A Technical Communication Student’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Santa gets cookies and cocoa from technical communication studentMy name is Samantha and I am a technical communication student. This year, I have been very, very good. I’ve been going to class and doing my homework. All my hard work must have paid off because I got straight “A”s this semester! Also, I’ve been eating my vegetables.

This year for Christmas, I’d like:

  1. Adobe Creative Suite 6
  2. A subscription to The Chicago Manual of Style Online
  3. The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn
  4. Conversation and Community — The Social Web for Documentation, by Anne Gentle
  5. The Secret Life of Word, by Robert Delwood

These will be great for the upcoming semester and when I get that first job.  If you can see your way clear, an endless supply of chocolate and caffeine would be good too, at least that’s what all the professionals in technical communication tell me.

Santa, I also want to tell you to keep warm and drink plenty of hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus. I’ll leave some treats out for you and some carrots for the reindeer. Say hi to the elves for me.

Sincerely,

Samantha
Technical Communication Student

Originally published on December 23, 2012, at Tech Writer Today Magazine (http://techwhirl.com/technical-communication-student-letter-santa/).

Shattered FX Silicone Mask Website Redesign

Shattered FX Welcome SignI’m interested in web design, and a web developer I know was working on updating a silicone mask website. I don’t know much about silicone masks, but I do know about color and typography–I did earn an A in Visual Communication. Since the web developer, Derick Hess, has a lot of experience programming and is more concerned with functionality, we thought teaming up so I could consult on aesthetics would be a brilliant idea.

I made the banner at the top of this post using Photoshop. That’s the software we used to edit photos to give them transparent backgrounds for the thumbnails on the Silicone Masks and Silicone Half Masks pages. Also in Photoshop, I designed the border (from an existing image of barbed wire) that appears around masks when you mouse over them.

For the colors used throughout the website, I took a sample of colors from the images used for the border of each page using Kuler. We’re still tweaking the fonts, but before we get too fancy, we want to make sure the content is still readable. I found a few appropriate fonts that we’re still testing.

I worked on the web pages themselves in Dreamweaver. While Derick worked on coding and other pages, I worked on keeping the layout of individual mask pages consistent. Together, my partner and I edited over 400 files this weekend.

The owner of Shattered FX is very creative and had a lot of input on what he wanted out of the redesign. He provided us with all the content and original images. We were going for something spooky, industrial, and modern. There’s still more work to do; however, we’re all very pleased with the results so far.

Online Teaching Portfolio Design

teaching portfolio thumbnail

After reading Road to Teaching, I got the idea to get my teaching portfolio together. In the book, Hougan suggests aspiring teachers include: cover letter, belief and philosophy statement, observation reflections, resume, professional reflections, and an annotated reading list. I already had most of the content from a year of teaching and two years of taking teaching classes online. Over the past week, I’ve been compiling, rewriting, and working on formatting.

Design restraints include limiting myself to free WordPress themes, but even though there’s not much you can customize, there’s a lot you can do with widgets and knowledge of HTML. I looked for examples of what to include in online teaching portfolios and clean designs. The theme I chose was Skeptical by WooThemes. I liked the simple design and default color scheme, the space in the sidebar and four footers for widgets was a bonus. My only criticism of the theme is that the difference between regular text (gray) and links (black) was too subtle, but I made the difference more apparent with underlining.

One widget that I discovered but didn’t use was the one that lets you include an image, I ended up only including a personal photo in my about page, as you can see above.  I also included a search and pages widget in the sidebar. I played around with how to include an image gallery to showcase my classroom photos. Since they’re not all square and the same size, columns of thumbnails didn’t work for me, so I chose the slide show. I also figured out how to embed PDFs using Scribd. Some of the formatting from Word didn’t transfer to these pages well; consequently, I wanted to embed PDFs so the formatting would be intact.

Blogger Code of Ethics

Yesterday, on lynda.com’s Facebook page, Morten Rand-Hendriksen did a live Q&A session about WordPress. He already answered one of my questions on his blog, so I explored his blog further and was pleased to find ethical guidelines for bloggers. The short version of the Blogger Code of Ethics is re-posted below.

Short Version

1. It is your right to voice your opinion. Freedom of Speech, Information, Publication and Expression are basic elements of a democracy. As a Content Creator it is your obligation to use and protect these rights at all times.

2. Be critical of everything, even your self. As a Content Creator you are part of the creation of free knowledge creation and discussion. It is your obligation to shed critical light on what goes on in society as well as how Content Creators, including your self, are presenting these events.

