Bryan A. Garner. 2009. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-538275-4. 942 pages, including index. US$45.00.]
In his preface to the third edition, Bryan Garner writes, “The mark of a genuine scholar is never to leave an answerable question unanswered” (p. xi). After living with this book for several months, I can honestly say that Garner is a genuine scholar. His erudition and love of language shine through on every page and in most entries.
For previous readers of Garner, his new Language-Change Index is an exciting addition. Changes to usage are categorized by one of five stages: (1) rejected, (2) widely shunned, (3) widespread but still avoided in careful usage, (4) ubiquitous but opposed by linguistic stalwarts, and (5) universally accepted. So you can look up your pet peeves and see where they stand. For example, I’m glad that email (not e-mail) is in Stage 4.
Previous readers will also be interested in the doubling of new entries, the identification of poor usage by asterisks, and the expanded glossary of language terms. But new readers will be captivated by the many topics Garner addresses. For example, in his entry on initialese (the overuse of abbreviations), he directly criticizes technical writers for allowing the proliferation of abbreviated terms, requiring the reader constantly to refer to their original uses to grasp meaning.
Garner’s sense of humor is always near the surface of his writing. As a native Texan, he is sensitive to the pronunciation of the letter w, which in Texas comes out as “Dubya” and is now the nickname of the 43rd U.S. president.
Some of his entries are right on the mark. Take sexism, for instance. As an adjunct professor, I’m well aware that contemporary students have little understanding of the underlying problems of language change and no clue of the politics that engendered them.
But some things puzzle me. Garner has separate entries for disabled and handicapped and makes no mention that the former is the preferred term by the disabled and their supporters. I’m also bothered by his approval of illegal alien, which Garner calls the “usual and preferred term in American English.” Preferred term by whom? FOX News and members of the Tea Party? It is an offensive term to immigrants and only serves to make people angry.
Despite these criticisms, Garner’s book is by far the best on contemporary usage. For language lovers or for those attempting to find out how words are being used today, Garner’s Modern American Usage is an indispensable tool.
Charles R. Crawley is the lead technical writer for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is the public relations chair of the Eastern Iowa Chapter of STC and the treasurer for the Technical Editing SIG.
Susan Britton Whitcomb, Chandlee Bryan, and Deb Dib. 2010. Indianapolis, IN: JIST Works. [ISBN 978-1-59357-791-9. 242 pages, including index. US$14.95 (softcover)].
The Twitter Job Search Guide is for anyone, regardless of their Twitter experience, who wants to build a professional brand, expand their professional network, or search for a job. The authors have written an excellent book offering advice from their career, personal branding, and social media expertise. You will learn and explore
This book is broken into seven sections, with 32 chapters and an appendix, which provides tips from career experts and information from successful Twitter job seekers. The chapters, most of which are three to six pages long, are full of practical information and easy to read quickly. You can navigate to topics of personal interest depending upon your Twitter experience, job search mode, and time available.
The most relevant chapters for technical communicators include “Your Brand and Twitter,” “Job Search Advice from the Trenches,” and “Maximize Twitter in Just 15 Minutes a Day.”
You’ll learn how your personal brand and social media fit together and how you can use this to strengthen connections with employers. Coauthor Deb Dib’s Brand to Land Plan outlines four brand essentials to help you get hired faster: personal brand, career brand, brand statement, and branded value proposition.
Ten rules for searching in a new economy include how to articulate your assets into a compelling brand by writing concise marketing materials such as your Twitter bio. You’re also encouraged to build relationships with specific companies by targeting them before they publish job openings. The chapter on maximizing Twitter helps you organize your 15 minutes a day productively on Twitter (after you create your account and learn the basics). Coauthor Chandlee Bryan’s handy checklist provides detailed recommendations to grow your network and manage your strategy in four weeks.
Twitter can be overwhelming with all its features, but this book is organized clearly into simple steps to provide goals to help you achieve success. Overall, Whitcomb, Bryan, and Dib present excellent strategies for inspiring you to create a professional brand on Twitter (even if you haven’t created a Twitter page yet) and have written a recommended resource for those in the job search process.
Angel Belford is a senior technical writer/editor with a BA and MA in scientific and technical communication.
Mark Helprin. 2009. New York, NY: Harper. [ISBN 978-0-06-173311-6. 232 pages, including index. US$24.99.]
Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2005, Mark Helprin argued, “If you must go to war, do not do so hesitantly, with half a heart.” He takes his own advice in his aptly named manifesto, Digital Barbarism, in which he declares war on teachers, librarians, college professors, computer programmers, environmentalists, and NASCAR fans, among others. Helprin defends a copyright system he sees as under assault from a variety of cultural and technological forces. His central thesis: “The rights of authorship, the most effective guarantor of which is copyright, protect fact from casual manipulation; slow the rush to judgment; fix responsibility; encourage conscience in assertion and deliberation; and protect the authority of the individual voice, without which we are little more than nicely yoked oxen” (p. 66).
Where Lawrence Lessig and other critics of current copyright law see copyright as stifling creativity, Helprin says copyright promotes creativity by forcing artists to create new works rather than reworking existing ones. For Helprin, it’s about more than just creativity, however. It’s about the rights of authors to control and profit from their work. Even more than that, it’s about preserving the individualist spirit in an increasingly collectivist world, and Helprin holds the latter in Ayn Randian disdain. “Very clearly,” he says, “the choice is between the preeminence of the individual or of the collective, of improvisation or of routine, of the soul or of the machine” (p. 217).
Unfortunately, Helprin undermines his argument by wrapping it in ultraconservative politics that disapprove of modern culture and visions of equality and inclusiveness. He distrusts digital media and dislikes gender-neutral language. In his view, the university is “a privileged semi-socialist anomaly sustained from without by the wealth of the market economy it disdains” (p. 213). Teachers are “factory-floor soviets” (p. 54). Online writers who disagree with him are “armies of blogging ants steeped in self-righteous anger” (p. 202). The invective comes less in a stream than through a fire hose.
The points Helprin makes deserve consideration, though: Why should intellectual property not share the same quality of perpetual ownership as other forms of property? What public good is served by having a creative work fall into the public domain after a certain number of years, and does this public good outweigh the creator’s ownership rights? Should others have the right to alter, adapt, or remix a creative work? What can be done to ensure that orphaned works remain available to those willing to pay appropriate fees? How can we best ensure universal access to art and knowledge? These are all worthy questions.
Academics will find Helprin’s anti-intellectualism distasteful. Women will find his gendered language offensive. Readers who have an interest in intellectual property and digital media and who can withstand Helprin’s rhetorical rockets, though, will find that Digital Barbarism fires some useful volleys onto the battlefield of ideas.
Marilyn R. P. Morgan has an MA in English from the University of Tennessee. After serving as a technical writer and editor in academic and government research organizations, she now works as a freelance writer and teaches English at the college level. She has been an STC member since 1993.
Sun Technical Publications. 2010. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. [ISBN 978-0-13-705826-6. 462 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]
Whether you need an off-the-shelf style guide or are just looking for a starting point from which to produce your own in-house guide, Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry is sure to meet your needs. In the years since its first publication in 1996, Read Me First! has established itself as a standard reference in the industry. Now, with the release of the third edition, it has grown in both size and usefulness.
Like previous editions, the third edition has won praise from luminaries in the field. JoAnn Hackos recommends it for those who “need to understand the best practices for developing useful and usable text,” while usability guru Jakob Nielsen has said it is “clear, consistent, and presents advanced topics in an actionable and approachable manner” (back cover).
Read Me First! contains all of the standard features one would expect. It is an excellent reference for the basic mechanics of writing. It provides good advice on organizing and constructing text and choosing an appropriate writing style, and it includes discussions of the special considerations for online writing and for writing for an international audience. It covers constructing links; writing tasks, procedures, and steps; writing glossary entries; indexing; and so on.
At 462 pages, the third edition is more than 100 pages longer that the second edition (2003; reviewed in the February 2004 issue of Technical Communication). Changes and improvements have been made throughout. The list of terms commonly looked up for meaning and usage has been greatly expanded. The section on handling numbers and numerals has been expanded and placed in a table; the section on typographic conventions has been expanded and moved to an appendix. A new table gives the names and meanings of common symbols. New tables have been added listing anthropomorphism and common idioms and colloquialisms to avoid because they cause confusion, with suggested alternatives.
The guide contains new chapters to help you keep pace with an ever-evolving industry. For example, a chapter on structuring information discusses various strategies for organizing information and gives guidelines for their use. A new chapter helps you meet Section 508 accessibility requirements. (Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act specifies that all electronic and information technology used by the federal government must employ assistive technologies to help those with sight and hearing impairments. Many companies have adopted the requirements as well.) One of the key techniques for meeting these requirements is to write alternative text for non-text elements. The chapter gives general guidelines for writing such text, including how much to include based on context. It also discusses special situations such as describing simple graphics such as symbols, logos, and icons; complex graphics such as screen captures and technical illustrations; diagrams such as flow charts; mathematical equations; and multimedia content.
