Julia Ward, Shenouda Associates Inc.

Julia Ward, Shenouda Associates Inc.

In the U.S. and Canada, Labor Day is a national holiday that’s celebrated on the first Monday in September. Though it was originally a way for laborers, workers, and unions to show their solidarity, it now typically signals the end of summer, the start of a new school year, and a day off to shop and take advantage of Labor Day sales. For me, this Labor Day is the perfect time to reflect on the work that Shenouda Associates Inc. has provided for the past 30 years, crafting technical, marketing, and business publications for our clients. Long-time Shenouda employee, Julia Ward, shares the wonders she worked in two recent projects.

Finding the right balance of detail

Challenge: A team at our client’s site that had been developing a complex medical device now needed to create an operator’s manual, which would be simple enough for first-time users and complete enough for those who were much more advanced. With input from all the team members, written in different styles, the source file included 200 dense, single-spaced pages. The team looked for guidance about how to make all this good information less intimidating and more approachable for our client’s customers.

Solution: The file grew even larger when Shenouda converted it to a user-friendly template with more headings and whitespace; then it started to shrink as we refined the text. Where possible, we simplified paragraphs into step-by-step procedures, tables, or graphics that could easily be skimmed. A Shenouda writer traveled cross-country to the client site to validate the steps in detail and to capture software screens and photos, both of which were later edited using Adobe Photoshop software. The more we learned, the more we were able to advocate for novice users and ask questions about gaps in the content, which resulted in Shenouda writing dozens of new pages.

Result: Although it ended up having about the same page count as the first draft, the final manual was more usable. Advanced users could skip the basics, and novices now had all the steps required to handle various situations that might arise in their work. Sometimes, as with this manual, a project requires both addition and subtraction to equal the right balance of detail.

Starting at the beginning

Challenge: While on the phone with less-than-happy customers whose products required repair, help desk agents quickly had to find the correct process to follow. Where did the customer live? Was the product new? What was its model? The help desk agents asked many questions from memory and then looked for the most appropriate Word file on their hard drive. Many steps in these long procedures overlapped. When managers changed the steps in one file, they couldn’t always remember to review and update all the related steps elsewhere.

Solution: Shenouda started where the help desk agents would: at the beginning. While converting the files to HTML and posting them on an Intranet site, we created a new Web page article (procedure) that would be the starting point for every call. From there, steps branched off to other linked articles, depending on the customer’s answers to questions.

Result: By editing to minimize inconsistency and repetition, we were able to make suggestions that streamlined the actual process steps, not just the way they were documented. Agents ended up with half as many processes, which were interlinked and organized in a more logical way. Managers had less work to do when maintaining content. Best of all, customers could have their concerns addressed more quickly, with consistency and confidence, resulting in a positive customer experience—good for the customer and great for our client.

We can help

Do you have a need for technical, marketing, or business publications that support your products, processes, and services? Tell us about it. We’re here to help!

Swap Ideas Day Flyer-05

Today, I’m thinking about an upcoming event. With some ideas percolating in my cranium and others made visible here in print, reaching out to you seems like a worthwhile pursuit, especially since this event is an idea swap.

A Thinking Forward event

In the U.S., there seems to be a day dedicated to just about everything, including swapping ideas. To celebrate National Swap Ideas Day on September 10, Thinking Forward, a speaker’s troupe that I co-founded, has assembled a very impressive group of innovators, all in the early stage of their careers. They will share their ideas on what is needed to transform this world into a richer, more vibrant place and convey how they have put these ideas to work in a specific area of interest in their communities. The talks are about the protection, growth, and renewal of land and people; an economy where community is wealth; zero waste; a multidisciplinary approach to connecting people to places; and solar technology.

As a balance to these serious topics, a group of young performers will dance Reggaeton from Puerto Rico, providing a look at how owning one’s culture through the arts can enrich one’s life and community.

