Recap of Mindfulness Presentation

On October 26, 2016, a dozen STC/SM members and guests convened at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) for Jeanette Brooks’ presentation on mindfulness. Geoffrey Walchak, a WCC technical communication student, wrote about her presentation for us, and Pat Martz, STC/SM blog editor, edited it.

What Is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness,” Brooks told us, “is increasing awareness while paying attention without judgment.” “Without judgment” is the most important part because as soon as we start to assign value (or non-value) to things or people, it pulls us out of the present moment and into ruminating—worrying about the future, or dwelling on the past; while this is happening, the present moment is occurring and you are missing it.

“But don’t get too consumed by the present,” she warned us. She went on to explain how someone can be both the observer and the actor simultaneously. To pay attention without judgment is like being a witness to what happens to yourself, objectively observing everything as it happens. In time, practitioners can engage in action mindfully. That is to say, practitioners never completely let go of objective observation.
Continue reading “Recap of Mindfulness Presentation”

Program Recap: What is the User’s Experience?

Photo of Sept 20, 2016 program in session.
Attendees listen intently at September 20, 2016 program.

We all do our best to consider the user when creating our technical communications, but there is no better way to really find out what our users are thinking than to ask them! Even though it sounds simple, there are many factors to consider when creating a usability testing project.

Catherine Vera-Burgos and Sherri Dansby described how their team at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) conducted an extensive usability testing project to answer the central question: “What is important to the users of our four provider manuals, and how can we make it easier for (internal and external) users to find the information they need?” Continue reading “Program Recap: What is the User’s Experience?”

Recap: Multi-Chapter STC webinar

If you weren’t able to attend the Feb. 2nd Multi-Chapter Techcomm Showcase, by the Rochester, New England, and Southeastern Michigan Chapters of the Society for Technical Communication, check out the information below.

Topics included:

  • Audience-specific Content using FrameMaker
  • Know Your Users: Improving Learning Content by Connecting with Users
  • Best Practices in Using Social Media for Your Business (View the PDF)


Listen to the recording of the presentation


TechSmith Program Meeting Recap: Using Visuals in our Communication

by Tom Glennan

Do you know what search engine is the second largest after Google? Or how to use visuals and images to “flip” your documentation for meetings? Or even what Snagit and Camtasia are (and why you should know)? These and many other useful skills and tips were revealed and discussed at the October 14th program meeting, “Leverage the Power of Image and Video in Your Communication,” which was presented by Andrea Perry and Matt Pierce of TechSmith Corporation in Okemos, Michigan.
Continue reading “TechSmith Program Meeting Recap: Using Visuals in our Communication”

Event Recap: XML and CMS in a Health Insurance Environment

by Angel Belford

On Wednesday, May 20, 2015 about a dozen or so attended the final program of the STC-SM 2014/2015 year at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Southfield.

Sharon McDonnell provided an excellent overview of Extensible Markup Language (XML) within a Content Management System (CMS) and how it related to the documentation process at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Highlights of the program included:

• Discussion on how over 9,000 linear feet of print documentation were converted into an electronic format!
• Demonstration of Arbortext in managing XML content.
• Benefits of single-sourcing documentation for managing content on multiple websites.

Check back soon to see our chapter’s fall events and in the meantime don’t forget to register for the 62nd annual STC Summit in Columbus, Ohio from June 21-24 at

Event recap: World Usability day in the “D”

by Alison Phillips

Gathering to network before the event starts.
Gathering to network before the event starts.

World Usability Day (WUD), held annually on the second Thursday of November, is a “single day of events occurring around the world that brings together communities of professional, industrial, educational, citizen, and government groups for our common objective: to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use” (according to  This year, there were over 130 events held in 40 countries, and 6 of those events were hosted in locations across Michigan.

The WUD Detroit event, World Usability day in the “D,” was a held at the AIREA Studio in the Compuware building. About 40 participants from various disciplines (including some STC-SM chapter members) gathered to discuss topics related to this year’s theme, “User Experience, Usability, and the Value of Simplicity in Design.” Continue reading “Event recap: World Usability day in the “D””

Choosing the Right Tools to Build Digital Learning

by Susan Fisher

If you’re like many technical communicators, you may fall into one of these categories when it comes to building a mobile learning (or any e-learning) program:

1)   What’s the big deal? It’s just a matter of picking up the nearest authoring software (e.g., Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate) and cranking out the screens.

2)   It’s a mystery. Only a trained programmer can do it.