Another new chapter discusses creating screencasts, which are digital recordings of computer screen output presented as video, often with audio narration. The chapter walks you through the entire process from creating a storyboard, to writing and recording narration, to managing the review process, to deploying the final screencast.
The editors now include a chapter that addresses the rising interest in using wikis for documentation. (The chapter warns that the determination as to whether a wiki is appropriate to your purpose or audience is outside its scope.) For those considering using a wiki, it discusses wikis and collaboration, the value of having prior publications expertise, and organizational and navigational guidelines. It also includes guidelines for wiki writing, wiki terminology, and wiki visual design.
An appendix on developing a publications department covers everything from forming your team to developing schedules, to managing the entire documentation process (including managing reviews), to printing and publication, to postproduction considerations. To help with administration, the editors include common publication forms and checklists. The recommended reading list and suggestions for additional resources have been thoroughly expanded and updated.
Summing up, this new edition is comprehensive, easy to use, and deserving of a place on the desk of anyone serious about best practices in the industry.
Patrick Lufkin is an STC Associate Fellow and is currently chair of the Northern California STC Kenneth M. Gordon Memorial Scholarship and membership manager of the STC Management SIG.
David Rooney, Bernard McKenna, and Peter Liesch. 2010. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-44573-3. 260 pages, including index. US$85.50.]
The authors of Wisdom and Management in the Knowledge Economy take on the heady subject of the largely overlooked attribute, virtue, and potential leadership tool of wisdom. Their thesis, of course, is that business management, and society by extension, would be well served to cultivate such an attribute. “Wisdom,” they write, “is one of the least understood aspects of management practice but possibly its most important aspect” (p. xi).
Tracing wisdom from its prominent status in Hellenistic philosophy to its overlooked station in modern times, the trio draws out the volume much like an extended literature review. In fact, the study is deeply scholarly and theoretical. What forays into the pragmatic the authors make are so steeped in the language of academia that it is difficult to realize they have made a detour at all. Practical wisdom is cast as phronesis, and the overall work is positioned in discourse theory. This is all good for someone in graduate school, whether on the teaching or the learning end, but it will gain little purchase with the everyday practitioner of business or technical communication. I would challenge any technical communicator to use the following during a project debrief: “wise people understand the constructedness of phenomena in particular places and times” (p. 80). To be fair, the book wasn’t written for such a purpose. It is a scholarly book for scholarly pursuits.
In their historical rendering of wisdom, the authors note that while wisdom enjoyed strong prominence during most of the course of the western philosophical tradition, it has gone into stasis in recent years, regrettably. The challenge is not only to resuscitate the body of work but to exercise it in management and organizations. The authors note that in our knowledge and information economy, there should be ample space wisdom. They point out several classic case studies wherein a lack of wisdom led to some serious impacts, both ethically and financially. Enron is one such example.
In the chapter probably of most interest to Technical Communication readers—aptly entitled “Communication”—the writers examine communication practices in organizations and question how wise communication practices can be developed. They then expand on five principles of wisdom as they relate to communication. While I don’t have the word count to adequately explain those principles here, I can say the authors ultimately conclude that wise communications require the effective use of tactics—speaking and writing—as well as liberal amounts of intangibles such as intuition and empathy. These aren’t your typical business school topics and, as the authors point out, this is something of a problem. Wisdom, like ethics, should be core to any business management curriculum.
As with any good scholarly work, the book’s last chapter focuses on possible future research. Here the authors surprise me. Instead of signing off with your typical “more research is needed in fill-in-the-blank area to save the world,” they warn that future research needs to consider “wisdom in terms of what it can reasonably be expected to do” (p. 208). They actually take time to point out the limitations of researching their favored topic. Refreshing.
Is this a book that typical technical communicators should order in their next five breaths? Not likely. Is it a book researchers or graduate students should look up during their next stop at the library? Likely.
Gary Hernandez is a communications manager for BP. He received his English literature MA from George Mason University and his technical writing MS from Utah State University. Gary belongs to STC and IABC.
Bill Albert, Tom Tullis, and Donna Tedesco. 2010. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-374892-8. 310 pages, including index. US$49.95 (softcover).]
When I first picked up Beyond the Usability Lab, I was excited to read about the large-scale study opportunities it offered. The book’s description talks about getting feedback “from hundreds or even thousands of users.” In my day-to-day work, I am constantly confronted by stakeholders who give validity only to sheer numbers of user data, so if this book can help provide overwhelming evidence of research discoveries, it will be easier to secure the support I need to make necessary changes. However, the large-scale aspects alluded to in the subtitle are secondary to the online aspects. Beyond the Usability Lab is written to be a user guide for online studies, and while the topics can definitely be expanded to include more participants than a lab-based study could accommodate, the authors don’t attempt anything as grandiose as the back-cover blurb implies.
Beyond the Usability Lab is intended to help you move your usability testing out of the lab environment and into the online world as a cost-effective way to reach more participants. Albert and colleagues write from their own experience conducting online studies and describe situations when online studies are most and least effective, employing real-world examples with abundant black-and-white screen shots and other graphics. A quest to share knowledge seems to be a driving force behind the book, and I am particularly impressed with how often the authors recommend other, potentially rival texts as references for additional information.
The authors state that they do not intend for online usability studies to replace laboratory studies. They point out that online studies can be extremely useful for unique applications or when data requirements are too large for a traditional lab-based study, but that online studies yield facts and not insight. Instead, they recommend using online studies to verify lab findings or identify issues that require in-depth laboratory testing.
Beyond the Usability Lab doesn’t focus as tightly around online usability as I would expect. Usability testing is described at an introductory level with an eye toward use in online and large-group environments. People already acquainted with usability studies will need to dig through large sections of familiar material to find the nuggets regarding online studies. These nuggets are valuable, though, especially if you’re familiar only with the more controlled lab environment. The authors’ insights, such as how to tell if a participant’s unmoderated answers may not be valid, will be beneficial in making sure your first online usability study is a success.
One of the best features of the book is an analysis of four online testing tools on the market: Loop11, RelevantView, UserZoom, and WebEffective. The analysis compares cost, how you would use each tool to create a study and analyze the data, what it looks like to participants, and its strengths and limitations. Also included are screen shots and a checklist of questions to use when selecting a tool for a study. There’s also a chapter on how to design and conduct an online study at a reduced cost. This kind of comparison would have helped me make a recent software purchase for my company!
Another useful chapter consists of seven case studies. The studies are provided by guest contributors, further expanding the variety of online study applications discussed and finally introducing subject groups of 100 or more. Unfortunately, each study is written by different authors, and their organization is inconsistent, making direct comparisons difficult.
Other significant topics get their own chapters. A chapter on data analysis and presentation provides more information on presenting data than I’m used to seeing. Presentation is a critical, often sorely overlooked research component that receives the attention it deserves here. If you want to start conducting usability studies right away, the final chapter can serve as a quick-start guide, and you can jump to the end-of-chapter summaries for quick overviews of the major points.
Beyond the Usability Lab also has a companion Web site, www.beyondtheusabilitylab.com, to which you’re often referred for support material. Though simple in design, the site is a helpful auxiliary source. However, I was not able to find narrated demos of the reviewed commercial online testing tools as promised in the text. Like the book as a whole, it is useful and well done but promises more than it delivers.
Devor Barton holds a BA in communications from the University of Houston, and a certificate in project management and an MS in technical communication from the University of Washington. He is a member of STC’s Puget Sound Chapter and the Technical Editing SIG and is an ICIA Certified Technology Specialist.
Margaret N. Hundleby and Jo Allen, eds. 2010. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company. [ISBN 978-0-89503-379-6. 241 pages, including index. US$56.95.]
Assessment seems to be everywhere. It takes many forms, from performance reviews to grades on pop quizzes. Consumer products are assessed by Web sites, magazines, and television. Even book reviews such as this one evaluate the relevance, accuracy, usefulness, and overall value of books and software for various audiences.
The most discussed assessment in any era usually focuses on the effectiveness of education. U.S. teachers currently have the No Child Left Behind mandates from the federal government that are tied to federal assistance. Teachers must improve test scores to the required levels at the expense of helping students achieve their potential in ways that are often impossible to measure and quantify. Post-secondary schools are not exempt as legislators battle record budget deficits. Schools in Europe and elsewhere face similar difficulties. As a result, teachers and administrators in technical and professional communication programs are caught up in the assessment movement, which focuses on how to assess and what to do with the results.
Hundleby and Allen have assembled 14 essays meant to help teachers assess their courses and programs. The essays are divided into seven sections, each containing two essays: an extended discussion of a specific aspect of assessment and a “response essay” that expands the discussion. A foreword, an afterword addressing ethical issues, brief biographies of the contributors, and an index complete the book.
The essays approach assessment from various points of view. Some, such as Jo Allen’s excellent essay that places the goals and objectives of technical communication programs in the larger context of the university’s goals and objectives, present general overviews of the assessment landscape. Others, such as Nancy Coppola and Norbert Elliot’s, address specific assessment situations in specific schools and detail their methodology and results. In sum, the essays present both a general overview of assessment and specific applications of assessment to undergraduate programs, graduate programs, and service courses. Their broad range of perspectives can help you decide how to assess your program or course.