I know that our winning cast of presenters will shine and illuminate our knowledge of subjects in which they care deeply.

My role

Up to now, my role has involved finding a venue; assembling the speakers; collecting, drafting, and proofing content for promotional pieces; adding to our distribution list; and spreading the word via social media.

I still have another important task before me—develop a 10-minute idea swap activity that gets everyone thinking, participating, and sharing. The room will likely be set up with small groups at tables, making interaction easy. Imagine that you are sitting at one of the tables, along with several friends and colleagues. You are listening to the instructions for the idea swap activity.


Here are my preliminary ideas for an idea swap activity. Read More

Courtesy of Intercom, the Magazine of the Society for Technical Communication, May 2015

Courtesy of Intercom, the Magazine of the Society for Technical Communication, May 2015

In the spring of 1985, I was working in a career services office for a university when a request came from a corporate manager for someone to write a policies and procedures manual. Though I had not worked in corporate America and had not written a manual, a colleague encouraged me to apply. With a degree in Public Communication and a major in Literacy Journalism, I had solid writing skills. I took the four-month assignment, enjoyed the work, did it well, resigned from the university, worked through an agency on a variety of technical and business writing projects, and, a year later, launched my own business.

Part of what I love about running Shenouda Associates Inc. is the ability to schedule my own time. By now, I know what needs to be done to keep the business humming along. My calendar is filled with key dates, so that at the start of any given week, I can set priorities. No longer is every day or every hour booked, which means I have the luxury of doing some of my own creative work, including self-publishing my own books.

Overall, my job includes activities in the administrative, HR, and marketing areas and, of course, many day-to-day activities revolve around the craft of researching, writing, editing, and publishing. Read More

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanzibar123/186131987/sizes/s/

Photo is courtesy of Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanzibar123/186131987/sizes/s/.

This long weekend is a good time for me to delve into The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914, this month’s selection for our nonfiction book club. The book looks daunting, all 700 or so pages. Yet, what motivates me to get started is the trust I have in club members who have recommended noteworthy books by authors who can craft memorable, literary works of art.

Our method of selecting books is fairly arbitrary. If a club member likes a book and wants the club to read it, we do so as long as the roster for the year covers a variety of nonfiction genres and topics. Of the 50 plus books we have read and discussed, some have been gems.

On a long, hot, summer day, grab a drink, stretch out on a hammock, become immersed in someone else’s world, and enjoy reading a great book. Ten books that I might not have selected on my own but found to be more than worthwhile might just suit you. Take a look.

10 favorite nonfiction books

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. There’s so much to learn about a remarkable individual who held the moral high ground, at great cost, during World War II Germany.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. This is a wonderful record of President Garfield’s life and long, painful, mistreated illness and eventual death.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.S. Reid. While searching for a remedy to his own medical problem, the author uncovers how the approaches to treatment and healing vary from country to country. Read More


Photo, Start Something by Martino Sabia, is courtesy of Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/ezu/23570999.

Nature is filled with stops and starts that just happen, without any effort or coaxing from human beings. We see that the snow that covered the ground for months is almost gone, giving way to soggy soil and brown, slightly green grass. We hear the songs of robins and see crocuses popping through the earth. We listen, we watch, we shed our armor of heavy coat, hat, gloves, and boots and greet a new season. If only our work life stopped and started so naturally. If only we could recharge by pressing a magic button. My work world–and maybe yours, too–is filled with projects, where an element of angst accompanies the stops and the starts and, at times, the phases in between.


I now see the finish line approaching on one book project that has occupied my mind and energy for several months. The client is reviewing a draft that I will then tweak, as needed, and prepare for publication. It seems that the difficult work of transforming lots of content into an organized, readable, interesting book is almost ready to stop. There are some signs that this work, like the robin and the crocus, will sing and bloom. I will watch this spring as this book project leaves me and takes on a life of its own.


