Vancouver-Area Tech Comm Café: June 14 recap; next meeting online Sept. 13

Vancouver-Area Tech Comm Café: June 14 recap; next meeting online Sept. 13

Everyone at the June meeting had several years of technical writing experience and was working full-time, so instead of discussing topics of interest to newcomers, such as writing classes and job-hunting, we focused on work questions (and vented a little, in a polite and constructive way).

Tools: Our small group included users and fans (or not) of FrameMaker, Doc-To-Help, DITA CMS, XMetaL, Ixiasoft, Oxygen, and customized in-house software. One person has used Microsoft Word for decades, another doesn’t use it at all. No-one can be an expert in all of the current tools on the market, but ideally, writers can find a niche where they can work with the tools they like, know well, or want to explore.

Style guides: All of us had worked with in-house style guides to specify standard formatting, terminology, spelling, and so on, and found them very useful. However, problems can arise when no-one takes the time to keep the guide up to date, and when colleagues either don’t know the guide exists or don’t bother to follow it. Creating a style guide isn’t enough; someone has to take responsibility for maintaining it and making sure colleagues know about it.

Videos: Many people love the idea of instructional videos, but few have the time or the expertise to create them. You can easily spend two days creating two minutes of video. Updating videos when products or topics change can also be very time-consuming. Some writers prefer to hire a specialist who can finish the job more efficiently.

Working offsite: Working with colleagues or clients you’ve never met in person doesn’t have to be a problem for either the writer or the client/employer. To be successful, you must have a clear definition of the work to be done, a detailed project plan, and the flexibility to deal with the extra layer of complication that comes with juggling time zones as well as unspoken differences in work customs, assumptions, and expectations.

Portfolios: Even working writers need to keep their portfolios up to date. You never know when you might need to show samples of your work. We discussed whether to email PDFs, show samples on a tablet (for example, for videos or help topics), or post them publicly online. If the work is confidential, you should either get permission from the employer or remove anything that could identify the employer.


Next Meeting:  ONLINE, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017

The next Vancouver and Vancouver Island Tech Comm Cafés will be combined into one meeting that will take place online on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Brew yourself a beverage and dial in from the comfort of your favourite chair. RSVP to admin (at) for login details.


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!

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.


Margaret ShawAugust 18, 2017 at 10:33 amReply

Heather, thank you for this excellent summary of an interesting meeting.



Heather SommervilleAugust 18, 2017 at 11:28 amReply

Thanks, Margaret! Hope to see you at the next meeting.