The concern is to describe where assessment is a valuable administrative tool. You won’t find practical and specific applications of assessment techniques, such as point systems versus holistic grading systems for specific assignments. However, you’ll find material on quantitative methods of assessing programs and courses that you can adapt to your specific situation.
One sticking point of assessment has always been establishing criteria. As Gerald Savage asks in his response to an essay about relational models in assessment, “How are the competencies of scholars, students, and practitioners in the field assessed?” (p. 166). For example, do administrators adopt criteria based on industrial, business, or government criteria used in performance assessments? Or do they turn to national organizations such as STC or the National Council of Teachers of English for guidance in developing criteria for assessing their programs? STC is now building what the association identifies as a body of knowledge. Will that form the basis for assessment criteria? Or will program and course directors turn to standardized testing (such as DANTES Subject Standardized Test of Technical Writing—discussed by Norbert Elliot)?
Or maybe a better approach is the one found in the criteria from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) on communication? U.S. engineering programs have for years been assessed by ABET criteria. The collection includes Michael Carter’s essay on how technical communication can aid the engineering programs being assessed by ABET.
A second problem in assessment is what to do with the results. Chris Anson presents two case studies of how assessment can be used to modify how writing is taught. Both cases are of academic departments concerned about how their students are writing. One department houses a technical communication program (English) and the second houses chemical engineering. Anson shows how assessment leads to modifications in how the students learn to write. With this approach, he sets the tone for the essays to follow: Assess in a variety of ways, but apply the results to enhance student learning.
The anthology includes an essay on assessing a graduate program. Coppola and Elliot describe an empirical study and the subsequent report of a technical communication graduate program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. What is interesting is that this graduate program is 100% online, thus giving those who teach online courses insights into how they can be assessed.
Jeffrey Jablonski and Ed Nagelhout offer another model for evaluating instruction. They wanted to know how their students were reacting to their course Web site, so they brought in a consultant to do usability studies of the site and conduct focus groups with the instructors. In his response, William Hart-Davidson broadens the issue to the question of lifelong learning and the role technology plays in the continuing instruction offered graduates.
Doreen Starke-Meyerring and Deborah Andrews address an issue that could have relevance in nonacademic settings: evaluating virtual teams in a cross-cultural environment. Most assessment techniques and methods are aimed at traditional approaches that exclude cross-cultural situations. The authors describe a partnership for a business communication course offered at McGill University in Canada and the University of Delaware. Although the teams were to address problems identified in specific businesses, the real focus was on developing a shared culture in which effective communication leads to documents that solve specific problems.
Sam Dragga’s afterword describes the ethical situation in developing assessment tools and methods in a general rather than a specific sense. Still, his description of ethical situations does reinforce the point that you should be ethical when you assess.
A word of warning to those not used to academic prose: This group of essays is written by academics for academics using a style and language that non-academics will find maddening and infuriatingly complex.
So if you are an academic charged with assessing your technical communication course or program, the collection offers you considerable detail on how to do this assessment and what to do with the results. Training personnel in business, industry, and government could find suggestions for evaluating their training programs in technical communication in the collection but would have to overcome the problem of the academic style. For them, it might be a good book to have in the company library; for technical communication program administrators, the collection is a necessity.
Tom Warren is an STC Fellow, a winner of the Jay R. Gould Award for teaching excellence, and professor emeritus of English (technical writing) at Oklahoma State University, where he established the BA, MA, and PhD technical writing programs. Past president of INTECOM, he serves as guest professor at the University of Paderborn, Germany.
Andy Budd, Simon Collison, and Cameron Moll. 2009. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Friends of ED. [ISBN 978-1-4302-2397-9. 362 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
It’s 2010, about 12 years since the Web standards movement began. If you’re serious about designing or developing for the Web, you strive for standards-based code, not only to make your designs more sustainable but also to increase your client’s bottom line. That’s why CSS Mastery stresses the importance of semantic, well-structured Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to provide good hooks for your Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Andy Budd clears up any misconceptions about divs and spans, discusses what semantics means in regard to naming conventions, and explains how to determine which DOCTYPE you should use.
The first edition of the book was well received by the design community, and Budd, an industry-recognized designer, has maintained good form. The second edition is 100 pages longer, and the additional discussion is all timely, relevant, and insightful.
The early chapters solidly introduce the fundamentals. You learn how to avoid hours of frustration by using the syntax of more complex CSS selectors. With plain language and well-documented code examples, Budd explains how the cascade works and how to use different selector techniques to target and style even the most specific elements in your code. You learn about child and adjacent sibling selectors, the cleverness of pseudo selectors (especially the :last-child selector), and the power of attribute selectors.
No Web designer can push pixels efficiently without clearly understanding the box model, which Budd concisely recaps with helpful diagrams. You also get discussion of positioning, floating, and clearing, which are essential techniques if you’re laying out complex, elegant designs. Budd’s readable explanations teach in detail the finer points of CSS craftsmanship, such as drop shadows, image replacement, opacity and RGBa, rounded corners, sprites, and faux columns. If you haven’t heard of these techniques, rejoice, because they will save you hours of hassle in Photoshop.
As great as Web standards are, we all still have to deal with the legacy of the browser wars, namely Microsoft Internet Explorer’s proprietary code that necessitates nonstandard conditional comments such as <!–[if !IE]>–>. Budd dedicates an entire chapter to the most common bugs and their fixes. With seasoned expertise, he explains the usefulness of hacks and filters and then explains why you’ll be better off in the long run understanding how to isolate bugs rather than relying on the “black magic” of hacks.
The second edition, like the first, features case studies by masters Simon Collison and Ethan Marcotte. Their practical chapters apply the advanced concepts you’ve learned, including ways of using CSS3 to progressively enhance your designs in Webkit and Mozilla browsers.
The creativity of this book will help you grow as a visual designer and begin thinking about the most effective and clever ways CSS can turn your inspired designs into stuff worthy of a Webbie.
Stewart McCoy is a user experience design intern at Viget Labs in Washington, DC. He studied rhetoric and professional communication at Iowa State University. He maintains a portfolio and blog at stewartmccoy.com.
Dan Zarrella. 2010. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. [ISBN 978-0-596-80660-6. 233 pages, including index. US$19.99 (softcover).]
Shiv Singh. 2010. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-0-470-28934-1. 272 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]
By now everyone knows the importance of social media like Facebook and Twitter, but many don’t know how to use the technologies to market products or services. These two books offer differing approaches to help you reach out to new markets.
Zarrella focuses on the technology: Which social media marketing tools are best for you? Topics range from blogging to social networking to virtual worlds. Zarrella looks at several technology types, like “Social News,” and then explains the major Web sites in this type, like Digg and Linkerati.
Read Zarrella if you need to know the best practices for various technologies. No idea what a tweet is? Why hash tags are important in the Twitter universe? How you can use Flickr or YouTube in your marketing endeavors?
Zarrella is more interested in teaching you about technologies, their histories, current uses, and standard online practices so you don’t create a marketing or PR disaster. An early Facebook user created a fan page for Coke that received over 250,000 fans in the first few weeks it was online. Facebook asked the Coca-Cola Company to take over the site, but the marketing team at Coke realized doing so would create a PR nightmare. Instead, they let the user keep the page and offered marketing resources to manage the content.
Unfortunately for some, Zarrella assumes you’ve already decided to use social media for your business. You’re left to determine which tool or technology you need. If you have limited resources, do you focus them on YouTube or Twitter? Second Life or Blogger? How do you know if these tools are working for you? If you’re unsure, read the Dummies book.
Singh focuses more on marketing and market research. He argues for using social media to help you convince your dinosaur marketing team that the future really is online and it isn’t all that different from the marketing you’re used to doing. For example, he compares social influence marketing (SIM) with traditional marketing, like direct mail, display advertising, and PR.
While he does mention some technologies, he focuses more broadly on what it means to market online and on mobile devices. He begins by defining SIM and the types of influencers typically found in online communities. The book defines specific demographics for various technologies. For example, you’ll find that the largest demographic on YouTube is 18- to 34-year-olds. If you need to quantify your markets, Singh gives you the numbers. For example, many might not know that ning.com has the same number of users on average as LinkedIn or that 38% of ning users are between 35 and 49 years old.
Also, Singh tells you how to start a SIM campaign. Where should you market and why? What has worked for other businesses? What are the rules in this new environment? What are the best practices and the common mistakes? When you take your company’s marketing online, how should you develop your voice? Why might it differ from the one you’re used to using in, say, TV advertising?
The strength of this book is that it helps you assess your work. How do you know you’ve hit the right market? How can you track your successes? Where should you target your advertising? If you live by metrics, this is definitely the book you need.
Singh writes to professional marketers working for medium to large companies, and his book covers what some might call the “science” of marketing in an easy-to-read style. Zarrella, on the other hand, doesn’t care if you’re a mom-and-pop shop or a major corporation; he’s out to tell you what the tools are and how they work. In the end, you might find yourself needing both books.
