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November 2000

Editors

Marge Freking

Steve Gage

Melissa Goodwin

Nathan Graham

Tyrone Thomas

 

Feature Articles

Illustrator on the Fast Track

Blend Skills for Technical Communication

STC Sees Logo as Vital Identity Tool

Web Site Creation

Review: Oral Presentations for Technical Communication

Cameras Go Digital

Making Time Work For You

What Recruiters Want in Technical Writers

 

In Every Issue

Letter from the Editor

Bulletin Board

Meet the Staff

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrator on the Fast Track

by Nathan Graham

 

Because of the power of the Internet and the e-life trend, web design becomes broader and more important every day. Many software applications ease the production of web projects. Adobe Illustrator has become popular because its fast flexible tools can transform creative ideas into sophisticated web graphics. Many businesses rely on Adobe Illustrator to create products such as technical drawings, detailed maps, web graphics, and logo designs.

Creating Graphics: Web graphic designers and technical communicators can choose among three options when creating an image: Vector-based graphics, Raster-based graphics, and Web-ready workflow.

A Vector-based graphic creates a point, line, or polygon that has distinct boundaries in an image. For instance, imagine a room with a ten degree temperature variance. In a Vector-based situation, a temperature change would be delineated and obvious, as though an invisible curtain separated the room. See the precision of the example.

Using a Raster-based graphic means the image consists of cells where color can be faded throughout the image. Rasterizing graphics gives an image a more mysterious and grainy look. In a room with a ten degree temperature variance, the temperature distribution would blend throughout the room, as opposed to having definite points where the temperature changes That is how Raster-based graphics behave. They blend together, as in the above example.

Using Web-ready workflow allows users to see what an image looks like as a Vector graphic and as a Raster graphic.

Tools used in Illustrator: Illustrator uses numerous tools to help create specific graphics to suit almost any need. The main tools used are the following:

  • Bezier Pen Tool allows the user to create lines and polygons with            maximum precision.
  • Smooth or Erase Tool helps the user to perfect the bezeir pen by removing and/or smoothing unwanted bumps in the path created by the pen.
  • Star, Spiral, Ellipse, and Rectangle Tools help professionals create special shapes. An option exists of placing text onto a path, then wrapping it around a shape or other text.

Features in Illustrator: Adobe Illustrator 9.0 integrates new features to aid the countless tools on its previous versions. Illustrator offers a new feature to produce transparency effects such as soft shadows, glows, mist, and reflections in water for web graphics and printing. Illustrator 9.0 includes all the relevant blending modes from Photoshop. This allows the user to combine blending modes with transparency settings to create special effects.

Adobe also offers the importing and exporting of formats. Illustrator allows the dragging and dropping of graphics into other Adobe programs, such as InDesign, Photoshop, PageMaker, or even into third party applications such as MS Word.

Since typography holds such importance in technical communication, Illustrator has features that permit professionals to specify point size, leading, kerning, tracking, baseline shift, hyphenations, and many other text attributes. Illustrator also has a smart punctuation feature that double checks grammar for users.

The 9.0 version of Illustrator contains an additional feature called layer management.

Related layers can be nested to streamline their organization. Layer masks can also hide or show portions of any layer. This allows users to arrange artwork in different layers for improved control. Graphics can also be easily transferred from one layer to another.

Finally, users of Adobe Illustrator can edit their graphics precisely and professionally by using the navigator pallet. This pallet allows magnification up to 6400%. Objects at any level of magnification can be transformed, positioned, aligned, or even created quickly and accurately using smart guides and a snap-to grid.

Illustrator enables technical communicators to produce high quality products that can be tightly integrated with all of Adobe's professional web and print design programs, as well as other third party programs. This works well because of the prominence of Adobe's other programs.

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Blend Skills for Technical Communication

by Amy Twait, Trainer and Writer for TranScape

Having a technical communication background should not restrict your career. Blending technical communication experience with other interests helps uncover jobs that suit you better.

My first career teaching American Literature and Communications began at New Ulm Senior High School. While teaching, I pursued a master’s degree in technical communication at MSU. I discovered that I enjoyed writing and explored that field. While on a leave of absence, I began a second career as a technical communicator in the Twin Cities.

After working as a technical communicator for six months, I realized that I missed the contact with people I had experienced as a teacher. Coming from an atmosphere of working with approximately 100 students each day, I found the isolation in a cubicle doing technical communication very uncomfortable. I started looking for opportunities to combine my teaching and writing skills. I found such a job.

Now, in my third career, I work as a customer trainer and curriculum writer for TranScape, a Pitney Bowes company in Bloomington, MN. TranScape makes integrated logistics software and I teach customers how to use one of these products. I spend most of my time studying the product, developing courses for it, then writing the training manuals and study materials for those courses. The rest of the time I work directly with customers who travel to our facility to learn how to use our logistics software. I found a way to help people learn, to work with people, and to continue writing.