While my efforts on one book project are about to stop, I hem and haw about a new project that is about to start. Unlike the start of spring that, sooner or later, just happens, this new assignment, which is a chapter in a book that will have many contributors, is not miraculously taking shape. No, it needs some prodding, some cajoling, some poking around. Since this new book is a collection, there is already a theme to consider. Yet, what I want to convey in my chapter is vague. How and where do I begin? Read More

You have a book that’s waiting…for you! It’s in your head. It’s in your heart. It’s in your bones. You can feel it wanting to take shape and become alive.

Purchase a journal, your future book. Now, pick it up. Maybe you’re apprehensive, wondering how you are going to fill these empty pages, how you are going to make a book that, next year, will have a place at the table of a book sale, a place in which others can peruse your book, purchase it, read it, benefit from it, and enjoy it. Now, relax a bit. Take a deep breath, because, like Santa, who is arriving very soon, you have a team that helps you carry the load. You have your very own Rudolph, your own Dasher, Dancer, Donder, and Blitzen.

You have Writer, Designer, and

Researcher, Reviewer, and

Editor, Publisher, and

Printer, Bookseller, and

As you may recall, you have

The most famous one of all

Your very own Rudolph, your Muse,

With a passion so bright,

Who guides your book to light.

In your journal, your future book, write Dedication at the top of one page; on another page, write Acknowledgments. Consider now the team pulling your sleigh, the team making your book real. Add their names to your book. Of course, this will change over time, but you don’t need to wait for your book to be complete to think about those you will thank, the contributors who will appear in your Dedication and Acknowledgments.

Let’s start with your muse. Who or what is inspiring you to write this book? Add the muse to the Dedication. Read More

Once a book is authored, published, and printed, there’s the added joy of sharing the finished product. At a recent outdoor music and cultural festival, I did just that. With the goal that A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way reach those who could benefit, the festival was wonderful in so many ways.

A festival

Because the festival was in Syracuse, NY, my hometown, my family who live in the area gathered in a show of support. My brothers Larry and Richard delivered and set up a long table with chairs to display my books. My young great-niece Kara set out the tablecloth, arranged books and business cards, filled the candy jar, and displayed a plaque with the words, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” My nephews Jacob and David and others stood watch. Our table looked very inviting!

The first person to stop by bought A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way. She noted that the $18 price tag was a very good sign, since 18 is the number for Chai, which is Hebrew for life. Passers-by perused the book, delighted to find recipes for food they love, contributed by, in some cases, people they knew. I discovered that foodies love to cook, bake, eat—and talk!

I was happy to meet Kara’s friend Sophie. It turned out that her mom is the second cousin of one of my oldest and dearest Syracuse friends who has some recipes in the book. It was my pleasure to give Sophie’s mom my book as a thank-you for her kindness to Kara.

A childhood friend Myra and her adult daughter Lisa stopped by. I had not seen them in 25 years and pointed out that Rose, who was Myra’s mom and Lisa’s grandmother, gave my mom (my much loved Ma) a wonderful recipe for strudel, which is included in the Cookies and Pastries section of my book.

When I recognized a passerby as a member of the clergy who, faithfully and compassionately, visited my dear Ma daily during her final days, I greeted him but could not speak for several long moments, viscerally feeling again those difficult days. In gratitude for his support, I gave him A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way where he will get to know my Ma at her best as well as the many loved ones she nourished.

My cousin Maxine greeted visitors to our table, sharing her enthusiasm for the recipes and snippets of family lore that season the book’s pages. My sister Sandy stopped by just in time to hear a gentleman named Harold describe a recipe that his mother brought with her from Europe many years ago.

A recipe

At home, from her collection of treasured recipes, Sandy retrieved a recipe for plum kuchen that looked very close to the recipe Harold described. She wrote, “Mrs. M always brought it for holiday meals or a Sunday pizza night.  She was a terrific cook.  I’m sure this recipe came with her from Germany.” Read More


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