SIG News Roundup

SIG News Roundup

by Marcia Shannon, Secretary

The first quarter of 2017 may be history, but if you made a resolution to become more involved, opportunities are always available. Is there a webinar topic you would like to see or present? Do you have ideas for attracting new members? Can you give a couple of hours a month toward keeping the IDL SIG strong and active? Whatever you contribute, you will find that you benefit even more by gaining new contacts and new ideas.

If you are attending Summit, we will be there is several ways, from session presenters to information tables to the SIG Business Meeting. Plan to attend the meeting and put faces to the names you hear each month. Summit provides a great opportunity to network and learn; I always find it a worthwhile experience.

Connect to our award-winning IDL SIG via social media to stay informed, share your IDL news and views, and publicize your involvement at your local STC events. Find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Reminder: All SIG members are welcome at our monthly leadership meeting. Follow the login instructions in your monthly email to login to the online meeting. This is a great way to find out what is happening in the SIG. The co-managers share the latest news from STC, the committee leaders report on their events and activities, and questions from the “floor” are always welcome. Make the 4th Wednesday of each month your “connect and contribute” day for the SIG.

Engaging the Reluctant Learner

By Leland Stoe

Most of us have been on the other end. We’ve sat through training in various formats and wondered when and where we would ever apply the knowledge. If you’re like me, you’ve even rolled your eyes, at least figuratively. You may have thought, “What a waste of time.” However, the battle to win over the reluctant learner is not futile.

For a recent college class, I created an online training
module targeting an audience of what I found to be
reluctant learners. I learned a lot firsthand and hope
that my experience can help you reach your reluctant

Here are 10 keys to consider when reaching out to reluctant learners:

1. Define and write your learning objectives first.

Written objectives serve as a compass to guide your project. Remember to consider business and safety aspects as you write. Keep your objectives by your side and refer to them often, especially if you suspect you may be veering off the path. Learning is more achievable when every part of the material supports one or more objectives.

2. Analyze your learners.

Get to know your learners through a variety of means. Try using short online surveys, personal observations or interviews. By conducting research up front, you’ll be prepared to reach your learners in the most appropriate ways. You’ll learn about their learning preferences, work environment, attitude toward learning and such. This gives you the best chance of connecting with your learners. The best outcomes result from meaningful research. Such analysis is foundational to your process.

3. Communicate the WIIFMs immediately.

Give learners the “What’s in it for me?” to encourage them to engage and care about the material. If you’ve analyzed your learners, the WIIFMs are likely to pop out at you. Don’t forget to tell learners why this training matters to the organization as well. Engaged learners have higher retention rates.

4. Keep your content compact.

Remember to focus on your objectives. Limit your material to those important aspects that support your written objectives. Ruthlessly weed out the remainder. I’ve never met anyone who enjoys wading through or listening to gobs of material. By compacting your material, you’ll show your learner that you value their time.

5. Leverage your learners’ preferred learning channels.

Present the material in ways that play to your learners’ natural preferences. This is where your audience analysis is critical. Some people prefer written material, while others prefer video or audio. Don’t be afraid to use multiple channels, especially when group members have differing preferences. The key is to use your audience analysis to maximize your reach.

6. Personalize the conversation.

Deliver your message in a conversational tone. Use your learner analysis findings to guide your words and technique. By creating a dialogue of sorts, you demonstrate to your learners that you understand them. They will feel respected. And when people feel connected, they are more likely to engage and care about the content.

7. Make learning fun.

Break free of the seriousness and lighten the mood. Reflect on your objectives and learner analysis, and find creative ways to break the monotony while fulfilling your purpose. Consider using a game rather that a test to determine how much your learners have absorbed. If you don’t have the skills or resources to create a game, try injecting humor into your training. It’s harder to be a disengaged learner when you are having fun.

8. Chunk it up.

Divide your content into manageable pieces. Many learners feel overwhelmed when faced with one long, unbroken session. They may also feel anxious about whether they can retain the material well enough to pass a cumulative test. Slip knowledge checks in at intervals to help your learners feel a sense of success and accomplishment along the way. Reducing their stress and anxiety can lead to better retention.

9. Tailor your content to the learners’ real-world settings.

Teach in a way that learners can emulate in their own world. One way to accomplish this is to use the same application or technology that the learners use. In addition, detailed concepts or instructions can be difficult for learners to remember, so make every effort to help them. This can be done by offering a printable job-aid, perhaps a simple mnemonic, showing key facts or processes. Such a tool helps learners apply their new knowledge or skill independently.

