Announcing the Tech Comm Nightmares Before Christmas Contest!

image © Disney, Touchstone Pictures

By Mellissa Ruryk

Cue the spooky music…

STC’s 2020 Most Improved Community—Instructional Design & Learning SIG—is holding a fun social event and contest open to all STC members.

Contest details

To enter the contest, write a short (500 word) description of your worst nightmare connected to your work as a technical communicator, that actually happened to you. Names can be changed to protect the guilty!

Were you teaching a class with your fly open? Burst a button on your blouse revealing your bra? Wardrobe malfunctions aside, how about missing a typo in the company name on the front page of the new brochure, printed on the most expensive paper ever?  How about printing 100s of a new SOP with the approving VP’s name misspelled?

Practitioners, bring us your worst technical communication disasters. Your pain can be your gain! STC student members will judge the entries and award 3 prizes. 

Send your contest entries to before November 30, 2021.


Judging criteria will be along the lines of:

  • How many people saw the mistake?
  • What was the dollar cost and/or number of hours to recover from the nightmare?
  • How long did you work on the project without clueing into the nightmare?

Announcing the Winners

On Fri, December 3, 2021, from 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM EST at the IDL’s First Fridays @ Five Zoom social, we’ll announce the winners and ask the authors to read their entry to us. All entries will also be published in the Q4 issue of our award-winning IDeaL newsletter (publication date: December 31, 2021).

Free Registration for all!

Please register for the event so we can stay in touch with you and send you friendly reminders.

Register to attend even if you are not submitting a nightmare. We need an audience!

It’s free to attend for all:

  • Students
  • academics
  • practitioners
  • STC members
  • STC non-members
  • job seekers
  • volunteers
  • future volunteers
  • curious explorers


The IDL SIG has a couple of corporate sponsors who are generously underwriting the prizes:

  • First prize is a $35 Amazon gift card, courtesy of TEK-Right Consulting Ltd.
  • Second prize is a $25 Amazon gift card, courtesy of Imperial Productions
  • Third prize is a $15 Amazon gift card, also courtesy of Imperial Productions

And, yes: if you’ve messed up more than once—go ahead and submit more than one NIGHTMARE!

Featured: Create Accessible Social Media Posts

by Jannetta Lamourt

“Disability is part of the human experience and one of the variables that contribute to the rich diversity of our nation.  Disability is not a static condition—people can experience a disability from birth or develop a disability due to genetics, aging, or trauma.  Disability does not discriminate—anyone can acquire a disability, at any time.” (U.S. Dept of Education)

Accessibility = able to access

We understand the need for wheelchair ramps, Braille signs, and crosswalk beacons in a physical world. But why does accessibility matter in social media?  

Over 40 million people in America report some level of disability in their daily lives.  Social media as a tool for connection is vital for those who cannot leave home or who find the outside world challenging to navigate or to connect to, socially.  Accessibility design in social media means handling the text and images in an “inclusive design” to assist as many people as possible. Luckily, anything you add or change to make text or images accessible makes it accessible for all viewers. 

Whether for personal or business needs, follow these tips for writing and displaying social media content. You’ll stand out in a world of websites that ignore accessibility:

1. Plain Language Required 

Have you heard of the Plain Writing Act of 2010? It requires government agencies to use precise language in documents presented to the public following the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. The people reading the documents must be able to:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find to meet their needs (Source: FPLG)

The goal for these guidelines applies to any document or social media message—clear, correct, and understandable. 

2. Closed Captions

While closed captioning is common on television, much of the current social media content lacks audio cues or an enriched description of sounds and background music.  Subtitles only provide the text for the spoken words and, while helpful, do not ignite the imagination of those people with hearing impairments.

3. Text Descriptions for Images

Consider an image of a red ball in a blog post.  Alternative Text or “Alt Text” is a brief written description for online images. It completes the picture for the sight disabled beyond the facts. A child with a ball tells the listener the basics, but alt text describes the child “as a toddler holding a large red ball in a blue snowsuit.”  Alt text also enhances your search engine optimization (SEO) and displays when an image file cannot load for technical or security reasons.  

4. Strong Color Contrast 

Choose colors for backgrounds and text with a significant difference in light and dark tones. Additionally, colorful text against a dark background is tricky for people with sight-impairments to read accurately.  Best practice requires a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio.  Online tools such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Color Contrast Checker help the writer or designer check the color balance and text readability on the webpage. 

5. Camel Case for Hashtags

Hashtags present a different issue for screen readers. Using the camel case method, which uses capital letters to distinguish between words, benefits many. Which is easier to understand, #HeLovesFlyingSquirrels or @helovesflyingsquirrels?

6. Descriptive Calls-To-Action (CTA)

As a technical or UX writer, call to action text tells the reader what action to take to fulfill the primary goal, such as, Buy now or Learn more on buttons embedded into a webpage or social post. Without a concise and direct CTA, a catalog page with many links to products may confuse the listener when read out by adaptive technology. 

