STC Intercom – themes and advice wanted

I’m quite flattered and humbled (and more than a little bit intimidated) to serve as leader on the STC Intercom advisory panel for this coming editorial year. We’re five people from different backgrounds and perspectives, tasked with preparing 10 themes for issues by August 2008. We’ve got academia, consulting, work-aday, future thinkers, and the only gap in our panel would be someone with regulatory or government limitations, er, opportunities for their content (applications for the open position, or suggestions for contacts are welcome!)

At our first informal breakfast meeting, Ed Rutkowski, Tom Johnson, and I brainstormed themes and topics for articles. Here’s our starting long list that we’ll work from and add to – and please, feel free to add to it in the comments!


  • Agile
  • Security (such as online identity and blending that with our user assistance systems to provide online community features)
  • Biographical or semi-celebrity feature articles, such as “how did I get to be JoAnn Hackos or Jared Spool or… fill in the blank”
  • Mobile and wireless effects on tech comm
  • Gadgets and devices (get nostalgic about the Selectric? and then move towards the gadgetry of today, hardware or software? Roll up keyboards?)
  • Outsourcing, crowdsourcing, friendsourcing
  • Eco-friendly or green themes, how do you save the planet as a tech writer?
  • Career planning
  • Location awareness – cultural sensitivity but also could be online help that knows where the reader is located geographically or awareness of where a cell or mobile phone is located
  • Messaging and brand awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Virtualization
  • Future forwards thinking, not just trends and trendsetting but really out there like flying cars kind of concepts
  • Alternatives to online help
  • Social networking
  • Usability for online help
  • Audience considerations, especially in industrial settings, high risk settings, regulated settings
  • Patterns – design patterns are used in object oriented programming but they started with architectural patterns (entry way is a solution to the problem of entering a building and a room and so on.)

I’ve also identified some areas of deficit where I’m not quite sure how to fill the void. One is, there are no Gen Nexters voices that I know of in STC yet, and I’d really like to change that somehow with STC Intercom. Gen Nexters are age 18-25, just starting out in our profession. Since now is the first time in history that four generations are in the workplace, I’m striving to find those tech writers who are just starting out but have a passion for their career choice. From what I’ve read, Generation Next is made up of 18-25 year-olds (born between 1981 and 1988). Generation X (that’s me!) was born between 1966 and 1980 and ranges in age from 26-40. The Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, ranges in age from 41-60. Finally, those over age 60 (born before 1946) are often called the Greatest Generation. Please, contact me if you are of Gen Next or could tell me of someone who I could talk with for input on our themes and perhaps contributing to an issue.


  • Doug
    June 6, 2008 - 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Those of us born in 1965 don’t seem to fit in any of the four generations… (the youngest baby boomers are now 44)

  • June 7, 2008 - 6:12 am | Permalink

    Hi Doug, looks like you get to pick which generation you identify with more, lucky you! 🙂

  • June 7, 2008 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    *AWESOME* – congrats, Anne, Tom, and Ed! I’m so glad to see this direction and team take shape. I know there are a lot of folks out there not yet sharing their insights and learnings – the gauntlet has been thrown, people!!

    I’ll throw in my 2c on the subject of flying eco-cars at least..;)

    PS. is the Location awareness bit missing words at the end?

    – lisa

  • June 7, 2008 - 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Ha, yes, thanks Lisa! I mean to talk about mobile phones and GPS locations and that sort of thing, so I’ve updated the post to add.

    Speaking of flying eco-cars, did you see that now lets you see the carbon footprint of each of your trips? Nifty.

  • June 7, 2008 - 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Nice – noticed dopplr is on twitter, too.

    Are you considering “business” as a theme? I think it’s an under-represented area, and our industry could use a lot more direction and creative thinking there. E.g. revenue-bearing models, metrics/BI, enterprise-wide business strategies for information delivery, etc.

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  • June 10, 2008 - 9:18 am | Permalink

    I would like to see things for Lone Writers as it seems like many companies/departments have one writer or the writers are split into different groups and don’t get to interact.

  • Kris
    June 10, 2008 - 9:29 am | Permalink

    I am a big fan of Intercom and read every article in some issues. I’d like to see more on usability and usability testing, a regular column on English language usage, and more from specific SIGs. For example, lone writers have a very different perspective; it would be great to hear from them periodically. I’m sure the same is true for every other SIG within STC.

    Bravo to all of you for taking this on!!!

  • June 10, 2008 - 9:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Robin and Kris! Sounds like a lone writer’s perspective would be valuable, if not for a theme, perhaps an article. There are more topics to choose from than I had originally envisioned, which is great!

    One of my friends went to lone writer status over a year ago and she has an entirely different perspective since doing so. She has found ways to reach out to bloggers and she has been amazed at how well bloggers have responded to her. When I think of lone writers, I also think of telecommuters and the mobile workforce and the book “Connect! A Guide to a New Way of Working from GigaOM’s Web Worker Daily” and how much technology enables interaction. Thanks for triggering more thoughts.

  • June 11, 2008 - 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Here are a few ideas:

    foundation books: a classic library of books that any technical needs to get a good foundation and beyond

    visual information: all about graphics and visual representation

    your biggest mistake — personal essays on lessons learned from career errors

    web 2.0 and help: how to make your help system better as more people use it

    methods for gathering user feedback — and how to interpret it

    career spinoffs — everything else you can do under the tech comm umbrella

    creating passionate users

    the language of help

  • June 11, 2008 - 8:17 pm | Permalink

    one more: “Is Technical Writing Boring?”

    and, digg for technical communicators.

    as well as writing for mobile devices such as blackberries and cell phones.

    how to create and publish a help tutorial video on youtube or other online video services.

