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Currents '96 Conference
1996, March (June 18, 2008)
By Dick Evans

On February 16 and 17 I attended some sessions of the Currents ’96 conference sponsored by the Atlanta STC chapter.

William Horton, an authority on technical communications and owner of William Horton Consulting, lectured and conducted hands-on exercises in using graphics to communicate technical information. Topics ranged from the very basics (avoiding colors that clash and objects that fade into their backgrounds), to more esoteric topics, like why you don’t use a hand gesture as a graphic. (There is no hand gesture that is not considered rude or obscene somewhere in the world.)

He stressed the importance of planning for translation when writing documents and pointed out that appropriate graphics require little or no translation. Translation services may charge up to $5.00 per word for translation, so saving words can save money. (Yes—that’s $5.00 per word. We are in the wrong business.)

The most striking point he made was that some employers will not consider a writer with only writing skills and knowledge of a word processor. While you don’t yet have to be a graphic artist, you do need to understand how and when to communicate with graphics.

During one of the breaks I met Atlanta members involved in setting up member resumes in an online database. We on your local job bank committee have been discussing this as an adjunct to our service, but have had questions. Lo and behold, our colleagues in Atlanta have already set up such a database and were most willing to share their experiences.

The morning of the 17th I attended a workshop conducted by Lori Lathrop of Lathrop Media Services in Idaho Springs, Colorado. The topic was “Editing an Index for Quality and Usability.” Lori is a former writer for IBM, now specializing in indexing technical manuals and books. She began the session by distributing five sample indexes and asking the audience to review and rate them from best to worst. She then provided pointers on identifying good and bad indexes and had the audience repeat the exercise.

During the lunch break we saw demonstrations of RoboHelp, FrameMaker, and Lotus WordPro. I wanted to attend them all, but opted for the WordPro session (I have recently migrated to it from AmiPro). Dawn Maxson from Lotus Corporation conducted the session. I cleared up some troubles I was having (How do you revert from a bulleted list to a plain paragraph?) and picked up some new skills (You can break a large document into divisions, each one flagged with a page tab, making it easy to jump around without scrolling).

After lunch the topic turned to freelance writing. Two local STC members and freelance writers (Frank Harper and Steven Knapp) gave advice on the pros and cons of freelancing, getting started, equipping your office, finding work, setting rates, and tax considerations.

Other sessions that I wanted to attend included keeping your skills current, improving the quality of technical writing, and using the World Wide Web in business. I missed the closing ceremonies to catch a plane, but the sessions I did attend were worthwhile. End of article.

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