My job allows me to combine many skills and interests. Similar opportunities exist for people with a technical communication background. Creative job search efforts may help you find your perfect career.

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STC Sees Logo as Vital Identity Tool

by Susan Jensen, Region 6 Director-Sponsor

The STC board approved a new logo and stationery program for the Society. By the end of the year, chapter presidents will receive information describing how to use the new logo and its various design elements in their chapter stationery, printed publications, and electronic materials.

Branding and Corporate

Identity: The logo represents only one part of STC’s corporate brand. Last May, President Mary Wise announced one brand tool—the new STC mission statement, Designing the Future of Technical Communications. At the fall meeting, the board approved another tool—the organization’s story (a brief explanation of what the organization stands for, who its members are, and how it views its future). While it is not meant to replace the more extensive literature we provide to prospective members and others, the story serves as an "elevator message" to briefly describe who and what we are.

Web Site Hosting for Chapters: For several years the board has been dealing with a number of difficult issues related to decentralized versus centralized hosting of chapter web sites. This issue is urgent as well as extremely important, due to difficulties encountered as STC’s bandwidth needs exceeded our current service provider’s capabilities. Over the next few months, committees in the communications area, managed by Lory Hawkes, AP for Communications, will be developing and implementing a transition plan that will enable chapters to select their own Internet service provider and maintain their own web sites in a decentralized system. Contact your chapter president or webmaster for more information about these changes.

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Web Site Creation

by Amy L. Schroeder

Anyone can create and publish a web site. A computer, an Internet connection, knowledge of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), and creativity make this possible. Get a computer from a reputable store and purchase an Internet connection through a local Internet provider. Knowledge of HTML requires inquiry, study, and diligent practice. The fourth tool, creativity, depends on personal preference and ingenuity, making the possibilities unlimited.

HTML, the functioning aspect of web page design, allows the user to format text; add graphics, images, videos, and sound; layout page elements; and insert hyperlinks, frames, and forms. Achieving interactivity in web pages occurs through the use of small programs called scripts. Scripts allow the user to include the date and time in the web page, to create visitation counters, to change frames with one hyperlink, to load images into the cache for quick viewing, and to create rollovers. The most common scripts are JavaScript and VB (Visual Basic) Script.

HTML code consists of directions called tags, enclosed in greater than and less than signs. Tags tell browsers how to display text and multimedia elements on their screens. Tags can be applied to entire paragraphs or to individual words and characters.

To write web pages, use either HTML software programs (such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver), or use text editors (such as Notepad or Simple Text). HTML software programs automatically code the web page into HTML so the user only needs to enter the content and design. Text editors, however, require the user to code and enter the page’s content and design.

Before beginning, remember that the computer, monitor, browser type, and Internet connection speed affect how the web page/site is viewed. Consider these facts, write for the users, and enjoy the process.

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Review:

Oral Presentations for Technical Communication

by Marge Freking

Public speaking may seem threatening, but in the working world of technology, communicators must develop the ability to speak publicly and fluently. In Oral Presentations for Technical Communication, Laura J. Gurak provides a crash course in overcoming the fear of public speaking. She also gives excellent advice on audience analysis and speech development.

The technical communicator’s job concentrates on imparting information, so necessity demands a well-rounded communicator who not only writes clearly and concisely, but also speaks with enthusiasm and knowledge. Technical information often necessitates translation into nonprofessionals’ language, requiring writing and speaking skills that convey information quickly and precisely.

Gurak details the five cannons of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, delivery, and memory), and includes summary information of rhetoric’s three appeals (logos, ethos, and pathos). Using the cannons and the appeals, Gurak offers help in structuring presentations by outlining systematic steps to build competent and interesting speeches. Her advice covers live audience presentations and teleconferencing, as well as effective uses of graphics and other presentation tools.

Like writers, speakers must take care to credit their sources. Gurak discusses legal aspects to watch when giving oral presentations and includes information on legitimate and legal uses of the Internet and web sites.

While Gurak’s book cannot replace a speech class, she does give presenters the tools to do a thorough and competent job. Gurak reminds the presenter to practice the presentation aloud. The more confident and comfortable you appear, the more credible your presentation, and the more appealing you and your information seem to your audience. All technical communicators need Oral Presentations for Technical Communication by Laura J Gurak in their reference materials.

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Cameras Go Digital

by Steve Gage

The technical communication field changes constantly, as does the technology used in this occupation. The digital camera changed the way many use visuals in this field.

Digital cameras look, feel, and behave like conventional cameras, but the similarities end there. Digital cameras allow instant review of pictures taken. Simply plugging the camera into a computer, often through a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, allows this instant review. Many digital cameras have small screens on the back of them called color Liquid Crystal Display (LCD); this also allows instant review of the picture.

