Perspectives on tech comm from the VP Candidates — Q&A with Pam Brewer
In 3-5 sentences, can you describe who you are, what you do, and why are you running?
I started my career in TC at Cincom Systems and then LexisNexis. I eventually earned my Ph.D. at Texas Tech University and moved into teaching tech comm. I currently teach in the School of Engineering at Mercer University and direct the online Master of Science in Technical Communication Management. I also direct the work in the UX lab and its projects with the Department of Homeland Security. I have served STC for over 25 years because I believe in its service to the field of TC at large, and I want to serve as VP because I believe I can contribute to some significant gains for membership. I am ready to serve in this role!
In your view, what’s one of the most pressing issues facing technical writers today? Why is it an issue?
One of the most pressing issues facing technical communicators today is one that has historically challenged us. We need to identify as one highly valued, diverse profession, complete with effective value metrics that give our members the numbers they need to negotiate their power and legitimacy.
What’s one of the most pressing issues facing the STC organization today?
STC is an expensive umbrella organization competing with less expensive, specialist organizations that are powered by social media. STC needs to evaluate its mission in the new field and adjust its model and value propositions. Related to this issue, STC has grown detached from university programs, from global colleagues, and from some of its own subfields. We must reestablish these connections to thrive. In my STC blog post and in an upcoming article for the Twin Cities chapter, I have outlined concrete ideas for improving these connections that include re-establishing grants to support practitioner/educator research projects and establishing sibling relationships between STC chapters in the U.S. and communities abroad.
What do you personally get out of your membership in the STC?
Let me name my top three!
- I have established relationships with fabulous peers, and I benefit daily from their knowledge and support. That’s number one.
- I have had the chance to grow as a leader by managing a SIGs, advising chapters, initiating a hybrid conference, co-chairing the STC Summit, serving on the TC Bok initiative, and more. I have won many awards for this leadership, and such awards lead to increased recognition professionally.
- I get access to many resources that I can use in teaching and mentoring students.
How would you compare the STC with other organizations (whether formal or informal)? How is STC different?
I participate in a number of professional organizations besides STC, so I bring a perspective from both inside and outside STC. For example, I am a member of the IEEE Professional Communication Society, and I am an Associate Editor for the journal Transactions on Professional Communication. I am a member of the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication and have served on their board in the past. And, I currently serve on the program committee for the Global Women in STEM Leadership Summit.
STC is different in that, by name and charter, it seeks to represent a larger and more diverse field of practice than other organizations. Thus, as STC plans strategies for the future, it is important to keep this purpose and constituency front and center.
One of the STC’s strengths is its research and publications, but it seems like not a lot of members read these publications, esp. the journal. Any thoughts on helping TC academics and practitioners become two sides of the same coin?
There is a lot to unpack in this question!
First, I want to respond to the “not a lot of members read the journal” because the journal has a great deal of impact in the field though members may not know this. The impact factor of the journal has been increasing steadily. It was 1.333 in 2015 and 2.1 in 2016. Numbers for 2017 are not yet in. Some research by my colleagues Rebekka Andersen and Joann Hackos indicates that TC is the most heavily read journal by TC professionals, but TC journals, in general, are falling short of meeting the needs of readers outside of academia.
While STC does have two excellent publications, I would not say that a strength of STC is research. We have a lot of skill among our educators and practitioners that is not being tapped. Encouraging practitioners and educators to work together should be a priority so that we can produce more research that benefits the field.
Some people don’t realize that the Ph.D. is a research degree. People who earn it are credentialed in how to create new knowledge based in rigorous research. Put those skills together with the workplace access of our members, and we can have a transformative effect. By co-authoring more publications together, educators and practitioners can produce research of greater value and relevance and improve its overall accessibility.
One road block to collaboration is that educators are largely estranged from STC. (Please know, we do have a number educators who champion STC.) How can we foster collaboration? Make sure that we have a strong value proposition for educators as well as practitioners. Those value propositions are different for each group but can be very synergistic.
For example, we can offer grants (mentioned previously) for specific topics of research. Reviving the research grants program would add value for educators and practitioners and would eliminate some significant barriers to research such as access, funding, and time.
We should also field partnership conferences with other organizations like the Partnership Preconference that the Academic SIG fielded for four years in collaboration with the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication.
Bringing the two sides of the coin together can be done and is worth doing!
Can you tell a story about a recent project you worked on (could be anything from docs to management or even cleaning your garage). What was a challenge you faced? What did you do to try to resolve it? Was there a case where something seemed simple but turned out to be complex, or vice versa?
Recently, with my department at Mercer University, I have helped negotiate a significant curriculum update. It has been approved by the School of Engineering. I also helped negotiate a name change for our department. It didn’t gain approval. Yet.
Large universities operate very much like any large organization, and implementing significant change is a complex and often time-consuming undertaking. We have to bring together multiple stakeholders and convince them of the value of the change even as we try to anticipate impact for other programs and administration.
We did our research and put together our proposal. We sought to vet the changes informally with our colleagues in the School of Engineering as well as with university administration before bringing the formal proposal forward. As indicated above, the changes to curriculum passed successfully at the school level. However, the name change, did not, despite active vetting. We don’t want to make the name change by a very narrow margin because we place high value on the spirit of collaboration in engineering, which thrives despite our widely varying initiatives. It is part of our value proposition.
Thus, our next step is to consider variations on the name that will accomplish our purposes and result in support from the majority of our colleagues. We seek compromise toward positive development.
Why do you think you’re a good candidate? What makes you unique?
- an experienced facilitator
- adept at working with diverse groups
- an advocate of a global perspective
- a Ph.D. and experienced researcher
With my experience and skills, I can serve STC in ways that are most needed right now by supporting excellent work that is being done, developing value metrics, developing collaborations that add value for members, extending our reach internationally, and improving our communication. I don’t know if this makes me unique, but it does make me very capable of serving STC in the role of vice president and then president.
What are some important trends that technical writers should watch and follow in the field?
The overall drivers for trends in TC are strategy and technology. Each of the following trends is important to the field but not necessarily in this order. Follow
- topic-based authoring how it is leveraged for more efficient and effective documentation.
- how organizations are using authoring tools that are developer friendly so that developers can collaborate more readily with writers.
- improvements in digital rhetoric (style and design). Digital design is due for a swing back to basic tenets of usability.
- lean/agile methods and how they evolve to increase the quality and speed of output. This includes agile methods for UX in the development process.
- gamification and new strategies for using it in the development cycle.
- the huge increase in participation of Indian colleagues in the field.
- guidelines for managing globally diverse stakeholders via better managed virtual teaming.
- the changes in delivery methods for instructional design.
And if you want to take a look at emerging computing technologies that are likely to impact our field in the future, take a look at deep reinforcement learning, brain-computer interfaces, virtual assistants, machine learning, and cognitive expert advisors!
What is something that few people don’t realize or know about you (that you would be willing to share)?
I marched in the January 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC. I traveled in a caravan of buses from the state of Georgia to join thousands and thousands of buses from most U.S. states. And I wore my pink hat.
For more information on Pam Estes Brewer, go to
- Video candidate statement
- STC election page
- STC official blog post
- Email: [email protected]
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.