The following articles were written by the students who won the Academic SIG’s Student Infographic Award at the STC Summit in Anaheim, California. The competition challenged STC student members to demonstrate their ability to clarify complex data sets and to exercise their creative talents by presenting important aspects of the STC Salary Database as an infographic.
The first article below is by Tina Kister, a graduate student at the University of Florida, and the second article is by Jonah Schwartz, a graduate student at East Carolina University. Both entries are displayed on the STC website.
Their award citations read:
For the creative and interactive interpretation of the salary data that illustrates an excellent example of using technology to enhance the user experience.
For an excellent interpretation of the contest prompts and analysis of the salary data and for displaying the data in a creative and user-friendly way.
Designing a Technical Writer Employment Statistics Infographic
By Tina Kister | STC Student Member
As an information developer, my goal is to take complex information and make it understandable, usable, searchable, accurate, relevant, and delightful. I’m passionate about combining best practices from a variety of communication-related fields, such as presentation design, technical writing, data visualization, user-interface design, instructional design, and more. People working in related fields (like Nancy Duarte in presentation design, Nathan Yau in data visualization, and Hans Rosling in statistics) often apply the same fundamental principles that guide quality technical communication. They also apply new principles that can improve both technical communication products and the way that technical communication is perceived.
In creating the infographic, I followed a process that has worked well for both smaller projects and larger, highly collaborative projects.
The process began with research and analysis, which included studying the database, conducting additional research, consulting the primary source (the Bureau of Labor Statistics), sorting information into types, and making choices about what information to include and exclude.
During the next phases (which I refer to as synthesis and planning), I considered all possible options for the final product. In weighing the options, I considered standard best practices, my specific knowledge and abilities, the technology and other resources I had available, and how I could use these to create the best possible product within the required timeframe. (Synthesis and planning are my favorite phases because they require both creativity and pragmatism.)
The next two phases were a combination of preparation and implementation. I selected the most complex data set (California, because it is the largest data set with the highest numbers) and used that to create a working template, or prototype. Using the most complex information for the prototype generally ensures the same structure and format can also be used for simpler information. I’ve found that creating a simple prototype and inserting a large amount of complex information nearly always results in significant structural changes that require the creation of a new prototype.
The final phases consisted of review and refinement, in which I assessed the first version of the prototype and made improvements. I’ve found that it’s always best to ask someone unfamiliar with the work and the process to provide feedback at this point, because the mind naturally fills in gaps and corrects inconsistencies to create meaningful patterns (an area of study referred to as Gestalt psychology), and this can make it more difficult for a writer/designer who is intimate with the project to detect potential problems.
Creating this infographic was challenging and fun, and the process gave me an opportunity to use a variety of skills, take a multi-disciplinary approach, and create a product that is informative and (hopefully) delightful!
Does it Pay to Be a Technical Communicator?
By Jonah Schwartz | STC Student Member
I entered this infographic design contest halfway into my Master’s program with the intention of having a nice portfolio piece to someday show to an employer. What I did not expect was to win top prize. I built it using only Excel, Publisher, and Photoshop elements, as I did not have access to advanced software and none of the online data visualization tools did what I wanted. Ironically, my limitations with time and resources were apparently my strongest allies.
The STC Salary Database is valuable not just for the information it contains, but to me personally for two reasons: One, it was the conduit to my first professional success. And two, I am new to this field and am thirsty for experience and a stable career. I am in the fortunate position of being able to relocate anywhere that is a good fit, particularly as my sphere of skills and experience grows. This leads to two questions: what do I want to do and where do I want to do it? The Database helps answer those based on the salary data it provides for each of those factors.
Rapid-fire questioning and over-thinking are behaviors that I’ve been sharply criticized for most of my life, but I’ve been repeatedly assured that they’re admirable qualities for technical communicators. If something isn’t clear to me, it probably won’t be to others. The initial prompt called for the “Average annual salary levels for technical communicators in the US geographies with the top 10 concentrations of tech comm jobs.” But what is meant by geographies? Is it states, cities, or metro areas? The Database has all three. Also, while I know what “concentration” means, that word doesn’t appear anywhere in the document, thus I had to clarify—and not assume—what that referred to.
Once those questions were answered, I simplified the question to as few words as possible, then created a wireframe sketch of how I wanted my design to look. I quickly learned that the free online data visualization tools didn’t do what I needed and had to teach myself how to manipulate Excel and Publisher to match my wireframe; this ultimately made me a more powerful user. After that, I merely agonized over every minute detail until I submitted it. This process necessitated external feedback from a few STC colleagues and classmates to ensure my design suited their needs, both aesthetically and functionally.
All of my victories seem to be happening at once. This summer I began an internship at a large company doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s just as thrilling and rewarding as I hoped it would be. I’m happy to finally be part of this field.
Congratulations to Tina and Jonah!