Toronto tech writers offer seminars for managers


The Toronto Society for Technical Communication is offering a day of seminars on Wednesday, April 22nd, for those who manage technical communication issues.

As writers and managers, we often hear what should be done, but how to do it and do it correctly, can be tough. This one–day workshop has four excellent topics teaching you how to improve your team, how to identify the right translation vendor to work with, how to promote yourself and your team internally, and how to manage during transitions of key staff. Leave with clear action items to get results from your team, and get work done on time and within budget.

The day includes a hot, catered lunch, morning and afternoon snacks, and speaker handouts
With the tough economic times we are facing it is more important than ever to ensure you have the right team, the right partners, the right image, and the right management.seneca-college-allstate-parkway

LOCATION:  Seneca College, Markham Campus, 10 Allstate Parkway near Highways 404 and 7  (Google Map)

SCHEDULE: 08:00 –16:15 plus as long as people want to ask questions.

8:00 Breakfast, networking, & check in (please arrive by 8:30 a.m.)
8:45 Promotion from Within:  During tough times it can be difficult to find the resources to hire new members for your team. One solution is to promote from within. However, finding the right team members, and identifying the key habits that make a technical communicator great, can make all the difference in team building. Visnja discusses these traits and teaches you how to identify them and promote the right people from within your current ranks.

vijsna-begVisnja Beg is the Project Manager overseeing all deliverables for the IBM Rational Software family of User Assistance products. She has worked in technical communications for 20 years and is a past president of STC Ottawa and has presented at several STC conferences.

10:15 Coffee, tea, snacks, & social networking
10:30 Choosing the Right Translation Vendor: When content must be translated, it is crucial to choose the right vendor. To find the right vendor, you need to ask the right questions. You also need to evaluate bids beyond the cost per word. What are best practices for making this important decision? Learn how to select a vendor based on lessons learned by those who have gone through the process. Save yourself both money and time.

vivian-aschwanden2Vivian Aschwanden has over 11 years of experience in information development in both writing and leadership roles. She has been a lone writer for a startup, led a doc team in a broadcast engineering firm, and now fills a part-time project management role at Platform Computing in conjunction with her full-time writing.

12:00 Networking lunch
13:00 Internal Consulting: Selling Tech Comm Inside Your Organization: Learn how to expand your network inside your organization, increase the services you offer, and boost the value of you and your team in the eyes of your employer. Told as a true  story about the growth of a tech writing team, this session teaches techniques and tools for developing relationships in your company and turning those relationships into lines of business.

mark-pepperMark Pepper is a communicator with 14 years of experience. He has been the lead technical writing consultant at Deloitte & Touche, an elearning writer and project manager, worked in journalism, business analysis, and at the help desk. He presently runs his own company, Crimson Sage Softworks Inc.

14:30 Coffee, tea, snacks, & social networking
14:45 Managing Management Change: how do you manage the abrupt departure of management? Learn how an interim manager steered a department through change and brought in a new ID manager (promoted from within the team) with minimal damage to productivity or morale. Effective change management strategies eased the transition. Learn key things you need to do to ensure change “sticks”, and strategies to help a team grow through the change.

jim-smithJim Smith is Manager of Information Development and User Experience at Platform Computing. Jim has been an information developer for over 20 years, including 7 years at IBM’s Toronto Lab. He has enjoyed 10 years at Platform, where he now manages a dynamic team of information developers and usability experts.

16:15 Wrap-up & Questions for the panel


REGISTER: Email or phone 416-460-5845.

We must receive your payment to confirm your registration. If you cancel, you must let us know 5 business days before the event. However, you can send someone else at any time.

See you there!

STC Toronto annual general meeting & awards night

Wine and Cheess

Toronto STC members were invited our Annual General Meeting and Wine & Cheese party tonight.

We had a good turnout to support our colleagues and local STC community as we:

  • Recognized winners of the Technical Publications Competition
  • Recognized the efforts of Toronto STC volunteers
  • Voted for next years’ Administrative Council
  • Unveiled next year’s very exciting program – we’ve been planning for impact!
  • Enjoyed good catered food, good drink, and wonderful company

The Toronto STC community is a group rich in camaraderie, experience, and knowledge in the field of technical communications. Please come out and support your colleagues’ accomplishments, vote for your new leaders, and enjoy a great evening for networking, socializing with your professional community, and looking forward to exciting times to come!

