Lessons from Linda: STC and Me—How I Got Here

by Linda Oestreich on 21 October 2014


I recently saw a post on LinkedIn from someone who wondered about the value of being an STC member. I know that most people who read this post are already STC members, but sometimes even members need reminders on why we’re here. This month and next, I have decided to share my personal STC story. I hope that my own relative success in this delightful profession will interest you and help you stick it out if you’re thinking of moving on.

My story is a long one, so I’ll break it into two parts: (1) How I Found and Embraced STC and (2) How STC Supported and Embraced Me.

How I Found and Embraced STC

I grew up in a working-class family, the eldest of four kids.  I was book smart and had the advantage of a good public school education, but as a rebellious teen, I found myself alone with no family support immediately after high school graduation. So, rather than join my high school friends who were headed to college, I found myself a single mom working as a typist in a minimum wage job. Two things saved me: initiative to get ahead and colleagues who believed in me.

The initiative put me in night and weekend college classes; the colleagues coached me to keep moving ahead and looking for better jobs. My first years of employment were as a Federal civil servant, years that gave me the support to complete my bachelor’s degree and to receive an introduction to technical communication and STC! My first knowledge of technical writers was as a secretary to the manager of the Technical Information Division at the science and engineering research laboratory where I worked. I had two bosses while I was in that job—both of them recognized my better-than-average writing and thought that technical writing might be my salvation. It was.

It took more than a decade for me to get from high school to an entry-level job of editorial assistant, but that success led me directly to STC. My new boss was a smart, involved, incredible woman who was active in STC at the local and international levels as well as in the student chapter at San Diego State College. With her support, I began to attend meetings and work on local committees. Before long, I had the opportunity to attend my first STC Summit (called annual conferences back then), but only if I presented a paper! My first paper was a case study about how a team I was on developed and taught a 40-hour technical information training class to the scientists and engineers at our research lab. The paper was accepted and I did my first presentation in Seattle in May 1984.

Not only was that my first STC conference, it was the first time I’d ever stayed in a nice hotel, the first time I’d been on a business trip, and the first time I’d ever seen a lemon wrapped in cheesecloth! (I remember that distinctly because I was terribly embarrassed when I tried to unwrap it only to be told how the cheesecloth stopped the pits from getting into my iced tea!)

I think I fell in love with STC at that conference. From there, I joined committees, supported my boss in many of the things she was involved in, helped put on local STC events, and continued to make proposals to do sessions at conferences. It was the beginning of a long and still-prosperous journey.  I had found STC and embraced all that it offered me.

Read the next Linda’s Lessons in the STC Notebook to get part two!

“See” you then!


Talking Usability: Usability for Left-Handed People

by David Dick on 15 October 2014

At the Communities reception at the Summit somebody spoke about the difficulties of left-handed people using household appliances, technologies, and software. If you are left-handed then you probably have problems using everyday things because they are designed for right-handed use.

Take a look at the placement of buttons on many of every day devices:

  • Power buttons are on the right side of most mobile phones.
  • Numeric keypads are always on the right side of the keyboard.
  • The buttons of pointing devices (e.g., the mouse) favor right-handed users.
  • The buttons on the car dashboard are on the right side of the steering wheel.
  • The main controls of a digital camera are on the right side.

Knives, can openers, scissors, cars, smartphones, computers, pointing devices, cameras, and power tools, to name a few, are ideally suited for right-handed use. To prove it, a friend (who is left-handed) gave me a demonstration of how cumbersome these items are to use with her left hand.  Yes, I was convinced—the design of these items was better suited for right-handed people.

The reason that so few things are designed for left-handed people is because 85% to 90% of all people are born right-handed. There’s your answer—there’s no profit to be made selling left-handed products. I am reminded, however, of Donald Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things” which suggests that even if less than 10% of the population is left-handed, they still represent millions of people. Most memorable of his explanation is that a product designed to improve accessibility for a few often results in greater use for everyone. Consider also the number of right-handed people who lose the use of their right hand and have to learn to do everything with their left hand; now the situation becomes an accessibility issue.

Dr. Stefan Gutwinski published a study about left-handedness in Understanding Left-Handedness. He writes that left-handers often have a tendency for ambidexterity because they are already used to doing things with their right hands from childhood. Nevertheless, the older the user, the more difficulty left-handers have to become accustomed to new devices ideally suited for the right hand. Despite the ambidexterity, left-handed people struggle using items designed for right-handed use.

