Re: STC Annual Conference trip reports?

Subject: Re: STC Annual Conference trip reports?
From: Janice Gelb <janiceg -at- marvin -dot- eng -dot- sun -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2000 09:59:22 -0700 (PDT)

In article ORG -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com writes:
>I'm sure many of us had to write conference trip reports. If you really want
>to hear less about the decor of the halls and more about sessions, I'm sure
>we could oblige. Would anyone object?

Here's mine -- it's not exactly the same as the
one I did for work, as I've cut out the sarcastic
comments about some of the presenters :->



10:30 - 12 "Copyright & Policy Issues in Cyberspace"

As usual when STC clumps together three papers in
one session, these were very different presentations.

"Legal Issues in Cyberspace"

Elissa Kagan, a technical writer at Unisys who's now
in law school, gave an interesting presentation
featuring cases on various issues such as trademark
protection and fair use on the Internet, cybersquatting,
and implied license and web frames. The handout
included the case law and some further law-related resources.

She said that the basic steps to establish intellectual
property are Find, Secure, Exploit, and Protect.

"Copyright on the Internet" -- A fairly elementary
presentation on copyright law. She did give some
sites that follow legal issues, such as and

"Looking Beyond Technology: Supporting the University
Community's Technology" -- This presentation by a
tech writer who works for the University of Michigan
Office of Policy Development was basically a 20-minute
ad for the presenter's department and drew no generally
applicable conclusions.

2 - 3:30 "Editing Strategies for Print and Web Copy"

This presentation by established editors Don Zimmerman
and Barbara Simmons didn't seem to have a whole lot to do
with print and web copy but did give some good editing tips
(for example, the phrase "a number of..." takes a plural
verb and "the number of..." takes a singular verb).

4 - 5:30 "Trends in Editing"

Another "all-in-one" panel.

"Survey Says..." was a report on a survey Julie
Bommarito did of editors, asking what they thought
current trends in editing were. Then she polled the
audience. Some of the trends didn't seem very
trendy to me ("Serving more as an educator as well
as an editor").

"Editing Once, Publishing Many Times" -- This was
the most aggravating panel I attended at STC. A
consultant named Linda Oestrich tried to talk about
editing in a single-source environment without ever
having *worked* in a single-source environment. She
said she'd been asked to do the topic and had done
some research. She had some mistakes and contradictions
in her presentation that I raised my hand a couple of
times to correct.

"What Will Happen to Editing" was by Don Bush, an
elderly and old-style aerospace editor. His main
thrust seemed to be that engineers will respect you
if you find technical errors and that being picky about
grammar wasn't important. He said that the keys to
editing were: "1. Find mistakes. 2. Cut copy.
3. Improve access." I'm not sure I agree with the
order, but the points are good.


8:30 - 10 "Creating Modular Documentation" *

This was one of those presentations where the people
present a case study from their own company, in this
case, Engineering Animation. The process was for online
help, not documentation (contrary to the title). They use
a modular format to combine different available features
of their product depending on what customers order.
The process they discussed was based on software they
created (and spent about 20 minutes demoing), so it
wasn't very useful to the audience. They did have an
interesting feature, which is that they install only the
help modules related to the software that is installed
during package installation.

11 - 12

My own presentation on "Establishing an Editorial Forum."
It seemed to go pretty well: the audience asked pertinent
questions and the panel went 10 minutes over schedule.

2 - 3:30 "Peculiarities of Indexing Technical Documents"

This turned out to be a session by the STC Special
Interest Group on Indexing about their progress in
developing indexing standards/guidelines for the
industry. Once I realized this, I was about to leave
but then they held up a copy of _Read Me First!_ so I
stuck around! It turned out to be fairly interesting,
with some discussion of third-party indexing tools and
insights into the working experience of professional
indexers. The sample copy of their newsletter was useful
and copies of past issues are available at

4 - 5:30 -- "Writing and Editing Progression"

I was one of the presenters, on "Developing a Company
Style Guide." The format for the progressions is unusual:
you sit at a table and go through your spiel three times
in a 90-minute period. The whole idea of the small table
format is interaction, but by the time everyone at the
table introduces themselves, you barely have time to go
through your topic, let alone engage in conversation. I
felt like the speed-talking guy in the old FedEx commercials
by the end.


8:30 - 10 "Web Tools and Techniques Progression"

The first table I went to, and the main reason I chose
this session, was "SGML and XML: Some Practical Hints
for Large Documents." *

I think most people who came to this topic were new to
the whole concept of SGML and XML. The presenters were
throwing around terms like DTD until one brave person
asked what that meant, so they backed up a little. They
work in a small consulting company and most of the handout
talks about how to develop a DTD for what seem to be
small projects rather than extensive technical manuals.
They really didn't say much about SGML/XML issues,
which was what I'd hoped to hear.

"Guidelines for Accessible Web Sites" *

This was the best presentation I attended. The two
presenters talked about the W3C guidelines for
accessible web design. First they quickly went
through the guidelines, then they showed the result
of working their web site through a site called
Bobby 3.1.1, which reviews web sites for accessibility
errors. Once your site has no priority 1 errors, you
may use a "Bobby Approved" icon that indicates
that your site is accessible. The presenters also
provided resources for basic and accessible web
design and testing.

One very interesting point they made was that studies
show that, contrary to our visual instincts, it's
actually better ergonomically to have clickable TOCs
and links on the right side of the page rather than
the left for easier mousing.

"Web Development Tools 2000"

As I suspected, this was mostly Windows tools, but
I did learn that Macromedia's Dreamweaver automatically
generates cascading style sheets.

10:30 - 12

The presentation on "Quality Assurance You Can Do
Yourself" that I wanted to go to was SRO, so I ended
up at "Writing Policies and Procedures." It turned
out to be even more elementary than I expected except
for ISO parts about which I knew nothing. One good
point that was made was that procedures should be
written for a specific audience and don't necessarily
need to be understood by every reader. The presenter
pointed out that sometimes she sees a television
commercial that she doesn't get and then realizes
that it's not a problem: she's not the person for
whom the commercial is intended.

2 - 3:30 "Crossing Borders--Tips for Preparing Your
Writing for Subsequent Translation"

A project manager at a translation service house gave
this presentation, which had a lot of information I'd
heard before but also some new tips:

* Have distributors in the target country review the
translation before it's final

* Owls in the U.S. are viewed as smart but in other
places they're evidently viewed as lazy or evil

I'll end this report with some of the amusing examples
he gave from cases when translations went bad:

* For the opening of their stores in Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia, McDonalds made special wrapping paper for
the sandwiches showing regional flags, including
the SA flag. However, the flag includes words from the
Koran which are considered sacred and not to be thrown
in the trash. The outlets closed within a day.

* Accompanying an alarm clock: "Thank you to the
perfection of the alarming mechanism. You are never
awake when you are sleeping."

* "To preserve the warranty of your upholstery, you
must pick up a can of liquid sealant and spray it
on yourself."

* In Brazil, Ford marketed the Pinto as a second
family car, and put up billboards that said "Keep
a Pinto in the garage for when your husband is
away on a trip." Turns out "pinto" is slang in
Portugese for a certain part of a man's anatomy...

Janice Gelb | The only connection Sun has with
janice -dot- gelb -at- eng -dot- sun -dot- com | this message is the return address.

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