In the days ahead we’re planning to bring you detailed interviews with the prominent figures in Technical Communication both to acknowledge and honor their good work and to inform ourselves about the current state of affairs in our dynamic field. Here is our first interview with Liz Pohland, the Editor of STC and its flagship publication, INTERCOM. — Ugur
(1) Can you please summarize your educational and professional background for the TCC readers?
I am the editor for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), including editor of Intercom, the Society’s professional magazine. I have more than 20 years of experience in publishing as a content and production manager, writer, editor, and designer. Before joining the staff of STC, I worked as an editor and designer for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, editing the scholarly journal Shakespeare Quarterly, consulting on the Folger Magazine, and contributing to the Folger’s website and rebranding initiatives, among multiple other publications and multimedia projects. I introduced usability and readability standards to the Folger’s publications and researched new technologies in editorial management software. I have also worked for Princeton University Press, Peterson’s, and as a freelance editor.
I am currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Technical Communication and Rhetoric from Texas Tech University, having been awarded a $25,000 Presidential Doctoral Fellowship in 2009–2010 to finish coursework. I earned my BA in English and French from Hollins University and my MA in English from Virginia Tech, where I also interned with distinguished Professor and Poet Nikki Giovanni and won a commendation for my MA thesis.
My dissertation at Texas Tech focuses on social media, participatory culture, and user engagement in museums. I am interested in how technology is used in museums as social institutions to disseminate information and to foster visitor engagement through games and mobile devices.
(2) What is your vision for Intercom’s future?
My vision for Intercom and really all STC publications is that they provide technical communicators with cutting-edge content, presented in an accurate and timely manner. Intercom should address as wide a readership as possible, providing both a venue for essential research and practical examples/applications of technical communication in a space fostering open knowledge-sharing and conversation. Because I have one foot in industry and one in the academy, I hope to lead STC in providing clear communication within its publications and also in balancing the relationship between research and practice. I am an advocate for a more open publishing model that would promote STC’s mission of advancing the theory and practice of technical communication to more than just its own members. STC should be a leader in the field of technical communication, especially in its publications.
(3) How does Intercom decide which articles to publish or not?
I work with an appointed Editorial Advisory Panel of STC members who help me identify content that informs readers of trends and best practices in technical communication. We also collaborate to establish topics for the editorial calendar, and I sometimes send articles to the panel members for comment or review. But the majority of Intercom submissions are under my purview, and I evaluate them based on my knowledge of the field of technical communication, Intercom’s readership, previous and current Intercom submissions, the writing style of the author, and the relevance of the proposed topic. Approximately 50% of Intercom content is solicited, and the rest is selected from blind submissions.
Globalization and localization are certainly critical to Intercom’s success, both in editorial policies and in the content that is published. During editing, I make concerted efforts to clean up articles with confusing cultural references such as metaphors or idiomatic expressions that non-U.S. readers might not translate accurately. As editor, I want to make sure all Intercom readers from any cultural background would be able to understand what is published in the magazine.
Since the majority of Intercom readers are based in the United States and the writing is provided solely in English, localization is less of a concern unless the article is written by a non-U.S. author. In these cases, I work closely with the author to provide necessary translations of any cultural references.
As Intercom develops into an increasingly dynamic online magazine, I will be looking for ways to prepare its content to be of interest to a more global readership. And, as always, I am very interested in publishing articles on the topics of globalization and localization within the magazine.
(5) In your opinion, what are the worst three and best three areas for a young technical communicator today to specialize in, and why?
To me, technical communication’s diversity is especially freeing as a career, and it will be difficult for me to define “worst” areas, at least not topical areas. My advice to young technical communicators is that it is critical to follow your specific interests. I would recommend attempting to answer several questions: “What are your interests? What kinds of books/videos/technologies do you own/enjoy/covet? What do you enjoy reading/writing about?”
For me, the best and worst areas in techcomm are:
- media studies (social media, new media, mobile)
- health, medical, and risk communication (in level of critical importance to bettering the world)
- usability, accessibility, user experience, disability studies
- editing (I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how far my editing skills have gotten me)
- focusing only on writing
- focusing only on tools
- focusing only on domain or subject matter expertise (focusing only on the area that interests you)
For me, technical communication combines my two main interests—communication and technology—seamlessly. I get to use all of my strengths in my job, including writing, tools, and expertise. But the most important thing I do as a technical communicator is to satisfy my curiosities and interests, while always looking for emerging and growth industries in the field.
(6) Which types of articles do you need the most within the next sixth months?
