The many rewards of membership cause me to renew every year—for myself and my clients

Think of your life-changing moments. Rewarding, aren’t they? I had one in the spring of 1995 when two local technical writers asked me to join them and others to start the Vermont chapter of the Society for Technical Communication—STC. Sounds worthwhile. Sure, I’ll join.

the-rough-draftsAnd with that simple decision, I embarked on an incredible journey that has enhanced both my personal and professional life far beyond any heights that I could have imagined. To that, I am indebted to STC and its members.

Renewing my membership. I gain so much as an STC member, learning and applying an abundance of skills over these past fifteen years. My career has been enhanced, and my clients have benefited. Membership has opened new venues for me, some that I couldn’t possibly have envisioned. I simply cannot imagine being a professional technical communicator and not belonging to the one organization that supports and promotes that profession—STC.

This is a simple decision for me. I simply rejoin.

Continue reading The Value of STC

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The final installment of the tenets that enable you to sharpen your communication

As previous entries have discussed, your communication must focus on the needs of your audience (not on you). Understanding your audience and making sure they receive and act on the information in the manner you intended is paramount to effective communication. Toward this end, we continue our discussion of the ten tenets of effective communication, focusing on the last four tenets:


  • Correct
  • Timely
  • Well designed
  • And it builds goodwill too

Correct. A correct document complies with the basic rules of writing: grammar, punctuation, mechanics, spelling, word order and usage, and sentence structure. Incorrect writing slows readers and confuses them.

Given too many of these kinds of errors, readers begin to question the validity and accuracy of your writing, and wonder if you were also this careless in researching, analyzing, and presenting your findings. Readers begin to doubt your professionalism, which in turn compromises your arguments, conclusions, and recommendations.

There are dozens of books on the basics of writing. Find one you like, keep it nearby, and refer to it often.

Continue reading The Ten Tenets of Effective Communication (Part 3 of 3)

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You can create enduring relationships with your readers when you adhere to these tenets

To be most effective, your communication must focus on the needs of your audience. When you write, understand your audience, and make sure they will receive and act on the information in the manner you intended. Toward this end, we continue our discussion of the ten tenets of effective communication, focusing on the next four tenets:


  • Accurate
  • Comprehensive
  • Accessible
  • Concise

Accurate. Get your facts straight. Even the slightest inaccuracy subjugates believability and can bring the contents of an entire document into question.

Inaccuracies can annoy and perplex an audience, especially when they know otherwise. And keep your own biases at bay when citing facts; remain objective. Compelling information presented accurately can still raise eyebrows; there is no need to overstate.

An occasional misstated fact can be tolerated, but attention to detail in this all important area is well worth the effort. The little bit of extra research that corrects a distortion goes a long way toward creating authoritative communication.

In a presentation, I once used the quote “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut”, which had been attributed to author Robert Newton Peck. When I called him to verify this attribution, Mr Peck set the record straight. He told me, “Samuel Johnson said that.”

Accuracy is ethical.

Continue reading The Ten Tenets of Effective Communication (Part 2 of 3)

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Both you and your audience benefit when your communication adheres to these tenets

Effective communication is about connecting with your audience. It’s about your audience getting your message as you intended. It begins with understanding who your audience is and how they can best ‘hear’ your message, then using this information to craft and deliver your message. This is simply another way of saying that your message, whether written, verbal, or visual, must be audience-centered—focused around the needs of your audience. Put yet another way, communication is less about you and all about them.

Effective communication is simple and clear, focuses around a single idea, and ultimately achieves the results you desire.

columnsTo be most effective, your communication must adhere to these ten tenets. Effective communication is:

  • Honest,
  • Clear,
  • Accurate,
  • Comprehensive,
  • Accessible,
  • Concise,
  • Correct,
  • Timely, and
  • Well designed.
  • It builds goodwill too.

Let’s start with a discussion of the first two and then continue with the remaining eight over my next two blog entries.

Continue reading The Ten Tenets of Effective Communication (Part 1 of 3)

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From lost relationships to steep financial penalties, the price of poor communication is high

Poor communication costs business millions of dollars every single day. Most executives and managers understand this, yet they don’t realize how big a part they play in this miscommunication.

cemetary-stonesFinancial statements do not carry a line item for poor communication, although they should since, with a little effort, it can quickly be quantified.

Communication is vital to the success of your organization. To be most effective, communication must circulate and reach all levels, not just the core.