Kelly A. Harrison works as a consultant, speaker, and writing instructor in San José, CA. For over 15 years, she has written technical materials and online content for various software companies. Currently, she teaches writing at San José State University and prefers short-term and part-time contracts.
Mary F. Hoffman and Debra J. Ford. 2010. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ISBN 978-0-4129-5669-7. 267 pages, including index.US$41.95 (softcover).]
“Organizational rhetoric [OR] is the strategic use of symbols by organizations to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of audiences” (p. 2). In Organizational Rhetoric: Situations and Strategies, you learn the role that rhetoric plays in an organization’s contemporary culture; how it identifies rhetorical strategies, addresses critical approaches related to issues and risks, and evaluates and critiques OR; and its methods of creating and maintaining its identity for audiences.
OR characteristics involve speaker, situation, audience, and message. The speaker (persona) speaks for the entire organization. The situation relies on knowing what is happening around the organization, monitoring its environmental impact, and responding appropriately. Audience ensures that organizations deliver the right messages to the right people based on their concerns and opinions of the organization.
Organizational communication cannot be neutral. Someone is always the voice of the organization, telling everyone the choice(s) they must follow. Hoffman and Ford say, “Not all voices have equal access for presenting their interests” (p. 83). The power in organizational communication is built on the “basic forms of perception and social reality . . . through language choices and communication processes” (p. 86).
Organizational identity (OI) defines the organization’s central character, its claimed distinctiveness from its competitors, and consistency of its character in how the organization spends its money and efforts in its identity. Building a positive image requires showing how the organization meets its target market’s needs compared to its competitors, treats its employees, and brands its products. Technical communicators can help build OI by being familiar with the organization’s target market and preparing communications that elicit a positive image.
Along with OI comes strategic resolution. Building a positive image requires delivering messages “in print, television, Web site, and radio advertisements; congressional and other types of testimony; public meetings; cooperation sessions; lobbying; newsletters; press releases; public affairs programming; billboards; legislative position papers; special events; and speeches” (p. 152). Communicating with congressional and regulatory audiences requires using logical arguments and evidence, while communicating with public audiences requires appealing to their values, credibility, and identity. Resolving strategic crises with OR relies on the use of instructional, apologia, and differentiation strategies.
The main point from Organizational Rhetoric related to organizational communication is that the technical communication profession has a distinct way of writing corporate communications that use the main OR characteristics—speaker, situation, audience, and message—in a simple, concise manner. Communication professionals like us have the skills for writing policies and procedures, knowing about regulatory compliance, and portraying an organization in the best manner possible when it encounters political, environmental, or societal issues.
Jackie Damrau has more than 20 years of technical communication experience. She is a Fellow and member of the STC Lone Star community and the Instructional Design & Learning SIG, and manager of the International Competition. She enjoys reading philosophy and psychology and spending time with her grandson.
Carolyn Knight and Jessica Glaser. 2009. Mies, Switzerland: Rotovison. [ISBN 978-2-88893-061-7. 223 pages, including index and CD-ROM. US$40.00 (softcover).]
Knight and Glaser present a visual buffet by the world’s designers to stimulate your creative juices. In this high-quality, colorful book, printed on thick and luscious paper, they mostly succeed.
Several excellent diagrams combine both visual interest and successful communication. A Nike ad cleverly compares the features of different shoes. Maps of England and attendees at cultural events attractively and clearly present variations in cultural investment and interest, respectively, by region; other maps clearly and elegantly help you discover where you are and where you’re going. Peter Grundy provides superb infographics that make data accessible while remaining playfully and visually interesting. A board game lets the public playfully offer their opinions on how to design future Olympic facilities, and “radiation” diagrams dramatize the unpleasant side effects of pig farming.
Two faulty assumptions, however, weaken the book. The authors consider text boringly ineffective: “[Diagrams are] not only more easily understood, but are also more interesting and enjoyable to read than text alone.” Say what? Further, they use the assumption that designers “can generally rely on readers wanting to understand the information being presented to them” (p. 4) to justify complex designs. These assumptions lead to three flaws.
First, most technical communicators know that few audiences will accept complexity; they want messages delivered quickly and efficiently. This misunderstanding of audiences informs poor design choices such as using minuscule sans serif type even where there’s plenty of room for more readable text, and reproducing many images too small for the details to be comprehensible. (Many are not in English, exacerbating the comprehension problem.)
Second, the book generally fails to discuss design principles, objectives, and how to reconcile them to meet audiences’ needs. As a result, it won’t teach you how to analyze graphics problems, identify the visual challenges that arise from audience characteristics, or bridge the gap between designer and audience.
The third flaw is that the authors relied on submissions from designers rather than seeking out excellent diagrams that illustrate key visual communication strategies. This means you won’t (for example) see three excellent maps presented side by side to compare and contrast and reveal what works. You won’t find contributions by luminaries such as Edward Tufte, Richard Saul Wurman, or John McWade—designers who understand both aesthetics and the need to acknowledge their audience.
If you’re seeking a coffee table book with a breadth of innovative graphical thought, Diagrams is a good choice. But if you want someone to teach you how to create effective diagrams and how to seek a balance between visuals that will be gazed at and visuals that will be used, McWade’s Before and After (Peachpit Press, 2005; reviewed in the May 2006 issue of Technical Communication) is a superior choice.
Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow and information designer who can draw a straight line with a ruler on a good day, but who nonetheless has an avid interest in graphic design theory.
Ina Saltz. 2009. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-59253-523-1. 208 pages, including index. US$40.00.]
When the opportunity to review Ina Saltz’s Typography Essentials arose, I was delighted. My enthusiasm did flag when I first saw its very plain cover listing much of the table of contents in all-capped 8-point text. But when I returned to the book, I found it a treasure trove of essential information that gave me the inspiration I was seeking for a rebranding project.
Saltz—an art director, designer, author, photographer, and professor whose expertise encompasses typography and magazine design—provides 205 pages of must-read principles about type with beautifully rendered supporting images. Not only does she provide rules, she notes when you could bend or break them. This can be more important than the rule itself.
Perhaps surprising is that you won’t find a plethora of text. The book exemplifies the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” One or two eloquent and succinct paragraphs describe each rule. Saltz gets out of the way to let spot-on samples do the talking. The most beautiful gems of information are revealed in the project captions describing the artwork.
Saltz moves logically from the letter to the word to the paragraph and ultimately to the page as she presents 25 principles for each category. I found my knowledge reinforced in some areas and stretched in others. The book came to life for me in a way that epitomized Robert Bringhurst’s prefatory quotation: “One of the principles of durable typography is always legibility; another is something more than legibility: some earned or unearned interest that gives its living energy to the page. It takes various forms and goes by various names, including serenity, liveliness, laughter, grace and joy” (p. 4).
Compelling artwork shows how letters can effortlessly evoke strong feelings. And while I don’t agree with Saltz’s recommendation to break all the rules (she feels every typeface meets a need), I do appreciate her guidance in bending rules to take the work to the next level. For example, she shows how bent rules contribute to effective design by encouraging designers to deliberately employ shape to marry text with purpose.
Had I judged the book only by its cover, I would have overlooked its value and missed the great conversations it sparked between people in my organization. I’d still be seeking inspiration for that project and would not have heard a client say, “We always love your designs, but this issue simply comes to life!”
I encourage anyone who deals with typography to digest the text, the project descriptions, and the outstanding visual examples. I’m confident you’ll discover behind the underwhelming cover content that will warrant annotation and will change your use of typography in a way that will bring elements of serenity, laughter, grace, and joy to your work.
Louellen S. Coker has more than 15 years of experience in public relations, instructional design, Web design, technical writing, and editing. With a technical communication MA, she is president of Content Solutions, an STC senior member, and a past Lone Star Community president. She has taught technical communication and presented workshops.
Dan Cederholm, with Ethan Marcotte. 2010. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-64338-4. 217 pages, including index and bibliography. US$39.99 (softcover).]
This is Dan Cederholm’s second book about bulletproof Web design. The first was about standard style sheets and Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML). This new book focuses on more personalized style sheets as an aid to Web design. If you want to become more efficient at creating Web pages that use clean styles and adapt to different browsers and you’re familiar with the basics of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and Web standards, this book will steer you in the right direction.
Cederholm takes you on a journey, following a fictional case study of the Tugboat Coffee Company. He wants you to travel into the mindset of a craftsman, to learn how to manipulate the HTML as though carving an intricate piece of art or using inspiration to create something unique. In preparation for the passage, Cederholm stresses flexibility and planning: CSS offers the flexibility and you provide the planning.
Almost every page has graphic examples of what you can accomplish with CSS. Some illustrate the end results of specific CSS directions, often in sequence so you can see the progression; some show various options; while others demonstrate what happens if CSS is not applied appropriately. When applicable, you learn how the results appear in different browsers and how to adapt to each browser’s idiosyncrasies.
To work your way through Cederholm’s logically prepared road map and get the most out of his instructions, start from the beginning of the book (hint: don’t skip the introduction, because it offers insights into how the book is designed and into the craftsman mindset). The instructions and explanations walk you through several aspects of a Web site, from something as simple as adjusting text size and as complex as building a fluid grid system.
