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New tribes

July 31, 2017

Foreword written for Southern Communicator, Issue 41, June 2017

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New tribes

Tribe: Colloquial (humorous) a family or class of people (Macquarie Dictionary)

In September 2008, after 16 years in the software technical writing world, I segued into editing technical documents. It was just as the global financial crisis was happening, and a time when mining and software companies (my main source of income) were getting rid of contractors to preserve their bottom lines. I lived in a rural area three hours’ drive from Perth (Western Australia), so was fortunate to land a temporary three‐month telecommuting contract with a global oil and gas company—I’m now in my tenth year with them—editing some of their Word documents. Yes, Microsoft Word.

Word is still heavily used by corporates for much of their day‐to‐day documentation and reporting. We can talk all we like about how other software is better for constructing documents, managing the review cycle, formatting, publishing to various outputs, and the like, but the reality is that other software (for example, Framemaker, InDesign, Author‐it, and so on) often remains the domain of specialist tech and marketing communications people, with little inroads into mainstream corporate life.

As I moved into this different, but related, editing world, I was still very much attached to my technical communication ‘tribe’ (I attended and spoke at techcomm conferences until 2014). But eventually I decided it was time to embrace this world I’d inhabited for six years. And what better way to embrace a new tribe than by hanging out with them in the places they frequent. For me, that’s conferences and online.

Dr Google told me about various professional and informal editing organisations, some of which were very specialised (for example, medical editors, thesis editors). I was already a member of the Western Australian editing society, which recently became part of IPEd, the professional group for Australian editors. IPEd holds a two‐day conference every two years, and the state branch holds a one‐day seminar each winter. But, like Oliver Twist, I wanted more.

Professional editing groups in North America and Great Britain were my focus, especially those that held multi‐day annual conferences. But which to choose? Eventually I opted to join the American Copy Editors Society (ACES); ACES’ original focus was newspaper copy editors, but now covers all types of editors. I attended and spoke at my first ACES conference in the US in 2015—I was a total newbie, only knowing one other person attending that conference. This was so different to the techcomm conferences where I knew many people. I’ve since attended and spoken at the 2016 and 2017 ACES conferences, and the circle of those I know in this new tribe is growing wider.

Speaking at a conference is a great way to meet people—it’s amazing how many stop you in the hallway to tell you how much they enjoyed your session, ask you a question, or just strike up a conversation over a drink or a meal because they feel they know you because they’ve heard you speak, or, as an Australian in the US, because they ‘just love your accent’! Speaking is also a terrific icebreaker, and I can’t recommend it enough for those who find themselves very lonely at a conference. Put yourself out there and offer to speak. The ASTC conference is usually held each October, so consider putting in a submission to speak at the next one, or try the TechCommNZ conference, held every two years.

Another tribal behaviour is the chat around the camp fire, or today, around the coffee machine. But how can you informally pick fellow editors’ brains when you work alone and are physically distant from your work colleagues, or don’t have any work colleagues? Join an online group. Despite the time zones, I try to participate in the monthly, hour‐long #ACESChat on Twitter. I also hang out at the Editors Association of Earth (Facebook group), where editors from around the world help each other decipher awkward sentences, solve Word problems, share bloopers, talk about language variations and regionalisms, and so on. And because we’re global, there’s always someone awake somewhere to help with a curly question, or offer moral support.

Tribes—it’s all about finding ‘your people’ and the feeling of belonging when you do. So search, join, attend, participate, speak—hang out with your people because it’s good for you professionally and it’s good for your soul to be with like‐minded people, even if just for a short while.

References:

[Links last checked July 2017]

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