President’s Message

Welcome back from summer! Autumn

As the evening chill begins to set in, warm up with us at the Kensington Second Cup and join us for a coffee and discussion about a career in technical communication with speakers who are in the know. There is limited space, so register now!

Exciting news from the New Heights front: We will have Kit Brown-Hoekstra visiting Calgary in November. Usually New Heights is held in spring, but this year we’ve decided to experiment with different timing. Our speaker, Kit, “is an award-winning writer and consultant with a background in life sciences and 23-plus years of experience in the technical communication field. She is currently the principal for Comgenesis, LLC, which provides consulting services and training to clients on internationalizing and improving the usability of their documentation, developing a coherent content strategy and content model, as well as more traditional technical writing and editing services” (http://www.stc.org/about-stc/leadership/board/item/katherine-kit-brown-hoekstra). In addition to her stellar credentials, Kit is also serving as the current STC president, and we can’t wait to have her in Calgary.

See you at the coffee night!


Calgary Fall Coffee Night — Growing Your Career in Technical Communication!

Join us in Calgary for a fall Coffee Night! Buy your own drink and take part in an informative discussion on growing and developing your career in Technical Communication. We will have human resources and hiring managers, staffing agency representatives, and technical communication professionals giving us their top tips on job seeking, interviewing, networking, and more. You’ll have time to ask our experts questions, meet our STC executive, and network with other professionals in the Technical Communication field.

As this was such a popular event last time, we encourage you to register early as the location has only a limited number of seats.

Program Details

  • Date: Thursday, September 25th, 2014
  • Time: 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Speakers to begin at approximately 7:15 p.m.
  • Location: Second Cup Kensington, 338 10 Street NW, Calgary, AB (Map)

NOTE: The map shows that the location is closed, but it is not. It’s only changed ownership. I’ve spoken with the new management and reserved space that evening.

    • Plenty of free parking is available along the streets after 6:00 p.m.
    • Transit: Across from Sunnyside LRT
  • Cost: FREE. Please register to ensure your spot. Purchase your own refreshment.
  • Registration: Seats for this event are now full. Due to limitations on space, we are now keeping a waitlist for anyone that would like to attend. Email programs to request a spot on the waitlist.

Contact: Ruth Maryniuk programs@stc-alberta.org


New Heights Fall 2014 – Half-Day Workshop, November 1

STC’s current president, Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra, is coming to Calgary! She has agreed to present a half-day workshop. Yes, we know it is a Saturday. However, this is the only time that Kit is available, and we will be finished the workshop and lunch by about 2:00 p.m.

Watch our website – registration will be open soon!

Workshop Title: Getting Your Small Business Started

Are you tired of working in a cube farm? Do you want to be your own boss? Or, maybe you just want to make a little money on the side? Have you been freelancing for a while and want to take things to the next level?

Having your own business can give you flexibility, increase your income, and improve your quality of life. But, it’s not for everyone. Join us for an interactive workshop where we will explore what it takes to start your own business, how to stay sane while being self-employed, and identify some common mistakes so that you can avoid them. The workshop includes discussions and exercises.

If you have started your own business, are thinking of starting a business, or just want to know what is involved, this workshop is for you!

Workshop Speaker: Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra

Kit Brown-Hoekstra is a Fellow of the STC and 2014-15 Society President whose STC experience includes stints as ITC SIG manager, two-time chapter president, international publications competition manager, competitions judge at both local and international levels, Nominating Committee at both the local and society level, book reviewer, article peer reviewer for Technical Communication, guest editor for Intercom, and co-chair of the Global Strategies Task Force. In 2007, she coauthored (with Brenda Huettner and Char James-Tanny) Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools. In addition, she is the former editor of IEEE-PCS News, a contributor to Multilingual, TC World, and Intercom. Kit holds an M.Sc. in Technical Communication and a B.Sc. in Biology, both from Colorado State University.

