Monday, June 22, 2009

It's STC not STW

There’s been a lot written lately about the financial and operational crisis that the Society of Technical Communicators is facing.

A lot of people have posted some great ideas on Twitter (Identified by the #stcorg hashtag), and bloggers such as Sarah O’Keefe and Tom Johnson have outlined several ideas and observations that I agree with, and don’t intend to repeat here.


However there is an aspect of this institutional crisis that I believe needs a little more exposure, and one I’ve raised during several recent presentations at different regional STC events.

The third letter in our professional organization is C. C for communicators. It isn’t W for writers, yet that society is overwhelming sold to technical writers, its publications are aimed at writers, and not surprisingly the vast majority of its members are writers.


But what about the other “technical communicators”? Where are the technical illustrators, the animators, the graphic designers, the video producers, the script writers, the podcasters, etc.?


When I’ve mentioned this before the answer I’ve invariably received is “Oh we have SIGs for them.” – Special Interest Groups – really?


They aren’t a marginalized “special interest,” they are the future of the industry.


When I joined my first technical publications department in the mid 1980s the ratio of writers to illustrators was 2:1, add in other people who contributed to the production of the technical documentation and the number of writers was actually less than 50% of the total departmental head count.


In the opening decade of the 21st century when more people receive information visually than ever before a Society of Technical Communicators should be full of people who think, and deliver information, visually.


If the STC is to survive, it needs to attract and embrace the practitioners of the visual arts.


The same goes for those who are as comfortable working in the sound medium too – and the training folks who are developing interactive documentation, and – well the more you think about it the more the list grows.


As a writer, I would be delighted to see the day when the membership of the STC resembles that technical documentation department I joined over 20 years ago – where writers are actually in the minority.

5 comments:

Milan Davidovic said...

It's communication, not communicators.

Alan J. Porter said...

Thanks for picking up on my typo - You made me think that maybe the STC should stand for Society of Technical Communicators, rather than Communication - that way it would promote a focus on the members rather than the process.

David Farbey said...

I completely agree with you. I have some ideas bout STC on my blog too.

Karen said...

Hi Alan

Good point. As SIG Advocate in STC, I just want to say that SIGs should not be regarded as marginalized. The SIG leaders believe SIGs are the future of STC - or of the industry, as you write. That SIGs are not so visible or well-known is another matter. Maybe SIG PR can be better. Maybe members can help with that. SIG members have great ideas, but there is not always a volunteer to lead the fun. That veers toward another topic. I just wanted to comment on this point.

Cheers!

rlhamilton said...

Alan, you make some great points here.

I think the point that technical communication goes beyond technical writing is an important one that many of us (and I'll include myself) don't fully appreciate.

I have been in organizations that had both "consumer" products and "technical" products, and without exception, the consumer products organizations understood the importance of graphics, photographs, and other visual media. On the other hand, the technical side (here I'm thinking of documentation for software and specialized hardware) nearly always did not understand.

It seems to me that the STC membership and leadership is largely populated with people working the technical side, and therefore disciplines outside writing get short shrift.

The good news is that there seems to be a lot of activity aimed at getting visual techniques back into the "technical" side. I'm thinking in particular of your STC Summit talk about comics and Scott McCloud's work.

I'm hopeful that those efforts will help make a difference in the composition of STC membership.