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Koster Visits UAH – Oct 10th @7pm

The University of Alabama in Huntsville departments of English and Art will host an evening with Raph Koster, creative director and lead designer of massive video game titles such as Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online. Koster will talk about the future of storytelling in gaming on Monday October 10th at 7PM in UAH’s Chan Auditorium. The public is invited to attend this free event. Information at 256.824.6320.


Creating Great Job Docs

I would like to thank Dana Bright from Career Services who came and talked to us last week about job application documents. Creating these documents–affectionately known as resumes and cover letters–are difficult for students and professionals alike. The talk helped to add clarity around this ever evolving topic.

Before I relay the highlights from the discussion, let me first stress that the items listed below are the norm. That said, there will be outlying situations that are not accounted for in these statements. The items below, like Dana mentioned, are the safe bet.

I have broken down the information into 2 sections Cover letters and Resumes. Inside the Resume section there is information regarding government and industry resumes.


Cover letters should be prepared for every job you apply to. Below are some items to keep in mind while creating them:

  • Limit to 1 page.
  • A four paragraph cover letters should:
    • Introduce yourself to the hiring manager
    • Argue why you’d be a good fit for the job
    • Fill in places your resume cannot describe
    • Further explain other aspects of your resume
  • Consult for more detail.


First and foremost, there is a big difference between the documents needed to apply to government jobs and those needed for industry jobs. As a result, the two are addressed separately below.

Government Job Resumes

The government requires a standardized and highly specific resume. Therefore, using the resume builder found at to create a resume is the best option. When using the resume builder, the questions should be answered in their entirety, including the sections that are not often required in industry resumes, like hobbies, coursework, or information about High School experiences.

Industry job Resumes

There were a number of recommendations pertaining to industry resumes. For the sake of brevity (and reference) I use bullet points to cover the items. The list is further sorted into the broad categories: generalities, content, and design.


  • Resumes should be clean looking and professional.
  • Use 1 page unless you have 10 years or experience.
  • List your strongest assets first. For students, that usually means education is the first section.
  • Tailor the resume to the job application, make sure to address all of the requirements fully.
  • Ensure that each job listed has a job title, employer, date, and location. Do not use summer, fall, or other seasons. Instead list the start and ending months.
  • Do not overly use keywords (e.g., creating a list of skills just to use keywords), simply employ the keywords naturally in the description of your job duties.
  • Use present tense for current jobs and past tense for previous jobs.
  • Eliminate the objective, it takes up real estate and is not helpful.
  • Streamline the resume to cover only the sections and material that represent you well. Remove hobbies, personal interests, previous colleges, and odd jobs if they do not pertain to the job you are applying to.
  • Remove bullet points for obvious jobs.  For example there is no need to describe duties for cashier or waitress, unless the duties are atypical.
  • Google resumes from your field and model the good ones.
  • Do not include non-professional links (e.g., Facebook or Twitter). But do include professional links like LinkedIn and your portfolio. Add links these links at the top of your resume with your contact information.


  • Show your expertise, don’t just tell it.
  • Do not embellish or lie.
  • Stick to job duties that demonstrate strong transferable skills.
  • Remove HS and your HS experiences from your resume unless they are directly applicable to the job (e.g., you led the accountants club for 2yrs in HS and you the job you are applying to is an accountant). The only exception is Eagle Scouts.
  • List accomplishments over mundane tasks. For example, instead of “I answered the phones” say something like “Responsible for…”
  • Avoid listing nebulous unsupported claims in a list of skills (e.g,. good communicator, trustworthy), instead show these attributes through examples from your job duties. For example, you might you would list public speaking to demonstrate your confidence in communicating.
  • Remove “I” or “me” and stick with action verbs.
  • List any proficiency with foreign languages in a skills section. In that case, use the modifiers of basic, intermediate, fluency, or native speaker to describe your aptitude in the language.
  • Remove hobbies unless they directly relate to the job. For example, you would keep your guitar playing if you were applying for radio station work.
  • Provide a “relevant courses” section if they help to demonstrate your fit for the job.  In it do not include general education, instead list the 3 or 4 courses that are completely relevant to the job. When doing so include the course name (without the catalog number) and any tailored highlights that relate to the job
  • List your cumulative GPA ONLY if it is above 3.0. Do not include your major GPA or substitute it for cumulative. The major GPA can be misleading and can cause confusion once your transcript is reviewed.
  • Include a summary or profile statement at the top of the resume, if you need to explain some transition. In this case, the statement should be your elevator pitch where you pick 3 or 4 of your top assets. Include a few words that support the need for the statement (e.g., “seeking to transition into”).
Comments for specific majors
  • If you are a humanities major, eliminate a skills section and incorporate those items in your list of job duties or courses.
  • If you have a government security clearance, it should be listed on your resume. Try to place it near the top. A summary is a good place to include your clearances.