The fluid grid system is covered in a chapter contributed by Ethan Marcotte, a respected Web designer and developer in his own right. Marcotte and Cederholm have similar writing styles, combining clear instructional content with a sense of humor, so there is no disruption as you move through the chapters.
The book is relatively thin for a reference book, but it is certainly not lightweight. Although it doesn’t cover innumerable situations you might encounter when creating a Web site, it is extensive enough to furnish the basics and to inspire you to develop innovative solutions and projects for your own work.
If you want to experiment with personalized CSS and learn how it can improve Web design, be flexible enough for different browsers, and clean up your HTML, take the time to read Handcrafted CSS. It will be time well spent. The book is well written, nicely laid out, and easy to peruse.
Sherry Shadday works for Southwest Research Institute as a principal instructional specialist creating print, stand-up, and Web-based training in Layton, UT. An STC member, she received a technical communication master’s degree from Utah State University and previously served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, maintaining aircraft electrical systems.
Nicole Amare, Barry Nowlin, and Jean Hollis Weber. 2011. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. [ISBN 978-0-13-119677-3. 458 pages, including index. US$93.40 (softcover).]
Technical Editing in the 21st Century is intended to be a university textbook that is also applicable to new practicing editors and technical writers and to experienced editors seeking a review of editing basics. The book seems suitable primarily to undergraduate students being introduced to the field of technical editing. Its planned use as a textbook is supported by the clarity of the writing and the repetitiveness of the organization of the chapters.
Exercises throughout the chapters confirm the intended audience. Students should benefit from the practice of principles and techniques offered by the exercises. Instructors may download supplementary materials from the publisher’s Web site. Practicing editors will not be able to obtain those materials.
Broad coverage of editing online content gives the book a contemporary focus. Four of the book’s 24 chapters immerse readers in Web-related editing issues and the necessity for competence with pertinent editing tools. This focus is complemented by chapter-length coverage of standard editing topics such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation; the levels of edit; style; style guides; usability testing; and production and project management. Other traditional topics covered are ethical, legal, global, and cultural issues; document design; and graphics.
Some chapters present just highlights of the topics; other chapters go into greater detail. The varying levels of depth seem appropriate for an audience that is beginning to explore editing as a career. For instance, the modest last chapter, “Technical Editing Careers,” touches lightly on subjects as varied as job descriptions in want ads, emotional intelligence, the average number of words per hour that experienced practitioners typically edit, and the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator categories. I would have appreciated a comment on which of those indicators characterize successful editors.
Balancing the topic coverage in the 24 chapters is a strong bibliography populated by key authors and landmark publications. An example is five works by usability expert Jakob Nielsen and various coauthors, which complement the chapter “Usability Testing on a Budget.”
The pattern of topic coverage in the usability chapter represents the pattern found in other chapters. It starts with a set of expected student learning outcomes. They are followed by an overview and an extended definition of usability testing. The chapter then explores considerations and stages of usability testing. Several figures, primarily tables, strengthen the narrative. (In other chapters, figures can be numerous and sometimes consist of drawings, photographs, and sample documents.) The chapter also includes tips, one of which is representative of some tips in other chapters: The usability tip recommends the Web site of a respected authority. In this instance, the authority is the “Usability and User Experience” special interest group (SIG) of the Society for Technical Communication. The usability chapter concludes with three exercises and a brief chapter summary. Other chapters contain a larger number of exercises and of tips regarding ways that technical editors can use chapter information in practice.
As an alternative to technical editing textbooks that presently dominate the field, Technical Editing in the 21st Century deserves a try. The book provides ample material for a semester’s worth of activities. Instructors without practitioner experience will be comforted to know that one of the authors is a longtime editor and the other two are university instructors.
Ann Jennings, PhD, is professor of English at the University of Houston-Downtown, where one of her specialty courses is technical editing. As a freelance editor, she focuses on forensic psychiatry. She is STC’s 2009 winner of the Jay R. Gould Award for Excellence in Teaching Technical Communication.
Avon J. Murphy, ed. 2010. Amityville, NY: Baywood. [978-0-89503-394-9. 210 pages, including index. US$47.95.]
In the relatively small world of technical editors, some of us are neophytes, some are emerging editors, and some are the old guard. All of us will find stimulation and information in New Perspectives on Technical Editing. This anthology effectively defines the canon of the field in the early 21st century. The editor and the authors are acknowledged experts in their niches.
The instructors and upper-level and graduate students who comprise a portion of the book’s intended audience are advised to become thoroughly familiar with these luminaries. The other members of the book’s intended audience, “researchers and practicing editors” (p. 2), will recognize the authors.
Readers may have difficulty choosing a starting place. If the choice is the chapters by Angela Eaton and George Hayhoe, readers will discover both announced and implied messages. In “Conducting Research in Technical Editing” (Chapter 2), Eaton surveys the state of research in the field and encourages readers to conduct a high quality and quantity of new research. This is the announced subject of her chapter. The welcome and useful surprise is Eaton’s definitions and examples of research methods suited to technical editing. This information speedily schools readers in what may be unfamiliar terminology.
Hayhoe’s “Editing a Technical Journal” (Chapter 9) offers a fascinating look at the ways a journal editor works. What aspiring journal editor would not be charmed to learn of the 17th-century roots of the field? What teacher of technical editing could bypass the helpful table that defines the duties of 13 categories of editorial and production staff? What aspiring editor would skip the sections on the operation of a journal and on the philosophy that determines whether an editor serves as a “gatekeeper” of the quality of “a discipline’s body of knowledge” (p. 165) or as the far different mentor to authors? And what submitting author could ignore the hidden message in Hayhoe’s chapter that knowing how a professional journal is edited and produced can help authors comprehend the time and effort involved in initial and second reviews, rewrites, acceptances and rejections, and related matters? This chapter should be required reading for inexperienced authors, including second-language authors. It would help them, for example, if they have a strict personal deadline, such as a date for assembling a tenure portfolio of published articles.
Thomas Warren’s “History and Trends” (Chapter 3) will appeal to readers interested in a detailed account of the evolution of technical editing from the 16th through 21st centuries. Although other chapters mention a dearth of research in the field, Warren notes plenty, some of it anecdotal. Of particular interest is his discussion of the influence on technical editing of research in communication theory and cognitive psychology and of the reader-centered approach to technical writing.
For those who teach technical editing, Carolyn Rude’s “The Teaching of Technical Editing” (Chapter 4) is especially interesting. It comments on the potential and limitations of courses in technical editing, and it answers numerous questions. How should the course be organized? Should students learn copyediting before comprehensive editing? How much attention should be given to the basics such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation? What types of assignments are useful? How do technology and client needs affect the tools and practices that students should learn? In short, what principles and techniques should instructors develop or adopt if they hope to prepare students to function as 21st-century editors?
Jean Hollis Weber’s “Copyediting and Beyond” (Chapter 6) begins with a primer of useful definitions that cover the levels of edit, such as proofreading and developmental editing. Instructors, students, and aspiring editors should scrutinize these definitions. Weber focuses on the copyeditor. While that role may be considered a relatively low one in the levels of an editing career (p. 88), it is often the only editorial role acknowledged by authors and employers (see Chapter 5, p. 68). Weber believes that a copyeditor can edit at all levels. She provides sound advice on grammar rules, and she offers approaches to editing online content, working with writers, and making the best use of electronic tools for editing text and graphics.
Barbara Gastel’s “Editing the Pure Sciences” (Chapter 8) points to the opportunities that abound for research in this field. The chapter also covers issues particular to science editing, including the variety of institutions and agencies that provide employment for science and medical editors, specialized style manuals and standards, university-level training, ethical issues, and certification offered by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences (BELS). The chapter concludes with an extensive bibliography.
Michelle Corbin’s “The Editor within the Modern Organization” (Chapter 5) covers the typical working arrangements for an editor “across…a division…within a development department… [or] within a department of editors” (p. 71). Corbin describes the standard career track for a technical editor within an organization and comments on the hard and soft skills needed. She also explores emerging conditions: single-sourced information and the Extensible Markup Language (XML) strategies that make modular documents possible; agile development techniques; and collaborative environments, such as wikis, in which the editor may also serve as an information architect.
Placing technical editing squarely in the 21st century, Geoffrey J. S. Hart’s “The Editor and the Electronic Word: Onscreen Editing as a Tool for Efficiency and Communication with Authors” (Chapter 7) contrasts the several benefits of editing on paper to the faster-paced results of editing online. Hart offers an extensive list of the brand-name tools for word processing, desktop publishing, online authoring, single sourcing, and multimedia publication. He notes the confusion that results when authors and editors use different versions of the same software. Hart discusses online research tools of value to editors and describes essential hard and soft skills.
Finally, the “Annotated Bibliography” (Chapter 10) by Murphy and Warren is a comprehensive list of 100 major works in the field of technical editing. The list is divided usefully into sections. Of particular interest are “Tools,” which lists major dictionaries and style guides; and “Specific Areas,” which offers resources pertinent to editing issues in science, the social sciences, statistics, and visual media.
Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler. 2009. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-60737-9. 267 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]
Web design has become a diversified field over the past 10 years. Whether you are working freelance, for a consultancy, on in-house, as the Web has become more integral to core business plans, Web teams have grown and become more specialized. The role of user experience (UX) designer has become more prominent in recent years, and some people still have difficulty getting their head around the discipline. UX as it relates to the Web is about creating useful and usable Web sites and applications, according to Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler, coauthors of A Project Guide to UX Design
The authors have taken a very pragmatic approach to defining UX, positioning it within the Web design industry as they explain the details of UX project processes and deliverables. Unger is a member of the board of directors for the Information Architecture Institute and recent addition to the team at Happy Cog, a premiere Web design consultancy. Chandler is design director for the interactive agency Manifest Digital and an active leader within the Interaction Design Association.
In a way, the book is a milestone for UX. It’s the first to take a look at UX as a unique discipline and field of practice. Unger and Chandler not only define, differentiate, and position UX within the Web industry, but also explain in brief the different roles a UX designer and other team members might play during the course of a project—roles such as information architect, interaction designer, user researcher, brand strategist, visual designer, and content strategist.
The selling point of this book is that it is for UX designers in the field or in the making. Unger and Chandler offer up their industry insight and provide you with communication strategies to develop successful engagement strategies, cross-team communication, stakeholder communication, project proposals, and project launches. Not only will they help you develop your vocabulary and your understanding of UX in the context of the current Web industry, but they provide you with the tools to get you started as a successful professional or help you refine your project methodology.
The text itself is very well structured and edited, and each chapter is concise and on topic. You can read the book through front to back cover in about two three-hour sittings, or read each chapter by topic, which you will often do as you are redefining yourself as a UX professional. Topics addressed include
The chapters on site maps and task flows and on wireframes and annotations are particularly helpful, as you will see how leading industry professionals handle these project deliverables. The book includes detailed visual examples that break down these deliverables into manageable components and clearly explains the purpose and process of each. In the chapter that addresses site maps, you will learn what a site map is, how it fits into the context of a project, the tools used to develop site maps, the key elements of a site map, and common mistakes and best practices for producing site maps.
Unger and Chandler remind us that UX is iterative. Each project should be the springboard for another project. You evaluate your research data and then can draft another proposal detailing recommendations on how a project can be improved upon. User experience is about improving peoples’ interactions and perceptions of a product, system, or service, and there is always room for improvement.
Connie Malamed. 2009. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-59253-515-6. 240 pages. US$40.00.]
Visual Language for Designers by Connie Malamed is a bonus book. It explains how we acquire information from visuals and then presents the principles to design them, accompanied by examples of compelling graphics from around the world. The bonus? It looks wonderful on your coffee table, not tucked away on your professional bookshelf.
The section “Getting Graphics” explains the human information-processing system and how visuals help viewers “get” information from perception to short-term and then to long-term memory. Malamed \explains the challenge of reducing cognitive load when designing graphics.
The bulk of the book presents six principles to follow when creating graphics. Malamed refers to these as catalysts to inspire the audience. The first three principles concern arranging visual components on a page. “Organize for perception” targets techniques to gain viewers’ attention, such as using color and texture to make items stand out. Grouping visual elements is another technique that enables viewers to find information more quickly.
The principle “Direct the eye” improves processing and increases comprehension. Malamed shows ways to emphasize objects, including movement, visual cues such as arrows, color, and captions to direct the viewer to a focal point.
Many discussions I’ve had about graphics include “do we use photos or not?” “Reduce realism” answers the question. The author says that a photo with too much reality can distract from the key message. Ways to make the images less realistic include using icons and line art.
Two principles concern how to construct information graphics to display data and relationships. You can “Make the abstract concrete” by using diagrams, charts, graphs, visualizations, maps, and timelines. Malamed explains that abstract graphics have their own “unique notation or visual code” (p. 136), which can depict intricate relationships, reduce cognitive load, and improve search efficiency.
Describing how to “Clarify complexity,” Malamed shows how visual explanations work, such as detailed diagrams of body parts. Other techniques include magnification, exploded views, and implied motion to convey in-depth information.
Finally, you learn how to “Charge it up” by including elements in graphics, especially posters, that involve people emotionally and move them to action. Malamed’s explanation of how abstract graphics work, especially in relation to principles of perception, is the most useful section for technical communicators.
Rockport books are usually beautifully laid out, and this is the case here. The condensed images of large graphics are great for introducing concepts and processes. Some of the illustrations, though, are so small it’s hard to extract helpful details. Good thing Malamed includes detailed lists of sources and contributors, should you want that information.
This is a worthwhile book, especially for illustrators and graphic designers. The principles are equally applicable to designing Web sites and user documentation on paper. It’s also worth looking at Malamed’s Web site (www.malamedconsulting.com) to find out more about her work and link to her two blogs.
Beth Lisberg Najberg is an information designer based in Chicago and principal of Beginnings. She incorporates graphics and job aids as she develops technical training for frontline workers so that procedures, processes, and concepts are easy to follow. She also consults on visual communication in business.
Paul V. Anderson. 2010. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. [ISBN 978-1-4282-6393-2. 726 pages, including index. US$128.95 (softcover).]
I have used this textbook for an upper-level college class on professional writing—a mix between technical and business writing—since 2005. That I have continued to use it is a tribute to its quality as a textbook and to the conservative nature of teaching. Nobody likes to redo a syllabus, class plans, and lecture notes. But every few years a new edition comes out, a collusion between an author’s desire to keep up-to-date and the publisher’s need to stay competitive. So a professor has to decide whether to stay on board or jump ship.
With Anderson’s 7th edition, I’ve decided to stay on board, but not without some questions as to why a new edition was necessary. Technical Communication‘s strength continues to be its stress on usability and persuasiveness. Anderson always has the reader in mind and constantly emphasizes that point.
Two new chapters attempt to fill some holes in previous editions and address issues brought on by the developments of new technology and globalism. In the first, “Analyzing Information and Thinking Critically,” Anderson does a fine job of relating the steps in research to the sections of an empirical research report: Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations. I find this helpful not only because it parallels the format I employ in my day job as a technical writer, but also because it is what Anderson uses later in his superstructure for reports. What I have always liked about Technical Communication is its projects, and reports are one of the projects.
The second new chapter, “Communicating and Collaborating in the Globally Networked World,” updates the textbook by including discussions of instant messaging, blogs, cloud computing, desktop sharing, and virtual meetings. While I’m glad Anderson is keeping up-to-date, it might help to include critical discussions of these new modes of communicating. For example, the Documentation Department at my company has consciously chosen not to use instant messaging because it prevents us from concentrating and provides no written record of a discussion, unless you save as it a file, which is a cumbersome process.
Other features of the new edition include “Try This” features, which encourage students to try out what they are reading about, and “Guiding You” process sections, which connect the first 16 chapters of the textbook to the writing projects of proposals, reports, and instructions. One new section shows students how to create Web sites using nothing but Microsoft Word, which will be helpful for those who choose to make a Web site for a writing project.
I am somewhat ambivalent about the publishing process that requires such frequent updates to textbooks. I hear more complaints from students who cannot resell their textbooks than justifications from the publishers. But I’m enough of a Luddite to appreciate that we still have books and haven’t gone completely digital.
I would have liked to evaluate the corresponding instructor’s Web site for this textbook, but as of this writing it had not gone online for the new edition. I have used other text-based Web sites and found them useful, especially for developing a new course or for preparing a new class on short notice.
I’m thankful that Professor Anderson continues to use high standards for his textbook, and I recommend it for use in technical communication and professional writing classes that need a comprehensive view of the field.
J. P. Terry. 2009. Berkeley, CA: Adobe Press. [ISBN 978-0-321-65887-6. 318 pages, including index. US$54.99 (softcover).]
The term paperless office is nothing new; it was first introduced way back in 1975 in a Business Week article. Over thirty years later, the complete elimination of paper in the workplace has not been realized. The paperless office still has its skeptics, including Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, authors of the aptly titled The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT Press, 2002). But it is safe to say the paperless office is now much more than a futuristic idea with a lot of promise. Organizations are currently experiencing impressive results by making workflow changes involving paperless technologies.
Paperless: Real-World Solutions with Adobe Technology presents eight case studies to showcase paperless success stories and includes in-depth technical exercises for using several Adobe products. J. P. Terry is a natural choice to write this book. He is the chief executive officer of SmartDoc Technologies, a company that specializes in developing paperless solutions, and has over twenty years of industry experience.
Each of the three main sections of the book is devoted to one or two Adobe products. The first section is on Acrobat and LifeCycle Designer. Acrobat is the family of commercial versions of client software used to create and view files in the Portable Document Format (PDFs), the format created by Adobe for document exchange. LifeCycle Designer comes with Acrobat Professional (on Windows) and is used to create advanced and feature-rich interactive and dynamic documents.
