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News Archives 2006

STC Field Trip
Fall 2006

Prisma & UGS visits

Terry Thompsom speaking to MSU STC

Our STC field trip began with a drive up to Minneapolis in an MSU van. We left from the CSU a little after 10 AM and made it to the Cities by about noon. Before we went to the businesses on the schedule, we stopped for lunch at Falafel King, a Greek/Arabic restaurant. Looking at the menu full of unfamiliar foods, some of us could have used translation services to figure out what to eat.

After lunch we headed to Prisma, a company that provides translation and localization of documents for over 800 businesses worldwide. We sat down with Jim Romano, the CEO of Prisma. Jim started off with a story about how in 1999 the company came to its current location, an old brick building in the "warehouse" section of Minneapolis. He explained how awkward it was that the only major landmark to tell people how to find the company was Sexworld.

A question was asked about what the most common languages translated are, to which Jim replied with the acronym FIGS: French, Italian, German, and Spanish. Jim went on to discuss some of the issues inherent to his business, most notably the problem of maintaining quality standards vs. satisfying customers' time demands.

Once Jim got to speak for awhile, all of us students were given a chance to say a little bit about ourselves and our interest in the field of Technical Communication. After we finished speaking Jim would give his two cents in response based on his years of experience in the business. Jim offered suggestions and encouragement for us to pursue and complete our goals.

We were then treated to another speaker, Terry Thompson, president of Prisma. Terry talked of the importance of project management in a technical writer’s skill set. She distributed several handouts containing the key points of project management, budgeting, and selecting/maintaining project teams. Terry also stressed the fact that the world is becoming increasingly smaller due to the Internet, especially in relation to continual interaction with clients.

Jim Romano & MSU students

In the basement of the Prisma building we were able to witness the software behind the translation that the company performs. The main piece of software used by the translators is called SDL Trados. Jose Zonis, Localization Manager, ran a demonstration of how SDL Trados works. To over-simplify the process, it basically functions like the spell checker/track changes of Microsoft Word in addition to a "memory", wherein the document (database) has a custom dictionary of whole sentences that can be automatically inserted if the writer accepts them. Unfortunately we had to cut Jose short in order to get back on the road and off to our next destination, Unigraphics (UGS), in Shoreview.

We arrived at UGS a few minutes early for our 3:30 appointment. UGS is a company that focuses on PLM (product lifecycle management) software for other businesses. We met with 6 people in the documentation and technical writing department of the Teamcenter 2007 product. They all went around the table and introduced themselves, and we did the same again. There was a discussion of the goals of the technical writers, the audiences they write for, and some of the software they work with.

USG staff & MSU students

One major program, Arbortext, creates XML documents that feature special tags within the text. These tags enable the xml document to be “single-sourced” into a variety of other document formats such as PDF or HTML web pages. The writing team also uses programs that were actually designed in-house. At around 5 PM we left UGS, grabbed a bite to eat from a deli, and headed back to Mankato to conclude the trip.

Overall this was a very interesting and informative trip. It gave us students a chance to see what people can do in Tech Comm as well as the current trends in the field. Everyone we met at both companies were very personable and accommodating.

Special thanks goes to Jim Romano, Terry Thompson, and Jose Zonis at Prisma, and Katie Woolm, Rhonda, Norma, Greg, Valerie, and John at UGS.

STC Supports World Usability Day
November 14, 2006

The Society for Technical Communication (STC), the world’s largest association for technical communicators, today announced its support for World Usability Day, Tuesday, November 14, 2006. Primarily sponsored by the Usability Professionals' Association, World Usability Day is a series of events that promote the values and benefits of usability engineering and user-centered design.

The events will take place over a 36-hour period in more than 30 countries around the globe. “STC’s involvement in World Usability Day is a logical extension of technical communication,” says Paula Berger, president of STC. “Everything that technical communicators do is about usability, whether making instructions more usable through better writing, interfaces more usable because of better labeling and navigation, or products more usable because of user testing. It’s all part of the same continuum. As part of World Usability Day, STC and CM Pros (www.cmprofessionals.org), an organization of content management professionals, are organizing a global online card-sort excercise.

The expercise is made possible by the donation of WebSort software from Parallax, LCC. Card sorting is a quick, inexpensive, and reliable technique for determining how people categorize information. This knowledge helps information architects and usability professionals create structures for print and online information that make products and technologies are usable. STC's card-sort exercise will be carried out by participants on five continents. The exercise will provide insights about regional variations in the ways people organize information.

