Tech Comm Café: May 10 recap; next meeting June 14

Tech Comm Café: May 10 recap; next meeting June 14

The Tech Comm Café met on May 10 for a wide-ranging discussion of technical writing topics — after a brief rehash of the previous evening’s cliff-hanger provincial election, still awaiting final ballot counts and recounts in several ridings.

One person brought a new perspective to the frequent debate over classroom vs. online courses. He’s pursuing a two-year Masters program, based in Alberta, which offers most of its courses online but requires two three-week sessions on site. Classmates work together face to face before returning to their home cities to continue online, with frequent contacts via text, chat, Facebook, and e-mail. All students in the “cohort” (a group of about 20 people who are starting the program at the same time) take the same courses on the same schedule, so they get to know each other and are comfortable communicating about class work even at a distance. It seems like a good way to combine the convenience of online classes and the synergy of working with a familiar group.

That program provides valuable training in managing communications and technology in organizations, but doesn’t focus specifically on technical writing skills. A professional engineer at the meeting recalled that the English requirement for his Bachelor of Engineering program was not writing skills but Shakespeare! Some people making a shift into technical writing from, say, technical support, engineering, or programming have subject expertise and general communication skills but no specific training in writing or in taking a writing project from concept to completion. Career-changers might want to look into technical writing classes offered by colleges, universities, and the STC professional certification program.

That led to a question: Should the STC Canada West Coast chapter offer workshops on basic writing and project planning, or do educational institutions have it covered? Let us know what you think in the Comments section or send your ideas to admin (at) It will help us plan our programs for the coming year.

We also discussed how writers know whether our readers are getting the help they need. Telephone tech-support lines provide valuable feedback from end users, but these days, support is often via e-mail, text, or knowledge base, so feedback is limited. We went on to talk about plain language in legal documents, the preference for paper manuals over online help and PDFs, and how writers fit into the software development process. An interesting and useful discussion, as usual!


The TCC provides networking opportunities, job leads, answers to work-related dilemmas, and a burst of professional energy to keep you motivated. We discuss technical writing tools and techniques, career planning, portfolios, and anything else related to working as a technical communicator.

We welcome anyone who’s interested in technical communication — contractor, in-house, student, long-time tech writer, STC member, non-member, career-changer, or recruiter. We hope to see you at the next meeting!

Next Vancouver-Area Tech Comm Café: Wednesday, June 14, 2017

If you plan to attend, please RSVP to admin (at)

Date: Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Time: 6:30–8:00 pm Pacific Time

Location: Allegro Café, Whole Foods Market, 510 West 8th Avenue at Cambie, Vancouver. The Allegro is the smaller coffee bar on the mezzanine level, with entrance on the Cambie Street side (not the restaurant downstairs in the main store area). Close to Broadway-City Hall Skytrain (Canada Line) and Broadway buses; pay parking on the street or in the Whole Foods underground parkade, entrance on West 8th Ave.


  1. Introductions. Take 60 seconds to introduce yourself, your background, current activities. A good chance to try out that new elevator speech.
  2. Announcements and job leads. If you know of an interesting event or a job opening, or you’re looking for work, share it with the group.
  3. Brainstorming Q&A. Ask about a work-related problem and discuss potential solutions.
  4. Speed networking. Spend a few minutes with a new contact, exchange business cards, and discuss your professional backgrounds and goals.

Heather Sommerville is a senior technical writer and editor with over 20 years of experience delivering clear, concise writing for business and technical audiences. She is an STC Associate Fellow and has served in many volunteer positions with the STC Canada West Coast chapter.