The second section covers LiveCycle ES/ES2 (ES is short for Enterprise Suite), Adobe’s server software that automates many of the server-side processes that today’s paperless systems require. The final section is on InDesign Server, the server version of Adobe’s page layout program. These last two sections devote much space to the much more advanced components of paperless systems but still include several case studies, which can be read even without taking the time to do the exercises.
Paperless is definitely useful for technical communicators, but to get the most use out of it, it will help to know what tasks you want to accomplish. If you are interested in writing comments in PDFs, which can be circulated among colleagues to review by e-mail or on a shared server, read the chapter sections “Understanding Reader Extensions” and “Collaborating on PDF Documents.” If you want to learn how to create forms, especially ones that support user input, read “Introducing LiveCycle Designer” (Chapter 5). Details on PDF password security, digital signatures, and other tasks may also be of interest to you.
The book succeeds as an exhaustive resource about paperless technologies. In the informative introduction, Terry clearly states which software versions of Adobe products (a minimum of Acrobat Professional 9.1 for Windows for Section 1) are required for completing the exercises throughout the book. Terry deserves high praise for designing the sample files (available for download at a companion Web site) so that if you struggle with a step in an exercise, you can open a completed file to be able to continue and complete the exercise.
David Kowalsky is a technical writer for NEC Corporation of America. He received his MA in East Asian studies from Washington University (St. Louis) and a certificate of technical writing and editing from the University of Washington. He is a senior member of STC’s Puget Sound Chapter.
Tharon W. Howard. 2010. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-374921-5. 248 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]
Tharon Howard, who has over 30 years of experience researching social networks, presents ways of building social networks and online communities by using techniques for gathering and keeping active members. His great resource provides practical advice on
Building successful and sustainable social networks and online communities
Achieving long-term success of online communities through RIBS—remuneration, influence, belonging, and significance
Design to Thrive is organized into eight chapters, each of which ends with a conclusion and a list of works cited. Each chapter includes a description, useful figures, and techniques that highlight relevant examples. The most practical chapters are “The Nature of the Beasts,” “Remuneration,” “Influence,” “Belonging,” and “Significance.”
“The Nature of the Beasts” provides an excellent comparison of social networks and online communities. Howard defines social networks as sites that allow users to create a profile and articulate with other users with whom they share a connection. Communities are made up of users who interact with a shared purpose or interest. Also discussed in this chapter are groups, forums, and lists and how they fit into social networks and online communities.
The concept underlying remuneration is that people need to believe they will obtain some positive return on the investment of their time and energy in order to be attracted to continued participation in a community. This chapter focuses on how to grow the user experiences that are the key to long-term success. At the end of the chapter, specific techniques are listed that can be applied toward growing remuneration in your social network or community. One technique listed is ranking the value of members’ messages. Ranking messages remunerates members by giving them a goal to shoot for (a high rank) and also discourages inappropriate postings.
Reassuring members that they have a voice in the community is the essence of influence. Howard reviews three major approaches to understanding members of social networks and communities. One technique is to respond to every concern without “administrivia.” Using this best practice, you inform members why a decision was made while reassuring them that you didn’t dismiss or ignore their input.
You’ve achieved belonging when members identify with each other and feel strong emotional attachment. Of particular interest are Howard’s details on how to use standard “rituals, schemes, and protocols” (p. 129) in helping members understand how they’re expected to respond in specific situations.
Making your members feel that participating in your community is important creates significance. Your community needs to be well recognized and valued by people your users respect. One trick is connecting with other leaders in social media and using them to attract users to your community.
Professionals in technical communication will find this book packed with relevant information, especially given the evolving role of communicators in new media. Writers and editors can put best practices to use in working with their employers, with clients, or within their own professional lives.
Overall, Howard provides useful information, although a checklist that summaries the RIBS concepts and could be used as a reference would be a welcome addition.
Mark Garvey. 2009. New York, NY: Touchstone. [ISBN 978-1-4165-9092-7. 208 pages, including index. US$22.99.]
Few books have done so much to establish an ideal for the plain style in American prose as Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. For more than half a century it has been a favorite of writers seeking advice, be they students struggling with their first essays or seasoned professionals needing to be reminded yet again to “omit needless words.” Now in its fourth edition, it has been continuously in print since 1959, has sold more than 10 million copies, and has achieved iconic status for those who are passionate about grammar, style, and usage.
It has also had a remarkably interesting history.
In Stylized, longtime publishing veteran Mark Garvey tells the full story of Elements and why it continues to matter, while relating many delightful anecdotes about the book. Drawing on archival material, original interviews with noted writers, E. B. White’s often delightful correspondence with readers, and other material, Garvey covers how Elements came to be written, how it relates to other writing guides, how it has changed, and how it has often served as a lightning rod for critics staking out positions in the culture wars, and more.
Part of the story will be familiar to Elements readers from E. B. White’s introduction. White tells how Elements began in 1918 as a self-published quick reference which Cornell professor William Strunk sold to his freshmen English composition students—White included—to help them eliminate clunkiness from their writing; how years later a friend sent White a copy of the long-forgotten book; how White, a staffer for the New Yorker, seized the occasion to write an appreciation of his former teacher and his “little book”; and how this led to an invitation to edit and update Elements.
Stylized considerably fleshes out the story. It includes biographical chapters on each of the authors and never-before-published photographs and other material that sheds light both on the men and on what they were attempting to achieve. Garvey also discusses the editing of Elements and how White and later editors struggled to keep each edition true to the original while making adjustments to meet modern needs and tastes.
For all its popularity, Elements has not been without its critics, some quite vehement. While confessing to finding many of the criticisms over the top, Garvey lets the critics have their say and does his best to explain the issues involved and answer the criticisms with grace and good humor.
With Stylized, Garvey has delivered an entertaining and informative appreciation of Elements and the role it has played in the life of the culture. If you are a fan of Elements, or just someone who wonders what all the fuss is about, Stylized should help you understand the fondness and respect many have for the “little book.”
Tamar Weinberg. 2009. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. [ISBN 978-0-596-15681-7. 345 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]
Social media marketing can drive traffic and relevant links to your Web site, foster brand awareness, entice readers to purchase your product or service, and help manage your reputation, according to The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web. Tamar Weinberg discusses various forms of social media engagement, from the better known—such as blogging, Twitter, and social networks (for example, Facebook)—to the more obscure social bookmarking and niche social news sites. She also briefly covers podcasting and other visual media. In terms of breadth of coverage, the book provides a useful overview of the various social media available at this time.
Unlike traditional marketing, social Web marketing is a two-way street where readers can—and will—respond to a company’s statements while also expecting their specific questions to be answered. Weinberg repeatedly stresses that the social Web consists of communities who generally frown upon overt marketing. These communities instead expect that participants contribute to discussions, answer questions, and are generally helpful to other community members. This means that more subliminal marketing emphasizing individual company employees’ unique voices is needed. The book provides a number of case studies showing how such marketing has benefitted specific companies.
The New Community Rules seems geared toward companies selling to end consumers, and within these companies, to the marketing-savvy. Visually separate definitions explain many Web terms, but marketing terminology is not explained—presumably because readers are assumed to be familiar with it. Given this target audience, the book might not be particularly helpful for technical communicators attempting to market themselves or their company.
Some statements in each chapter are footnoted, but unlike annotations in standard format, the footnotes themselves are simply URLs for specific Web pages, without any indication of what exactly the URL is pointing to. In the body text itself, sometimes very specific information on tools and sites—including subscription pricing—is provided. Given the speed at which both URLs and pricing change, much of that information is likely to be outdated long before the book is out of print.
Like the social media it covers, The New Community Rules is fairly chatty, at times providing excessive detail on specific tools and sites, while briefly summarizing—or entirely omitting—others. The chapter on social networks, for example, lists international professional social networks but omits Xing, one of the most widely used networks in continental Europe. Weinberg also frequently repeats a point, sometimes even rephrasing it in the next sentence. This repetition, as well as a number of grammatical and orthographic errors, could have been avoided by more careful copyediting and proofreading.
All in all, this is a useful overview, albeit one that could use some work.
After writing software documentation and managing an IT department, Barbara Jungwirth now translates technical documents from German to English. She owns reliable translations (www.reliable-translations.com), is on LinkedIn and Xing, and writes a blog, On Language and Translation (http://reliable-translations.blogspot.com/).
Elizabeth Tebeaux and Sam Dragga. 2010. New York: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-538422-2. 349 pages, including appendixes. US$49.95 (softcover).]
The Essentials of Technical Communication balances the comprehensiveness of the textbook with the efficiency of the pocket guide. It takes a practical approach to the basic reality of technical communication, namely, writing for people who don’t want to read. Employing the principles of document design that it recommends, the book models the efficiency it promotes as the essence of technical communication.
The text consistently reminds students of a fundamental reality: “In the workplace, no one wants to read what you write—seriously” (p. xv). So getting to the point clearly and efficiently is critical. For students used to instructors who read everything they write, this fact comes as a surprise. As the authors imply, however, the particular attributes of technical communication—focus on audience analysis, document design, efficiency, and legal and ethical consequences—all ultimately arise from having to write for reluctant, unpredictable readers. The instructor can point to the author’s emphasis on this underlying reality to show the “why” behind the “how,” thereby helping students understand the relevance of the seemingly idiosyncratic attributes of technical communication.
