September 22 2012 Program Meeting

Written by Thomas Glennan

Photo of sorted cards bundled to turn in
Sorted cards ready to be turned in

Most STC/SM program meetings provide the opportunity to learn about new technologies, skills, or applications in the field of technical and professional communication. At the most recent meeting, however, held September 22 at Lawrence Technological University (LTU), attendees not only learned about some of the principles and concepts behind effective web design; they also participated in a workshop that would contribute to the actual redesign and improvement of the chapter’s own web site. And the chapter gained additional insight and feedback into what information and features potential web site users might want and need from the chapter. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning for all involved.

The presentation/workshop was presented by Ms. Pamela Finger, a graduate student in LTU’s Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) program, and Ms. Pat Gomez Martz, STC/SM chapter webmaster and Pamela’s practicum advisor at LTU. The meeting/workshop began with a brief review of the design and content of the previous web site. The elements of the web site needing attention or improvement were reviewed, including the lack of a central, focused format; its cluttered appearance and layout; and the use of tables in its construction. Pat then discussed the cosmetic and structural changes that have been made to date, many of which were enabled by the CSS stylesheet in the new web site. Not only have these changes improved the usability and navigability of the web site, but they have reduced its size by 87% as well, reducing its cost and complexity.

Before moving on to a discussion of additional changes and revisions to improve the web site further, the meeting attendees participated in a couple of small group activities. These included a questionnaire on the usability and features of the previous web site, and an exercise for grouping or organizing potential website topics or categories in a format that would be logical and user friendly. This data will be compiled and analyzed by Pamela and Pat as they continue their research and investigation into additional chapter web site enhancements, in conjunction with Pamela’s practicum on this topic.

The meeting then transitioned into a group review and evaluation of the web site changes that have been made to date, and their effectiveness and appeal to the meeting participants. Discussion focused on a variety of the considerations and challenges that must be considered when developing a web site and blog, including the desirability of search windows, how to design for mobile applications, how to manage responses to material posted on the blog, and the metrics for measuring blog traffic. Time was also spent with a live, online review of the web sites and blogs maintained by other STC chapters.

These survey and exercise results, along with the discussion and suggestions from the workshop, will now be used by Pamela and Pat to make recommendations to the Southeast Michigan chapter for further improvements to the web site and blog. Will the feedback and suggestions from this workshop and everyone’s hard work pay off? Keep an eye on this web site, and the changes to come, to decide for yourself.

Member Spotlight: Barry Matthews

Barry Matthews, Treasurer

1. What is your educational background? How long have you been a member of STC? In what STC positions have you served? I have a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Waterloo (Ontario) and I’ve been a member of STC for about 12 years. I served as the membership manager a few years ago.

2. Why did you decide to join STC? I had heard about STC from others at my workplace who, at the time, were on the council. I thought that joining STC would be a good way to meet other writers and gain some insight into the profession of technical communications.

3. Why did you decide to pursue technical communication as a career?  In my last job, I was responsible for creating internal procedure manuals for a large computer department, which I found challenging and rewarding. A full-time opportunity arose in 1999 that provided an excellent opportunity to hone those skills and move directly into the profession as a technical writer.

4. Where are you currently employed? I am currently employed as a Senior Technical Writer at Thomson Reuters in Dexter, Michigan.

5. What are your job activities? What do you find most interesting and/or satisfying about your job? I enjoy the collaborative aspect of my job, working with other writers on my team and with subject matter experts to update and create user assistance for our customers. I also enjoy the technical aspect of my job, which involves troubleshooting and evaluating tools that we use on a day-to-day basis.

6. What are some examples of projects you are particularly proud of? I most enjoy the creative aspect of developing user assistance from scratch. I played a major role in the development of online user assistance for an audit engagement product that has won some awards for excellence in the accounting software industry. Our team is currently developing user assistance for the next generation of a similar accounting product.

7. How has being an STC member helped you with your career? Being a member of STC has provided me with an opportunity to broaden my understanding of this multifaceted profession by exchanging ideas and experiences with others in the field.

8. What advice do you have for students as they are entering the field oftechnical communication? I would say that if you keep an open mind, and abandon any preconceived notions about what the profession is all about, you will be surprised at how diverse the field is and the opportunities that it offers.

9. What else would you like our readers to know about you? I have great conversations with my dogs, because as Dave Barry says: “You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, `My God, you’re RIGHT! I NEVER would’ve thought of that!'”

Usability Research Program on September 22 to Improve STC/SM Website

Pam Finger, Master of Science candidate in Technical and Professional Communication at Lawrence Technological University, is researching some issues of information architecture in an effort to make this website more useful and the information more findable. Pam is working on her practicum with STC/SM’s new webmaster and LTU adjunct faculty member, Pat Martz.

There are three competing, and possibly conflicting, needs:

  • the users’ needs for findable information on a usable site
  • the volunteer STCS/SM webmaster’s need for a shallow learning curve and an easy-to-maintain site
  • STC/SM’s need for clearly identifiable branding

To that end, Pam will be leading a program on usability with a series of qualitative research exercises to determine what users want and need.

We need guinea pigs. Be one of those users! Join us in this opportunity to see what this type of research is like from the participants’ side of the table and to help us produce a website more responsive to your needs.

Particulars

  • Date: Saturday, September 22, 2012
  • Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Place: LTU, 21000 West Ten Mile Road, Southfield, Michigan, the Taubman Student Center’s Welcome Center, room C406
  • Price: FREE! We will ply you with liquid refreshments and edible goodies in gratitude for your participation

Please register to ensure enough coffee and edible goodies.