More money! (tech comm salaries are up in the US)

January 29, 2008

This just in.

The results of the WritersUA salary survey are now available.

The good news is that salaries in the United States now average $76,044, up over $2000 from last year. The bad news is the gender gap in compensation is alive and well. Men average $4000 more per year than women. WritersUA reports that the gap is growing, not shrinking.

Tech comm respondents in Georgia reported average salaries of $70K per year. That puts us about in the middle of the pack regionally.

For contractors, the average hourly wage in the U.S. was $46/hr.

One statisitic I found interesting was that 44% of the respondents said their formal education was in the field of “technical communications.” I wouldn’t have thought it would be that large. Those who gained their core skills in the field through formal education make an average of $70K/year.


The death of the newsletter?

January 25, 2008

Our STC chapter has struggled for several years to consistently produce a newsletter for our members.

Editors come and go. When we do get a volunteer editor with a volunteer staff, a major effort is required to coordinate the activities: soliciting content, collecting it, editing it, soliciting ads, formatting the layout, proofreading the final version.

A lot of work. Funny thing is that during the gaps when we couldn’t produce a newsletter, there was no hue and cry from the chapter membership. That makes me wonder if the effort is worth it.

Some chapters have switched to a blog format in favor of a PDF version. The Austin Chapter has a nice one. And the Suncoast Chapter combined their Web site and newsletter into a blog.

Our chapter council is considering using a blog for the newsletter. Al Hood opened a discussion about this in his president’s blog.

I’m wondering whether we need a Web site AND a blog/newsletter. With the blog format, we can use tags to form the categories that already exist on our current site. So, for example, all the Currents information could be tagged “Currents Conference” and if you click there, they would appear. You also have the option on most blogs to set up static pages.

This would simplify our work greatly and make it easier to recruit volunteers.

Another benefit is more timely information.

JoAnn Hackos is now blogging!

January 10, 2008

A few months ago I asked “Why aren’t more tech comm leaders blogging?

One of the people I mentioned at the time was JoAnn Hackos of the Center for Information-Development Management.

Her newsletter today announced that she has started blogging.

To be accurate, CIDM has an organizational blog, but JoAnn is a contributor.

Welcome, JoAnn!

The seven-year itch: Should I stay or should I go?

January 10, 2008

marilynmonroe.jpgMany bloggers are posting their resolutions this time of year.

I’m skipping that ritual, but after reading Tom Johnson’s post today on lists, I had to rise to the occasion and enumerate something.

According to Tom, the best formula is an attention-grabbing topic and image (enter Marilyn Monroe stage left), a common problem, and proposed list of solutions.

Here goes:

I’ve been working at the same place for over 7 years. That’s not much in “gray flannel suit” years, but it equals close to 25 in “the world is flat” years. (“And 49 in dog years!” says Abby.)

The career advice columnists warn about getting stale if you stay in one job too long. Is it time to move on or should I work at pumping some excitement back into my current job? If I decide to leave, what do I need to do to prepare?

Hence, two lists with 5 (a magical number) suggestions.

5 ways to rekindle the fire

  1. Look ahead.
    Don’t dwell on the “old days” because they are gone.
  2. Build new relationships with people at your workplace who inspire you.
    (Hint: No one inspires you? It’s time to leave.)
  3. Leverage your seniority.
    In many cases, higher seniority workers have greater value because of their tacit knowledge. Chances are, your management wants to keep you and will respond to reasonable demands. At last year’s performance evaluation, I asked for an office with a window. Bingo! Let the sun shine in.
  4. Move into a different role.
    You can combine of the advantages of getting a whole new job—different kinds of work, new challenges, new coworkers, new boss—with the advantages of staying on—knowing where the skeletons are hidden, who the go-to people are, and who’s got the best candy jar.
  5. Move out of or into management.
    Sometimes managers like where they work, but they just don’t like the hassles of being a manager. Likewise, some worker bees are yearning to move up out of the trenches. In most cases, moving out is easier to achieve than moving in.

