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Newsletter of the East Bay Chapter of STC

Supporting technical communication in the
San Francisco Bay Area since 1962
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First Quarter 2016 Issue


President's Message **** Editor's Message **** Feature Story: Friends Help Motivate Technical Literacy

Recent Dinner Meeting Recaps:

Touchstone Awards Dinner Recap  ****  TC Camp Recap


President's Message

Gale-Liz-JaneFebMimis One of the best things about reviving the Devil Mountain Views is this opportunity to connect with EBSTC members I may never get to meet in person. I want our chapter to live up to everyone's expectations, whether you prefer virtual participation or our lively educational dinner events at Mimi's Cafe. Here are a few ways every member is empowered to drive our strategic direction.

  • Get informed and cast your vote in chapter and national STC officer elections
  • Read our Leadership Council meeting minutes and offer feedback (see January 2016 for this year's focus areas)
  • Volunteer to be a reviewer for the new EBSTC Chapter Handbook (email me)
  • Join Past President Lori Meyer in shaping our 3-year Strategic Plan
  • Submit a newsletter story to Managing Editor Ashwini Tharval

Thank you for your support of our chapter and our profession,

Liz Miller
EBSTC President


EBSTC's Community Service Project

Since 1998, EBSTC has been running a technical literacy project with the goal of introducing students to basic technical writing techniques. The driving force behind this is T. R. Girill, STC Fellow. In our feature story this issue, T. R. tells us how he received some unexpected help from supporters near and far. If you are interested in learning more about the technical literacy project, visit our website.

Also in this issue, you can read highlights of two recent events:

  • Touchstone Awards Dinner (Touchstone is a regional technical communication competition sponsored by the six Northern California STC chapters)
  • TC Camp (TC Camp is an unconference for technical communicators, which means the afternoon topics are determined by the attendees at the time)

If you are interested in writing a newsletter article, a dinner meeting report or a book review, we welcome your participation. Please contact me with your ideas.

Ashwini Tharval
Managing Editor


Friends Help Motivate Technical Literacy

One constant challenge for K-12 science teachers is explaining the relevance of technical writing to the future success of their students, especially those disinterested in STEM in the first place. This motivational challenge received some unexpected help this year from supporters near and far of EBSTC's technical literacy outreach project.

Horner Makes the Connection

From May 31 to June 2, 2015, Nadine R. Horner represented Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) at a nationwide diversity conference hosted by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) in Baltimore, MD. While there, she attended a session on encouraging girls as well as boys to pursue K-12 science classes, presented by Lee Shumow and Jennifer A. Schmidt, who had coauthored a book called Enhancing Adolescents' Motivation for Science in 2014. Horner returned with a sample of that book and a generous offer by the authors to provide more copies for the two dozen East Bay teachers slated to attend my professional development workshop on "Technical Writing for Science Class" on June 18-19, 2015, at LLNL

I exchanged e-mails with Shumow and Schmidt, pointing out how well their book had already made the case for explicit literacy coaching by science teachers (p. 136):

Reading a science textbook, writing a lab report, or even science notes, and solving problems require specialized literacy skills that can be acquired if they are taught but are unlikely to be generalized from those literacy skills taught in English class.

The day before my workshop started, a carton of their texts arrived, which I shared with the participating science teachers (from school districts throughout northern California).

Standards Meet Careers

Recently adopted California K-12 standards for both literacy (CCSS) and science (NGSS) contain within them the motivation to build nonfiction writing skills in parallel with mastery of science topics and techniques. But as Shumow and Schmidt note in their book (p. 18), science teachers too often fail to make this connection overt, leaving students unclear about the real-world relevance of STEM and "STEM literacy" alike.

Daniel Nichols proposed a clever response to this omission in his note on "Competencies tie STEM education to careers" in the summer, 2015, issue of NSTA Reports (vol. 22, no. 1, p. 3), a newspaper for science teachers. Nichols suggested showing students how the NGSS "science practices" in a typical lesson match the job requirements listed on typical science-career employment websites. Unfortunately, he did not offer a single concrete example.

To fill this gap, my November, 2015 blog post (to the NSTA Learning Center, the Google Plus "STEM Education" group, and Yahoo's High School Science Teacher e-mail list) found explicit mentions of crafting explanations and drafting technical reports in public job-competency descriptions for both physicist (a theory-oriented STEM field) and food scientist (an applied field). Learning to write effective nonfiction prose is highly relevant to science class and science students because it is a "science practice" highly relevant to success in many authentic technical careers.