  • Use unique link text
  • Keep the text short yet meaningful
  • Link two words rather than one 
  • Do not use the word “link” as a link in your text

In addition, consider the length and content of the embedded URL. It’s best to use dedicated URLs for content.  Imagine speaking the following URL:  versus Keyboard users or users who cannot move their hands or click a mouse can better navigate the second URL. 

Writing content to enhance the experience for all people is vital in today’s diverse world.  Take the time to consider how your web content adds context and clarity for all users —it is the right thing to do. 


Jannetta Lamourt 

Sept 21, 2021 

STC IDL SIG Social Media Director

Featured: Words to Use and Not Use

by Mellissa Ruryk

Trying to think of an exciting topic for my contribution to the IDL newsletter, I remembered that our Programs volunteer, Viqui Dill, was published in the May/June 2021 issue of intercom, theme of which was Inclusivity in Technical Communication. Her article was about how to become an ally of neurodiverse persons. It also reminded me of our upcoming First Fridays at 5 session on October 1, called The meaning of words—learnings from health care, presented by Kristie Nicol.

I thought of the many articles I’ve read this year on diversity, the topics of gender identity, “political correctness,” “cancel culture,” and language inclusivity. I am also a member of the #deiap-stc channel in the STC Slack Workspace.


I researched and gathered some choice words and phrases that perpetuate harmful and inaccurate stereotypes; I added a few of my own. The sidebar discusses why stereotypes contribute to bias.

Please comment on this topic—which words did I miss? I want to engage with anyone who wants to discuss these concepts more.

Exclusive or stereotyping term Inclusive choices Notes
Black hat unethical Using black to indicate something bad, wrong or undesirable.
Blacklist deny (or denied) list See above.
Dear Sirs Ladies and gentlemen, Dear Sir or Madam, Dear _[Accounting]_ team, To Whom It May Concern, Dear Mx _[Smith]_ The first two alternates do not improve the situation, methinks. If you are addressing a résumé, Dear Hiring Manager is a better choice. Do a bit of detective work and find out the preferred salutation for a specific individual. “To whom it may concern” always works but again indicates you didn’t do your homework.
Dumb Silly, dorky, cheesy, nonsensical, illogical; mute, non-verbal There are differences between those who cannot or will not speak. May be used to describe those who do not speak the language of the majority in power (i.e., animals).
“Falling on deaf ears” “ignoring” or “choosing not to engage” Deafness is not a choice.
Female woman “Female” is a scientific term that refers to the sex of a species that is capable of producing children. The term “woman” refers specifically to human beings, while “female” could refer to any species.

Reducing a woman to her reproductive abilities is dehumanizing and exclusionary.

Also, not all women are biologically female, and to make “female” equal to “woman” erases gender-nonconforming people and members of the trans community.

“Female” part Slot, receptacle, socket Heteronormative and cisnormative; implies that there is only one way to mate and that only these shapes are “normal” and therefore acceptable.
Gay (as in “that’s so gay” or “don’t be so gay”) Bad, stupid Implies that being gay or appearing to be gay is bad, wrong, or stupid; a term of bullying.
Girls Women The only acceptable use is for females prior to puberty (unless used by a woman about women, akin to PoC calling themselves by the N-word). Use by men is frequently sexist or patronizing (or both).
Gyp Cheat, cozen, swindle Stereotype of thieving Gypsies (properly called Roma or Romani); originates from identifying their culture with Egypt instead of northern India.
Jew Bargain, negotiate (with “down”) Persistent anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish people being cheap or miserly.
Ladies and Gentlemen Women and men, everyone Both terms imply a background and education to which many people have not or cannot attain for a wide variety of reasons. Saying “Attention, everyone” sidesteps the entire controversy.
Lame Bad, awful, gross, uncool, tacky, corny Lame (adj) should only be used to describe a difficulty with walking.
Male Connector, plug, pin, prong See female, above.
Master (adjective) primary, main, original, source The term has colonial overtones, indicating dominance or authority.
Master (noun) controller or server As above.
Mental illnesses (Psycho, schizo, manic, bipolar, etc.) Erratic, disturbed, eccentric, back and forth, unstable, two-faced Misuse of psychiatric terms can harm people who need help but are unwilling to seek it lest they be labelled as one with such undesirable traits or malfunctions. Most lay people misunderstand the true expressions of these conditions and diseases and misapply them (thus actually making themselves appear uneducated as well as exclusionary).
Niggardly Parsimonious, cheap, miserly, greedy If you are a “The Good Fight” fan as I am, you will recall the recent (2021) episode where Court 9¾ heard the case of a professor who used this term and caused an uproar. Despite it having absolutely nothing to do with a racial slur, it sounds offensive and can easily (and should) be avoided.
Normal Typical, usual With no clear definition of what “normal” is, being labelled abnormal can cause people to feel defensive.  A personal aside: one of my favourite jokes is that “Normal is what you call someone you don’t know very well.”
Retarded Frustrating, pointless, annoying, irritating, obnoxious, foolish, silly Equates a mental or developmental disability with incompetence or stupidity.  Reinforces a negative stereotype that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be segregated, hidden away from society.
Slave (adjective) Secondary, helper, standby Term has colonial overtones, indicating subservience or powerlessess; also has a connotation of racial discrimination.
Slave (noun) agent or client See above.
Welsh or welch (on a debt) Renege, do not pay [a debt], shortchange Persistent anti-Welsh stereotype of people from Wales being unreliable or dishonest.
White hat ethical Using white to indicate something good, correct or desirable.
Whitelist permit ( or permitted) list See above.


