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Sorting It Out

By: William Brozak



In December 2004, the Shipping and Receiving Department at Minnesota State University, Mankato made a large change for the better. To address growing concerns with losing packages, the department went from pen and paper to a computerized barcode scanning system. As an employee in the department, the computerized tracking system has become part of my everyday life.



Shipping barcode labels are the basis for tracking packages. Workers in the department use handheld scanners to scan the barcodes. Data from the scanners are uploaded onto the computer through a docking station attached to the computer. The data then gets put into a Microsoft Office database. There are multiple groups that make it easy to search through the data.


Having a computerized database of all of the packages that travel through the department makes the job a lot more efficient. Packages can be searched for by vendor, recipient, barcode, carrier or purchase order number. The groups make it very easy to view the status of a package that a faculty member on campus may be looking for. Records of packages can be stored for months. This helps the department to quickly take care of any customer concerns that may arise.


“I spend a lot less time on the phone,” said shipping and receiving officer Merle Wilmes. “That means I can get a lot more work done.”


Being able to quickly locate packages saves people around campus many headaches,


especially those who work in shipping and receiving.


Often times packages get left in department storerooms and forgotten about or packages may get delivered. Having the database readily accessible bridged the gap that formerly existed, when people could track packages on the UPS and FedEx Web sites, but they did not know where they went after they arrived on campus.


The barcode databases are especially important for departments on campus that receive dozens of packages every day such as Information and Technology Services department, the computer store and the biology department. At the end of each day, the day’s records are sent via e-mail to the department to confirm exactly what they received.


Departments around campus all seem to have adapted to the system quite well. When we first started scanning the packages, many people did not like the new system. After we sent out e-mails to the departments explaining it, people on campus welcomed the system. Developing positive relationships through e-mail communication helped build a trust that this new method of technical communication would be more efficient.


Now that the system has been in place for a year, many departments around campus are pleased with it. People know that when they call we can accurately track a package in seconds. As stated earlier, departments that receive high volumes of packages receive e-mails daily that contain the day’s record of what was delivered to their office.


“This system is great for tracking all of the packages we get in a day,” said engineering department secretary Jean Willaert. “I am very happy that the shipping department is using the computerized system.”




Oval Callout:  
The links listed under each topic contain a variety of resources in the form of online tutorials, book resources, and other Web sites.
Work Cited


Wilmes, Merle. Interview by Bill Brozak. Minnesota State University, Mankato. March 2, 2006.







Resources & Links


Technical Communication Exploration

§         Questions to ask potential employers

§         How to Land an Interview: Developing a T-Letter

§         Computer and Technical skills students must know 



Professional Organizations & Listservs

§         Society for Technical Communication

§         Plain Language

§         TECHWR-L

Microsoft Office

·         TECHWR-L Word archives

·         Word Template Gallery

·         Other Office resources


Glossary & Vocabulary

§         Free Online Dictionary of Computing

§         Online Computer Dictionary for Internet Terms and Technical Support

§         Links to online glossaries and dictionaries

§         Increase your vocabulary: word of the week

§         60 words every on the job writer should know

§         Exercises to eliminate wordiness


§         Usability Toolkit

§         Jakob Nielson: useit.com

§         IBM: Ease of Use/User Centered Design

Style Guide

§         Yale Style Guide

§         Developing a Departmental Style Guide


(Links Courtesy: Minnesota State University, Mankato STC Student Chapter Website)


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