Photo courtesy of Eastman Kodak Company. Kodak is a trademark.

Digital cameras use a disk to store pictures. This enables technical communicators to print only the pictures needed, instead of developing film. Some digital cameras use a standard 1.44MB floppy disk; however, the newest technology allows smaller disks that can hold over 65 times more than the typical 3.5 inch floppy. These new disks, called compact flash memory cards, can range anywhere from 8MB to 96MB. On average, a picture on a high-resolution digital camera (high resolution printing requires 1280 x 800 pixels) takes up about .5MB.

Digital cameras save the user time and money. While the intial cost is more ($300-$1000 for digital versus $30-$400 for traditional), digital cameras eliminate film developing fees. Users can easily upload and print photos directly. The uploading process via a USB port allows convenience and needs fewer steps than the scanning process.

Using a digital camera to load pictures involves a minimum of two steps: plugging it in, and choosing the pictures. Scanning pictures can involve several more steps. Overall, digital cameras are easier to use than traditional cameras and save users time and money. They give crisp, clear, and easily edited images. Best of all, digital cameras allow users to get exact images relevant to specific subjects.

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Making Time Work For You

by Melissa Goodwin

Time Management has five steps: patience, analysis, flexibility, awareness, and information. Effective time management also includes the process of monitoring, analyzing, and revising a plan until it works.

Patience: Managing time requires effective planning. This skill takes practice and polish to acquire. People often stop trying to manage time because they assume that making a plan ends the process.

Analysis: Another difficult aspect of time management includes effective self-monitoring. Time must be allocated each day to evaluate the plan. Thoughtful analysis for why a time plan works or does not work provides the key to continuous improvement of the skills.

Flexibility: Any time plan becomes doomed if written in stone. Change is a part of life. By expecting the unexpected and building flexibility into a time plan, the chance of achieving one’s goals increases dramatically and consistently.

Awareness: Grouping time management and learning skills are often grouped together for a good reason. First, plan how to use time. Second, monitor the plan to see if it works. Third, analyze why the plan works or does not work.

Information: Learning to manage time is an on-going process. The more strategies one knows for managing time, the easier to adapt to new challenges, such as working around exams, full-time jobs, or family life. Time management is a valuable asset in the working world.

Time management skills build confidence to face new situations. Mastering time management skills involves planning, monitoring, analyzing, and revising, but for those who accomplish the task, the rewards are well worth the effort.

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What Recruiters Want in Technical Writers

by Pat O'Donnel, Staffing Specialist and Recruiter 

As a recruiter of writers for five years and a market researcher for more than twenty years in New York City advertising and corporate marketing (marcom) agencies, I have listened to and measured the response of many consumers and clients to proposed communications work in written, audio, or video form. I want to share part of what we look for in resumes and interviews.

For both the door-opening resume and the interview itself, most candidates fail to recognize that recruiters and clients are most likely to approve the pitch with the least risk and highest potential return on investment. Unsupported superlatives are ineffective; case histories that clearly show your contribution to strategies and resulting implementations work best. Your pitch improves if you can show that your brochure or ad built business, saved money, or made your client more efficient.

When job hunting, you do not receive free passes to the next step in the process. You must continuously sell yourself versus other writers with similar experience. The number of competitors you have in the process is much greater than you realize. Always approach your self-presentation as a marketing exercise. The better you can sell yourself in the resume and during the interview, the better the interviewers can sell you to their clients.

Seventy percent of executives do not read beyond half the first page of a resume. Front-load your resume with selling points, like I created a series of brochures that increased IBM sales 25%. Continue using those strategies in the first five minutes of your verbal presentation. Your chance to get a job over someone with similar skills improves as your presentation skills improve.

Next, make the client or recruiter confident in your ability to do the job. The decision makers choose to interview people with the highest percentage of skills alluded to in the resume. Build your resume with a top-line summary of the following points.

Format and Flow of Content: Have you written brochures, radio ads, or paper direct-marketing pieces? Have you written for web sites? How much experience do you have in each area? How many years of total writing experience do you have?

Audience: Have you written for the public or for engineers? Have you written for the decision maker, purchasing agent, or end user? Have you written translations?

Industry Concentration: Are you an expert in telecommunication industry products, or beverage dispensing machinery? Which clients have you worked with?

Name those clients.

Marcom Strategy: Did you write it or inherit it? Did you set the graphic look and feel as well as the verbal content in the pieces you have written?

The Process: Did you do the needs analysis, concept proposal, implementation, editing, print production, or usability testing? Do you do graphics as well as verbal content? Were you the project leader? Did you supervise others?

Tools: Are your skills strong enough and current in the software (Word, PageMaker) the client uses?

