Making moves to close the tech gender gap: Yes! Girls code too.

Who said that coding is a man’s job? If you haven’t heard, the new trending topic is  #girlscodetoo. A novice may ask, “What is coding?” CodeQuest.com simply defines coding as “what makes it possible for us to create computer software, apps and websites.”  In fact, all of the technological devices that we depend on exist because of code. This includes, “your browser, your OS, the apps on your phone, Facebook . . . they’re all made with code.”  In the last several years, the push to promote science and math education amongst girls has heightened. It is believed that the earlier we can get girls to embrace science and math, the more well-rounded they will be and better prepared to compete with their male counterparts.

WHY IT MATTERS

0.3%

In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science. (Image and information taken from GirlsWhoCode.com)

Teaching girls how to code is one of the ways organizations across the country are showing that it’s past time to close the tech gender gap.  For those girls who want to take on the challenge, there are countless opportunities to get their code on. Last summer, the University of Alabama-Huntsville hosted the first Tech Trek in the state of Alabama. Rising 8th grade girls from across north Alabama were invited to attend a week-long residential Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (STEM) program.  During the program, campers created cell phone apps, built robots, and learned about engineering design among other things.

Tech Trek is not the only program aimed at promoting the desperate need for girls to enter technological based fields through learning how to code. A quick google search using the words “girls code” will bring up countless organizations that are now in the race to teach girls how to code.  One of the most popular groups is Girls Who Code. The founder, Reshma Saujni proudly states, “This is more than just a program. It’s a movement.” In fact, major corporations like Google who has initiated its $50 million dollar Made with Code program recently donated $190K to another group, Black Girls Code. The purpose of the donation is to provide money to support the code training of minority girls.  The movement is indeed growing.

Ironically, girls are not only the targeted audience. Women based groups are also hosting programs to teach women how to code as well. Once again, Made with Code has allotted money to pay for thousands of these women to attend Code School, an online web training school.  If these initiatives are successful we can expect to see a large increase in females moving towards careers in Engineering, Software Coding, Technical Writing and Computer Science.

If you or a girl you know are interested in learning how to code for personal projects or to advance your own career here are some helpful pointers:

  1. Locate one of the many groups that cater  to teaching women (there are monthly workshops and summer programs happening all across the country).
  2. Find online coding programs and tutorials from groups like Code Academy and Khan Academy (both are free).
  3. Enroll in boot camp coding programs in your area (you can receive one-on-one instruction but you will have to pay a substantial fee).
  4. Enroll in university courses (take programming classes in the university setting).

Anyone can code and be successful at it!  You’ll be proud that you learned a new skill. C’mon girls of all ages. Let’s start coding!

For more information on learning how to code visit: www.girlswhocode.com, womenwhocode.com, blackgirlscode.com

Keisha Kennemore

 

 

 

How to Write an Effective Conclusion in Three Somewhat Easy Steps

grantproposal

Imagine the following scenario and ask yourself: how many times have I been in this position?  It’s almost midnight, the night before your term paper is due, and you’re stressing over the last minute details.  All the information organized in a logical way?  Check.  Correct spelling and punctuation?  Check.  Sources cited properly?  Check.  Then you realize…“oh no, I still haven’t written the conclusion!”

Raise your hand if that sentence has passed through your head at one point or another, because let’s face it, writing a conclusion is a pain in the neck.  Whether it’s a short paper for class or your first proposal after starting work at a new company, the conclusion is always the section of the paper that you put off writing for as long as possible.  Seriously, how are you supposed to sum up, say, your 200-page dissertation in just a few paragraphs?

Here’s how.

1) Ask the question, “so what?”

so what

Your conclusion shouldn’t ask and answer the question, “what is this?”  Hopefully, the rest of your paper has already done that.  Rather, ask the question “so what?” meaning ask yourself, “why is this information important and why should anybody care?”  This is particularly effective if you’re a technical writer finishing up a document; you’ve just spent x amount of pages describing your product, but it won’t do much good if the audience is still unsure about buying it.  Use this as a chance to make them sure.

