Monthly Archives: February 2012

Vote for a New Name

It’s time to choose.

Below is a shortlist of  names for the new technical writer’s association. Some names are bilingual; some are English-only. If none appeal to you, click Other and put your suggestion.

If there’s no clear winner, I’ll run a second poll with the top picks. Voting on this poll closes on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 5 pm.



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February Volunteers’ Meeting Report

Six people gathered on the evening of February 20 for the new organization’s first volunteers’ meeting. Attending was Sebastien Duverne, Kelly L’Archevêque, Chris L., Mary Perchanok, Charles Roburn, and Jim Royal.

The volunteer group spent about an hour brainstorming for a name for the new organization, based on discussions held earlier on the “After STC-Montreal” blog.

The group strongly preferred a bilingual name and acronym. Although the language of most technical writing in Montreal is English, and events held by the organization will primarily be in English, the group concluded that a bilingual name and French content on the web site might make the organization welcoming to a larger number of people.

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Volunteers Meeting February 20

We’ll be gathering for a volunteer’s meeting on Monday February 20 at the Press Café near the ETS school on Notre Dame. The time is 6:30 pm. Google Maps:

Topics will include the new organization’s name and what new types of events we will hold this year.

If you want to attend, and haven’t received an email on the subject in the last few days, just leave a comment below to let us know know you’re coming.


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Sneak Peek of the New Web Site

Along with a new identity, we’re going to need a new web site.

The current web site has some problems, as I alluded to in an earlier post. For example, the existing design is too event-oriented, which means that original articles tends to be under-emphasized.

The new design is intended to better differentiate between types of content, and make sure that original articles get better visibility. A second goal is to integrate this blog into the organization’s web site so we have a channel for informal chat.

At right is a wireframe mockup of the new design. There’s no colour, no graphics; just blocks where various types of content will go. Click to embiggen.

Be sure to view the graphic at 100% to get an idea of how much of the page will be visible on screen at one time.

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A Rose By Any Other Name

We need a name.

There’s been some informal discussion about a name for the new organization of technical writers in Montreal, but nothing definitive. We’ll have a meeting of volunteers next week to see if we can make any progress on the issue.

But in the meantime, here’s your opportunity to let loose with some ideas.

Some people feel that we should hew close to the old name — “technical communication” is a phrase that is well-understood. On the other hand, some argue that emulating STC too closely might limit opportunities for growth, and we should make a deliberate attempt to reach out to UX folks, science writers, aviation writers, and so on.

So, for example, in the first camp, we have:

CSTC Montreal — Canadian Society for Technical Communication

MATC — Montreal Association for Technical Communication

In the opposite camp, we have:

WOMBAT  — Writers of Montreal: Business and Technology

BEST — Business Engineering Science and Technology

MSCIP — Montreal Society for Cool and Interesting People

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Meeting Alan Houser

Update: It was a pleasure to meet Alan Houser. He was professional and cheerful, and listened attentively, even as people dumped their frustrations with STC on his head for two hours.

Attending the dinner meetup was myself, Andy Gural, Everett Larsen, Manny Gordon, Poppy Quintal, and Susan Armstrong.

Alan commented that we have caught the attention of the mothership. In particular, he was impressed by the resurgence of interest and enthusiasm here in Montreal, and he wondered aloud about how STC could capture even a small part of that excitement and energy in its own operations.

Alan took notes throughout our meeting. I do hope he came away with something useful. We discussed the high membership fees, the lack of communication about STC’s finances, the sense that chapters are no longer important to STC, and the value (or lack thereof, depending on where you stand) that STC brings to the community of technical writers.

I challenged Alan to think about STC’s problems as structural, to consider the possibility that, in order to survive, STC may have to become an entirely different kind of entity. Regardless of our feelings about STC’s performance over the last several years, I think the tech writing community would be poorer if it disappeared.

A handful of the (soon to be former) members of STC-Montreal admin council are meeting up with STC Vice President Alan Houser this evening, Monday Feb 13, at Hotel de la Montagne.

If you’ve been reading the comments on this site and on, you’ll know that Alan is in town today, and wanted to touch base with us. Anyone who wishes to join in the discussion is welcome to come. I’ll be there between 6:00 and 6:30.