3. Use your power to protect. As a Content Creator you can shine a light on injustices and neglect perpetrated on individuals and groups. Use this power wisely.

4. Tell the truth at all times. With great power comes great responsibility. Words and images are powerful weapons that should be used with the utmost care. When publishing content, present the facts as they are, even if you disagree with them.

5. Present your opinion as your opinion. Your opinion and interpretation of events is important and should be shared but must never be confused with hard facts or data. When voicing your own or someone else’s opinion or interpretation, always state it as such. Never present opinion, interpretation or conjecture as fact.

6. State your allegiances to stay independent. To preserve your own trustworthiness and integrity as a Content Creator, always state any relation, financial, personal, political or otherwise, to the subject or topic you are presenting. Bias, even if it is only perceived as such, immediately discredits your account unless you warn of it first. In simple terms; if you have a political affiliation that colours your judgment, say so; if you are employed by or received money from the subject you are covering, say so; if you were given gifts or preferential treatment in return for a positive review or commentary, say so. By stating these facts of allegiance your opinions gain informational value that would otherwise be lost in suspicion of bias.

7. Reveal your sources unless doing so can harm your sources. Always reveal your sources to ensure transparency unless doing so may put the source in harms way. In ensuring transparency you lend credibility to your own content as well as provide others to further pursue the facts of the matter.

8. Be critical of your sources and seek independent verification. Even if you are ethical and unbiased there is no guarantee your sources are. Before presenting information as fact, always check your source’s credibility and seek independent verification of these facts. If none can be found, state so clearly.

9. Always give credit where credit is due. Give proper attribution when using, quoting or basing your content on the work of others. In other words present quotes as quotes, link to original articles, give photo and illustration credit to the original creator etc.

10. Always preserve the intended meaning of a given statement. When quoting or paraphrasing a statement always ensure that the intended meaning is communicated. Never edit or change a statement in such a way that the intended meaning is changed.

11. Give your opponent a chance to respond. The very foundation of an open discussion is to give either side an opportunity to voice their opinion. Always provide an opportunity for your opponent to present the case of the opposing side.

12. Admit and correct your mistakes immediately. When an inaccuracy or error in your content is discovered by you or someone else, correct it immediately and announce that you have done so to ensure that those who base their opinions and other content creation on the incorrect information have a chance to make corrections as well. It is your duty to uphold the truth and present fact even if that means admitting you were wrong.

I wish I had found this code before class discussions at the beginning of the semester. To see the original post that includes the longer version, go to the Design Is Philosophy Code of Ethics page. What code of ethics do write and live by?

Spring 2013 Course Schedule

For next semester, I look forward to taking:

  • Directed Teaching (EDUC 411)
  • Elementary Spanish (SPAN 113)
  • Community Service (TC 100)
  • Media Studies (TC 211)
  • Professional Writing Workshop (TC 421)
  • Web Design (TC 351)
  • Intro to Photoshop
  • Pilates Matwork

1-11-2013: I’m developing my Photoshop skills with practice, reading, and tutorials so I decided to take Comic Drawing instead.

My First Attempt at Creating a Website Mockup

home page mockup

click image to enlarge

contact page mockup

click image to enlarge

Here are the two pages I completed. We discussed our concept as a group, made a rough sketch of the layout in Paint, and then I made master templates at www.mockflow.com. Consistency issues came up switching between the online tool, PowerPoint, GIMP, and Paint. Also, I had to use kuler.adobe.com to get the hex code for the beige we used so it would match other documents we created, but that color didn’t look very good in print. If we had more time, I would alter the navigation to be less redundant and more specific.

Top 5 Test Prep Tips for Finals

It’s final exam week at my university, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to share some useful study tips to help students prepare for finals.

  1. S P A C E your study sessions. Ninety percent of students who space out their study sessions perform better on tests than those who don’t.
  2. Exercise. Getting blood flowing to your brain helps you focus on mental activities and absorb information.
  3. Sleep. When you get some sleep after studying, you’ll remember more.
  4. Eat a healthy breakfast. Your brain needs food to function properly and help you perform your best.
  5. Drink water. Your brain also needs an adequate amount water to function optimally. So sip some water before you feel thirsty.

Example:
Studying for 30 minutes per day for 6 days will be much more helpful to me than trying to study for three hours in one night. I’ve been getting some physical recreation throughout the semester, but I could also do a minute of jumping jacks or take a brisk walk right before my final exam. Naps help me recharge after studying dense material and all that exercise will help ensure I get a good night’s rest. My favorite breakfast is two eggs, hash browns with ketchup, and wheat toast with jam. If I’m in a rush, the least I can do is eat a serving of raisins on my way to my test. I’ll be sure to drink a glass of water too.