Different forms of poor communication. Here are but a few:

  • Long, unproductive, numbing meetings without a clear purpose or agenda, often reaching no conclusions, result in lost productivity as well as the collective time of everyone attending.
  • Poor documentation neglects to mention the purpose of the software or hardware and only explains how it works. Users, however, don’t care how it works; they want to know how to use it!
  • Uninspired selling skills and anemic sales presentations showing no interest or understanding of a prospect’s needs, result in missed opportunities and lost sales.

Continue reading The Costs of Poor Communication

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An ironic approach to purposeful writing.

Being a writer, I follow a fairly strict process when writing—the same process that I preach about when teaching clients how to write: Pre-writing: planning and drafting; Reviewing: rewriting and revising; and Finishing: editing, applying mechanics, and formatting.

I’ve taught this process to many people (including my children). After all, there is a very good reason: it works!

tyler-kaena-point-rainbowThe Pre-writing phase allows you to identify who you are writing for (your audience) and what you want to say to them; to identify the purpose of your writing, to determine the points you want to make and enumerate them; to begin drafting your ideas based on these points to get your thoughts on paper without restriction. This is where the bulk of your writing can take place.

The Reviewing phase enables you to clarify your draft: to embellish your words, to add more details, to tighten up your text, to clear up any ambiguities, to sequence thoughts better, to ensure your text speaks to your purpose, to delete anything that runs astray, to cut off tangents, to sharpen.

The Finishing phase is where you edit: to employ better words, to fix grammatical infractions, to correct mechanical errors, to change punctuation, to format for clarity and understanding.

Imagine my consternation, then—with a bit of a smile—when I received the following analysis of the process my son employs for writing papers (including email and IM) at university. In his own words…

Continue reading Writing 201: Analyzing the Writing Process

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Our names are special to us. We truly enjoy to hear others utter them. Names create a connection that moves beyond the mundane, the everyday transactions of life.

around-the-fountainLast week, I went skiing with my teenage son. All the people working at the ski resort wore name tags: the ticket booth personnel, the instructors, the ski patrol, the lift operators. I decided to address each of them by their names which, not surprisingly, always engendered a small conversation, and many times, some unsolicited revelations about the ski resort.

Names elevate any conversation, any interaction: from your close friends to the tech support person; from the ski lift operator to the grocery store cashier.

two-italian-menNames are humanity. Abbie, Tyler, Alita, Torin, Kevin, Tommy, Gary, Tom, Jem, Anne, Ann, Martha, Suzanne, Bill, Bob, Chris, Jeff, Cathy, Michael, David, Rob, Steph, Patti, Sean, Matt, Cyndy, Alice, Bonnie, Becky, Becca, Katrina, Kristin, Peter, Karl, Jasmine, Ione, Gina, Evelina, Charlie, Henry, Eric, Molly, Chino, Paul, Carolyn, Jean, Gene, Geoff, Fred, Olga, Connie, Irene, Max, Sharon, Ted, Shelley, Rachel, Tony, Rose, Jenny, John, Rick, Wendy, Mark, Diane, Scott, Priscilla, Joe, Barbara, Pam, Sally, Marie, Jay, Mary, Pilar, Andrew, Kathy, Laura, Duane, Dan, Keith, Stephen, Maria, Dorothy.

Did you look to see if I included your name? Most likely you did. Sorry if I didn’t list it.

So I use names, as much as I can. Names are humanity.

–Rich Maggiani

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Deer slept in our backyard last night. They have been sleeping in the yard, on and off, for about two months now, since the beginning of the snow and cold. This has happened enough times that, in the morning, I have made it a habit to see if the deer forayed into the yard the previous evening.

deer-bedBy now you realize that I live in a rural setting with my small family, on about an acre of land surrounded by large tracts of wooded areas dotted sparsely with some homes.

The deer slip out from the surrounding woods and find the one place in the yard where there was a garden. They root around for whatever they can find to eat, then lie down to sleep. My wife — it being her garden — was the first to notice.

It’s unusual for deer to sleep in the open, so their making beds in the middle of our yard seems quite strange. And yet, the deer somehow have found refuge there, enough that they return now and again.

While contemplating this small bit of nature one morning, it struck me that the deer had found a bit of nourishment in that small garden and a piece of humanity in our yard. Which, naturally, spawned the idea for this blog.

I hope you find a bit of humanity in these posts, something you can bring to your everyday lives.

–Rich Maggiani

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