A Look at the Past to Face the Future

By Linda Mellen

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Perhaps one of the most interesting ways to examine the changes that have occurred in the past ten to fifteen years in the field of technical communications is to follow the changes in our Techniques newsletter.

I asked Dr. Roland Nord for back issues of Techniques, and as I stood on the other side of his door while he rummaged around for copies to give me, I could hear him say, “Now if this isn’t a stroll down memory lane!” He emerged from behind the door and handed me a stack of Techniques—the oldest one dating back to November, 1991, Volume IV, Issue 1. It was printed with black ink on gray paper and had four pages with two columns per page.

As technology has changed, Techniques has changed, and rightly so. The field of technical communications is integrally linked to technology and the technical writer must always be aware of new developments and new software coming into the business arena. The first Techniques consisted of four pages on ivory paper with black ink. The year 1993 ushered in many new changes; a new letter head, three columns per page, eight pages instead of four and pictures. In that same year, Eardley Ham (Techniques, January 1993, p.3) wrote about switching from a Commadore 64 to a 486 PC with Windows 3.1. I wonder how many students today remember or know about either of these computers? I used them both.

The March, 1994 issue of Techniques mentions, “The computers at Mankato State University are connected to a global data network commonly referred to as the Internet” (p.3.) Volume VII issues have no dates listed but are the issues published during the 1994-95 school year. There are 3 volumes and Number 3, p. 6 explains the World Wide Web. The February, 1997 issue takes a look at using Corel Ventura and discusses using watermarks in a document. The front page headline of the January, 1998 edition reads, “VRML: The Language of the Future”. Adobe Framemaker and Frontpage2000 are examined in the 1998 and 1999 issues respectively. The January, 1998, Volume X, No. 2 issue is the first one to mention an online edition. November 2000 finds us tackling Adobe Illustrator, the new mainstay of technical communicators.

By January 2002, Techniques appeared in the format that has remained for all hard copy issues to date. The March, 2002 Techniques discusses “viruses, worms, and Trojan horses” on the front page. The May, 2002 Techniques front page headline reads “Broadband, The Future of Communication” and reviews Adobe Photoshop 7.0. Volume XVI, No. 1 (October, 2002) shows the reader how to edit a picture with a tutorial on Photoshop (p.4.) In 2003 and 2004, Techniques became a primarily online newsletter with one hard copy edition printed each year. The theme in these issues revolves around online classes and blogging.

Technology marches on and Techniques marches to the same beat. Different paper, different letterheads, sophisticated pictures and color; evolving until, today, we have an online Techniques published twice a year. The local chapter of the Society for Technical Communication has considered making another new change; to a magazine instead of newsletter presentation. Although this article is a glimpse into the past and where technical communicators have been, nearly every issue of Techniques has articles looking to the future. Without forgetting where we’ve been, we must always be looking ahead to where we are going. We may have come a long way, baby, but we can never stop focusing on the future.



Techniques. Volume IV, No.1 through Volume XVI, No. 3 (not complete). 1991-2003.