Resources:
How the Brain Learns
The Exam Cram: Why Stress Can Hurt Your Test Scores

Christmas Wish List

Gift Ideas for New Teachers

  1. Road to Teaching: A Guide to Teacher Training, Student Teaching, and Finding a Job 
  2. The Wonder of Words, An Introduction to Language
  3. The Ten Students You’ll Meet in Your Classroom: Classroom Management Tips for Middle and High School Teachers 
  4. Fred Jones Tools for Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation 
  5. Stand and Deliver: How to Become a Masterful Communicator and Public Speaker
  6. Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-Imagining the Language Arts Classroom 
  7. The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide: How to Find a Rewarding Job Even When “There Are No Jobs” 
  8. New Mexico Assessment of Teacher Competency- Elementary & Secondary (03/04) Flashcard Study System: NMTA Test Practice Questions & Exam Review for the New Mexico Teacher Assessments 
  9. The Everything New Teacher Book: A Survival Guide for the First Year and Beyond (Everything Series) 
  10. The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-To-Use Strategies, Tools & Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day (Jossey-Bass Survival Guides) 

Click on the link to see the item on Amazon.

TC 101: Final Overview

The purpose of this memo is to recap my experience in Orientation to Technical Communication. Throughout the course, many different perspectives regarding career paths in technical communication have been presented. Guest speakers shared advice based on their experiences. Each guest speaker had a distinct job title and career path. This memo will include information from a public information officer, a technical writer, a graphic designer, the bureau of geology director, a computer scientist, and an assistant professor.

Public Information for a National Observatory
Presented by Dave Finley

Dave Finley talked about the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), his functions as a public information officer, and his background and training. NRAO is a facility of the US National Science Foundation with parts located across the continent and globe. Established in 1956, NRAO is a taxpayer funded user facility with instruments that are extremely flexible. As a public information officer, Mr. Finley’s three main roles involve media relations, public education, and community relations. He ensures NRAO has regular coverage in major media and local/regional media. Mr. Finley works on gaining visibility in science and astronomy magazines as well as tourist travel media. Dave is also working towards growing visibility in social media. With regards to public education, Mr. Finley is responsible for tours, lectures, and brochures. When it comes to community relations, Mr. Finley works with funding agencies, government officials, and civic organizations. In his many roles, Dave Finley is always aware of his audience and caters his message to the audience’s needs and level of expertise; his experience with science, journalism, and politics prepared him for his current job.

Technical Communication: My Paths, My Tips
Presented by Valerie Kimble

Valerie Kimble was a nontraditional student who graduated with a BS in technical communication from New Mexico Tech in 2001. Her career path was the most winding of the guest speakers. She majored in journalism at the University of Arizona until an entry-level journalism instructor ruined her childhood dreams. Valerie then left school to waitress full-time. Later, she returned to New Mexico, went to UNM, got married, went to Tech, got divorced, remarried, had two children, and the rest is history. Her first career was as bookkeeper at El Defensor Chieftain where she had to learn photography by default. She later became a staff writer and photographer. Ms. Kimble worked as editor for five years but found that that job did not suit her. She “retired” from the Chieftain after the birth of her second child but then returned to work part-time and then full-time. At the age of sixty, Ms. Kimble was ready for a change. New Mexico Tech faculty suggested technical communication and that major suited her just fine. Technical communication has something for the left brain and the right brain. Valerie Kimble left us with the following advice: be open to change, explore your options, and beware of limiting beliefs.

Bad Clients Are the Ones Who Don’t Pay
Presented by Kimberly Zuidema

Kimberly Zuidema wanted to study landscape design, but then the American Academy of Art didn’t offer the program, so she decided to study graphic design. She started her career at an ad agency in Chicago and also worked for a pharmaceutical company. Ms. Zuidema got an internship for an animation company with “I give good Mac” written in crayon. As a side note, older businesses often have Macs for design work and expect designers to be comfortable using Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. After Kim’s internship, her career path changed slightly based on location and family obligations. Ms. Zuidema worked doing ads for a furniture store in Socorro when her husband got a scholarship to NMT and then she became an explosion photographer at EMRTC. One final piece of useful advice that this guest speaker shared is to only show clients your top 3 choices of design work because they’ll probably pick one of the designs that aren’t what you’d consider the best work.