The editorial calendar for Intercom is posted online at http://intercom.stc.org/write-for-intercom/2010-editorial-calendar/. I welcome articles on these or any topics authors deem relevant.
Emerging Industries for Tech Comm: What Growth Industries Are Providing New Professional Opportunities for Technical Communicators?
Submissions due 1 March 2011
Social Media for Technical Communication: What Every Communicator Needs to Know to Stay Competitive
Submissions due 1 April 2011
Technical Communication’s Essential Toolbox: Identifying the Tool Genres that Are Crucial for Getting Your Job Done
Submissions due 1 May 2011
Tech Comm and New Media: How Technical Communicators Are Using and Remixing Video, Images, Music, and the Spoken and Written Word
Submissions due 1 July 2011
Tech Comm on the Move: Mobile Communication Technologies and Strategies
Submissions due 1 September 2011
Tech Comm and Gaming: How Are Games Used in Technical Communication and What Documentation Do Games Need?
Submissions due 1 October 2011
(7) What’s your definition of success and happiness in life?
I recently took a workshop on setting personal goals and a personal mission statement. I discovered that my definition of success and happiness would be to accomplish the following goals: to positively impact as many people as possible and to bring joy to other people’s lives. I believe I accomplish this through my work, research initiatives, and via humor and shared experiences. I hope that part of this mission comes across in Intercom.
(8) What are your hobbies and likes?
I am what I define as a “fringe” sports enthusiast: I enjoy snow skiing, snorkeling, swimming, pilates—any sport that allows me to put less pressure on a repetitive sports injury in my right foot. I’m also known as a pretty good cook and wine connoisseur, and I typically prefer warm, beachy climates. I’m also a techno-geek and enjoy computer gaming, comic books, all forms of media, museums, and finding examples of technical communication for children.
(9) What are your pet peeves and dislikes?
There are several pet peeves I can share as an editor to help potential authors with the publications process:
- Obvious ignorance of the publication or the subject matter—“I’ve never read your magazine, but could you recommend a topic for me to write about?” Unfortunately, I can’t count the number of times I’ve received an email that begins this way. No editor wants to know that you’ve never read the pub, and you don’t need to announce your ignorance. Be sure to read the publication, its mission statement, and some typical published samples. If you can’t get access to a sample, review the publication’s website and guidelines, and learn as much about the publication as you can. If you like something about the publication, mention it in your cover letter or introductory email. But, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. When you know little or nothing about the publication you are sending a submission to, stay silent on the subject. And if you can’t think of a topic for the magazine, ask your friends and colleagues for help.
- Failure to follow guidelines—Always be sure to read publication guidelines. Guidelines tell you how to format your manuscript, when to submit to meet deadlines, whether or not a publication considers reprints and simultaneous submissions, copyright information, and what topics and genres to write about or to avoid. No editor wants to spend time formatting your article, and no editor wants to receive poetry when the publication contains nothing but technical writing.
- Sloppy submissions—Submissions that are incomplete, incoherent, or full of typos reflect poorly on the author. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of proofreading, especially in the field of tech comm.
- Lack of professionalism or insincerity—While most authors I work with are professional and sincere, some take offense at rejection and others can be condescending. I blame some of this lack of professionalism on the informality of email communication and social media outlets. Remember to treat email or social media communications with an editor just as you would written communication. If you receive a rejection with criticism and you disagree with the editor’s comments, simply thank her for her time. Do not belittle the editor’s judgment or react in angry self-defense. Choose to either learn from an editor’s comments or politely ignore them, but don’t argue. Also, don’t exaggerate or be insincere. An editor can discern a genuine compliment from an insincere one, and he or she may regard obsequiousness as an insult. And above all, don’t lie. Remember that the publishing world can be a tight-knit community, and if you are rude or dismissive of your editor, your reputation may travel.
- Amateurish comments and impatience—If you are new to the submission process, you may inadvertently label yourself as an amateur. These statements can set off an alarm in an editor’s mind, and are often very far from the truth, especially if you are a writer in your job and have carefully reviewed the publication samples and submission guidelines. Everyone must start somewhere. Also, if you have submitted an article and do not receive a response within a couple of days, do not harass the editor with multiple emails, phone calls, and tweets in impatience for a response. The submission process for most magazines and journals takes between 3-6 months. Patience is a virtue here. If you feel your submission has been overlooked, by all means, follow up. Just don’t do it every week for 3 months.
(10) If you were to ask yourself one more question in this interview, what would it be, and what would be your answer?
I would direct the question outward. What would TCC readers like to know?
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