However, there’s something we can do to accommodate left-handed people. We can design products with the left-handed user in mind. For example, we can design software systems that are customizable making it possible to place control buttons and keyboard functions on the left-handed operations. We can also include left-handed users in usability studies to evaluate suitability of design.

In the case of smartphones, you would think that it should not matter which hand is used on a touchscreen. But because many devices have the on-off or volume buttons on the right side, operating the device with just your left hand is not easy. Maybe a solution is to design the smartphone that is compatible for right and left handed use.

We can create awareness such as Left Handers Day; a day devoted to being left-handed.  Another solution is for left-handers to try things in their hand before buying them and really give them a good test. Last, but not least, we can include left-handed users in usability testing to evaluate true ‘ease of use’.

If you are still unconvinced that left-handed people have problems using things designed for right-handed people, read Confessions of a Left-Handed Technology User by Harry McCracken.

The next time you attend the Communities get together at the Summit, you might find a few left-handed members discussing the importance of accessibility and usability for left-handed people.

I’m David Dick and I’m Talking Usability


AIIP 2015 ConferenceAIIP would like to invite STC members to submit speaker proposals for their 2015 conference in Irvine, CA next April. The conference encourages communication and idea sharing on top trends in the wider information industry, networking and mentoring, entrepreneurial best practices, business tips and so much more. It’s a leading source of professional development for info consultants, “liberated” researchers, info-entrepreneurs – all those who are pursuing an independent business practice.

The due date for proposals is Friday, October 17, 2014.

2015’s Theme—Destination Irvine: Learn. Plan. Grow.


On the 9th September 2014, Apple announced a range of health-based wearable devices that will help capture biometric data. According to The Guardian, the software will allow developers to build bespoke health apps for a broad range of medical needs. This, the newspaper states, is part of a trend to make healthcare more personalised.

Personalisation is also growing in consumer technology. The latest brochure from John Lewis (a very popular department store in the UK) includes an article looking at a day in the life of a person with all the latest automated technologies. In this person’s life, thermostats adjust to the temperature they prefer, and lightbulbs flash to warn them that a football match on TV is about to start (see the image to the right).

DunnHumby, a software company based in the UK, enables supermarkets to offer personalised and relevant shopping offers. It’s been reported some supermarkets have identified, by analysing someone’s purchasing patterns, women who were pregnant before they’ve known themselves.

I could go on with many other examples to illustrate this trend.

So are we likely to see a growth in personalised documentation for users? There are some of examples of documentation that’s moving towards this type of personalisation. [click to continue…]


From 8-11 October, the world’s top medical communicators are going to AMWA’s 74th Annual Conference in Memphis, TN. Visit www.amwa.org and register now!  Through our partnership with AMWA, STC members can receive $100 off the non-AMWA member registration rate by using Promo Code: 2014SGP.

The conference program offers an outstanding educational experience and opportunities for writers and editors in a wide variety of fields—from health writers to continuing education writers to regulatory writers to publications professionals to scientific editors and beyond. No matter what type of writing or editing you do in the medical or health setting, the AMWA Annual Conference will help you move your career forward and achieve, and maintain, success in medical communication.

The conference is jam-packed with educational sessions, networking opportunities, award winners, and fun! You can review the full program in the registration brochure, the highlights in the program at a glance, the sessions by program track, and the workshops by their schedule. Your registration fee includes access to the exhibit hall, your choice of 48 open sessions, two General Sessions with award speakers, three evening receptions, two lunches, and one breakfast.


Mentoring: Paying It Forward

by Marisa Seitz on 22 September 2014

Today’s post about the STC Mentor Board was written by STC’s President Kit Brown-Hoekstra.

Remember when you were just starting out in the field? Did you have someone (or several someones) who took the time to answer your questions, give you constructive feedback, or just encourage you to stretch yourself? If so, now is your opportunity to pay it forward.

We often hear about the value of receiving mentoring and of having a good mentor, but we don’t often hear about the value of being a mentor. What does the mentor get out of the relationship?

After all, mentoring, depending on the situation, takes time and energy from other volunteer or work activities. Yet, many mentors stay engaged with their mentees throughout their careers. In other cases, the mentee needs specific advice about a specific problem, so the relationship is shorter and more specific. [click to continue…]


A Note from STC’s Summit Best of Show Winner

by Marisa Seitz on 19 September 2014

Today we have a guest post by Judy Wyrick to talk about her team’s experience winning STC’s 2013-14 International Summit Awards Best of Show.

