Art Campbell

Apr 082015
This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series InterChange 2014

by Cheryl Landes, STC Fellow
Senior Member, Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, and New England Chapters

[Ed. note: This recap of a presentation from InterChange 2014 is still valuable today!]

With the growth of content strategy and social media, technical marketing communications has become a hot niche for technical communicators. If you love telling stories and evangelizing about products and services, technical marketing communications is a great career path. It typically pays more than writing technical documentation because of the demand, and the variety of materials technical marketing communicators create are broader.

During the STC New England InterChange conference last March 30, I talked about the field of technical marketing communications and how to break in. I also described the state of the market and the types of projects to expect—whether you’re a regular employee or freelancer. My presentation was based on my experiences as a technical marketing writer for the past 15 years and my undergraduate studies in public relations at the University of Oregon.

What is technical marketing communications?

Technical marketing communications is spreading the word about technical products or services of a technical nature so that customers will buy them. Technical products include software and hardware, while services can range from environmental remediation to veterinary care.

The goals of technical marketing communications are:
• To sell a technical product or service to the target niche.
• To promote the benefits of a technical product or service.
• To show how a technical product or service is better than the competitors.
• To position a company as an expert in the target market.

What types of materials do technical marketing communicators produce?

Technical marketing communicators create any type of information that promotes and sells a product service. The typical documents we create are:

• Brochures—Four-color, glossy printed sheets or booklets describing a product, its features, and where to get more information. Some brochures also include partial client lists. Companies distribute brochures at trade shows, sales meetings, and other events in the target industry. Brochures are also part of a company’s website as separate pages featuring a single product or service.

• Product data sheets—Delivered in print, PDF, or as a webpage, these sheets provide an overview of a product and its specifications. Sometimes high-level wiring diagrams are included. Printed product data sheets are published in black and white.

• Case studies—These tell a story of how a company helped a customer solve a problem with its products or services. Case studies can be printed, PDFs, webpages, and videos. Some companies, such as Techsmith, publish a webpage and video for each case study. A case study contains four sections: a problem statement, a description of the solution, a summary of the results, and a list of benefits to potential customers. The benefits are usually published in a sidebar.

• White papers—Either black-and-white or two-color documents providing information on a topic related to the company’s industry. The intent is to show that the company is an expert on the subject to enhance its credibility to its target audience. Topics include a company’s position on an industry trend or solution, reports on trends, or results on a research project. White papers are not meant to blatantly promote company’s product or service, although they’re being used in this way more often in high-tech.

• Informational booklets—Unlike brochure booklets, informational booklets are two-color documents with glossy full-color covers that describe how a product can be used in an application. Usually these are printed for tradeshows and sales meetings and sometimes distributed in PDF.

• Press releases—Official statements a company issues to the media giving information on a particular newsworthy topic. Press releases are written like newsletter articles, and the information must be newsworthy so that the media will publish it. Examples of newsworthy content are new product releases or upgrades, quarterly earnings reports, changes in corporate leadership, mergers and acquisitions, and announcements of new business directions.

• Webpages—Includes pages promoting products and services, blog posts, and content optimized for search (also known as search engine optimization, or SEO). SEO content projects assign topics to each page, along with specified keywords to weave into the copy. The goal is to write useful, meaningful content around those keywords to increase the company’s site ranking in search engine results.

• Presentations—Work in this area is varied and can include slides for sales and marketing meetings, courses for sales reps and marketers, content for webinars, and video and podcast scripts.

• Social media—This is a growing field, primarily for internal employees and consultants who work at marketing and public relations firms. Solopreneurs are rarely hired for projects, although I have set up Facebook pages for a few small businesses. After I set up the pages, I trained the business owners on how to create posts and attach pictures, and they would manage the pages from there.

What skills are required to break in?

As with technical communications, excellent written and verbal skills are essential for a successful career in technical marketing communications. Writing must be clear and concise, and any technical jargon must be cut or explained, if needed. Writing must also convince readers to take action. Interviewing skills are critical for gathering information and working with diverse groups throughout a company. You’ll be gathering information from not only marketing executives and product managers, but also engineers and developers.

