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Issue 70, 10 March 2003

ISSN 1442-8652

Editor: Jean Hollis Weber

In this issue...

Moving into scientific editing
On the Web: screens, windows, pages?
Editing for accessibility
An example of visual accessibility problems
Sixth Annual Australasian Online Documentation Conference (AODC)
My books: Taming Microsoft Word and others
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This issue contains some correspondence. Please note that I do not publish correspondents' names or addresses without their permission. If you do write, and you don't want your letter published, even anonymously, then say so in the note.

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Moving into scientific editing

Technical editors often ask how they might be able to move into the field of scientific editing. Here are two of the responses that were posted to the STC Technical Editing SIG's message board last year.

Margaret Cekis:
"My first scientific editing job was for a research institute affiliated with IIT in Chicago where I got my degree. If any universities near you have research departments or research institutes affiliated with them, I'd send them each a resume with your business card. Also attend any public lectures, open houses, etc. at the university or the research institutions, and mingle to make some contacts. Then mention your interest in scientific editing, your other editing experience, and ask for suggestions on how to let the researchers find out about you. Be sure to hand out your business cards as you go. Also offer editing services to the science and or engineering departments to edit theses or dissertations for foreign graduate students. Many departments require their graduates with poor English skills to pay to have their theses or dissertations edited to meet department or industry guidelines. Once you have done a couple, word of mouth will bring you others. If those folks continue their research in an organization affiliated with the same university, soon you will get some requests to edit scientific papers or articles for others at those organizations. Then you can list published articles that you edited."

Elaine Firestone:
"The ideal is to have a science background. Barring that, if you don't have a science background, try taking some science courses at a local community college and in the process, offer your editing services to your professors (assuming you like the science you're learning, that is). The other way is to try getting a job with a firm that hires scientific editors. Sometimes a firm will hire you on the strength of your editing skills in general, with the faith that you'll eventually learn the science aspects over time."

STCTESIG-L is a discussion group run by the Technical Editing special interest group of the Society for Technical Communication. You are encouraged, but not required, to join the STC and the SIG, if you want to read and contribute to this list. To subscribe or visit the archives, go to the Web site at

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On the Web: screens, windows, pages?

A correspondent wrote,
"I'm reviewing some guides for a web application (internal company system). In the guides, specific pages of the app are referred to as "the xxx screen" or "the xxx window", which I feel is not appropriate (these are terms I'd use for Windows GUI or mainframe apps). My instinct is to change the references to "the xxxx page", but I can't find a single source to back me up (or to contradict me, for that matter).

"I have looked around at the customer help on a few retail web sites: Amazon & Woolworths Home Shop. Both of these use the term "page", although the term is used sparingly. Wherever possible, they just link directly to the page being discussed (I was reading built-in help info at the sites).

"Can you shed some light, or point to an appropriate terminology resource?"

I replied,
I agree, the term should be "page" but I can't immediately put my hands on a reference to back me up (though I'm sure such a reference exists). I understand that both the Microsoft and Sun style guides are being updated to include more terms for web-based apps and docs. Not that that's much help to you right now!

Can any readers suggest some authoritative references on this subject -- preferably available online?

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Editing for accessibility

Do you need to come up to speed on the requirements and recommendations for information accessibility? Many of the issues relevant to website accessibility apply equally to other electronic media, including online help and video training. Special-needs audiences include users with vision, hearing, movement, and cognitive disabilities (and possibly others that I haven't thought of).

In fact, I've come to think most of us fit into at least one of the "special needs" categories, even if only occasionally, and therefore we ought to stop thinking of "special needs" as "special" -- and thus different -- but rather just part of the normal human range of abilities. And therefore part of the audience that we should be catering for as a matter of course.

Of course, even if you agree with me, you may need to bring in some authoritative sources to back you up with management. A good place to start is

Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. Using this web site, Federal employees and the public can access resources for understanding and implementing the requirements of Section 508.

To see where the US government is heading, visit

If you're not in the USA, your country may have equivalent legislation; but even if you're not legally required to produce accessible materials, you might want to do so -- it's definitely good business to be inclusive.

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An example of visual accessibility problems

Someone suggested that Boxes and Arrows was a "site devoted to information architecture, usability, and user experience, especially its how-to subsite."

My reaction: That site may (or may not) be full of useful, practical information, but for me it's almost unreadable. It uses a tiny font that won't enlarge enough for my eyes to see, and grey-on-grey in the navigation bar -- not exactly a good example of usability! (See note at the end of this article.)

When I mentioned this on a list, Dick Margulis wrote to suggest: "the text enlarges easily with Ctrl+MouseWheel. It doesn't work in IE, though. So if you happen on a site that you actually want to use (unlike this one, which I don't like any better than you do) but are having font size problems, try it in NN6. The other approach is to open it using Acrobat (File > Open Web Page) and then just zoom as needed in Acrobat."

To which I replied, "Thanks for the observation and suggestions. As it happens, I was using IE, though at various times I do use NN6 or Opera as a way of dealing with difficult websites in the rare instance that I want to go to the trouble. It seemed rather odd to me that a site supposedly containing info on usability and user experience would have such a user-hostile design."

Dick Margulis then said, "A coworker once sent me to a site that was all about typography but was itself completely unreadable -- yards of tiny white text on a light gray background IIRC. The little bit of content I struggled to read was actually pretty well written and contained some decent guidelines. I wish the graphic artist who wrote and designed the site had paid attention to his own advice, though."

(Note: the Boxes and Arrows site has since been changed to be quite acceptable, and even has a link on each page to a "large font" version. Good work!)

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Sixth Annual Australasian Online Documentation Conference (AODC)

The 6th Annual Australasian Online Documentation Conference will be held 9-11 April at the Grand Mercure Hotel Broadbeach, Gold Coast, Queensland.

AODC 2003 offers an important opportunity to learn more about online documentation, help system development, hypertext techniques, and emerging technologies, in addition to the benefits of networking with other delegates from around Australia and New Zealand. This year the focus is on competencies: consolidating and improving online techniques and skills.

The sessions cover techniques, such as indexing online documents, usability, writing better online information, and navigation strategies, as well as case studies and technologies. This year, the sessions covering technology skills include Cascading Style Sheets, XML, DHTML, Flash and advanced Acrobat, as well as HTML Help and Web-based Help. XML is becoming increasingly important, and we are focussing on what is particularly relevant to technical communicators.

The Conference will feature a collection of expert speakers, including Dave Gash (USA), Dr Tom James (UK), Tony Self (AUS), Gerry Gaffney (AUS), Nick Carr (AUS), and many more.

Three pre-conference workshops will be held on Tuesday 8 April: Welcome to Online Documentation, Unleashing Cascading Style Sheets, and Planning Successful Help Projects.

Full details, including registration information, are at Contact Penny at or on +61 3 9803 8291 for a brochure or further information.

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My books: Taming Microsoft Word and others

Taming Microsoft Word (3 editions, for Word 2002, 2000, and 97)
Editing Online Help
Electronic Editing

Coming in April -- Taming Writer
Draft table of contents is here:

© Copyright 2003, Jean Hollis Weber. All rights reserved.

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