Of course, as with most things, reality is not that clear-cut; it’s a continuum between these two extremes. Fortunately, with some basic knowledge you can determine the tools and resources required for your project — and talk intelligently to your developer or programmer if one is needed. Continue reading “Choosing the Right Tools to Build Digital Learning”

Ignite UX Michigan Draws Standing-Room-Only Crowd

Five minutes, twenty auto-advancing slides, and an excited standing-room-only crowd. Are you a little crazy? Not at all. You are a presenter at Ignite UX Michigan.

On October 21, 2014, thirteen people presented their thoughts about user experience at Ignite UX Michigan at Conor O’Neill’s in Ann Arbor.

Big Ideas

We heard about some big ideas: the user interface as a magic ritual; a future with many more do-it-yourselfers who will need to know the same basic design principles we use now and who will have limited resources; embedded user research as another approach to [qualitative] research, based on a summer teaching experience with Girls Who Code; and philosophical questions: How does LATCH—Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, and Hierarchy—a way to organize information, intersect with reality? How do we make reality?

End Users

However, the majority of the rest of the talks focussed on end users in one way or another.
One person talked about some common disabilities and how to design for the using good writing and good HTML design, while another gave some quick examples of good and bad design when telling stories with data visualization.

One speaker had an epiphany on a trip to Paraguay. Speaking no Spanish, the best visual and social cues she used were nonverbal ones. Her big questions were: What would it mean to be a traveler on a website? How can we extend the nonverbal communication of login pages and search bars to other areas?

A content strategist who is the one-person UX team at her company explained how to create plausible streamlined personas even while lacking time, budget, or even users.

Academic software design was critiqued, and suggestions were made for creating smaller products grounded in learning theory for the primary end users, teachers and students.


There were also business-focussed talks. One speaker talked about how to have jobs come to you. A visual designer explained how UX people can work effectively with visual designers.

Another speaker talked about applying user experience to project management: What if, instead of having processes and procedures coming from the top down, workers became participants in creating their work environment?

The last presentation was a cautionary tale of a website project that got too focussed on implementation instead of goals. That speaker reminded us to solve the right problem at the right level for the right reason.

The program ended with a raffle: nine books and six posters, contributed by sponsors, were given away. Many people lingered to talk afterwards. The presentations were very stimulating, and many of the slides themselves were both interesting and well designed.

Looking Ahead: World Usability Day in the “D”

Whether you are conscious of it or not, successful technical communication always involves creating a good user experience. Your will have a chance to learn more about user experience on November 13, 2014, World Usability Day.

Final Program Recap

By Sharon McDonnell

Wednesday, June 25, 2014, a dozen or so of us met at Little Daddy’s in Livonia for our final program of the 2013/2014 season. We met for several reasons: to network, to acknowledge and appreciate, to brag about our work, to announce the changing of the guard, and to eat!

Secretary, Susan Fisher, presenting her Information Architecture wireframes for a software application.

The member showcase portion of the program featured several very interesting offerings:

  • Technical and marketing copy in print form authored in Word and Acrobat
  • Online training materials authored in Flare and Captivate
  • Information architecture wireframes for  a web application describing body systems
  • Portfolios in online and print formats


Each contributor briefly presented his or her offering and afterwards we perused them.

Our outgoing president, Tom Glennan, recapped his goals for this year and compared them to the accomplishments we have made. Most of the things he set out to do were done, so he can be proud of his effort. Continue reading “Final Program Recap”

Program Recap: I Could Never Be a Contractor…or So I Thought

Submitted by Sharon McDonnell

Wednesday, May 14 was the night. Blue Care Network headquarters in Southfield was the venue. The panel consisted of three presenters: Thomas Glennan (Technical Writing Solutions, LLC), Patricia Gómez Martz (Inkberry Solutions) and Mary Jo David (Write Away Enterprises).

The three panelists each took turns at the podium, followed by a question-and-answer session for all three. The common themes were: get an attorney, get an accountant, market yourself even when you already have projects to work on, and make time for yourself and your family (in other words, don’t work 24/7 or you will burn out).

The panelists shared many tips and tricks about how to run your business and set rates and gave some history of their experiences. Everyone gave positive feedback on this program; some who had been freelancing in the past said they learned things they didn’t know! One of the attendees said, “Great program last night! Even though I was an independent (freelancer/consultant/business owner?) for 15 years, I learned a lot from all of you — i.e., that I did a lot of things wrong! You gave us a ton of useful information that I’ll be able to use the next time I go solo. Thanks!”

Many thanks to Catherine Vera-Burgos and BCN for allowing us to use their beautiful venue. Many folks mentioned how nice and comfortable it was, not to mention the great audiovisual accommodations.