Knowing how to research information from a variety of sources is also important. Marketing communication projects are on much tighter deadlines than technical documentation, so strong motivation and initiative to gather information makes you successful. Often people are too busy to talk to you, and you have a deadline in a few hours, so finding alternative ways to gather information ensures you can produce on time.

Priorities often change faster in marketing than technical documentation, so flexibility is required. A corporate announcement might mean you need to drop everything and write a press release by the end of the day, when you were focused on finishing a brochure or case study.

Understanding how to identify target audiences and write to their needs is another critical skill. While this is required in technical documentation, the focus is different. In technical documentation, you’re writing instructions at the level of the audience’s understanding, while in marketing communications, you’re writing to potential customers to convince them to take action, whether it’s buying a product or hiring the company for its expertise. You need to anticipate what the audience wants to be able to convince them to take action.

How do I break into the field?

Breaking into technical marketing communications requires a portfolio of a variety of samples from the list above. You need to prove that your skills are transferrable and that you can do the work. If you do not have any experience, here are some ways to get it:

• If you’re a regular, full-time employee, offer to help on marketing-related projects.
• Find non-profit organizations that need help with their marketing projects. Over the years, I have volunteered for several organizations, from writing press releases to editing copy for their websites.
• Barter with small businesses. One of my bartering projects is writing newsletters and creating promotional event flyers for a guide service. In exchange, the guide service gives me free outdoor trips. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.

About Cheryl Landes

Cheryl Landes, STC Fellow and Certified Professional Communicator through the Association for Women in Communications Matrix Foundation, founded Tabby Cat Communications in Seattle in 1995. She has 24 years of experience as a technical communicator and 15 in marketing in several industries: computer software, HVAC/energy savings, marine transportation, manufacturing, retail, and the trade press. She specializes as a findability strategist, helping businesses to organize content so that it flows logically and to make content easier to retrieve online and in print.

Cheryl, who currently lives in Vancouver, WA, has given many presentations and workshops about indexing, technical communication, and marketing services as a solo entrepreneur throughout the United States and Canada. She has written two handbooks on digital indexing in MadCap Flare and Adobe FrameMaker, and more than 100 articles and three books on Northwest travel and history. For more information, visit her website at and follow her @landesc.

Oct 062014

Neil Perlin leads the way into mobile apps for documentation — and helps you build your own

Twenty years ago, few technical writers worked with web technologies or created online help. (The first online help conference had twelve attendees.) Today, almost every technical communicator works with both.

But few technical communicators create mobile apps. Yet the app technologies and tools are following the same trajectory that the web and online help traced twenty years ago. The technologies are getting better and the tools easier to use, to the point where we can now create fairly powerful mobile apps with little or no coding. That’s the subject of Building Your First Mobile Documentation App, an all-day Saturday workshop led by Neil Perlin, scheduled for October 18th.

Perlin said,” In this workshop, you’ll get an introduction to the world of “mobile” in general, including a definition of what “mobile” actually is (with a surprising number of options), rationales for going mobile, and various use cases. Including use cases for documentation-focused apps, the kind that technical communicators might create.

We’ll then look at the GUI app development tools that hide Objective C, MIME types, and other coding behind a friendly WYSIWYG interface. We’ll focus down further to look at a specific GUI tool, ViziApps, that we’ll use to create a mobile app in a day.”

By the end of the workshop, you will create a multi-page app that can:

  • Send an email message (pre-addressed or not)
  • Open a URL
  • Open a web-based document and display it in a viewer
  • Open a database and search within that database

“As we create the app, we’ll include text-oriented pages, email links, links to external Web pages, document viewers, and data input and retrieval to and from a database. None of these features are specific to technical communication, but they might be combined in a documentation app to create interactive online help,” Perlin said.

What’s “interactive online help”? Consider an online service manual lets service techs read instructions, take photos of defective parts and send them back to the home office for evaluation, send and receive emails, enter spec data into a database or read spec data from a database, perhaps use “geosensing” to give access to different instructions depending on where the reader is located. Perhaps even be able to buy tools and supplies. And more … All within one app running on a tablet or even a smartphone.