Ten Blocks to Effective Written Communication
Presented by Greer Price

Greer Price, the director of the bureau of geology, intended to make a list of ten blocks to effective written communication but ended up with a list of 18+ tips. First, use acronyms the reader will recognize and define them right away if necessary. Second, avoid inserting your opinion. Third, use fonts and graphics wisely. Fourth, always have an outline. Fifth, use proper grammar and syntax to improve readability. Sixth, have an appropriately narrowed focus. Seventh, avoid unnecessary jargon. Eighth, analyze your audience. Ninth, capitalize and punctuate correctly. Tenth, submit the required length. Eleventh, use good sentence structure–place the main idea in the sentence core and begin paragraphs with topic sentences. Twelfth, only include information directly related to the topic at hand. Thirteenth, use abbreviations appropriately–make sure they are correct and your audience will know them. Fourteenth, use references properly. Fifteenth, use words appropriately. Sixteenth, don’t excessively embellish your prose; additionally, use PowerPoints effectively. Seventeenth, give your writing a variety of sentence structure and vocabulary. Finally, make your writing parallel.

(Not) Just a Technical Writer
Presented by Cynthia Veitch

Cynthia Veitch has a BS in technical communication and an MS in computer science. She talked about her internships and her real-world job experiences. Additionally, Ms. Veitch talked about the definition of technical communication and what a technical communicator is. During her first internship, Cynthia wrote “Categorizing Threat: Building and Using a Generic Threat Matrix.” During her second internship, Cynthia wrote about army-wide best business practices on the use of removable USB storage media; unfortunately, that paper was no longer usable when an attacker used removable USB storage media to threaten security. Cynthia’s internship at Los Alamos didn’t work out well. She expected to do research but was relegated to data entry and offered a job as a secretary instead. Cynthia’s fourth internship, at Sandia, was a good fit for her and resulted in full-time employment. In her current job, Ms. Veitch is a scientist who knows how to communicate, but not all technical communicators are scientists. Cynthia Veitch’s final advice is: know your audience, sell yourself, and try something new.

International Professional Communication
Presented by Rosario Durão

Dr. Rosario Durão talked about how she got to international professional communication and why she believes in it. Dr. Durão started her career as a translator at a metallic mechanical company mostly completing literal renditions. Then she became a professor of specialized translation. During dinner with a translator from Australia, Professor Durão learned about the high-paying field of translation as communication that involves understanding the material and having cultural awareness. Professor Durão’s Ph.D. dissertation was about bachelor programs in scientific and technical translation and communication. Dr. Durão spent so much time discussing international professional communication and how she got to it that she ran out of time to go into as much detail about why she believes in it. Dr. Rosario Durão concluded her presentation about international professional communication by emphasizing its importance because the world is increasingly interconnected and complex. People who can communicate are critical assets to any company or organization.

Management Paper: Reducing Stereotype Threat

(This post consists of my excerpts from a team paper on perception and attribution.)

Introduction

This paper is about “Stereotype Threat at Work” by Loriann Roberson and Carol T. Kulik in Chapter 10: Perception and Attribution in the 9th edition of The Organizational Behavior Reader. This article will be summarized, analyzed, and discussed with regards to understanding management and organizational behavior. First, the major points of the article will be summarized. Second, the content will be analyzed and critiqued in regards to its completeness in tackling the issue and how well it supports its arguments. Third, the application of the article with regards to modern science, technology, and engineering management will be discussed. Through the complete analysis of this article, this paper will provide a cohesive look at the ideas provided in the article and create a broader view of major issues in perception and attribution.

Summary

Stereotype Threat at Work

Kray, Thompson, & Galinsky (Roberson and Kulik in Osland and Turner 2011, 272) have an excellent definition of stereotype threat: “Stereotype threat describes the psychological experience of a person who, while engaged in a task, is aware of a stereotype about his or her identity group suggesting that he or she will not perform well on that task. . . . This awareness can have a disruptive effect on performance—ironically resulting in the individual confirming the very stereotype he or she wanted to disconfirm.” When stereotype threat is present, employees feel more motivated to prove themselves; however, this motivation does not provide better quality work. Since many stereotypes exist, most people are susceptible to stereotype threat. Here is a list of stereotypes from the article that can affect an individual’s performance regardless of actual ability (Roberson and Kulik in Osland and Turner 2011, 274-275):

  • Blacks lack intellectual ability.
  • Latinos lack intellectual ability.
  • Low SES students lack intellectual ability.
  • Women have weak math ability.
  • Older people have bad memory.
  • Gay men are dangerous to young children.
  • Persons with a head injury history experience a loss of cognitive performance.
  • Whites are racist.
  • White students have less mathematical ability than Asian students.
  • Men are less capable than women in dealing with affective (emotional) information.
  • White men have less athletic prowess than Black men.