Usability Day field trip
November 14, 2006

Minnesota State University, Mankato Society for Technical Communication student chapter field trip

Usability and the future of the technical communication workplace were the two themes of our STC field trip on Tuesday, November 14, 2006.

stc members at table Left to right: Andrew Robertson, Mike Nelson, Sasha Komarenko, Zach Pitts, Lee Tesdell

Four MSU technical communication students and two faculty members took a trip to World Usability Day events at the University of Minnesota’s Walter Library and then to the STC Twin Cities community evening meeting where we heard Neil Perlin of Hyper/Word Services, Tewksbury, MA, prognosticate about the future of the technical writing profession. We left Mankato shortly after 11 a.m. for the Twin Cities. We arrived at 402 Walters Library for the World Usability Day events shortly after 1 p.m. and we wrapped up events after the 3:30 presentation by Kastman-Breuch and Anderson with a visit to the Usability Lab in the basement of Walter Library.

University of Minnesota World Usability Day activities

1:00 p.m.– 2:00 p.m. 402 Walter Presentation: “How the University of Minnesota
Uses Eye-Tracking in Usability Evaluations ”
Alice de la Cova, Usability Services Manager, Office of Information Technology David Rosen, Usability Services Consultant, Office of Information Technology
2:15 p.m. – 3:15
402 Walter Panel Discussion: “The University of Minnesota’s Approach to Web Accessibility” Kari Branjord, Director of Open Source Initiatives and Strategic Partnerships, Office of Information Technology
Nicole Tollefson, Web Designer, Office of Information Technology
Phil Kragnes, Adaptive Technology Specialist, Computer Accommodations Program, Office of Information Technology
Michael Olesen, Associate Director, Digital Technology Center
Eric Schnell, Interim Director, Disability Services
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 402 Walter Presentation: "Preparing to Incorporate Usability into Design" Lee-Ann Kastman Breuch, Associate Professor, Department of Rhetoric
Janel Anderson, User Experience Engineering Manager, Thomson Legal & Regulatory

Zach Pitts, Sasha Komarenko, and Andrew Robertson reflect below on the day’s events.

Zach Pitts, undergraduate major in technical communication:
At the Usability Lab we watched a demonstration of calibration and a sample eye-tracking with David Rosen trying to find a review of an Italian restaurant in the New York Times. This demonstration was a follow up to the information provided in the “How the University of Minnesota Uses Eye-Tracking in Usability Evaluations” presentation. The eye-tracking equipment and software were able to detect the motion of David’s gaze including where and for how long he looked at different areas of his computer screen. In addition to being able to watch David’s eyes in real time, the deliverables of the data collected include “gaze plots” and “hotspot maps” that can show where attention is mainly focused while performing tasks. Data that results from eye-tracking sessions can be analyzed by usability technicians to determine whether users are looking where they are supposed to be, and if not, what must be changed so that they do. After this demonstration, we were off to the Society for Technical Communication meeting in Minneapolis.

Left to right: Sasha Komarenko, Zach Pitts, and Gretchen Haas (MSU faculty) enjoy after-dinner conversation at the STC Twin Cities community meeting stc members at table

The STC meeting began with an hour or so of networking time while we ate dinner. As we finished our pumpkin pie for dessert, Neil Perlin of Hyper/Word Services began his presentation entitled “What’s Up, EDoc?!” This presentation discussed past, current, and possible future trends in the creation of documentation. What Mr. Perlin indicated was that the future of documentation lies in single-sourcing with the use of XML and XHTML, specifically with software such as Madcap Flare. Perlin himself had difficulty defining single-sourcing, but what it basically comes down to is creating one document that can, with little or no content modification, be converted into several different types of media - print, online, mobile, etc. “

Sasha Komarenko, M.A. student in technical communication:
Although we came away from every event we attended on the Usability Day field trip with new insights, two points have stuck with me most. One of these was the continued need of technical communicators involved with usability to justify and, moreover, “evangelize” for a systematic approach to usability embedded within the product development cycle rather than tagged on to the final stages of development. As technical communicators we are taught early on that it is important, indeed, necessary to be prepared to actively educate those around us (including employers) about the need for clear, effective, and efficient communication. It is, however surprising to me that even on the level of product development the users’ needs, preferences, and habits are still often overlooked, and usability evaluations are conducted only in the final stages when significant changes are prohibitively cost-ineffective.

The other point that stuck with me had to do with eye-tracking: since the University of Minnesota usability lab equipped with such technology primarily carries out business- related usability testing serves business needs of the U and the community, few academic research studies have been carried out. Yet the potential for both qualitative and quantitative research involving eye-tracking are great. With strong basis in theory and combined with cognitive and brain studies eye-tracking could help us understand many aspects of information acquisition and processing, as well as test established theories

stc member STC keynote speaker Neil Perlin and MSU’s Andrew Robertson get acquainted after Perlin’s riveting presentation on the future of the technical writing profession.