It is hard to tell how apps may be used for technical communication, just as it was hard to tell in the early ‘90s how the web and online help might be used. Yet those two technologies helped create the world of technical communication that we know today. This workshop will help you prepare for the next world of mobile technical communication, and you’ll have a simple but working mobile app to add to your resume. (Although the app will be fully functional, it will not be available in any app stores.)

The workshop costs $140 for an STC Member and $175 for the public, and a continental breakfast and lunch are included. Mathworks, Mathworks, 3 Apple Hill Dr Natick, MA 01760 is hosting. Register (and review details) at Space is limited, so don’t delay.

About Neil Perlin

Neil is an internationally known consultant, strategist, trainer, and developer for online content in all forms from help to apps. Neil helps clients design content, select outputs, understand coding, and select and learn authoring tools. To do this, he brings 35 years of experience in tech comm, with 29 online in a wide range of formats and tools. He is Adobe Certified in RoboHelp, MadCap Certified in Flare and Mimic, and Viziapps Certified for the Viziapps Studio mobile app development platform. He is the author of several books on help authoring tools, including “Advanced Features of MadCap Flare 10” (plus 9 and 8), “Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6”, and a book about mobile app development for non-programmers, “Creating Mobile Apps Without Coding.”

Neil was the STC’s lead representative to the World Wide Web Consortium for four years in the 2000s. He writes columns and articles for STC’s Intercom and is a popular speaker at various industry conferences. He is the founder and manager of the Bleeding Edge session at the STC summit. Contact him at

Apr 242014

STC New England is a Community of Excellence

STC New England is a Community of Excellence

STC New England Chapter President Emily Alfson received this email today:

As a member of the Community Achievement Award Evaluation Committee (CAAEC), it is my honor to inform you that the STC New England Chapter has earned the Community of Excellence award for 2014.

The citation on your certificate will read:
“For revitalizing your community by re-launching your web site, job bank, competitions, and InterChange conference, and for providing myriad effective programs and social events, thus ensuring a stable foundation on which to rebuild your community”

Your community will be recognized during the Honors Banquet on Tuesday, May 20, at the Summit in Phoenix. At that time you will receive the CAA certificate. If you are not able to attend personally, designate an STC New England Chapter member to accept the certificate on behalf of the community. Please notify Elaine Gilliam ( in the STC office who will be representing STC New England at the Honors Banquet. The STC Board encourages all STC New England Chapter members attending the Summit to be present when your community is honored.

Communities also will be acknowledged for their achievements at Leadership Day on Sunday, May 18. We encourage you to purchase Leadership Day and Banquet tickets in advance of the Summit.

We will have ribbons at registration that read “Proud Member, STC Community of Excellence.” Please tell all of the STC New England members, who plan to attend the Summit, to make sure and pick one up.

Your community had a spectacular year filled with many activities, and has made great progress in bringing your community back to life. The CAAEC hopes that your community will continue to aspire to a high level with a set of impressive initiatives and activities next year.

Detailed comments about your winning entry will be emailed to you soon.
Congratulations to all proud members of the STC New England Chapter!

Tricia Spayer, Chair
STC Community Achievement Awards and Pacesetter Committee

Mar 242014

Autodesk award winners (L-R, front:
Josh Breault, Jeff Hanson, Kevin Dolley, Lisa McCarty; back row: Karen Smith and Patty Gale.

Autodesk, of Manchester, New Hampshire and RSA, the security division of EMC, headquartered in Bedford, Massachusetts, won Best in Show awards for exceptional technical communications projects in the 2013 Technical Communication Competition of the Society for Technical Communications New England Chapter. Winners of the 2013 competition were announced at the STC New England March 19 meeting.

The competition drew 19 entries from 10 corporations and included categories for publications, online media, mobile platforms, and technical illustration. A complete list of winning entries is as the bottom of this page.

The Autodesk Revit LT 2014 — Getting Started was created by Lisa McCarty and Jeff Hanson. The RSA Authentication Manager 8.0 Planning Guide was created by Joyce Cohen, Mark Decker, James Doyle, Kevin Kyle, and Laurence Starn. Each publication also received an Award of Distinction and will go on to be judged in the STC International Competition.

