Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reverse Engineering SIGs

This blog is very STC centric (as it seems a lot of my life is these days). I just got off a strategic planning call where we were discussing ideas for expanding our income base. I noticed that several of the areas that had been identified involved taking what we already have, e.g., webinars and training, and marketing them into other professions. Part of an action item I was assigned was to help identify what those other professions might be.

As I thought about how to go about doing that, it occured to me that many of our Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are really focal points for larger professions. Our SIGs, in those cases, focus on the technical communication application. For example, Usability and User Experience is a large profession outside of technical communication. Our Usability and UX SIG focuses on the technical communication specific applications of that field as indicated by their mission description: "The Usability & User Experience SIG focuses on issues related to the usability and usability assessment of technical communication..."

So SIGs are like areas where outside professions insert specialized instances of their expertise into our profession. But what if we could reverse that gateway?

Our SIGs could be an excellent outreach channel to market our specialized knowledge into those other professions.

For example, my "official" professional education is in instructional design and technology. As I was getting my PhD in that field, I found a great formula for getting published. I would specialize ID topics for technical communication, and then I would specialize technical communication topics for ID. Instructional designers are pretty smart folks, but you know, they don't know a lot about writing manuals! Look at the raw .doc file that a "classically trained" ID person does and you will not find a style tag anywhere in it. And what ends up in headers and footers is any body's guess. So I was able to use my technical communication expertise and spin it to meet what I knew their needs were, i.e., how to design and develop student manuals.

Our SIGs are a great opportunity for us to do the same as a Society. Look at the list of the current STC SIGs:
  • Academic
  • AccessAbility
  • Canadian Issues
  • Consulting and Independent Contracting
  • Content Strategy
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Environmental, Safety, and Health Communication
  • Europe
  • Illustrators and Visual Designers
  • Information Design and Architecture
  • Instructional Design & Learning
  • International Technical Communication
  • Lone Writer
  • Management
  • Marketing Communication
  • Online
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Quality and Process Improvement
  • Scientific Communication
  • Single Sourcing
  • Technical Editing
  • Usability & User Experience
Some, like the geographic specific ones don't meet this model, but most of them represent professions that could use training or other resources around technical communication expertise aimed at the specific needs or contexts of their industries.

So I'd like SIG folks to start thinking about what it is about technical communication that could be of value to the professions at large your SIGs represent. How can we reverse the star gate and insert ourselves into their worlds? Specifically, what are the professions and what would be good topics?


Ted Kuster said...

Would the measure of success be how many non-STC people, or non-techcomm people, were induced to pay for a given STC webinar? A lot would depend on the webinar's quality and timeliness and factors like that, I suppose. I haven't done any of the paid webinars, so that would be an open question for me.
However, now that I think about it, the International Tech Comm might be a no-brainer for the l10n crowd. I bet there are a lot of generalist translators working at l10n agencies out there who could up their productivity and quality by learning about how tech content works. Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?

Michael Hughes said...

Thanks, Ted, exactly what I'm looking for!

MichaelC said...

STC might have a lot to offer to people in the world of grant writing, since tech writers are often involved in proposal writing.

I think a well-advertised grant writing webinar would get some notice. Many technical and scientific professionals depend on well-written grants to keep their projects funded, and STC should be able to help out here. Wasn't there a Proposal Writing SIG at one time?