Kit is a small business owner with over 23 years of experience in technical communication. She is currently the Principal for Comgenesis, LLC, which provides consulting services and training to clients on internationalizing and improving the usability of their documentation, developing a coherent content strategy and content model, as well as more traditional technical writing and editing services.


Best Practices for Interviewing Subject Matter Experts

By Mark Strowbridge

As a technical writer, you know you can write well. You can turn a muddled heap of jargon and bloated description into a lean and clean procedural process. Flow charts go where you tell them. What you didn’t learn in school, though, is interviewing.

Interviewing is an essential tool for technical writers. The information you get from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) will be the foundation for most, if not all, of your documents. As a writer, you will frequently be called upon to interview SMEs.

Conducting an interview isn’t hard; it just needs to be done right. In a simple way, interviews start out with three basic aspects: background research, a list of essential questions, and organization. As an interviewer, you need to be able to ask the right questions to get the information you need in a structured way.

With this in mind, the next time you have to interview a SME, here are three best practices outside of the basics for running a great interview.

Best Practice #1: Convey Professionalism and Respect

As an interviewer, you belong there. Your SME’s expertise is a resource to be used, so you won’t apologize for ″bothering″ them. However, with that said, part of being professional is giving your SME as much lead-up time before the interview as you can and showing up organized and ready. SMEs are busy people, so you can’t waste their time. If you don’t know the person, shake hands when you introduce yourself, and say the SME’s name clearly. It isn’t difficult to make a good impression:

″Hello, Jens. My name is Herb Pickles. Thanks for meeting me! I’m here to interview you about the process to upload human memories to the cloud. I know you are the best person in the company to talk to on this subject. We shouldn’t need more than an hour.″

In this example, the interviewer establishes the parameters of the interview, demonstrates confidence, clearly states his intentions for the meeting, and shows his respect for the SME’s knowledge. At the end of the interview, you should offer to send the SME a draft of your document for them to review. Doing so will impress upon them  that you are a stickler for accuracy and quality, which only goes to show your thoroughness, professionalism, and respect for the SME’s reputation.

Best Practice #2: Ask the Right Kinds of Questions

Remember, the reason you are interviewing this person is because they are the expert. You’re there to tap into their experience, which you will use to make your documentation accurate and usable. The best way to tap into that expertise is through open-ended questions, or the how, why, and what questions. Open-ended questions encourage the SME to go into detail about processes, obstacles encountered, and solutions discovered and implemented. As an interviewer, you want the SME to do most of the talking. You’re there to guide the discussion. Asking, ″How does your microscope solve core problems in your field? ″ will elicit significantly more information than a closed-ended question like ″Is your microscope revolutionary? ″ To the close-ended question, the obvious response is, ″Yeah, it is. ″

Best Practice #3: Mirror Your Subject’s Personality

Good interviewers mirror the personalities of the people they are interviewing. If the SME is all-business, then adjust your interview approach to a structured and direct one. If the SME is casual and open, then run a conversational-style interview. In retail, good salespeople mirror personalities all the time: they gauge a customer’s personality and body language the moment they walk in the door, and then they adjust their approach from there. You need to do the same. Personality mirroring will help you reduce the possibility for clashes, and will allow you to connect with your subject. You can help yourself out if you get a sense of your SME’s personality before you get into the interview. Pop onto their LinkedIn page, Twitter feed, or online company profile. Read the language they use. If the SME is someone in your office, talk to people who previously worked with them and get an understanding of the kind of person they are. Your goal in mirroring the personality of your SME in the interview is to put both you and your SME at ease.

Although there are many ways to conduct an interview, integrating some best practices into your interviews will ensure you get all the information you need from you SMEs. Being professional, asking the right questions, and connecting to you subject will elicit better information. With better information, of course, comes better documents for your readers.

Mark Strowbridge is a writer in Calgary. He is a STC Alberta member and volunteer.


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