“The competitions are a key to the STC providing value to employers,” according to John Sgammato, an STC New England Council member. “We provide value to area companies by quantifying documentation quality because competition judges are uniquely qualified to measure it. And the judging always includes written critiques, so people who enter learn ways to improve.”

Links to Winning Entries

Please join us in celebrating the 2013 STC Competition award-winning entries.  We have included a set of links to many of the winning entries so you have the opportunity to view and enjoy the entries at your leisure.
Technical Publications Competition

RSA Authentication Manager 8.0 Planning Guide

Mark Decker, James Doyle, Laurence Starn, Joyce Cohen, Kevin Kyle — EMC Corporation

Award of Distinction

Online Communication Competition

Autodesk Revit 2014 Essential Skills Videos
Lisa McCarty, Jeff Hanson, Karen Smith, Kevin Dolley, Mary Roy, Michael Lavoie — Autodesk, Inc
Award of Merit

Scribe Online Help Center
Miriam Lezak — Scribe Software Corporation
Award of Merit

DNS API Knowledge Base
Kimberly Lacerte — Dyn
Award of Merit

Authenticating IBM Systems Director Users Stored in LDAP
Kate Tinklenberg, Linette Williams — IBM Corporation
Award of Excellence

Simulink 3D Animation Online Help
Greg Bartlett — Mathworks
Award of Distinction

Autodesk Revit LT 2014 — Getting Started
Lisa McCarty, Jeff Hanson — Autodesk, Inc
Award of Distinction

Designing Autodesk Revit LT 2014 Getting Started

by Lisa McCarty and Jeff Hanson
We developed the Getting Started tutorial for Autodesk Revit LT, a simplified 3D Building Information Modeling Tool. It is a “lighter” version of Autodesk’s Revit product line that allows users to produce high-quality architectural 3D designs and construction documentation. We knew our users would be familiar with architectural tasks, but would be new to the software, and probably to 3D modeling.

In previous years, Jeff and I had worked on long, complex tutorials for our full Revit product. For this new Revit LT offering, we wanted to create a getting started experience for users that would help them get up to speed quickly, understand the user interface, and learn the basic tasks.

Our goal was to create an engaging learn-by-doing tutorial where the user creates a simple building model using Revit LT. The lessons would cover setting up the elevations, designing the site, building the model, and creating construction documents. Each lesson would be brief, about 10-15 minutes. A user could easily complete one lesson and pick up with another one later, or work through the entire tutorial in a couple of hours.

Due to the visual nature of the software, we wanted to incorporate video into the tutorial. But, understanding that it can be difficult to learn from a video, we also provided the steps and data sets so users could work through the procedures. In previous tutorials, we only provided a starting data set, but as users worked through the lessons, they would sometimes make mistakes that would make it difficult for them to continue to the next lesson. So, for this tutorial, we provided a starting data set for each lesson to give users options for working through the lessons: Work sequentially through the lessons using the evolving data set, or jump into a lesson, using that lesson’s data set as a starting point.

To make the tutorial approachable, we set up a standard header with the estimated time to complete each lesson, as well as links to the required files. We included objectives for each lesson so the user could quickly review what would be covered. Each lesson includes video, step-by-step instructions with supporting files, and a link to the next lesson. The tutorial introduces users to terms and concepts that can then be searched in the help for more information. The learning experience provides a frame of reference for using the software.
We enjoyed working on the tutorial because we saw how it could help our target users successfully create a building using Revit LT — and to do so quickly, with no prior experience in the software. We hoped that early success would encourage our new users to continue to learn and work with the tools.

We were excited for the opportunity to enter our tutorial in the STC competition to be reviewed by our peers. The template that the reviewers used for feedback was clear and easy to read, and the written comments were very helpful. One of the reviewers recommended, “It might be helpful to give the user an exercise that builds on the learning from the tutorial. A video could show the answer.” We are interested in this approach and are looking for ways to incorporate this type of learning in our next release.

The positive response from our users, along with the feedback and award from our peers at the Society for Technical Communication will go a long way in supporting our requests to develop more of this type of learning content. Thank you for reviving the STC New England Competition and for giving our entry your consideration, as well as for taking the time to provide thorough and thoughtful feedback

Award Winners