The meeting was held in the Burgundy Room at the North York Memorial Hall, 5110 Yonge St. at 7 PM. STC Members attend for free.

The STC Toronto Community

The STC Toronto Community would like to invite applications from all our members for positions as Activity Managers/Assistant Managers and Executive Team members and Assistants for the coming year. Members will need to be nominated/acclaimed for a position on the team.

If you want to take part in blazing a new course for our community, and in making a dynamic difference as a team member, please take a look at the Job Specifications posted under the respective links of the Exec Committee page of our Web-site, and get in touch with us as soon as possible.”

STC Toronto: The Power of Podcasts, May 13

Aaron Davis, Scott Nesbitt, podcast expertsPodcasts are seen as a platform for reviews, opinions, and polemic. But they can do much more. This presentation helps you discover how valuable podcasts can be.

Podcasts are the next step beyond blogging. But they are also a powerful platform for training and user assistance. They are useful whether you’re a technical writer explaining how an application works or a marketer expounding on product benefits.

Aaron Davis and Scott Nesbitt will examine how you can tap into the power of podcasts. First, they’ll explain what podcasts are and how to create one.

You’ll learn how podcasts

  • Can help maintain an ongoing dialogue about a domain or topic
  • Are a great way to disseminate new developments
  • Serve the users’s convenience by being available anytime, and anywhere
  • ake supplementary material more interesting

Aaron and Scott will

  • Outline the mechanics of podcasting
  • Point out some of the popular training and educational podcasts on the Web
  • Analyze why these podcasts are successful
  • Tell how you can use the same techniques with your audio materials

About the presenters: Aaron Davis and Scott Nesbitt are partners in DMN Communications, a technical communications consultancy in Toronto. Since 2006, their podcast, Communications from DMN, has been entertaining, informing, and occasionally annoying a diverse global audience.

The meeting will be held in the Burgundy Room at the North York Memorial Hall, 5110 Yonge Street, concourse level, at 7:00 p.m. General Admission is $5; STC Members attend for free.
For directions, visit STC Toronto and click on “Meetings.”

map of STC Toronto meeting location

STC Toronto meeting: How to Increase your Odds of Project Success

Tomorrow’s meeting: The Importance of Being Earnest (about Documentation Planning) or How to Increase your Odds of Project Success

Our Speaker: Vivian Aschwanden, Senior Information Developer, Platform Computing

STC speaker Vivian AschwandenVivian has worked for over ten years in the field of technical communication in both writing and leadership roles. For the past three years she has worked as a Senior Information Developer at Platform Computing, a Markham company that develops high-performance / grid-computing software. Vivian began her career as a lone writer for a software startup in Northern Ontario before moving to Toronto to develop documentation for a broadcast engineering firm. Ready to take on new challenges, Vivian earned her CAPM credential (Certified Associated in Project Management) last year, and intends to one day become a full PMP (Project Management Professional).

Outside of work, her current projects include house training Boomer-the-puppy, managing her 9-year-old son’s multi-sport schedule, and keeping her husband toeing the line at home.

Topic Details:

We’re called technical writers, documentation specialists, information developers, authors, and communicators. Titles like these downplay the fact that we are also tasked with project management, not just writing. For our documentation projects to succeed, we must not forget to wear the PM hat.

During this session Vivian shares some of her project management knowledge, applying it to the everyday world of the technical communicator. More specifically, she examines the nine Project Management Institute (PMI) knowledge areas that every good project manager (and technical communicator!) should consider during the planning phase of a project:

  • Scope
  • Time/Schedule
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Risk
  • Procurement
  • Human Resources
  • Communication
  • Integration

Successful documentation projects must consider, plan, and manage each of these knowledge areas. To ignore any one of these areas during a project’s lifespan could result in a once on-track project becoming a troubled project. After discussing effective project planning and implementation during the first half of the session, Vivian flips the coin and spends some time on the dark side defining troubled projects, their symptoms, and causes. The evening wraps up by discussing recovery strategies and opening the floor to questions.

logo, Society for Technical Communication, STCThe meeting will be held
at the North York Memorial Hall, 5110 Yonge St., Toronto ON,
on Tuesday, March 11, at 7 PM.
General Admission $5/STC Members attend for free.