Use the Socratic Method when thinking of how to form your ending statements.  Play out a little dialogue in your head between yourself and the potential reader.  If the reader asks why your argument is relevant, have a definitive answer ready and waiting.  If the reader picks out a flaw in that argument, find a way to back it up.  Remember, your conclusion is your last chance to make the audience realize why your points are valid.  Make it count!

2) Restate your thesis.

conclusion cartoon

This is where things can get tricky.  First of all, reiterate your thesis, but don’t say exactly the same thing you did in your introduction.  Find a way to rephrase the original statement, including some examples previously used in the paper.  Synthesize your main points and show how they form a cohesive argument – explain why everything fits together.  Think of your paper as a jigsaw puzzle and your conclusion is the final piece that anchors the rest of them.  In doing so, you are able to not only sum up your points without being redundant, but also show your audience that you care enough about your argument to give it a good ending and not take the lazy, copy-and-paste-the-original-thesis approach.

3) Connect the topic to broader themes

This is a good way to get your audience involved in the discussion.  Ask a question about your topic and then propose a solution, apply the information to something else of relevance.  For instance, if you’re writing an analysis on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then give examples of how that novel has influenced others in contemporary American literature.  Likewise, if you’re writing a scientific paper, then elaborate on how the discoveries made could impact future studies.  Make your audience think about how your argument connects with others like it, and in doing so, potentially discover the topic for your next paper.

And there you have it, folks: three steps for how to write an effective conclusion.  It’s one of the hardest and most nerve-wracking things to write, especially if you’re a proposal writer and any part of the given proposal could determine whether or not your company gets the bid.  So bear these tips in mind the next time you sit down at your desk at midnight the night before the assignment is due.  Because to your teachers, the idea of a weak conclusion is totally and completely…

inconceivable

For more information, visit http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/conclusions/

Thanks for reading!

Erin S. O’Reilly

The Engineering Student….and Tech Comm

What is the number one killer of fantastic research and amazing projects? The answer is quite simple – poor communication skills. As an engineering student, I fully understand the daunting task of completing an engineering program. All of our classes are cognitively draining and require constant attention and retention.   The perk of mental “cache emptying and defragging’ is not available to us. However, when I have spoken to working engineers, one thing they mention, time and again, is that they wish they had taken a technical writing class while they were in their undergrad programs.

So, why would I suggest adding ONE MORE CLASS to an already intense load? It doesn’t matter how talented engineers are or what amazing work they may do. If they cannot communicate effectively and clearly, their work or projects are then classified as “okay…not, great, mind you….but ok… MAYBE we will look at it.” However, if engineers are able to utilize strong technical writing and communication tools, their work will be understood, appreciated, and utilized (which is the whole purpose….right???)

The need for strong communication skills does not simply apply to the future. How many classes require technical writing skills students do not have? How many labs, reports, and projects would have seriously benefitted from an engineering technical writing course taken during the sophomore year? The fight to keep an engineering program within a four-year time frame and still meet ABET standards means that classes that would create EXCEPTIONAL engineers are overlooked and under-utilized.   Engineers in the field often have a list of classes that they wish they had taken in school because their work NOW would seriously benefit from them. However, the rigid schedule did not allow for it – Technical Writing, Business, and Tensor Analysis (to name a few).

Engineering students need to understand that their beginning, mid, and end product communication must be understood on many different levels. Reports are not ONLY going to be read and analyzed by other engineers. In most cases, money and needed support is determined by a team within management that is made of “support career fields” that may have engineering training…but do not live within the engineering “life sphere.” “Lay people” are often put in a position of examining work created by engineers. If engineers are not able to thoroughly convey their work in a way that can be understood by non-engineers within their fields, mistakes and misunderstandings produce costly outcomes that could have been avoided.

Why not strive to create exceptional engineers who can communicate across the board of disciplines? Universities across the US are grappling with this very issue. As undergrads, there are classes that are required for creating “well rounded” students. Let’s have one of those classes be something we will ACTUALLY use in both our more advanced classes and our professional lives.   What is the purpose of producing just engineers when we have the option of training engineers who can effectively communicate as well?

Inspired by Melissa Marshall’s so witty plea on a recent Ted Talk, please teach us to talk nerdy!

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


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