10. Teach using familiar terms and jargon.

Use simple and clear terminology. Resist the urge to use fancy words and acronyms unless they are familiar to your audience. Revisit your learner analysis if you’re unsure. Using big words often only complicates an already difficult learning process. You want your learners to focus on the material, not on trying to decipher the meaning.

Above all, remember that audience analysis forms the foundation for your content. How you gather this user-analysis data is less important than gathering revealing data, so explore creative avenues when researching your learners. Consider the whole person when brainstorming learner-analysis methods. There is no single recipe that works for every situation. Just focus on understanding your learners, and consider how you can best reach them. Think of your learners as customers, and do everything you can to satisfy them. Your learners will benefit from your diligence, and they will undoubtedly learn and retain more.

Implementing these 10 keys requires thoughtful planning, and that means spending more time up front. But the rewards are worth the investment. You’ll create userfocused content that has greater value to your reluctant learners, and you’ll do so more efficiently. Everybody wins.

Leland Stoe is an undergrad studying Technical Communications & Professional Writing at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is employed as a manufacturing engineer at a large Twin Cities aerospace company.

Part 2 of Page Layout: Understanding Sections in Word

Part 2 of Page Layout:
Understanding Sections in Word™

By Mellissa Ruryk

In our last column, we promised you a series of three columns focused entirely on the mechanical aspects of page layout: how do you make Word™ do what you want?

In the first column, we covered the basics of page layouts – that pages almost always have three elements (margins; headers or footers or both; and the body), and that there are four common combinations of those layout elements to make up a document:

  1. Simple page layout (headers and footers are the same on all pages of the document)
  2. Even/odd layout (headers and footers are the same on each odd-numbered page and on each even-numbered page, but not necessarily the same content or alignment in both)
  3. Different first page layout (a chapter or a section starts where the first page has a different combination of page elements than the rest of the pages in that section
  4. Complex page layout, which is some combination of two or more of these layouts.

We explained that all page layouts are governed by sections and header/footer settings. That’s the topic of this second column in the series.


Sections are divisions within a single document. Every document has at least one section (the default), and some documents have dozens of sections. Sections are typically used to mark the end of one style of page layout and begin a new one. Examples might include the front matter of a report or book (no page numbering used), a table of contents, and the main document content (both of which typically begin on page “1”). To make Word properly format each of these sections of your document, you need to create section breaks in your document.

The nomenclature gets difficult here because most technical writers deal with documents that have separate parts – for instance, a report or a manual – called sections, whereas books have chapters. A “chapter” in a book is an easily understood concept for which Word uses “sections”. Please note that in Word, these document divisions do not correspond on a one-to-one basis to the sections of a document. A document’s section (or chapter) in Word can be made up of one or more Word sections. To ensure you, dear reader, do not become confused, I am going to continue to talk about chapters even though you may be creating a report document and not a book. Otherwise, I might have to capitalize ‘Word Section’ to differentiate them from document sections; a danger which may not only become tedious but potentially confusing.

Sections are required for complex layouts. If your document has a complex layout, configure your sections before configuring your headers and footers.

What sections control

Using sections in Word gives technical writers granular control of the following aspects of a document that are separate from other aspects of the document’s look and feel:

  • Headers and footers
  • Page numbering
  • Whether the chapter starts on an odd-numbered page (usually on the right, or “recto” page)
  • Page layout (orientation, margins, size)

Headers and footers

All headers and footers are associated with sections.

Headers and footers come in pairs, meaning you never have a header without a footer, and vice versa. Therefore, think of each pair as a “header/footer set.” (However, either one or both of a header/footer set may be blank.)

Every section has at least one header/footer set. As soon as you create a new section, you have created a new header/footer set.

A section can have one, two, or three header/footer sets. The number of header/footer sets is determined by the Different odd and even setting and the Different first page setting. These options appear in the Page Setup dialog box on the Layout tab under Headers and Footers.

The number of header/footer sets in a section is completely independent of the number of header/footer sets in any other section. For example, one section might have a single header/footer set, while the following section can have two header/footer sets because it is intended to be printed double-sided.