  • Rachel Peters
    June 12, 2008 - 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I have a problem with getting bored at work, which is one reason I love this field. Maybe an article on what tech writers are doing besides writing would be helpful to newer writers.

    For example, I often dive into interface discussions (by choice because I love it), design feature demos, conduct training sessions, manage the wiki, and so on and so forth. I love all of it. One day I’d like to pursue IA further, and I know a tech writing background is a great start.

    I think other writers may be curious what kinds of backgrounds enter the field and what fields a tech writer background can lead to.

    Oh, and I’m 28. So I guess I’m an old Gen Nexter. I’m happy to help in any way I can though.

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  • VaishVijay
    June 12, 2008 - 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anne,
    How about including topics covering perspectives from non-native technical writers like me, in Intercom?

    I hail from India and work in Malaysia as a lone technical writer. Often my suggestions and recommendations are challenged, as am a non-native English writer/speaker. Because of this, I spend a lot of efforts in just trying to make them understand my standpoint and convince them!

    Note that my colleagues are also Asians and am curious to know the experience of non-native writers who work with native speakers/writers.

  • June 13, 2008 - 7:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Rachel – I too, avoid boredom and my job helps with that immensely. That characteristic or trait just might be GenX. 🙂
    Hi Vaish – Thanks so much for your comment, I love to hear from all parts of the world and your idea is a good one. Did you see my notes from the International Collaboration session at the STC Summit at
    While they did address your particular situation, I would guess they have each dealt with it in their own way. Good idea.

    We’ve gathered more than 50 ideas probably, now the tough work of whittling it down to a list of 10 begins. 🙂

  • Kirsty
    June 17, 2008 - 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anne,
    You might find some Gen Nexters through the academic or student group communities in STC. Char and I went along to the Student breakfast at the Summit, which Char found out about from four students from a uni in New Mexico (??) who adopted her guidance and help in choosing sessions. There were other students there as well … and they definitely fall into Gen Next!!

  • June 21, 2008 - 8:43 am | Permalink


    My comment would realte not to format or content, but to distribution.

    Please make receiving a paper copy of Intercom a benefit for ALL members of STC, wherever they are based. At the moment, non-US members have to pay $30 per year more than US members. It makes us feel… less than equal.

    Many STC UK members, for example, do not pay the extra. Real outcome? Most of us simply never read Intercom any more. So we never see the articles (however good they may be). So Advertisers get a diminished return on their investment. And non-US STC members feel uninvolved in the wider organisation.


  • June 21, 2008 - 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Nick –
    Your distribution plight is well understood by STC and the panel – Rhonda Bracey is a panelist living in Bridgetown, WA, Australia, and she also discussed the distribution problems for her – she said she couldn’t wait as long as it took for the paper version and has resorted to reading it online only.

    Sorry I don’t have a complete answer for you, yet, but you’re absolutely right about the results of the cost and delay of overseas distribution difficulties. I have to admit, I had no idea until talking to Rhonda, so even just making more of us STCers aware of our global community is useful in its own right. Thanks so much.

  • Colleen
    June 26, 2008 - 12:57 pm | Permalink


    I was happy to see a variety of Agile Development sessions at the STC conference and would love to see Scrum-related articles, (best practices, pros and cons, and review processes) in Intercom. Also, I think the theme of Quality could warrant an issue. As communication becomes more modular and is produced more quickly, quality can suffer.

    Thanks for all you do!

  • July 2, 2008 - 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’m a GenNext-er (age 23) and my alma mater, Cedarville University, has a good amount of students involved in STC. ( One part of the STC conference I particularly enjoyed this year was the “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” session. If there could be something like a column in every issue where people could write in questions and older professionals could answer back, I would be very interested.

  • Nancy
    July 19, 2008 - 5:02 am | Permalink

    I’d love to see an issue devoted to regional trends in the global marketplace. What are the skills needed in Europe versus Asia, etc. Are we seeing low service and high service skills congregated by region? How dominant is the English language in technical writing world-wide? A sort of world report about some burning questions.

    What about devoting an issue to today’s global communication challenges, what we’ve achieved in remote communication / collaboration techniques. Why are pod casts effective? With the exorbitant cost of travel, we need to keep a pulse on alternative ways to manage projects remotely and create synergy with co-workers scattered around the globe. We should be taking the lead in our companies at suggesting best practices in this area. What innovations are in the works?

    Another theme is business and technical communications – seeing things from the company’s perspective. Let’s hear from the MBA’s / Tech Writer Managers.

    For a generational piece, it would be interesting to look at manufacturing and product design. Take a product like aVCR. What are the challenges that each generation faced in using one. Are products designed with the user in mind? Someone said at the STC this year that our goal should be to influence design useability to the point of there being no need to provide user information.

  • Destry
    July 20, 2008 - 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I would echo Nick (post 19). For about 3 years now I’ve been an “electronic” member due to my overseas location and refusal to pay an extra $30 just for the periodical. I have no problem reading Intercom online per se, but in actuality I’ve read only one issue (April 2008) in 3-years time. Not by choice, but simply by fact that it’s not sitting on the coffee table staring me in the face.

    Regarding Laure’s great comment (post 22) about GNs asking questions and vets replying…how would the magazine be different than just posting such questions in the STC Forum ( It seems to me the Forum would be more successful as it’s self-sustaining and easy for any veteran to respond without being appointed to do so, theoretically speaking.

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