The Biological and Environmental Research Information System (BERIS) team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is highly honored to have been named STC’s 2013-14 International Summit Awards Best of Show. Yet, we also acknowledge the nearly 25 years of valuable experience and guidance we have received from entering STC technical communication competitions at the chapter and international (if our entries were deemed worthy) levels. Participating in chapter competitions in East Tennessee, Washington DC–Baltimore, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Florida has provided us with a broad range of opinions and competitors in publications, art, and online formats. We very much appreciate the judges’ critiques and comments, and all of them have contributed to our receiving this ultimate award and recognition from our peers. [click to continue…]


2015 Membership Is Now Open!

by Marisa Seitz on 17 September 2014

The 2015 STC membership season is now open! Renew your membership today and enjoy the benefits that make you a better technical communicator. New members, join now for 2015 and get the rest of 2014 free!

There are a few new things in 2015 that make membership even move valuable:

1. The SIG Value and Gold Education membership levels have been combined and become the Gold Value Package membership, with dues of $425 for the year. This option takes the previous Gold Education level and adds the option of membership in all STC Special Interest Groups—without raising the price! Gold members will be able to select membership in any and all desired SIGs now when they renew or join at this level. Gold membership still includes: one chapter, five free webinars, and half off of one online course. Gold members also receive Really Early Bird pricing for the 2015 Summit no matter when they register!

2. All Student memberships now include membership in the Academic SIG.

3. The limited-time Early Renewal Discount is for renewing members only. Only 2014 members will be able to save $30 on dues during the early renewal period. This brings a Classic membership down from $225 to $195, but you must renew early to get this discount! Use the Dues Discount Code in your membership email to save or email membership@stc.org for the code. Be sure to include your member ID.

And, of course, all memberships continue to receive the same great benefits you’ve come to expect from STC—online subscriptions to the award-winning Intercom and Technical Communication; access to the Salary Database; our library of over 140 free, on-demand, archived seminars; discounts from HP, LifeLock, Hertz, MadCap, Lenovo, InterCall, and others with our Affinity Program; significant price reductions on STC webinars, online courses, recorded sessions, and the annual Summit; a 14-day advance viewing on all jobs posted to the Job Bank; and networking opportunities across the globe.

So renew your STC membership or join today and be a part of your Society. Visit www.stc.org/membership for more information or email membership@stc.org with any questions. We look forward to a great 2015!

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Learn proven strategies for surviving and thriving as an independent consultant or small firm with the live Web seminar Winning Strategies for Independent Consultants, presented by Beth Gerber from 4:00-5:00 PM EDT (GMT-4) on Thursday, 18 September. This includes identifying consulting opportunities, networking effectively, making and closing deals, fostering long term relationships, and keeping your business profitable.

Attendees will gain practical tools for managing a consulting business whether you are a sole proprietor or have employees/subcontractors.  You will learn what is absolutely essential in running a small business or independent consultancy and what is not required.  Learn ways to manage a business when thriving as well as when times are lean and how to maintain success over the long term. This includes:

  • Assessing projects, bidding appropriately, managing expenses and bringing projects to a successful close.
  • Providing prospective clients with what they need to award you with an engagement over other competitors.
  • Developing prototypes, project plans and proposals.
  • Tracking projects, expenses, income and project scope.
  • Dealing with overruns and staying on budget and making money with every contract.
  • Dealing with partners and subcontractors and making sure that these relationships work for you.
  • Managing and building long term relationships with clients so that every engagement turns into a potential income stream.


Breakdowns in communication between the expert and the novice interfere with achieving positive outcomes in all areas of human endeavor. Get advice on ways that technical communicators—and others—can close the chasm for the good of all.

Have you ever wondered why so much goes awry in communications and interactions between the expert and the novice? In this webinar, Close the Chasm Between the Expert and the Novice for the Good of All, presented by Judith Shenouda on Wednesday, 17 September, from 1:00-2:00 PM EDT (GMT-4), the presenter will share what she has learned about the expert-novice chasm and how it affects decision-making and problem-solving to the detriment of positive outcomes.

Participants will look at scenarios in Health and Wellness, Law and Justice, and Education; consider what causes the expert-novice gap; and think about how to close the gap. With improved communications and interactions between the expert and the novice, problematic outcomes can be transformed into favorable, positive ones in every realm of human endeavor for the good of all.

This webinar will cover:

  • The need to close the chasm between the expert and the novice when communicating, because so much can go awry and consequences may mean life or death
  • Characteristics of the expert and the novice that help explain the chasm—to the detriment of effective decision-making, problem-solving, and positive outcomes
  • Tools from technical communicators and others for closing the expert-novice chasm
  • Next steps toward forging better outcomes
  • Resources