This excerpt from the INCITS Inclusive Terminology Guidelines addresses the context for deciding when a term is not inclusive:

Guideline 4. Negative Connotations

If some individuals subjectively experience negative connotations with a term, then it is not inclusive and should be replaced with an inclusive term. There does not need to be consensus that a term has negative connotations; instead, there should be consensus that a term does not have negative connotations. A term with negative connotations can be used intentionally, accidentally (without the author’s awareness), or via incorrect usage (e.g. used for one intention but results in another consequence). The author’s intent or belief that the use of the term with negative connotations should be acceptable, or the length of time that the term with negative connotations has been used, is not sufficient to justify its use. (emphases added)

Resource links and additional reading

STC Slack channel #deiap-stc

Summit 2021: Finding Access in a Virtual World

By Anita Matechuk

Living in a northern community has its benefits. For example, the scenery is breathtaking and heavy traffic means my 5-minute commute across town turns to 10 minutes. However, access is not one of them, as the nearest city is an 8 ½ hour drive away. We have an airport, but the planes are so small that there isn’t assigned seating, and flights are expensive. So you get used to your company not including you in functions, as flights are too expensive and you would spend more time traveling than at the event.

When I heard how organizations and activities were going virtual, I started researching my options. I now had more access to schooling, work, and events; and I was excited to participate. For example, companies offering remote work meant I had access to jobs outside my community, and I couldn’t wait to discover what was available.

Not only could I choose a new career in Tech Comm, but I could take training in it from any school I wanted. It just so happened that the school I wanted offered my desired program virtually even before the pandemic. Still, I would never have expected it before.

Converting my quilting guild to a virtual guild showed me how many people had wanted to be a part of the in-person guild but could not attend. Mobility, travel, and childcare concerns had prevented some members from joining, and our virtual guild now provides them access.

I’m taking advantage of every virtual activity I can, from quilting retreats to STC’s Summit. This year might be my only year to attend a live Summit, and I wasn’t going to miss out. Being a student volunteer made me attend sessions I would never have attempted on my own. Granted, some of them were beyond my skill level, but I learned something from all of them.

I didn’t hear the din of a massive crowd in a conference room. The hush that takes over as a presenter steps up to speak. Still, I did get to hear friends talk about how good it was to see each other and colleagues discuss different aspects of their jobs. The smell of coffee came only from my cup, but I won’t forget how I didn’t feel alone rushing from session to session and smiling at a few technical whoops.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Summit, and I hope that someday I might attend again.

SUMMIT 2021: An Event for Learning and Connecting

by Ruth-Anne Klassen

This past June, I worked as a Student Volunteer for the Society of Technical Communication Summit. It was my first time at the conference, and I learned a lot about STC’s programs and opportunities. Technical communicators come to Summit to improve in the areas of writing, technology, career and leadership, and wellness. Because the event was held virtually, attendees could join from anywhere in the world. 

The conference offered both work-related and casual experiences. There were daily opportunities for networking with STC leadership as well as with other conference attendees. Some sessions offered a presenter, giving tips and tricks on using common software, or promoting a promising technology. Others addressed common frustrations that technical communicators experience—such as unresponsive SMEs—and some examined what diversity and inclusion looks like for professionals. The wide range of topics covered offered attendees many benefits for their careers. Along with professional development sessions, attendees also took in entertainment, such as a magician’s show. To appreciate work and achievements from the past year, the STC Honors Event recognized award and scholarship recipients, along with showcasing artistic talent from STC members and guest musician Rich Franklin. 

While technical communication professionals learned about forwarding their craft and career, I garnered a rich experience from helping attendees and helping STC achieve their missions and goals. Live speaker sessions presented via Zoom gave attendees the feel of a live event, while SimuLive sessions in the Engagez platform allowed speakers and attendees to interact during pre-recorded presentations. In both types of sessions, I supported attendees by monitoring the chat feed for questions, either directed at the speakers or asking for technical support. If live presenters preferred, I would read questions and comments to them. I also checked the clock on live sessions, notifying speakers when they were almost out of time. For SimuLive sessions I ensured that the presenter’s PowerPoint presentation and any supporting documents were accessible to the audience. 

Along with helping conference attendees, I represented the STC by reminding conference attendees about the feedback surveys, where they could tell the STC about what did or did not work in the sessions, and in the conference in general. 

I also benefited from volunteering at the conference. As a big-time introvert, it was a great learning experience for me to interact with speakers and attendees. I met other student volunteers and other STC members that would be in my corner while I launch my career as a technical writer. The best part was learning that STC members are a passionate, knowledgeable group of people who are a blast to be around. In short, the STC Summit 2021 was a valuable and fulfilling event, and I would recommend that people join us at Summit 2022!