Page numbering

Whether the section starts on an odd-numbered page, every section has its own settings for what type of page the section starts on. The types are:

  • New page. Use this setting for single-sided documents. It starts the section on the next page, whether the next page is even- or odd-numbered.
  • Odd page. Use this setting for double-sided documents. It automatically inserts a blank page at the end of the previous section, if the previous section has an odd number of pages.
    For example, if a section has 9 pages and you insert a section break on the next page, the new section would start on page 10—an even-numbered, left-hand (or verso) page. To prevent this, make the next section start on an Odd page, and Word automatically inserts a blank page 10 when you print the document.
  • Even page. Don’t use this type of break. It may be useful for mixing landscape pages with portrait ones, but it’s too difficult to set up and maintain to be useful in technical writing.
  • New Column and Continuous. Use these types of breaks only for columns, which are harder to maintain and often are not required in technical writing (borderless columns might be easier to use).

Page setup

Page setup includes margin widths or depths, orientation, size, and column layout.

Binding (such as staples, coil rings, and three-ring binders) takes up part of the margins of a document. If you are going to bind a document, adjust the margins to add room for binding.

With a single-sided document, add room for binding by widening the Left margin as follows:

  1. Do not select Mirror margins from the Multiple pages dropdown list. This
    means the Left and Right margins affect odd-numbered and even-numbered
    pages the same way.
  2. Increase the Left margin and decrease the Right margin.

With a double-sided document, add room for binding by widening the Inside margin as follows:

  1. Select Mirror margins from the Multiple pages dropdown list. This changes
    Right and Left margins to Inside and Outside margins.
  2. Increase the Inside margin and decrease the Outside margin.

Now the right margin on a left-hand page, and the left margin on a right-hand page, are wider (to allow for binding). The left margin on a left-hand page and the right margin on a right-hand page will be correspondingly narrower.

Where to create sections

Decide on a layout before creating section breaks, because the layout determines the type of section break you need. For example, in a single-sided document, you probably want sections to start on the Next Page. In a double-sided document, you likely want sections to start on an Odd-numbered Page.

You need at least three section breaks in most documents:

  1. Title page and front matter. The title page and front matter needs its own
    section because it
    a. has blank headers and footers.
    b. is not usually included in the page numbering of the document.
  2. Table of Contents. The table of contents needs its own section because it
    a. has Roman page numbering (i, ii, iii) that usually starts at i.
    b. starts on an odd page.
    c. displays the title of the Table of Contents in the header or footer, not a chapter
    title as in the rest of the document.
  3. Body. The body of the document (meaning everything after the Table of Contents) needs its own section because it
    a. has Arabic page numbering (1, 2, 3).
    b. has page numbering that restarts at 1.
    c. starts on an odd page.
    d. may display the chapter title in the header or footer.

In addition to the three basic sections, you may want to add other section breaks.

Every section break that you add to a document adds to its complexity. Errors are more likely and changes are harder. It’s a trade-off between complexity and design.

Chapters (a/k/a sections)

You may want a separate section for each chapter, but not as often as you might think. The key issue is your layout.

You do not need a separate section for each chapter to make each chapter start on a new page. If you don’t mind whether chapters start on an odd or even page, you can select the Page break before setting in the style for the heading that starts each chapter (such as Heading 1 or Chapter Heading). Every time you apply the style to a paragraph, it starts a new page. No extra section breaks are required.

You do need a separate section for each chapter for the following layouts, when you want:

  • Each chapter to start on an odd-numbered page. Add an Odd Page section break before each chapter.
  • Page numbering to restart in each “chapter.” Add a Section break before each chapter.
  • Different first page in each chapter. Add a Section break before each chapter
    and apply Different First Page formatting.

Special layouts

Other special layouts require using section breaks to include columns and changing the page orientation for landscape pages. These layouts are harder to maintain, but it’s always fun to take on a challenge and succeed!

Where section information is stored

Each section break controls the section formatting of the section before it. Let me just say that again in a slightly different way: The formatting of each section is contained in the section break that follows that section.

This is why people get unexpected results when they delete a section break. When you delete a section break, you delete the section formatting of the section before the break. The section before the break adopts the section formatting of the section after the break.

There is one exception: the last section of the document. The section formatting for the last section is stored in the last paragraph mark of the document. If you were able to go to the end of the document and delete the last paragraph mark, you would delete all your section information, including headers and footers, page numbering, and so on. That’s one of the reasons you can never delete the very last pilcrow in a document.

Tip: In a corrupt document, the last paragraph mark sometimes contains the problem. Try selecting the entire document EXCEPT the last paragraph mark, clicking Ctrl+C to copy it and clicking Ctrl+V to paste the content into a new document.