Chronological versus Functional: Chronological presentations with sample case histories work better than functional presentations because they show tactics in synergy.

Finally, do not forget to remind the interviewer of your key selling points near the end of the interview and in subsequent phone conversations or interviews. You spend a lot of time making the sale. Do not forget to close the deal.

Fast Facts about Job Hunting

(from industry-wide data)

Resumes a headhunter sees each year                                   6000

Resumes resulting in at least a phone interview                       600

Resumes from all sources available to client for job                 20

Candidates receiving an interview for that job                         7

Candidates who receive an offer for that job                           2

Candidates who accept the offer                                            1

 

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Letter from the Editor

 

A new semester brings five new editors to Techniques, all from Minnesota

 

Marge Freking, a senior, carries a double major in technical communication and speech communication. A member of the Golden Key National Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Marge keeps busy with grandchildren, woodworking, reading, and her Dalmatian when homework assignments allow. Marge and her husband, Stan, live in New Ulm. Marge is the new copyeditor for Techniques

 

Steve Gage comes from Rochester. A junior majoring in computer engineering technology (CET), Steve’s interests are in web page and online development. Our new online editor, Steve plans to provide training in the use of new technologies, such as the digital camera and digital camcorder, since that falls into his area of expertise. Steve’s dream job would be to do contract services for the Internet.

 

Nathan Graham, a junior majoring in geography, joins us from Stillwater. Traveling is Nathan’s forte and he lists Hawaii as one of his favorite rendezvous spots. He plans to enter the field of geographical information systems (GIS) as a specialist, and claims mapmaking among his future jobs. When not enjoying sports, Nathan likes to spend time with his friends. Nathan joins Steve as an online editor.

 

Tyrone Thomas, a senior majoring in technical communication, has a minor study in business law. Tyrone, who comes from Minneapolis, is the CEO of 5000 Live Entertainment. 5000 Live Entertainment promotes new artists through live parties, which generates regional exposure for them. Technical communication is one of the tools Tyrone uses in his work. Tyrone is layout editor. You can read more about him on the back of this newsletter in the Meet column.

 

Melissa Goodwin, a senior majoring in computer information systems (CIS) with a double minor in history and technical communication, joins us from Albert Lea. Having lived in Germany, Melissa hopes to travel abroad after establishing herself in her career. Melissa enjoys reading and working with computers in her spare time. The subject of the Meet column on the back page of this newsletter, Melissa joins Tyrone as a layout editor.

 

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Bulletin Board

 

Spring 2001 Courses

 

Eng 271 Technical Communication

Section 1 MW 10:00-11:45 am MacKenzie

Section 2 MW 10:00-11:45 am Griffin

Section 3 TR 10:00-11:45 am Nord

Section 4 MW 1:00-2:45 pm Hurley

Section 5 TR 1:00-2:45 pm Nord

Section 6 T 6:00-9:30 pm Staff

Section 7 MW 2:00-3:45 pm Staff

 

Eng 4/574 Research & Writing Technical Reports 

Section 1 M 6:00 - 9:30pm Hurley

 

Eng 4/575 Editing Technical Publications 

Section1 W 6:00 - 9:30pm Nord

 

Eng 479 Rhetorical Theory Applied to Technical Documents 

Section 1 TR 1:00 - 2:45pm MacKenzie

 

Eng 4/594 WKP Techniques 

Section 1 TBA Hurley

 

Eng 678 Technical & Scientific Prose 

Section 1 T 6:00 - 8:45pm MacKenzie

 

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Meet the Staff

 

Melissa Goodwin 

Melissa Goodwin, a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, will graduate May 2001, with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information science (CIS) and a double minor in history and technical communication. After graduation, Melissa wants to work in the area of computer programming or computer technical support. Currently, Melissa works at Minnesota State/PALS as a Help Desk Student Assistant.

Melissa provides a lot of specialized help to her family and friends with their computer problems and enjoys spending time with them. Her hobbies include reading, spending time on her computer, and watching sports.

Melissa works as a layout editor for Techniques and contributes stories to the newsletter.

Tyrone Thomas

Tyrone Thomas, known to his family and friends as DJ Phife, promotes and advertises artists and entertainment for his own company, 5000 Live Entertainment. Tyrone's skills include contract negotiations, promotions, and illustrations for his clients.

When he was a senior in high school, Tyrone's uncle gave him a mixer and encouraged his interest in music. That interest expanded from live shows from his home for a few friends into a business that offers eight shows a year for new artists, maximizing their regional exposure. Tyrone's networking extends from the west coast to the east coast.

Capitalizing on his interest in music and entrepreneurship has helped to make his dream a reality. Tyrone plans to graduate in May 2001 with a degree in technical communication and a minor in business law.

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Last Updated: 10/20/2005