Boston Broadside
September/October 2001
Vol. 59,  No. 1
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2001


You Get More than You Give

By Bill Gruener

The Society for Technical Communication (STC) is an international and local professional organization for technical communicators: a dedicated organization from which you gain valuable experience, beneficial interaction, and expanded insight.

As technical communicators, we often work in semi-isolation. We are assigned to a project-probably several projects-each at different stages of completion; we juggle those projects. The subject matter is determined by the industry of our employer-hardware, software, telephony, biotechnology, and so on. We rush to meet deadlines; we research the subject matter; we keep up with constant revisions and product releases. Those are the demands of our jobs. When and where do we get a chance to expand ourselves professionally and try something new? The STC provides the opportunity to step beyond the isolation, to meet with other technical communicators, and to try untried skills.

Trying the Untried

Volunteering offers the opportunity to exercise potential management skills through organizing education programs or jointly running one of the four STC chapter competitions:

  • publications;
  • art;
  • online; or
  • the Web.

To ensure that the competitions work smoothly, volunteers must master moving people from one place to another, keeping all those people on a schedule, and achieving a group goal of judging all those entries-a major task. As the volunteer accomplishes these tasks, the other STC members notice the member who accomplishes quality work, who communicates with exceptional clarity, and who delivers on promises. Therefore, other benefits result; a volunteer can open job opportunities without the formality and sweaty palms of a job interview. When managers want professionals, they make a short list of the can-do people-people who they saw in action. If a volunteer has accomplishments next to his or her name, then chances are that the volunteer's name will be high on a manager's list.

Through the STC, members interact with other members who have common professional interests: words, writing, design, and communication. Most technical communicators write about a subject matter that they can relate to, but focused toward one industry and one company. As conscientious professionals, technical communicators want to conform to a corporate style for publications, for online help, for Web sites. Without changing employers, industries, or style, you can write an article for a local or national STC publication and achieve the goal of trying the untried-writing in a journalistic style about subject matter different from the routine. Publishing in the Boston Broadside, Intercom, or the STC journal provides opportunities for constructive peer reviewing at the highest level. So often, a reviewer is not a fellow technical communicator but a subject matter expert (SME); a person who cares about the honesty and integrity of documentation but may be less aware of the craft and execution that is needed to deliver technical content.

Judging in the competitions is a perfect forum for a debate. Judges assess and discuss the varied entries and achievements, conferring with fellow judges on how an authoring team attacked and overcame a problem. Answers appear to daily struggles, and the judges depart the competitions filled with innovative ideas.

Benefits of Membership

The STC is a superb networking environment. The door is always open to a fellow member. Even if no opportunities exist, most members are willing to help and point a friend toward an opportunity.

Without volunteering constantly, consider the wealth of membership benefits available. By reading the quarterly journal Technical Communication, members share their latest research findings on vital topics that keep technical communicators professionally alive-knowledge management, information design, information display, heuristics, corporate intranet design, and so on. For example, Technical Communication, November 2000 displayed the Best of Show and Distinguished Technical Communication Winners in four media: art, online communication, publications, and video. In those 26 pages, ideas abound.

For those who envy spectacular presentations and shake when having to present one, the November 2000 issue of Technical Communication published a comprehensive article on "Visuals for Speaking Presentations." If a shorter version of the same topic is desired, then consult Intercom, November 2000 for "Technical Presentations: From Neophyte to Master."

The Web has grown astronomically in the last several years. Although the technology is new, many of us face second- and third-generation updates of Web-displayed communication. The August 2000 issue of Technical Communication focused entirely on the Web. Therefore, just by reading the various STC publications, which are available to all members, we can, without leaving our chairs, build skills that are usable in the workplace.

For the funded traveler, the international STC offers an annual conference. The Boston Chapter Web site is a rich repository of information-from a lengthy job bank listing, to an in-depth list of technical communication resources, such as several dictionaries, Thesauri, and encyclopedias. Just creating a bookmark for that page would help any technical communicator improve performance. These sites are available to anyone, with or without membership.

Everybody Wins

Members learn from and grow with other members and stand shoulder to shoulder with acknowledged professionals from organizations such as AMA, IEEE, ASTD, and the ACM. A membership encourages members to interact peer-to-peer and professional-to-professional, while deliberating problems such as single sourcing, graphic design, or implementing XML. Without other STC members, there are no interactive benefits.

The STC is essentially a volunteer organization. Without volunteers, there would be no STC. Think of the services offered: competitions, newsletters and journals, annual conferences, local programs, Web sites, job banks, and so on. If those services were charged at an actual cost basis, dues would be prohibitive. The bottom line: the STC cannot exist without the commitment and dedications of people who are willing to donate generously of their time-to volunteer.

By volunteering, we all win-individual STC members, the membership as a whole, and STC as an organization. But, to win we need everybody to volunteer. Share the load. "Many hands make light work," the old saying goes. Sign up to judge at the competitions. Write an article. Attend a local program. Fill out the salary survey. Clean up after a meeting. Every effort helps. Talk about the STC with fellow professionals. Share Intercom with others in your work group. Encourage technical communicators to become active members of the STC.

Bill Gruener is a technical writer at Schneider Electric in North Andover, MA. He is enrolled in the Master of Technical and Professional Writing program at Northeastern University. Before becoming a technical writer, Bill had a career in educational publishing.