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Poll: New Activities

The new organization should have at least one or two new types of activities in its calendar. Lecture events will always be a staple, but I think we need new activities aimed at evoking participation rather than passive attendance.

Below are the activities in mentioned in the proposal. This is not an exhaustive list, so feel free to suggest your own.

  • Book Club
  • Group Charitable Events
  • Grub Crawl
  • Pecha Kucha 20×20
  • Public Speaking Practice
  • Writers Circle
  • Writers in the Pub

Please post a comment listing your three favorites in order of preference. And a absolutely suggest your own! I’ll collate the results and post them.

These kinds of decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. Your voice in the matter really counts.


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Looking for a Timid Trapeeze Arist

Seth Godin posted the following today:

Looking for a Timid Trapeeze Arist

Good luck with that, there aren’t any.

If you hesitate when leaping from rope to another, you’re not going to last very long.

And this is at the heart of what makes innovation work in organizations, why industries die, and how painful it is to try to maintain the status quo while also participating in a revolution.

Gather up as much speed as you can, find a path and let go. You can’t get to the next rope if you’re still holding on to this one.

I thought it was relevant.

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Membership Versus Friends-Of

Starting today, I’m going to separate out the various elements of the new org proposal, and put them up for discussion.

One of the elements of the proposal that has gotten the most attention is the idea of “Friends of the Organization.”

To recap, the new organization cannot rely solely on workshops alone for funding. The revenue is too unpredictable, and some types of events require initial outlay of funds. So I contrasted membership with an alternative donation model.


  • Includes discounts for events
  • Includes the right to vote for the admin council
  • Has a limited duration
  • Requires the organization to maintain a separate mailing list
  • Requires the organization to track member IDs at events, and expiry dates


  • Does not include discounts for events
  • Includes the privilege to vote on select issues
  • Is open-ended (but you’ll get solicited for more donations PBS-style)
  • Requires the organization to maintain a separate mailing list
  • Does not require the organization to track individual IDs

I initially described the Friends concept as including discounts, and this was an error. It makes the distinction between the concepts too fine, and the workload for volunteers too similar.

The reasons I’ve been shying away from a membership model are twofold:

  1. To minimize the workload for the organization’s volunteers.
  2. To change the mental landscape of the organization’s audience. Membership is what STC does. I think we need people to have a more immediate and personal relationship with this organization. Yes, there’s a contrarian aspect of “if STC does it, we should do the opposite” to this idea. But that can work in our favor by helping to present the new organization as an entirely different animal from STC.

(Side note: I really need a more concise term than “new organization” for this project. Any suggestions?)

In both of these options, an increase in communicativeness over STC-Montreal’s prior habits is necessary and planned.

I’m also in the process of researching CRM tools that integrate with PayPal and WordPress and/or Google Docs (which is what we use for internal communication).

Some of the feedback to date has been:

  • The problem with STC is not the membership model, but the exorbitant fee.
  • “Friends of the Organization” status is basically membership under a different name.
  • Donations require tax receipts.

So given the above, is STC-style membership the preferred option? Does it send the right marketing message? Is it really not that much more work?

Please chime in.


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Learning to Blog

One of the shortcomings of STC-Montreal over the last several years was that it rarely spoke about itself. I want to change that in the new organization.

The structural problems that brought the chapter to the point of unsustainability were known for four or five years.  And yet in all that time, the chapter leadership rarely commented. For the last two years, the chapter was utterly silent on any matters of its operations.

In retrospect, part of that was my fault. I designed the current web site to be oriented toward news and events. I had decided that the newsletter was too chatty, and I wanted something crisper. Yet I realize now that decision had ramifications, leading to a public voice for the chapter that was often sterile.

It’s also true that that no one in the admin council wanted to be the voice of constant bad news: declining membership, declining funding, and a declining economy were not subjects that people wanted to hash over in a public forum. Everyone involved was simply working too hard at treading water, and couldn’t find anything positive to say without expressing false cheer.

As a result, we created a one-way relationship between the chapter and its audience. The lack of outgoining communication inhibited incoming communication.

That has to change. And I have to change.

Part of the reason for this blog is not just to have a place to discuss the new organization. It’s to relearn how to communicate. If there is going to be a renaissance for the tech writing community in Montreal, we all have to learn new habits of communication, and that starts with me.

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