By Roberta (Bobbi) Werner | STC Associate Fellow

The Writing and Communication Track at the 2018 Technical Communication Summit & Expo features twelve sessions addressing a variety of thought-provoking and impactful topics, many of which support the conference theme “Communicate the Future.” Targeting audiences from tech comm novices to seasoned veterans, these sessions fall rather neatly into three categories: Developing the Tech Comm Skill Set, Improving Project Management, and Expanding Tech Comm Reach and Influence. This blog post provides a brief summary of each session by category and, ideally, will whet your appetite for more. More information about the sessions can be found here.

Developing the Tech Comm Skill Set
Not surprisingly, this category encompasses the majority of sessions in this track—a total of six. Angela Eaton will address some technical communication basics in “What Senior Editors Want You to Know: Advice for New Writers and Editors.” Using a recent survey of senior technical editors, Angela will detail the most significant areas for improvement observed among newer tech comm practitioners and specific recommendations for improving their craft, including changes to curricula preparing students for the tech comm profession.

Also targeting newer members of the profession, Bruce Poropat’s “Minimalist Writing for Maximum Communication” will demonstrate some timeless and concrete strategies to eliminate extra words, overly complex phrasing, and extraneous information in order to capture and retain readers’ attention—an increasingly difficult yet critical challenge in our media-saturated, soundbite-driven culture.

In a similar vein, Michael Ward and Lacey Corbin will share practical ways to make technical writing translation-ready in their session, “Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks.” They will reveal what actually happens to a technical document at a translation house and what translation vendors wish writers knew beforehand to save time, money, and frustration.

Shifting focus to more specialized aspects of our field, Dawnelle Claessen, Emily Koval, and Ann Marie Queeney will address the evolution of skills and future prospects for policy analysts, procedure writers, compliance specialists, and regulatory affairs personnel in “Policies and Procedures—Communicate the Future.”

By contrast, the changing content landscape resulting from new technologies like internet-connected appliances, conversational user interfaces, chatbots, and augmented reality will be Sara Feldman’s focus in “Future-Proof Writing: How to Craft User-Focused Effective Content.” Sara will discuss a user-focused effective content framework to guide content decisions and promote seamless content experiences for users.

In the final session in this category, “Your Mind is the Most Valuable CMS: Working Deeper Independent of Technology,” Kim Chmielewicz challenges the notion that not having the latest tools like content management systems and supporting applications creates a disadvantage for technical communicators. Rather, developing the discipline of “deep work”—a highly reflective, analytical, and responsive approach to technical communication tasks—will enhance one’s skill set and yield more robust insights, more useful and valuable outcomes for customers, and greater confidence in one’s communication skills.

Improving Project Management
The three sessions in this category address common project management challenges and ways to overcome them. Sarah Kiniry’s “Scoped Out” will tackle the problem of estimating projects that haven’t begun, involve multiple iterations, or have changes in scope. This session will use a set “workflow” to generate a detailed list of needs, distill them into tasks for the Agile process, and use the workflow chart itself to set a global “definition of done” for your organization’s technical communications.

Erica Cummings will focus more specifically on streamlining the workflow process in her session, “Moving Content through the Workflow: Frustrations and Fixes.” Erica will share strategies for improving team accountability, building an effective/repeatable process, and leveraging tools to keep the workflow process running smoothly.

Complementing these two focused presentations is Bernard Aschwanden’s “Plan for Tomorrow: Project Management and Tech Comm Fundamentals,” which takes a more overarching view of project management. Bernard will review a list of ten knowledge areas that relate to every single Tech Comm project and will show how managing these core components effectively will produce better technical documentation.

Expanding Tech Comm Reach and Influence
This final set of three presentations address opportunities to have a larger impact as technical communicators in our own organizations or to expand into new or growing fields. Rhyne Armstrong and Nate Wolf will address how their team has influenced brand language and dictated both voice and tone in their presentation, “Taking Control: How Tech Comms Are Driving Brand Language.”

Maria A. Flores will share how technical communicators can transition into the booming cyber security domain in “Opportunities and Strategies for Writing for Cyber Security Audiences,” noting in particular the specific contexts most in need of technical communicators and the specific skills that apply.

Finally, Lisa Melancon will address poor health literacy and the roles technical communicators can play to mitigate this problem. In “Technical Communication as Health Communication: The Future is Now,” Lisa will introduce the concept of patient experience design (PXD), explain how it was developed, and describe a project that successfully merged technical communication with health communication by deploying this technique.

Quite a lineup of sessions, wouldn’t you agree? The team who reviewed the proposals submitted in this track were enormously impressed with the quality and appeal of the set. While it was difficult to exclude more than half of the proposed sessions (only 12 of 27 were ultimately accepted), we are confident that these scheduled sessions will enlighten and engage STC audiences at various levels of experience and expertise. We look forward to the Summit and, like you, making many hard choices about which high-quality sessions to attend.

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