Token individuals (people who are the only one of their kind) are quite aware of situations in which stereotypes exist. The problem is that these individuals care so much about performance that they may either try too hard or make overly cautious attempts at work.

What are the conditions necessary for stereotype threat to exist? Any time an employee believes a trait linked to stereotypes about groups is necessary for quality performance is an instance where stereotype threat may exist. First, stereotype threat occurs when the task is challenging. Worrying about the views of others decreases performance. Second, stereotype threat is likely to occur when an individual identifies as someone who should have expertise in the given task. Lastly, stereotype threat is likely to occur in contexts where employees perceive stereotypes to be operating.

Stereotype threat can disrupt performance but Roberson and Kulik have some recommendations for reducing the effects of stereotype threat. How can managers and interrupt the stereotype threat process? Managers can provide a successful task strategy by explicitly telling employees what behaviors they need to use to succeed. Managers can remind employees of the importance of skills without stereotype relevance. Managers can explain that stereotype threat may make employees feel anxious about the given task, but the stereotype is not related to the individual’s ability to do well. If at all possible, managers could arrange work to remove people from token situations. Reducing stereotype threat contrasts from diversity management. In an effort to reduce stereotype threat, stereotypes are addressed directly and the onus is shifted from the manager’s potential prejudice to the effect of the environment itself.

Analysis

Critique of Stereotype Threat at Work

Roberson and Kulik effectively summarize research findings on stereotype threat. They provide a useful working definition of stereotype threat, compile examples, outline steps in the stereotype threat process, and provide strategies for interrupting the stereotype threat process. Very little of the article is devoted to the concrete benefits of applying stereotype threat reduction techniques to diversity management.

The concept of stereotype threat may seem obvious in hindsight, particularly to those aware of intersectionality among multiple groups; however, some managers and organizations might not realize how important the issue is. Those familiar with the concept of the Yerkes-Dodson law could easily see why the idea of stereotype threat could be a factor affecting performance. People suffering from stereotype threat care about the outcome of the task to the point of reducing performance. Over a dozen years of research shows that stereotype threat is common in the workplace and there are things managers can do to minimize its effects.

People of privilege may not be aware of how much a problem stereotype threat really is. Roberson and Kulik do mention that men, whites, and white men sometimes suffer from stereotype threat, but they fail to emphasize how much of an issue stereotypes are for the rest of the stereotyped individuals. Being seen as racist, having poor athletic prowess, and having difficulty with emotions do not come with the same stakes as being seen as posing a threat or lacking intellectual ability. Furthermore, the stereotypes applied to some groups may be in areas that aren’t as valued as the stereotypes applied to other groups. Lastly, people that are not marginalized are unlikely to be placed in token situations. However, these concepts may apply to more people as companies move towards globalization. For future work, I think it would be beneficial to do research on the cost of stereotype threat in domestic and international contexts.

Discussion

Application of Stereotype Threat at Work

Stereotype threat in modern science, technology, and engineering management is very likely going to need to be addressed. As women, minorities, and other diverse individuals start to become token individuals in science and engineering companies, it is important to understand stereotype threat to reduce deviant behavior and turnover. Once companies start to have a reputation as a good place to work for diverse individuals, companies can attract more and more diverse talent.

Overcoming stereotype threat at work is important so managers can empower all employees to succeed. Some of the suggested strategies would be beneficial for training individuals from stereotyped groups and non-stereotyped groups. Successful task strategies could benefit new employees acquiring new skills. Reminding employees of why they were hired as a good fit for the team may be good for motivation. Witnessing others being appreciated for who they are may be good for the whole team’s morale.

Interrupting the stereotype threat process can have a significant impact on productivity in multiple settings. Some potential benefits have been discussed and more research can be done on how reducing stereotype threat can reduce potential costs. If managers fail to effectively utilize a diverse workforce, much potential value could be lost to companies with effective diversity management programs. In competitive global markets, all resources, including human resources, must be effectively managed to stay in business.

Conclusion

Judging people based on what they look like or other identifying characteristics unrelated to ability is a dangerous and costly mistake. To do so would be to attribute false meaning where meaning does not exist. Some people who behave in stereotyped ways do not represent the whole group. The problem with stereotypes is that people who act in a way that confirm the stereotype are remembered and people who disconfirm the stereotype are considered exceptions. Performing poorly due to anxiety from fear of confirming stereotypes continues to provide people with inaccurate information. Fortunately, Roberson and Kulik suggest strategies for reducing stereotype threat.