At this month's STC Lone Star Community meeting, the guest speaker, Dr. Hillary Hart, showed us some statistics on STC membership. One of the numbers that stuck in my mind was new memberships. Although renewals are down, it seems that new memberships are high for this early in the year. In fact, nearly half of the anticipated new members for 2010 have already joined.
This surprising fact made me wonder what is drawing the new membership--especially at a time when long-term members are not renewing memberships.
Of the many reasons renewals are low, the foremost is the price increase. The steep jump in price has forced many STC members to reconsider their priorities. However, with expense can come exclusivity.
Although on one level it seems rude and counter-productive to be more exclusive, on another level it's a fact that professionals want to distinguish themselves. What better way to be distinguished than show membership in a group that not everyone can get into?
Like a high-class watch or luxury car, each person has his or her way of displaying social and economic standing. Such economically exclusive items often are associated with professionalism. So, the technical communicator striving to display professionalism would be more attracted to an expensive membership than an affordable one.
This is the social side of supply-and-demand: when demand is high, price goes up, and prestige goes up. Elitist as this may seem, it is typical of human nature. By nature we are drawn to the high-class in-crowd and within Technical Communication this manifests as membership in STC.
Certainly, price is not the sole reason for new memberships and there are numerous variables involved with any purchase, let alone membership in an organization. However, I do believe that perceived elitism is one contributing factor.
The following is a reprint from the STC LSC Technically Write newsletter on 4 February 2010.
So you've heard of Twitter--who hasn't? Perhaps you signed up for an account out of curiosity. But then what? Why should you bother tweeting your hobbies or following the doings of someone's cat?
The short answer is you shouldn't. You should not think of Twitter in its older sense of "What am I doing now." As a professional, it's not really useful and it definitely won't score any points with your current or future employer. So then what is Twitter good for?
First and foremost, it's a way of networking. Although there are numerous social networking sites and several of them professional, as a Technical Communicator you'll find Twitter useful in several ways.
To begin with, setting up a profile on Twitter is not nearly as involved as other social networking sites. It's great to have your life story on Facebook or work history on LinkedIn, but for Twitter all you need is a short blurb, a photo, and a link to your Web site (personal, professional, employer, or whatever).
Then, connect with other professionals. You can search for them by name, key words, or hash tags. What's a hash tag, you ask? It's a designated topic that stands out because it's preceded by a hash mark (also known as a pound or number sign): #. This convention makes searching for #techcomm or #stcorg tweets quick and easy.
A new addition to Twitter that makes finding professionals easier is the lists feature. For example, I've created a list called TechComm ( By following this list, you automatically receive updates from the technical communicators I've added to the list. Many others have created lists of technical communications (TC) professionals as well.
Now that you have a few TC pros to follow (and many will follow you back), what do you do? You monitor your stream and see what they have to say. You can do this from the Web interface at, with your mobile device, or through a number of desktop applications. Despite the reputation of Twitter being about what someone's cat had for breakfast or how the latest celebrity is having issues (again), you can get good information from Twitter by following the right people (like STC members: [Editor’s note: Rachel Houghton is an LSC member as well as a Willamette Valley (Oregon) member.]
Over just a few days, you should see some interesting tweets. These may include topics such as blogs, articles, studies, trends, jobs, meetings, conferences, workshops, presentations, webinars, discounts, sales, freebies, advice, infographics, news, and much more. That's a lot of information in one place! Moreover, it's literally up-to-the minute--something no Web site, RSS feed, or broadcast can do. This means you can find out about a job posting before it's on the company's Web site. Or you might hear about a 24-hour sale on software in time to get your copy.
Now you've got news and info coming in regularly and notice that some of your "tweeple" aren't following a certain person or list, but you'd like to pass along an interesting tweet. So you retweet the post. The new-fangled retweet from the Web interface simply reposts the original with a tiny note at the bottom indicating that you had retweeted it. The old-fashioned (and preferred by many) method is to precede the copy-and-pasted text with "RT @Username". Either method will do the trick, passing along a good tidbit to those who follow you.

But Twitter isn't just about getting instantaneous news and updates. It's an interactive network. So network! Reply when you find something useful. Tell the poster, "Thanks, that was a really handy tip!" The more you interact, the more likely you are to get your own posts retweeted. This means everyone following that person will see your post and some of those followers may start following you. Voila, new professionals to connect with! You may find Twitter one of the easiest ways to network.
But, isn't Twitter a time-waster? Like anything else on the Web—from YouTube to the New York Times Online--it takes as much time as you let it. If you only have a chance to read and update once a day while snarfing down lunch, so be it. But if, like some of us, you find Twitter really useful, you may want to tweet your own blog posts, news articles, events, and more. These unique additions will catch on and be retweeted around the world. Don't be surprised if suddenly you have people following you in Europe, Israel, and India.
Of course, it's not a competition. The number of followers you have isn't really the point. The return on investment (ROI) from Twitter is measured in the quality of tweets read and retweeted, not the quantity.
For more information on using Twitter, go to or tweet me at
At boot camp, every Marine learns the 14 leadership traits of the Marine Corps. Although these are typically interpreted in military contexts, they still apply as a civilian--and as a professional.

In honor of Veterans Day, here's how these traits make for a better technical communicator.

In order to honestly and fairly portray facts, technical communicators must have a strong sense of justice. Using embellishments or misconstruing information does no good for the audience or user. Good Tech Comm portrays a balanced, honest representation of the facts, products, and processes.

Where would Tech Comm be without judgment? Every sentence structure and word choice is a judgment call. Great technical communicators can judge what their audience needs and carefully select the best of all available options.