5 steps to breaking out

  1. Update your resume. (Duh!)
  2. Put your resume out there.
    Post it on,,, etc.
  3. Apply for a job you are not quite qualified for just to practice selling yourself.
    You may be surprised and get an offer.
  4. Follow the job listings so you know what employers are looking for.
    Try some new keywords in your job search that describe what you’d like to do.
  5. Make up your dream job, then get someone to hire you to do it.
    Sounds crazy, but that’s exactly the message in the Bible on career change What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles. It was first published in the early 70s and has been updated yearly ever since.

Other suggestions in either category??

New book fills a gap: Word for technical writers

January 8, 2008

This just popped into my mailbox.

A couple of technical and medical writers in North Carolina have written Microsoft Word for Technical and Medical Writers.

Many of you are familiar with the—in my opinion, false—debates on Frame vs. Word. The truth is that for the types of complex documents we create, Frame is hands-down the superior tool.

But that doesn’t mean our customers or managers allow us to write in Frame. In fact, it’s a pretty safe guess that most technical and medical writers work primarily in Word.

And we need help because Word can be a pain!

Many manuals on Word have been published, but they aren’t written for people who write the types of documents we do. This book begins to fill the gap. I say “begins” because after a quick glance at the table of contents, it’s clearly just a basic introduction. I’d have to look at the book itself to see how much help they offer with those irritating section breaks and numbered lists. However, if the index starts on page 147, there can’t be much meat in it. And the price: $39.95 (ouch!)

A chapter on screenshots would have been helpful if they really wanted to sell to the tech writer audience. And I saw nothing on the Thesaurus or SpellCheck. Any professional writer should understand the power and pitfalls of those tools.

Also missing is Track Changes. If we are forced to write in Word, chances are the subject matter experts who review our work will enter their edits using that feature. If they forget to turn on Track Changes, it’s useful to understand the Compare Documents command, which allows you to see the difference between two documents.

It’s not clear from the ad copy or the cover which version of Word the book refers to. Word 2007 has a much different menu (the Ribbon) than earlier versions. Not sure what the upgrade rate has been thus far, but if this edition deals with Word 2003, the authors should plan to do an update for 2007 soon.

Having said all of that, I think this book would be great for many of my non–tech comm coworkers, particularly the section on how to use styles. So few Word users understand that feature.

It would be good for someone to review this for STC’s Technical Communications publication. (Heidi?)

Martha Stewart: a technical communicator (seriously!)

January 6, 2008

My best housewarming gift has been the Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook that a good friend gave me over the holidays.

Steve and I are in our 50s, but this is our first home. So a lot of stuff is new to us: raking leaves, caring for hardwood floors, landscaping, garages, basements, driveways. We’ve set up an observation post to watch how our neighbors behave in hopes of gleaning clues to better living.

I’ve never been much of a housekeeper, but with a new house I’m committed to a higher level of upkeep.

Enter Martha and her handbook.

Not really a “hand” book unless you’re Shrek or the Jolly Green Giant. It’s over 5 pounds and 744 pages.

But it’s an encyclopedia of housekeeping and a model of technical communication. I’m thinking of nominating her as an honarary STC Fellow. Wouldn’t it be great to have her give the keynote at the Atlanta STC Conference in 2009?

I can tell you’re not convinced.
OK, smarty, here goes:

  • What’s the purpose of a beater brush on a vaccuum cleaner?
  • Name 3 nonmechanical dehumidifiers. (Martha lists 4 so I’m cutting you a break.)
  • Tell me how to patch a hole in a shirt in 10 steps or less. (Martha does it in 5.)
  • What’s the best way to remove mustard stains from clothes?
  • How long can beets, corn, peppers, or zucchini be stored in the refrigerator?

Are these not technical questions?

Mundane, ho-hum materials, foodstuffs, and activities are actually quite complex.
I was reminded of this recently after a unpleasant bout of food poisoning.

Writers like Martha Stewart provide a roadmap that helps us navigate everyday life to make it safer, cleaner, and better looking!

Thanks, again, Julie!