The English Department is excited to offer the elective EH 440/540: Instructional Technology this summer. EH 440-540 is an introduction to the field of instructional technology and the theory and practice of instructional design. This course will address the processes involved in planning, creating, and evaluating instructional materials for a professional delivery. Learners, working individually and in groups, will utilize various technological resources and apply instructional design principles to produce a professional training module. The course, taught by Dr. Bobbi Jo Carter, will meet on Wednesdays from 5:30-8:20 from May 20-July 26. This course counts as a technical elective for undergraduate students and an English elective for graduate students. For more information, email Dr. Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: STC Conference
Join STC Huntsville/North Alabama for our annual Rocket City Technical Communication Conference on Saturday, April 20! The event provides a great chance for current and aspiring technical communicators to gain knowledge and participate in networking. Presentation topics include working with SMEs, developing soft skills, improving user help, developing your resume, and making connections with local organizations. The conference will be held at the Shelby Center on the UAH campus. Registration begins at 8:00 and presentations begin at 8:30. Breakfast snacks, coffee, and lunch will be provided. Registration is $20 for non-members and $10 for members and students. Contact Ryan Weber at email@example.com for information and early registration.
Recently, I’d Rather Be Writing featured a post with insights from a technical communication job search. It’s full of great advice like checking out the company’s documentation before an interview:
In order to speak to documentation-related issues and challenges, it’s important to study the company’s documentation beforehand. You can gather a lot of insight and questions by looking over the way a company does documentation. If the documentation isn’t accessible, you can still gather a lot of information by reading about the company. I like to look at the way a company organizes their content, as well as any visual communication, user engagement, short guides, online help, and other documentation efforts the company is engaged in.
TalentEgg recently posted its own tips for finding technical writing jobs. Great sample interview questions are also available here.
For more insights on the technical writing market, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics outlook for technical writing jobs.
Tags: Science Writing
Students in my technical communication classes often ask me for good resources on science writing. I get the question so often, in fact, that I decided to catalog great resources for reference.
I understand why students (and scientists) could find writing about their work so difficult. Great science writing translates very technical, complex concepts into language that makes them both coherent and engaging. Science writing must conform to concrete genre standards (a journal article, a lab report) without diluting the sense of wonder and excitement that a good experiment provokes. In formal science writing, experiments must be described meticulously enough for other researchers to replicate.
In public science writing, scientists and science journalists must determine what their audience already understands and how new concepts can be made clear and relevant. And it’s not just the public that struggles with comprehension. Andrew Kessler’s book Martian Summer contains a great anecdote where the Peter Smith, the principal investigator of the Phoenix mission, tells a room full of NASA scientists and engineers to give their presentations “In English!”
Fortunately, there are terrific resources for budding and professional scientist writers. Many have already been cataloged. The NC State Library lists scientific writing resources by discipline, while the Equator Network breaks them down by type (books, articles, etc). M. Tevfik Dorak has compiled a tremendous list of lessons and links helpful to native and second-language English speakers alike. If you’re looking for a quick introduction to science writing genres, these resources will get you started:
- Hengl and Gould’s Rules of Thumb for Writing Research Articles
- Colorado State University’s Guide to Writing the Scientific Paper
- The Texas A&M Writing Center’s Guide to Writing Abstracts
- Duke University’s Series of Self-Guided Lessons on Scientific Communication
- University of North Florida’s Scientific Writing Presentation
Many terrific resources also exist to help science writers master an engaging style. For instance, Steven Pinker’s gave a recent lecture at MIT on effective science writing. MIT Video – Communicating Science and Technology in the 21st Century: Steven Pinker.
Psychology Today blogger Kathleen Taylor wrote a terrific post about how good writing and good science should be inseparable; in it, she provide plenty of samples to illustrate her point.
And many scientific writers have benefited from The Science of Scientific Writing and How to write consistently boring scientific literature since the pieces were published. More controversially, Megan d. Higgs at American Scientist argues that scientists should ban the phrase “significant” from their writing because of the various connotations of the term.
For even more guidance, check out the frequently updated National Association of Science Writers page. And finally, get writing! Nothing beats practice in developing your writing skills. For inspiration, check out the pieces at the Guardian’s Science Writing Prize page.