  • Do not use Word templates, they are a tremendous pain in the long run. Stick to a resume without without tables or boxes. Starting from scratch with a fresh new document is your best option.
  • Use an all black serif font, no color.
  • Make your name and other headings no larger than 14pt bold and text between 11pt or 12pt at most.
  • Maintain 1″ margins with single spacing
  • Use a serif font (i.e., Tahoma, Calibri);  it comes across as more formal. Note, there is some flexibility in fonts as sans serif becomes more popular.
  • Send the resume as a PDF, if possible. PDFs will retain your formatting and Word may not.
  • Do not use a full line at the top, it separates information on the page too much.

Should anything in this long list be unclear, I’m sure Dana would welcome any questions you might have about this material.


National Day on Writing Caption Contest Winners!

UAH technical communication was pleased to represent the National Day on Writing as part of our event today at UAH. We asked people on campus to write captions for three ridiculous images we created. They really delivered! We had to pick two winners in some categories. Here are the winners, as determined by students in EH 303: Research and Practice in Technical Communication. Add your own caption ideas in the comments!






Take EH 442/542 Usability Studies this Spring!

UAH students can take EH 442/542: Usability Studies this spring! The course is a great introduction to interesting theory, marketable skills, and cutting-edge research practices! Check out the course description for this exciting project-based course:

This course will introduce students to usability testing and research as a user centered design strategy and familiarize students with user and task analysis, interaction design, interface analyses, research-based heuristics, usability assessments, lo-fi prototyping and evaluation. Through a process approach, students will learn how to define audiences and issues, design an appropriate investigative procedure, administer the procedure, analyze the results, and report their findings effectively. Through these activities students will apply accepted rhetorical concepts, sound learning theory, excellent design principles, and professional communication standards.

The course will meet Thursday evenings from 5:30-8:20. It counts as an elective for students in the technical writing minor and the graduate certificate in technical communication, but the course is also great for students in psychology, game design and development, and computer science. For more information, email Dr. Joy Robinson at!

New Podcast – Working with Subject Matter Experts

Check out this new episode of the 10-Minute Tech Comm podcast featuring Larry Kunz of Leading Technical Communication. The episode features some great advice about working with and interviewing subject matter experts!

When words come unstrung: The Catastrophic Failure of the Martin Archery Jaguar Take-Down OWNER’S MANUAL

The minimum requirement of any good technical document is that it communicates what is required of the user in a clear, concise, manner. Yet, far too often, technical manuals bear a striking similarity to experimental poetry, where the meaning is known only to the author. Peter Vogel once argued that users typically refer to the manual only when they are already frustrated. While this is certainly the case, I would further posit that on occasion, the source of the user’s frustration can be the technical manual itself. Case in point: The Martin Archery Take-Down Bow OWNER’S MANUAL.

The Diagram:

Featured image                           Featured image

To be fair, the exploded view of the bow on the front page of the four page manual does offer clear instructions for assembly. The diagram accurately represents the parts and assembly. The clear directions listed here allowed me to quickly assemble the body of the bow without incident. However, that is only half the task. A bow without a string is little more than a piece of furniture, which leads me to part two.

