STC Intercom – Editorial Calendar progress

Thanks everyone for the great comments and feedback on our starting list of theme and article ideas for STC Intercom‘s 2009 editorial calendar. I appreciate that comments are still coming in, from all around the globe. I’m enjoying the international and generational communication we’re seeing, so thanks very much!

We posted ideas and requested feedback on blogs, the STC forum, and tapped Ed Rutowski’s experience and knowledge as well as hearing results from survey data he has gathered over the years. All venues have resulted in view points and reflections that are helping us on our journey to assemble an editorial calendar for next year’s ten issues.

In the weeks since I posted that entry, the advisory panel has met twice. In between the two meetings, we performed what is called a card sort using the web application at I thought I’d share our process with you, since I found it fascinating, but also because the card sort was extremely helpful so that we could narrow down and focus the ideas from 50+ to just 10.

Websort is a Web-based card sorting tool, and the site’s intent is to help web designers improve the organization of their site. Panelist Rhonda Bracey had used it previously and thought it would be a good match for our needs. Great thinking, Rhonda!

To create our study, I used a list of keywords created from our brainstorming and invitations to the larger community to give their feedback. I had stored the keywords in a Google Spreadsheet, with one column for the keywords, and a second column for a more detailed description of what the originator meant by that idea or concept. I was able to copy and paste the keywords into the sorting tool, and then create tooltips for participants to see the longer description when they hoovered their mouse over the keyword.

Next, I sent the invitation to participate to the editorial advisory panel using the WebSort tool and the list of email addresses. Whenever a participant completed the study, I could use an RSS feed to be notified. It took me about 45 minutes to complete the study myself.

Once everyone had done the sort, I could view the results and analyze them in different ways. One analysis is called a tree view, which I sent to everyone in a PDF file that you can download. The groupings are bunched as if in a tournament bracket, with groups colored red or blue, and it offers a visual representation of how the participants grouped things in common, although the names of their groupings do not appear. You download the tree words list separately.

You can download a spreadsheet analysis tool after the study is complete, and then download and an Excel macro that takes the tree words list and compares it with each participant’s list and groupings. It produces a set of frequency tables for each item, containing a list of the groups in which that item was placed across all the participants.

Before our second meeting, I sent out the tree view PDF file and the spreadsheet with the macro run on the data. During our meeting, we then discussed the results and analysis and seven topics were clearly indicated. Our job then was to ensure that we had three theme-worthy categories and also to make sure that no topic slipped through the cracks or was ignored completely.

We discussed the difficulty in choosing a theme that will have the right content so that any issue of STC Intercom has something relevant to nearly all members, despite knowing that technical communication contains a diverse set of jobs, tool sets, and career paths.  Our hope is to produce a set of themes that are relevant and that we’re realistic about recruiting writers for the articles.

We’re still working on the final list and I’ll be sure to share it. STC Intercom’s editor, Ed Rutkowski, is leaving at the end of the month, and we’ll have our list ready for the new editor. Ed has served the Society for eight years and we’ll miss him. He has been great to work with – so best wishes to Ed at his new magazine editor position! If you know a qualified applicant, and STC members are encouraged to apply, review the job description and follow the instructions in the announcement linked from the STC home page.


  • ulla tonner
    December 4, 2008 - 4:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing. I’m looking for someone who would sharew experience in conducting these tests online, as I’m thinking of conducting one myself – in relation to an intranet project. So, it was very interesting to read your post.
    But I was planning to let the participants define the categories themselves. I can see that you made them beforehand from the brain storming themes? Why did you choose this method? And do you know whether it’s possible to do this with the tool, and if it works in a good way?

  • December 4, 2008 - 8:41 am | Permalink

    Hi Ulla, thanks for reading. I’m glad it was a useful post.

    I think that you’re talking about the difference between an open sort and a closed sort. We did a closed sort where the categories were pre-defined. An open sort lets the participants create the categtories. The Websort User Guide mentions open sorts in the analysis section so I think that you can do an open sort with Websort. See

    Our reasons for using a closed sort were to narrow down categories, since we had so many to begin with. There wasn’t a good reason to make the participants retype all their ideas. Also, since our number of participants was low, we would not have gained the statistical significance of more “votes” for one category over another. Since we gathered other ideas from non-sorting-participants, we needed to include all the ideas in the sort.

    I’ll post the results of our sort which might help you see how we ended up grouping our categories.


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