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After attending the most recent Seattle STC conference, the proceedings
for the last STC conference to be held in Seattle (1984) happened to catch my
eye. Those proceedings have been sitting on my shelf for years!
For those of us old farts who were fortunate to be technical writing at
that time, we tend to forget how archaic things really were until we browse
though topics that were considered "state of the art" at the time.
(Note that, for the 1984 conference, most papers were submitted and based
on work done in later 1982 and 1983). For you young pups, let this be a
lesson to you how hard life was back then.
Harken back then, to a time when:
-- Many technical writers, especially at large companies with
the dollars to spend on computer equipment had, in the last few years
made the transition to "writing electronically".
But, writers at smaller companies who couldn't affort the $3000
for the newly-released IBM PC or additional dollars for a more
sophisticated system, were still doing work on typewriters.
Typesetting and pasteup were a traditional part of the production
For older writers, the the world and the profession was changing
rapidly and the big question was "Could they learn how to use
the new computer equipment and learn enough computer skills to
stay employable in the rapidly changing market?"
-- Virtually all computer equipment we had was based on an 80 character
screen. ASCII terminals connecting to a mainframe were common, but
the "personal computer", especially as a result of the introduction
of the IBM PC in 1982, was starting to make big in-roads. Most
people had yet to see a windowed display; the
the Apple MacIntosh had just been released (after most papers
were written) and it was the big buzz, but most writers had
yet to see one. And, who had yet heard of a mouse (except,
perhaps for a few Autocad users that had used them to digitize
-- Comparisons of state-of-the art word processing systems, such
as WordStar, Perfect Writer, ScriptSit were big STC topics. Should
I use a word processing system? If so, which one should I convince
my company to buy? Could they afford a sophisticated and
expensive word processing system such as a WANG (the title of
one paper was "Planning and Implementing the Right Word Processing
System")? Virtually no one had yet seen a WYSIWYG editor, and "Desk Top
Publishing" was still a catch phrase about two years in the future.
Some papers based comparisons of word processing programs on how
many keystrokes it took to do specific functions, and one paper
offered a method to write your own word processing program (in BASIC,
Another paper promoted the advantages of a computer networks for
writers. Yet another discussed how to move the editing function
online (items such as annotations and so on). Radical stuff!
-- Some forward-thinkers were talking about moving documentation online,
and there were even papers about online help! Most of these systems
were based on an 80 character screen (remember, no icons yet,
window manager, or even a mouse). Help was typically accessed through
a "help" key on the keyboard or a series of menu items. You would
enter a help program and be presented with six or seven choices and
a prompt that said "What is you selection number?". You would then
work through the menus until you got to the appropriate information.
It is interesting to note, though, that some of the basic tenents of
online information (the online book, the online tutorial, online help
broken into tasks and so on) were still there and are still relevant
today. Most people didn't know what hyperlinking meant and, except
in labs, there were no real commercial examples.
-- Whereas writers were going electronic, most illustrators were still based
in the pen and ink world. One paper presented a state-of-the art system
for creating graphics online, with no less than five separate peices
of hardware (computer and screen, printer, plotter, graphics tablet,
and disk drive).
-- IBM was well-represented at the conference. Our old staple, William
Horton even presented a couple of papers (he worked for Exxon at
the time). Future STC officers Elizibeth Babcock and William
Grice also presented.
-- Walt Tucker
Mentor Graphics Corp.
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