Next: The Final Column: Creating a complex layout with alternating headers and footers in a document to be printed with a double-sided page layout.

STC IDL SIG shares with InfoDevDC

STC IDL SIG shares with InfoDevDC

By Viqui Dill

On February 21st, I presented my #STC16 Summit session case study about a training program developed for a big software rollout at my company. The presentation was hosted by the InfoDevDC Meetup group.

Meetup is an organization that connects people online so that they can meet face to face for discussion, networking and learning. The InfoDevDC is a group of Information Developers (technical writers, training designers, information architects, and project managers) who gather in the northern Virginia area. During the presentation, I highlighted some of the benefits of STC membership, especially membership in online communities like our IDL SIG. Folks at the meeting were excited to learn that we have free webinars for our members and that we support instructional designers through our newsletter and many other opportunities to connect.

InfoDevDC Collaborators

The presentation was a case study that presented seven different deliverables and compared the relative effectiveness of each, based on engagement:

  • Online help
  • How-to instructions
  • Books for the training crew
  • Training package for the training crew
  • Person to person training with evangelists
  • Weekly email to 2,200 users
  • Posters everywhere

The objective of a good training program is adoption and excellent field execution. This presentation explained how to use a combination of traditional training deliverables and old school psychology to gain user buy-in and achieve a successful launch. We talked about how my company uses cartoons and countdowns to ensure that users seek out training and have a stake in adoption and field execution excellence.

Whether we create video, user assistance, classroom training, or documentation, what we really want is a group of folks who use the product to do an excellent job with little or no effort and make no mistakes. We found that creating good training is less about the deliverable and more about building the right relationship.

Online help was the least effective of the deliverables, having a low engagement as measured by Google Analytics, just 145 brief interactions. Classroom training and support from local champions was the most effective of the deliverables. The challenge for the team was to build up this network of champions and equip them with excellent resources. Employees and users were most engaged by the oldschool series of weekly paper announcement flyers featuring Fred Flintstone and George Jetson, highlighting a small amount of information to know for the week.

Slides of the presentation are online here:

Read about the InfoDevDC Meetup group and the event here:

Member Spotlight: Meet Kim Lindsey

Member Spotlight: Meet Kim Lindsey*

By Kim Lindsey and Sara Buchanan

Meet Kim Lindsey, an STC and NEO STC member since 1999, who currently serves as the NEO STC’s Webmaster. She has held many roles over the years, including President during the 2004-2005 chapter year. In 2016, she was named an STC Associate Fellow.

Kim is the eLearning & Instructional Design Manager at Cinécraft Productions Inc. in Cleveland.

Kim shares her career highlights and advice to others

“I came to technical communication as a mid-life career changer and I’ve never regretted it. I encourage everyone to not be afraid to reach out and try new things. Our skills and interests keep developing throughout our lives, and there are innumerable challenges and opportunities if our eyes and hearts are open. And, when I moved from technical writing to instructional design (ID) in 2009, it was quickly apparent that having a long and varied work history is a huge benefit. ID is a terrific field for career-changers who can write.”

Kim can sing (and volunteers)

“Looking back, I’m kind of amazed: I’ve been doing some kind of volunteer work almost my whole life. I’ve served in community organizations and in many capacities at church; I also enjoyed 11 years of Saturday evenings ushering for The Cleveland Orchestra. I was in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus too for a few years – an incredible honor. Right now I have a tiny freelance “side-hustle” going at Truth For Life (TFL), a Christian ministry where I’m a writer on the Content Team. My techcomm experience recently came in handy at TFL as I designed and developed the first edition of a “Writer’s Handbook” used by everyone on the team.”

Kim has wonderful, varied interests

“At a 2006 STC meeting, Rebecca Slifer was begging, ‘Someone please take the kitty in this photo!’ I still have my little Maria plus another cat besides. My hobby is freeform bead weaving, and every month I participate in Bead Club at Cleveland Rocks and Beads in Cleveland Heights. I’m a rabid sci-fi/fantasy fan, which these days means I’m a “Sander-fan” (a fan of Brandon Sanderson). On the 17th Shard Forum, you can find my posts under the name “old aggie.” Shard-ers are amazing people and I find out about lots of stuff there: new music and online content I’d never find on my own – keeps my brain young!”

*This article originally appeared in Lines & Letters (February 2017), published by Northeast Ohio Society for Technical Communication (NOE).