Andrew Robertson, M.A. student in technical communication:
We arrived at the STC meeting and ate dinner; we then proceeded to network with other professionals. The presentation was titled, Trends in Technical Communication, Mr. Neil Perlin spoke about technology trends in the workplace. Topics ranged from XML, user interface design for handheld computing, and voice activated interfaces. Mr. Perlin emphasized that it’s important to stay current with technology because technical communicators use it, write about, and train others how to use it. He went on to discuss that technical communication field is in flux and professionals need to be ready to adapt the new technologies and new ways of thinking about the content we develop. The discussion kept the audience captivated and many of the attendees came away from the evening with something new.

STC web seminar
October 11, 2006

You are invited to attend an STC web seminar this next Wednesday October the 11th titled Designing Business Forms: A No Nonsense Approach. The web seminar will start at noon and end at 1:30 pm. It will be held in the ITS conference room, which is in Memorial Library, room number 3010. You don't need to be an STC member to attend Wednesday's event but after joining us, we hope you'll consider joining the STC.

This is a great opportunity is offered to you by the MSU chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. You will learn lessons that will help you design forms for upcoming jobs and other design opportunities.

MSU Faculty member visits with new STC Executive Director Susan Burton
September 14, 2006

By Lee S. Tesdell, Minnesota State Mankato chapter faculty co-advisor

stc president Susan Burton was not what I expected. We met for a fascinating two-hour visit at the Marriott City Center, Minneapolis, MN on September 14, 2006. Our conversation ranged from recent Chinese history to the role and status of student members.

Susan Burton did not begin her professional life as a technical communicator but she now is the president of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), a 20,000-member 153-chapter strong international organization of technical communicators.

Susan left an academic career path in Chinese history for the work of a legal secretary and then lobbyist in Washington, D.C. She told me that she learned her technical communication skills along the way. She learned to write legislative briefs that went into a newsletter and began to get compliments. She then got recruited to a position of added responsibility in another non-profit and continued to build her communication and managerial skills.

Interestingly, at one point in her career she found herself on the horns of a moral dilemma and decided that she had to leave the job rather than become an advocate for a cause that she felt was immoral.

Most recently, before accepting the STC leadership role, Susan ran her own consulting business where she turned organizations around and helped to stabilize others. She has worked in the non-profit sector for most of her professional life.

As a co-advisor to a student chapter, my primary goal for our meeting was to impress upon our new president the importance of university students’ roles in STC as members and future leaders of our profession. We discussed the value of the student membership and roles that students might play at the 54th international STC conference in Minneapolis in May 2007. Susan confirmed that students play an important role: “STC promotes and advances the profession and students are an important piece of that.”

Of interest to students, Susan and I discussed what might be called cross-disciplinary professional skills, in other words, useful workplace skills that are not specific to one particular job but are nevertheless critical to the success in many occupations. For example, these skills might include critical thinking, reasoning, communication, and presentation. Susan believes that these skills can be transferred from one job to another and they may be the most important skills that an employee has. (Students, are you listening?)

Given that Minnesota is a hot (Minnesota hot?) STC destination these days (the 54th international STC conference is being held here in May 13-16, 2007), we hope to see Susan Burton back in the North Star state soon.

Alumni Night
April 27, 2006

The Minnesota State Mankato student chapter of STC hosted three alumni of the technical communication program on Thursday, April 27 who returned to campus to speak with current students about working in the field of technical communication. The event had a fairly good turnout with ten students and six faculty members attending.

Edell Fiedler told students about her job in the public information division for the city of Mankato. Edell’s job involves a variety of responsibilities including writing press releases, creating content for the city’s website and the Mankato school district’s website, and working on the city’s monthly newsletter.

Heather Davis spoke about her job as a technical writer at James Tower. Heather said that one of the biggest things students can do to prepare themselves for future careers is to be tech savvy and keep up with the changing technologies. She also said that having basic knowledge of HTML is extremely useful and has been a tremendous help for her.

Finally, Tony Wacholtz told the audience about his job as an editor at Compass Point Books. He said he was a bit shocked when he started his job and quickly learned that being an editor involved much, much more than copy editing.

All three said that project management skills and being able to coordinate multiple projects at the same time are invaluable in the workplace and that students should definitely try to get some experience in this area. Heather indicated AuthorIt was the software package she used most in her job and that Adobe PhotoShop is an excellent tool for creating screenshots. Tony listed Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, PhotoShop as important tools in his industry, and Edell said that she often used InDesign and Quark. 

The three speakers provided with some valuable knowledge and answered questions that the will be able to use to better prepare themselves for future careers in the field of technical communication.

Alumni Night 2006 Pictures


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Last Updated: 01/13/2009