Even the most laid-back work environment has deadlines. Successful technical communicators know how to budget time and other resources to dependably deliver documentation.

Waiting on the SME, reviewer, editor, manager or whomever for every little decision and change is begging to miss a deadline. Technical communicators must know when and how to take initiative on projects.

Similar to initiative, Tech Comm requires gathering facts and weighing them without unnecessary intervention from those around and above. Finding the appropriate information and knowing how to make decisions help ensure success.

One thing many technical communicators have in common with the military is a reputation for "just the facts" that can sometimes appear tactless. However, sticking to the truth has its place and must be balanced with quality interpersonal skills such as tact--especially when dealing with in-person communications. But even electronic communications need to convey respect for the recipients.

One of the elements of being a professional in any field is integrity. Without honesty and morals, people cannot extend trust in your words--let alone actions. As a technical communicator this means coworkers and supervisors will not give you room to grow or take on greater duties without proven integrity.

Peers tend to enjoy working with people who show honest enthusiasm for a project, job, concept, or task. That doesn't mean you have to like everything about it--just don't complain too much or to the wrong people.

Subject matter experts feel better about talking to someone who appears confident and comfortable discussing technical matters. CEOs prefer to convey vital company info to competent, alert employees. And bosses always prefer a professional demeanor.

The work place is no place to be self-centered. Quality Tech Comm focuses on what the user or reader wants and needs. Quality writers relinquish their ego for editing tips. And quality editors place style guides before personal opinions on grammar.

Facing down a SME wielding a vocabulary in one hand and contempt for "lesser beings" in the other is frightening. Confronting a supervisor who forgot a vital part of a project is daunting. Even challenging day-to-day decisions can be scary. But great technical communicators courageously take on these challenges all the time.

Whether natural talent, learned skill, or formal education, what you know reflects in what you write--and how.

Loyalty is undervalued and misunderstood in today's corporate world. Most people feel no need for this trait when companies are impersonally hiring and firing on a whim. But loyalty isn't about blind devotion to your company. It's about a commitment to your peers, supervisors, subordinates, and customers. When you work somewhere, you inherently accept responsibility for supporting those around you.

Some people enthusiastically attack a project at the start and then taper off into ho-hum acceptance. Others sit back and wait for things to get rolling, only really kicking into high gear as the deadline approaches. The best technical communicators maintain their progress from start to finish throughout the ups and downs of any project.

Semper Fi
Of all the traits associated with the Marine Corps, "Semper Fidelis" is the most commonly known and referenced. Perhaps "always faithful" seems like a strange approach to Tech Comm. In reality, technical communicators could not do their jobs without being reliable. When you turn your back on a job or company, you disrespect not only yourself but the entire field of Technical Communication.

Each of the above traits takes root at an early age. Some traits are nurtured more than others as we grow up. Service in the Marine Corps provides the opportunity for the weaker traits to bloom. Once a part of your life, these traits remain in your garden no matter what profession you choose. As technical communicators, it is our duty to lead by example: apply these leadership traits to our profession and share them with our peers.

Happy Veterans Day!

For those who've not heard, I'm raising money for a good cause: professional development. I'm trying to find the money to pay for my Lavacon registration. Here are some FAQs about the web 2.0 funding experiment.

Why Am I Doing This?
I just found out this week that my company pulled the plug on the funds after I'd been planning all year to attend LavaCon, a conference for advanced technical communication, project management, and related professional development. At the time I started making arrangements I had no idea this was going to happen. It was approved as part of my goals and development training for the year, so I took it for granted. Lesson learned.

How Am I Contributing?
I am paying for the hotel room ($200/night) and airfare ($350) to attend a respected professional conference. But I haven't the money for the registration. I do not have a credit card I can put $750 on. Nor can I get another loan.

Why Do I Need Help?
My husband was out of work from last September until the beginning of this month. And he earns less than I do. We just got married in January and paid for it with our savings. We also just bought a house a year ago. So, there is no way I can afford this opportunity without a little help.

Why Not Just Wait Until Next Year?
Next year and almost every year this conference is in Hawaii. And that is certainly not someplace I could afford (nor would my company believe I was there to learn). A few years back, Lavacon was in New Orleans to help support economic recovery post-hurricane. Once again, it will be there for similar reasons. But when will it next be on the continent? Maybe never.

Why is This Conference So Important to Me?
Many conferences (some much less pricey) offer great information for professionals, but in my experience, Lavacon pins down some of the topics most appropriate to my job and career path. Next to the STC Summit, I would say this is the most important conference for my career.

What Will I Do for These Donations?
In exchange for your assistance, I promise to blog and tweet about this social experiment as well as the entire conference (as much as possible). This will allow you to participate vicariously in the professional conference. If you choose.

What Sessions Do I Plan to Attend?
Although this may change as more information becomes available, these are the sessions I am looking at attending:
* Networking/Reception
* Keynote Address
* Start Early and Plan for Success: Business Readiness for PMs and Tech Writers
* Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Strategies for Integrating User-Generated Content
* Understanding and Leveraging the Content Lifecycle
* One Hat, Two Hats or Three… How many do you wear?
* Are you a Right-Brain or Left-Brain Thinker? Essential Aptitudes for the Digital Future
* Developing Effective Training for Intangible Products
* Critical Thinking Skills for Conflict Resolution
* Designing and Implementing Embedded, Dynamic User Assistance
* Integrating Usability Testing into Your Product Dev Lifecycle
* Usability Testing and User-Centered Design Activities

How Can You Help?
I'm running this fundraiser through Fundable. There is no risk to you in that if I fail to make the $750 for registration (within the next 4 weeks), the money is not taken from anyone. Not one cent. The website is below:
Thank you everyone who is helping make this happen.