Stringing the Bow: Where it all went wrong

Page two of the manual features a paragraph entitled “Stringing your Bow.” Martin Archery included a (rarely included) tool called a bowstringer to assist with this task, promising that its use would prevent the limbs of the bow from distorting. The manual offers a lengthy paragraph extolling the virtues of the bowstringer. What was conspicuously absent was any text informing a first time user as to how to effectively use the bowstringer. Instead, there is a drawing that a stringer being used, devoid of any further instruction:

Featured image
Attempt one: I placed the stringer on the limbs of the bow, and then slipped the loops of the bowstring itself over the limbs after the bowstringer. I followed the procedure outlined in the diagram, and it worked—for all of three seconds. The stringer caused the bow string to slip from its grooves. Once the tension was released, the limb of the bow de-flexed, colliding with my ribs. After no small amount of profanity, I moved on to

Attempt two: A few of the more crucial portions of the legal action of Wile E. Coyote vs. Acme Corporation echoed in my mind, as I attempted once again to string the bow. This time, I wound up with the string dangling loose inside of the now taut bowstring. This was problematic because an arrow could potentially tangle in the stringer.

Attempt 3: I placed both the bow and the stringer on the limbs of the bow; then I placed my foot on the stringer. I tugged upward, just as the diagram suggested; this time I wound up with the stringer dangling loosely from the top of the bow with the other end secured to the top limb. At this point I gave up and consulted this YouTube video:


In the space of less than a minute (the video shows how to string and un-string the bow, I paused after the first part), the YouTube video successfully demonstrated, how to quickly string my bow. While the manual was lacking in terminology and proper instructions, the video named each part of the stringer and where to properly place the stringer in relation the bow, demonstrating that the stringer does not “tow” the string into place, but rather bends the limbs of the bow allowing the user to move the loose end of the string to the notches while keeping tension on the body of the bow rather than the bowstring.


The Martin Archery Take-Down Bow OWNER’S MANUAL stands as a cautionary tale of how technical writing, when done poorly, can be hazardous. A lack of clear verbiage accompanying the diagram, which would inform the reader on where to place the parts of the stringer and how to use it properly, resulted in frustration and lost time. This could have easily been avoided, had the writers applied the same care and attention to detail in crafting the instructions for stringing the bow as they did for its assembly. At the cost of perhaps another page of text, the writers could have added more diagrams, or at the very least, step by step instructions for where to place the stringer in relation to the bow. Additionally, it would have given the user the all important detail that the body of the bow is to be bent, releasing tension on the bowstring, rather than trying to, by physical strength, pull the string into the notches. Had such measures been taken, Martin’s client would have experienced far less frustration, and it goes without saying fewer bruised ribs!

-Allen Berry

Framing Your Resume

So you’re looking for a job and you’ve just completed your resume, and it’s looking good: the formatting is right, it’s concise, and you’re pretty satisfied until you get rejected for job after job. What’s the matter? Well, you have not framed your resume, and I don’t mean mounting it on your wall in a picture frame.

Framing is a technique that is most often used in media, marketing, and politics. It is how newscasters get you to view a certain story in a certain way, how companies convince you to buy their products even though you don’t need it, and how politicians get you to vote for them even though you don’t agree with them at all. Sounds a lot like manipulation, yes, but it is useful. Framing, in technical and more positive terms, is the rearranging of content so that the writer emphasizes what he or she wants the reader to focus on. This is one of the most crucial parts of resume writing, and by this I mean arranging and rearranging the content of your resume so that you look like the best candidate.
When framing your resume the most important thing you can do is research the job and the company.

Do Your Research:

Know the Job
You need to know something about not only the job but the employer. Not all technical writing jobs, for example, are the same at every company. The first place to check, of course, is the requirements section on the job listing and cater your resume to that company’s requirements. You should also pick and choose which of your other qualifications or past jobs could boost your resume a bit. But, do not include that one summer when you worked as a counselor at a day camp because if it is not relevant to the job you want it will not help you, and it will clutter your resume.

Know the Company
While you should check the requirements on the job listing, you should also get to know things about the company that are not on the job listing, for example, do they use the agile method, or are their technical writers expected to sit alone in an office in the back near the bathroom. Your resume could play up to this. You could emphasize the jobs you had where teamwork was encouraged or emphasize those jobs where you were expected to be productive without much overhead. Or add them both to show that you can work in any environment because you’re flexible.
Once you’ve done your research and you know the job and the company you are ready to frame your resume and essentially sell yourself which is what any good resume attempts to do. The thing to be sure of is that you do this for every job because the most important aspect as I have explained is knowing the audience. Even if you are applying within the same company your audience can still change so be sure to frame your resume specifically for your audience each time. Happy job hunting!

For more information visit:

Ashley Sylvester