccupied with the main content of the document, refusing to properly recognize the most important detail—the company. The following cases are where spellcheck might become a hindrance rather than a benefit.

Example

The Law Office of J. Shay Golden wants Margaret, a technical communicator, to draft a brief. Margaret drafts the brief within one week and hand-delivers it to the partner at the firm.

  • Case 1

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Office of J. Shea Golden” throughout the brief. Unfortunately, Margaret relied on the spellcheck tools, which accepted both “Shay” and “Shea” as correct spellings.

  • Case 2

Margaret referred to the firm as “The Law Firm of J. Shay Golden” throughout the brief.

Unfortunately, the spellcheck tools are not equipped to check for consistency and correctness when referring to the employer’s company’s name.

Imagine the embarrassment Margaret faced when the mistake was brought to her attention. Always, always go through your document and double-check the spelling and accuracy of the company’s name. This should be the first step in your prompt proofing process.

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/please-stop-making-this-mistake-thank-you/)

Step 2. Punctuation

Contractions. Rule of thumb—never use them. These are those words we use to simplify our language in conversation and informal writing, such as can’twe’re, and should’ve. The simple solution to checking for contractions in a document is to scan each page for an apostrophe [']. When you find one, the first thing to do is to determine if it is being used to form a contraction or a possessive. If it is a contraction, remove it and extend the contraction into the subject and the verb. (Fun fact of the day: the apostrophe is used in a contraction to indicate the omission of a letter, or letters, in one of the words.) If it is a possessive—leave the apostrophe alone. It is supposed to be there. However, if you are using an apostrophe in a word that should be pluralized then you need to review your rules here: http://www.grammar.cl/Notes/Plural_Nouns.htm

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(Photo credit: Grammarly; https://www.facebook.com/grammarly)

Periods and Commas. Always scan through your document and make sure that these are used correctly. The last thing you want to do is submit a document with a mistake so elementary as a missing period or a comma. To check for absent periods, quickly scan through each sentence and check that it begins with a capitalized word and ends with a period (be sure to double check the more complicated sentences that contain those tricky semi-colons). As for commas, they can make all the difference in the world, so they might require a bit more attention at the word-level during proofing. Therefore, you can review grammatical rules here in case you are a bit rusty: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

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(Photo credit: whisper down the write alley; http://whisperdownthewritealley.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/punctuation-matters-commas-save-lives/)

Step 3. Figures, Tables, and Headings

I mentioned consistency before. This is especially important when it comes to this next topic: figures, tables, and headings. As always, you should follow the company’s style guide and preferences (hopefully, these would have been consulted before the writing began), but because you are caught in a pinch for editing, trust the writer and simply go through the document and ensure that all figures, tables, and headings conform to the same format.

Conclusion

Technical writing and editing is a very intricate process that requires much time and effort. It also requires great attention to detail. But when time is of the essence, following these rules will undeniably ensure your work does not contain those pesky, embarrassing mistakes that all professional writers make, yet hope to avoid.

Thanks for reading!

Kala Burson

3rd Annual Rocket City Technical Communication Conference!

The STC Huntsville/NA is proud to announce the 3rd annual Rocket City Technical Communication Conference. The event will be held April 19, 2014 from 8:00-1:00 in the Shelby Center on the UAH campus. Panels will cover topics like starting a tech writing freelance business, using social media, working with SMEs, writing in multimedia, and more! Registration is $20 for non-members and $10 for members and students. Lunch is included! Join us for this great learning and networking event!

STCConference2014

New Course for Technical Writing Minors

The UAH Business and Technical Writing Program is proud to introduce a brand new course for technical writing minors – EH 303: Research and Practice in Technical Communication! The course introduces students to the profession of technical communication and prepares them with the skills and knowledge they need for professional success. The course meets Fall 2014 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:55-5:15. This required course replaces the Directed Elective for Technical Writing Minors.

Please contact Dr. Ryan Weber for more information about the course!303

 

Writing User Help for Older Users

Facebook’s users are getting older. A recent report found an 80% increase in users over age 55. The effects of this change are reverberating, and it’s not just that teenagers are fleeing Facebook like rats off an aging ship. This older demographic may require different approaches to user help. And that’s why the internet has seen a rise in videos like this one helping seniors adjust to the site:

Facebook isn’t alone. The number of older computer users is growing dramatically. In response, companies like HP have designed technology specifically for older users. And several businesses and non-profits, including one founded by this enterprising San Francisco teen, devote their time to helping seniors learn and use technology.

Gail Lippincott argues that “Technical communicators can play a crucial role in meeting the needs of this growing audience of aging adults by acting as user advocates for accessible documentation and interface design.” This requires understanding how older users might approach and use instructions. Considering research that older users are much more likely to reference a manual, this understanding becomes even more important. While many researchers caution against stereotyping all seniors, they have also uncovered some general tips for writing manuals catered to older users:

  • Consider Formatting: While many seniors are in terrific physical health, others need formatting accommodations to improve a manual’s usability. Larger type, easily-turned pages, and fewer distracting elements can help many users. Demiris, Finkelstein, and Speedie provide several recommendations for accommodating elderly users in web design, and many of their suggestions–such as limiting colors, providing several methods for completing tasks, and providing several ways of getting assistance–apply to user help as well, especially when it’s online. W3Schools also provides accessibility guidelines for older users.
  • Increase User Confidence and Motivation: Older users may assume that they just won’t get new technologies. While watching older people use digital products, researchers Abdusselam Cifter and Hua Dong observed that many weren’t motivated to complete the task and blamed themselves for the failure. Manuals that provide extra cues to increase motivation and confidence can help. Nicole Loorbach, Joyce Karreman, and Michael Steehouder found that adding “confidence” elements to a manual increased the number of tasks users could complete and improved their persistence when facing a difficult task. In the study, confidence elements included a section labeled “No prior knowledge of skills required” to convince users that they, like millions before them, could master the task. The manual also offered strategies for reading the manual and included steps helping users check the success of their work.
  • Provide More Context: Older users may need context that younger users take for granted, such as the purposes of technologies and particular tasks. Patricia Robinson writes, “Older users may not automatically fill in missing information that is obvious to younger users,” partially because their thinking patterns are based on “older technological models.” Technical communicators may need to provide additional information or explain metaphors and processes that might be confusing.
  • Involve the Audience: There’s no better to meet users’ needs than to get them involved. Consulting with seniors and testing documentation with them can only improve the product. Plus, it helps companies avoid patronizing older users by creating user help with titles like “Manual for Seniors Scared of Technology!”

As the blog Workplace Writing argues, businesses can’t afford to ignore seniors. And if they can’t get good help using new technologies, they won’t use them.


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