- Ryan Weber
In Usability Testing Essentials: Ready, Set,… Test!, Carol Barnum lists several great sources for internal information about users:
- Technical Support/Customer Support
- Training for Internal/Customer Use
- Technical Communicators
- Sales and Field Support
All these sources are helpful, but a recent experience convinced me that an even wider group of employees may posses powerful, but overlooked, usability information.
I placed an order for pictures on the Walgreens website, but when I arrived an hour later to pick them up, they weren’t ready.
“The order wasn’t placed,” the photo clerk informed me.
“But I placed an order,” I responded.
“You have to submit the order. A lot of people don’t notice that,” he responded.
And when I looked at the site again, he was (not surprisingly) right. I had missed a “submit” button at the bottom of a “Review and Submit Your Order” screen. Maybe the employee was just trying to make me feel better, but from the sound of it, he often encounters customers who make the same mistake. Here in my local Walgreens sits an employee with valuable usability insight worth time and effort to customers and money to Walgreens. Presumably, some of the customers who forget to submit will not repeat the order later. Also, they take up time when customer lines are long and frustrate already overworked employees.
While it’s unrealistic to expect companies to survey every employee for usability insight, it’s equally realistic than many of the on-the-ground, lower-level employees possess a wealth of usability expertise about their company’s products (and this includes employees beyond the Sales and Field Support that Barnum lists). The ultimate solution is finding efficient ways to gather to this insight and providing motivation to employees to share their knowledge. But the first step is for usability professionals to recognize that employees possess this knowledge is the first place.
Not so long ago, my desktop computer took a turn for the worst. It crashed shortly thereafter, taking with it many of my past documents, photos, projects, music and....my only copy of Photoshop CS. It was a sad day, but it didn't really hit me until I got about waist-deep into a project and realized that I no longer had a decent photo/graphics editing program at my disposal.
Tags: " "technical communicator, Huntsville, Jobs, journalism, research, writing
As a broadcast news major in undergrad, I never thought I’d be in a technical communication program. But if there’s one thing you learn about Huntsville, Alabama: The technology field is a major industry here in the Rocket City, and the more technical skills you possess, the more marketable you are in this town. But with a degree in broadcast journalism, the most I knew about technical communication was how to communicate and operate a video camera….Or so I thought. But as a technical communication student, I’m learning that I have more skills that translate to technical communication than I thought.
If you too are a journalist attempting to break into the field, identify what skills you possess, and how to apply them to technical communication. Here are some overlapping skills that both journalists and technical communicators have, according to a blog post by Scott Nesbitt entitled: “Tech Writing and Journalism: Yes, There are Parallels” on the DMN Communications blog.
According Nesbitt, “Writing is a key factor in technical communication and journalism. You don’t need to be a great stylist to be an effective technical writer or journalist, though. You need to be able to write clearly and write tightly.”
Basically, write concisely. If you’re an editorial journalist who writes for print media, this may be a little bit of an adjustment. But if you’ve ever written for television news, this is right up your alley. Use the simplest form of words to make your audience understand. Assume that no one knows what you are talking about unless you explain it to them because in most cases, they really won’t understand.
This is a skill you probably didn’t even know you would need as a technical communicator. But interviewing can play a just as big, if not bigger, role in technical communication as writing can. As Nesbitt puts it, “ …you need to know how to ask the right questions, and not be afraid to ask dumb ones. On top of that, you’ll need to know how to gently draw answers out of reluctant interviewees and to spot tangents that are worth following during an interview.”
As a technical writer, you will have to interview the technical professionals in your organization, so that the information that you are distributing to the user is correct and most efficient. You won’t know this information if you don’t ask the technical professional. And you have to be sure that the questions you’re asking will provide the information that users need to know.
Journalists are known for finding the information we need to obtain, whether it’s handed to them on a silver platter by very cooperative forces, or if they have to dig around and investigate for themselves. According to Nesbitt, researching “ can take many forms: looking at design documents, reading up on subjects like virtualization, or even going over documentation for products that are similar to the ones we’re writing about.
All in all, transitioning from journalism to being technical communication student hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Sure there are some aspects of it that I never would’ve probably seen in news, such as learning computer programming, or learning the inner workings of an engineering firm, but all in all, it has been smooth sailing… so far.