— Thanks to Todd Race for the programme listing

STC Toronto meeting: Tools for tech writers

Nicky BleielSpeaker: Nicky Bleiel, ComponentOne. Technical Writers write, yes —but producing information requires a number of other tools that aren’t specifically publishing tools. We need to create and edit graphics, create wikis, manage knowledge – as well as perform more non-traditional functions, such as creating audio files and icons. We can also be required (or desire) to set up systems for backing up our machines, managing source control of our documents, and bug tracking.

Tonight we will discuss and demonstrate a number of low cost (or free) tools that technical communicators can use to perform a variety of tasks, including: graphic/screen capture creation and editing, icon creation and editing, building a wiki/knowledge management system, create special font characters, creating text-to-speech audio files for use in demonstration files, automated file backup, podcasting, source control, and bug tracking.

Nicky is a Senior Information Developer at ComponentOne. She has been a technical communicator for more than twelve years. Nicky started her career writing books and producing them in hardcopy format, but she has since embraced online help and user assistance, Web design, single-sourcing, usability, e-learning, and knowledge management. Nicky has presented to the STC at all levels, as well as numerous industry conferences. Her STC involvement includes a current stint as an At-Large Director of STC, along with taking a leadership role with the Board of the Pittsburgh Chapter. During her term as President, the chapter was recognized as a chapter of excellence; during her vice presidency, as a chapter of distinction.

logo, Society for Technical Communication, STCThe meeting will be held in the Burgundy Room at the North York Memorial Hall, 5110 Yonge St. at 7 p.m. Feb. 12, 2008 General Admission $5/STC Members attend for free.

Toronto STC, January 8: Simplified Technical English

One of our goals as communicators is to write technical materials that people can understand. And one of the ways to do that is to simplify our language. Simplified Technical English is one such approach. The aim is to make material easier to read and easier to translate. On January 8, Barry Braster is telling the Toronto Society for Technical Communication about how to use Simplified Technical English. Here’s the blurb:

Barry Braster, Tedopres InternationalIn today’s business, clear and consistent authoring has become a necessity: English has become the main language used in technical documentation throughout the world, but can be difficult to understand due to its many forms and complexity: complex sentence structures, multiple meanings and synonyms easily result in confusion. In addition, many readers’ command of English can fall below the level of those who created the documentation (technical writers and engineers).

About Tedopres International

Tedopres has been offering professional technical documentation services since 1974. Tedopres specializes in all assets that come with technical documentation, including technical translation in over 40 languages, technical illustrations as well as software development to support the creation and management of technical documentation.

We meet in the Burgundy Room at the North York Memorial Hall, 5110 Yonge St., Toronto, at 7 p.m. General Admission is $5; STC Members attend for free.

UPDATE: Due to unforseen circumstances, the meeting could not be held. I think there will be a webcast instead.

STC Toronto meeting: automated editing with artificial intelligence

This meeting took place on October 12, 2006; our faithful meeting reporter Ed Belizynski wrote about it later.

STC Toronto general meeting: STC Annual Conference / AI Copy Editor

— by Ed Beliczynsk (ed dot techwriter at gmail dot com)

This meeting was comprised of two parts.

Richard Mann presented on the upcoming STC Annual Conference (May 13-16, 2007)

Richard ( easily showed that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul is a beautiful area with many outstanding places to see and visit no matter what your interests are. The 540 members of the local chapter will be on hand to greet and assist all STC visitors to help make their stay enjoyable and productive. Please visit the STC website ( for the latest details.

Kent Taylor spoke about a software copy editor with artificial intelligence

I have no doubt that in the mind of some science fiction author somewhere there exists a world of advanced technology where computers rule entire civilizations and govern a society of peace and prosperity. In that world computers have probably evolved to the point where they can write entire articles, novels, or user guides and intelligently edit them to masterful perfection. Taking one look at the “perfection” revealed behind Microsoft Word’s grammar feature shows us that our reality is far different. Computers have, at best, stumbled upon the English language trying to awkwardly make sense of a tongue that is not their own. Driven by logic, they have the advantage of being tireless and of almost never making an error on a predefined task for which they were programmed.

Human writers, on the other hand, may be flawed, but have a plethora of tools at their disposal. Creativity, ingenuity, instinct, and experience can all play in the favour of a talented writer. Knowing when to break rules can lead to moments of inspiration and offer up better solutions than predefined routes. Human writers can refer to a multitude of style guides and even consult other writers whose combined knowledge pool and skill set is, evidently, great.