Completing the Circle

Pointing out technical writing's applicability to pursuing science and engineering beyond school closes the motivational loop. It complements Horner's conversation with Shumow and Schmidt at the AWIS meeting last May about how to inclusively encourage diverse STEM students and thereby boost their persistence--in academic classes and in life. Thanks to these new friends, motivation for technical literacy is now a standard component of our outreach project's free, online teacher-training materials.

T. R. Girill
STC Fellow


Touchstone Awards Dinner Honors Technical Communication Excellence

The Touchstone technical communication competition honored excellent work in technical communication with an awards dinner on Saturday, January 16, 2016. The event was held in conjunction with the STC Berkeley Chapter's annual party. Twenty-three entries won awards. The two Distinguished entries and nine Excellence entries are eligible to enter the STC International Summit Awards. The results of that competition will be announced at the STC Summit in Anaheim in May.

The Distinguished winners are a book from Microsoft Press and a style guide from Salesforce. The book, Adaptive Code via C#, describes best practices and software design principles for producing code that can adapt without breaking, and also provides an excellent introduction to working in an agile environment. The Salesforce style guide sets out voice and tone guidelines for the use of presenters in the wildly successful Salesforce Trailhead modules.

While primarily focused on work done in northern California, this year's competition also included entries from the Pacific Northwest after that region's competition encountered difficulties that made it unviable.

Touchstone's platinum sponsor, Adobe Systems, provided a generous cash contribution to support the event and a one-year subscription to its Technical Communication Suite to use as a door prize. Other vendors contributed door prizes as well.

The Touchstone judges volunteer many hours of work to evaluate entries and give feedback to the entrants. Each year, in a random drawing, one of those judges wins up to $250 toward that year's STC dues. This year Christopher Muntzer won that prize.

The STC Northern California Technical Communication Competition, rebranded as Touchstone in 1996, has been recognizing the work of Northern California technical communicators since at least the early 1980s. Nobody remembers exactly when it started, but in 1990, under the directorship of Corinne Stefanick of the East Bay Chapter, it generated a large surplus, which the sponsoring chapters agreed to use to fund a new scholarship, named for Dr. Kenneth Gordon, who had recently died after many years as a local champion of STC. Proceeds from the competition still go in part to fund the Gordon scholarship. Each year the scholarship awards several thousand dollars to outstanding students in Northern California technical communication programs.

Originally, management of the competition moved from chapter to chapter among the five Northern California STC Chapters. These chapters still sponsor the competition and share in its proceeds, but management since 2005 has remained with the Gordon Scholarship Committee, chaired by Patrick Lufkin.

For more information, visit STC Touchstone.

Richard Mateosian and
Patrick Lufkin


EBSTC February Program Recap: TC Camp Unconference

Gale-Liz-JaneFebMimisWhat's trending in technical communication in the Bay Area? As many as 140 attendees learned about the latest tools and top skills for technical writing professionals at the fourth annual TC Camp held January 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. The all-day event had five main workshops in the morning and 24 afternoon workshops that were run in an unconference format.

TC Camp website will soon have links to the workshop leader slides, to the panelist slides, the video playlist and the Scribe notes from the afternoon unconference sessions. Be sure to subscribe to the TC Camp newsletter for the links. At the STC East Bay chapter February program, TC Camp attendees and Liz Fraley, TC Camp Unconference founder and STC East Bay program chair, shared the highlights of the main TC Camp Workshop

Ambassador Workshop: "He (Dustin Vaughn, Solutions Consulting Manager, Adobe) was very personable; he was very knowledgeable; most of the people that showed up at the table were actually new to [Adobe] FrameMaker, so he basically showed the basic offering and basic tasks, such as the difference between InDesign and FrameMaker."

Content Strategy Workshop: "They (Salesforce) were talking about keeping readers engaged and a lot of interactive, very non-standard ways, not just blocks of gray text to read. . Getting away from the traditional churning-out manuals and using new technology to keep the reader involved."

Git-based Workflows Workshop:

  • "My impression was that they (GitHub presenters) should have one workshop for beginners and one for advanced because a lot of folks in the audience were asking a lot of really Git geek-type questions."
  • "I found that their handouts were very helpful. I was able to create an account right there in the room. The things that they gave to us were very useful."

Here is one of the handouts about GIT, the GitHub Cheatsheet.

Marketing Yourself Workshop: "I learned a lot from his (Andrew Davis, Tech Comm Talent, Inc.) talk; he had a lot of good information about what areas are hot and what are not. I got a lot of practical ideas about what to do about 'kitchen sink' job descriptions and having your cover letter show the classes you have taken to offset the things that you are not as knowledgeable about."

Jillian Ogawa


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Last updated: Saturday, February 20, 2016 4:00 PM