Now imagine a world where the best of what computers can do is combined with the advantages that humans bring to the editing of the written word. This is the world of Acrolinx.

Our presenter, Kent Taylor, is a lifelong Technical Writer currently living in “middle of nowhere” Colorado. He has managed publications at AT&T and Lucent for nearly 20 years and has over 30 years total documentation experience. Acrolinx is a company which was spun off from the German Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps my earlier science fiction reference was not that far off. Acrolinx has leveraged the strengths of a field named Computational Linguistics to create a client/server copy editor program (Acrocheck) which intelligently corrects grammar, adheres to style guides, and checks wording for clarity and succinctness. The STC audience was very impressed.

In showcasing Acrocheck, one of the areas that Kent focused on was translation. Machine translation (MT) in its current form is very fast, but you need to edit about 50% of the content afterwards. If you can improve the quality and content of the writing, you can get rewriting costs down to about 20%.

The “Cost” of Quality for a Specific Project

  • Savings of as much as $1 million/year so far
  • Translation costs for MT projects cut by 50%
  • Time to market for MT projects cut by 50%
  • 40% content reuse
  • 75% reuse for localization

Pre-editing is where you clean up the consistency, scope, and correctness of the source material. Not only would you correct the obvious grammatical errors, but you would limit the range of the words used. Instead of using 500 words to write a paragraph, you might use 100 predefined words. I’ll simplify here, but consistently writing “Click” instead of “Press”, “Select”, or “Use” limits the scope of your vocabulary and makes for easier machine (or human) translation. Lastly, with pre-editing, every word in your vocabulary has only one meaning. This leads to less ambiguity (and mistakes) in translation and also a clearer meaning for English as a Second Language readers.

Acrocheck has a writer/editor interface with on-demand checking and guidance. The program operates as a plug-in to your favourite writing application be it Word, FrameMaker, Arbortext Editor, AuthorIT, or “just about everything”. Since the application functions in a client/server fashion, any created rules reside on the server and are available to all clients.

The Acrocheck writer style guide was created by analysing many style guides (such as the Chicago Manual of Style) and finding the commonalities. Computational linguists at Acrolinx found that 80-90% of rules are the same across all guides. With that observation, they built those common best practices into the system.

After each check, an XML document is generated to inform the writer of the changes made and their scope. You can specify which aspects of a document you wish to analyze. In addition, the program looks at new terminology and intelligently integrates those terms into its knowledge set.

Writing departments can “batch check” a number of documents and create an aggregate report for quality control. Common errors will be flagged, and with a bit of gentle reminding by the program, will no longer be made by writing staff. With the aggregate report you can view details such as style, grammar, terms and spelling.

A system administrator can manage terminology by importing term banks and add, edit or delete rules. The complex style rules are customized by computation linguists and, for added flexibility, you can have multiple style sheets and terminology dictionaries.

With reports, Kent suggested that you could set up service level agreements with translators and tell them that you’d like to get a better rate if you submit only green (Acrocheck approved) documents. Cleaning up your text to make it easier for the translators to work with could provide a 10-30% reduction in translation costs.

The benefits of machine processing can be summarized in a number of ways:

  • Localization with more consistency and more reuse
  • Guaranteed source material quality
  • More automation

Support call deferrals:

  • More consistency for better on-line searching and better self-help
  • Fewer support calls
  • Reduced product liability risk
  • Certifiable quality

Internal process efficiencies and cost savings:

  • Less rework
  • Less copy editing
  • Cleaner handoffs between process tasks

An initial setup of Acrocheck typically takes a couple of weeks. Afterwards, smaller customizations take one or two days. As you may have imagined, this is not an inexpensive product and is geared towards large organizations with significant writing needs.

After this presentation I noticed a tingle in the room that one feels when they see something exciting and inspirational. Unfortunately, most of us will not experience the convenience offered by a product like Acrocheck, but we can always hope that one day a personalized version will appear for the masses.

Thanks once again to Kent Taylor for his presentation. He can be reached at “kent at acrolinx dot com.” See also

Ed Beliczynski is a Technical Writer/Trainer for ExtendMedia Inc. and an IT professional who has transitioned from the world of programming. Ed’s eclectic background spans the worlds of video, finance and music. Once the front man of a progressive rock band, in his spare time he now struggles to stay off the internet.

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