Each chapter begins with a “Quick Tips” box that illustrates the importance of an abstract or executive summary and ends with a summary checklist that demonstrates the importance of conclusions. The body of each chapter is formatted with headings, lists, and graphics that visually display the conceptual relationships discussed. And each chapter employs the same document design techniques to demonstrate how consistency in formatting enhances efficiency in communication. The authors teach not only by telling and showing students what to do, but also by doing what they advise.
Equally practical and helpful are the authors’ repeated admonitions that successful technical communications must fit the targeted audience’s varied knowledge and behavioral profiles; that technical documents survive indefinitely, may be read by anyone at a later time, and therefore carry ethical and legal repercussions; that documents are used, not just read, so that devices such as hierarchical headings, lists, tables, white space, numbered lines, and graphics are necessary to enhance efficiency of understanding (students are advised to “Reveal your design to your readers” [p. 65]); and that technical communications must be clearly, efficiently written to allow for all kinds of reading—reading only the abstract, reading only sections of interest, reading in fits and starts, and reading closely the entire report, including appendixes. The message is to design the document for all reading styles, not just the captive audience of the instructor.
The chapter on graphics advises keeping “illustrations as simple as possible” and avoiding “artistic but misleading graphs” (p. 85). Again the authors emphasize doing only what is necessary, but all that is necessary, in matching the document to the audience. Examples of effective and ineffective graphics are included, as well as examples of unethical illustrations. Before-and-after examples highlight the efficiencies achievable through document design (reducing text blocks to lists and tables, for instance).
The book also focuses on specific applications of document design. E-mail and letters must be short yet complete, indicate their topic clearly in the subject line, and use a professional tone (the emphasis on tone is especially refreshing and very important, given the enormous increase in e-mailing and texting); technical and formal reports are covered as variants of a basic structure—not as fully developed subgenres needing their own chapters—keeping the book concise and focused; and students are advised not to think of the executive summary or abstract as “routine report ‘paperwork’ needing only perfunctory writing” (p. 163) but rather as the most important component of the document, the one most likely to be read.
The authors also explain RFPs, SOWs, and similar documents unfamiliar to students; why the audience must be explicitly guided through oral reports; and how to design presentations as modules that add up to the total time allowed. Each chapter also includes an exercise requiring students to apply what they learned to examples from real company Web sites. The final chapter offers practical guidance on job hunting; appendixes on grammar and usage, style sheets, and a sample report round out the text.
This book judiciously balances between the comprehensive textbook and the cursory pocket guide, allowing the instructor optimum flexibility in using it. It practices what it preaches through tight organization and usable document design and maintains consistent focus on the challenge of writing for readers who don’t want to read. The text definitely lives up to the promise of providing the “essentials” of technical communication and is perfect for an introductory course. Highly recommended.
Donald R. Riccomini is a member of STC and a lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specializes in teaching engineering and technical communications. He previously spent 23 years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.
Garr Reynolds. 2010. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-66879-0. 254 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]
As the professional world becomes more interconnected via all forms of media, there is a growing need for professionals to become excellent presenters. The ability to deliver an effective, appealing, and clear presentation is a skill that is essential for all disciplines of study and professional careers. Presentation Zen Design, by Garr Reynolds, is written for this audience: the educated and experienced professional who may have little background in the design and appearance of slides. His goal is to take essential elements of design principles and explain them in a practical and applicable way.
A 20-year resident of Japan, Reynolds is inspired by Japanese traditions and ideologies. His title alludes to this inspiration. Reynolds selects specific harmonious elements of Japanese culture that he weaves into his straightforward style of explaining the critical elements of design by chapter: type, color, images, space, focus, and harmony.
He opens with one of these themes, harmony, in a discussion of Japanese food. Washoku is a Japanese-style meal that brings to mind many principles essential to design. It is prepared with the idea that the presentation of the food is as important as the taste. Harmony and balance guide the chef in preparing the perfect meal. The careful selection and exclusion of various elements of the meal create the overall appeal of the presentation. Reynolds calls attention to washoku as an everyday lesson in design. These lessons are all around us if we choose to see them.
Reynolds effectively incorporates case study examples. In the section on color, for example, he includes a text-inset section by expert Maureen C. Stone. It includes a brief biography and a two-page summary of what she feels designers should know about color. These valuable short excerpts by outside experts are included throughout the text to provide other perspectives on particular elements of design, resulting in additional information as well as support for the book’s main message.
A designer/author would be expected to have impeccable design within his own text, and to this end Reynolds is successful. The use of white space and the overall layout of the book illustrate the principles he explains. For example, each page has a wide margin of white space around the text. Occasionally, an entire page of white space is included with only a single quotation from a famous person that supports the main idea of that chapter. For example, the chapter about presenting data contains a quotation from the well-known physicist and science communicator Richard Feynman: “You can always recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity” (p. 144).
Reynolds weaves in several other specifics of Japanese culture to illustrate principles of Zen. He describes traditional Japanese umbrellas (wagasa), flower arrangement (ikebana), and alcoves for the display of art (tokonoma). Each element supports the overall idea of complexity expressed with simplicity, harmony, and balance.
No explanation is complete without real-life examples of effective presentation slides. Reynolds includes an entire chapter of examples. He annotates the slides to indicate their key design components, providing a quick reference.
The book concludes with purely motivational information about how to start a journey of improvement. Reynolds points to hansei, a self-introspection process in which progress is assessed and improvements proposed. It is the key to learning. We can also use the principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement, to take steps forward in implementing design principles. Reynolds also reiterates his original message about noticing everyday lessons surrounding us on a daily basis. By looking at billboards, packaged items, brochures, and signs along the street, we can learn design lessons each day. It is only necessary to pay attention and notice these everyday items.
Overall, Reynolds provides an excellent overview of design for the nondesigner. For the scientist, teacher, health care professional, and everyone in the business world, this book serves as a guide to the most essential elements of design. From the use of space and color to the placement of objects and the overall appeal and harmony of design, there is something in this book for everyone.
Julie Kinyoun is a freelance writer who also teaches introductory chemistry and physical science courses at community colleges in southern California.
David Booth, Deborah Shames, and Peter Desberg. 2010. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. [ISBN 978-0-07-162859-4. 272 pages, including index. US$18.95 (softcover).]
We have all heard the adage “show, don’t tell.” That is the basic premise of Own the Room. Instead of repeating the stodgy, conservative style of business presentations full of bland facts and figures, the authors recommend enlivening your presentations with stories and surprise. The authors are an actor, a director, and a psychologist, all of whom bring their expertise to their modern presentation style.
The book reads as if the authors were giving a presentation, switching speakers in each chapter. Although unclear at first, this method lets them deliver personal and entertaining anecdotes. To explain your movements during a presentation, says Booth the director, for example, “if I want to shake the actors out of complacency or flat line readings, I change the blocking” (p. 169).
Own the Room offers a lot of useful information and entertaining stories, including pointers for making each stage of your presentation more interesting: Grab your audience’s attention at the start, use appropriate anecdotes to maintain surprise and intrigue, and drive your point home at the end. The authors include many specific examples of speeches using both their method and the conservative style so you can compare and contrast. They also make many interesting similes, such as how picking a team to give a presentation is like constructing a string quartet: “As in music, we are attracted to counterpoint” (p. 151).
Although most of the book can help you gain confidence, the authors devote a chapter to overcoming stage fright. Part of overcoming stage fright is being well prepared. After explaining the four stages of stage fright, they suggest cures such as breathing exercises for managing your anxiety and “changing your behavior, which is directly under your control” (p. 133).
One improvement would be a recap at the end of each chapter. For example, it would be useful to have lists of the roles a presenter can take, with related page numbers. Although the headings are easy enough to find, quick reference lists would make navigation easier.
All in all, I find the suggestions workable. For example, anecdotes are better for explaining “why” because we “tend to believe anecdotal evidence over facts and figures” (p. 52). And surprise engages your audience because (as Steven Johnson says) “researchers now believe that there is an entire neurochemical system in the brain devoted to the pursuit and recognition of new experiences” (p. 48). I plan to apply the authors’ approach to creating more engaging tutorials and e-learning.
Angela Boyle is a technical writer for Tyler Technologies, Inc., where she has worked since 2006. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in technical communication.
Randolph Hock. 2010. 3rd ed. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books. [ISBN: 978-0-910965-84-2. 339 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
At first glance, The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher may appear to be a guide to better use of Internet search engines. And that is one of the topics covered by author Randolph Hock. But he goes beyond search engines to provide a whole spectrum of online resources for finding data, photos, audio and video, opinions, products, news, people, and more that all have the potential for becoming essential items on what he calls your “internet reference shelf” (p. xxiv).
Hock has worked as a university librarian, and he approaches this book like a reference librarian who wants to share what he has learned about finding information online. His stated goal is to provide “a guide for researchers, students, writers, librarians, teachers, and others, covering what serious users need to know to take full advantage of internet tools and resources” (p. xxi). As might be expected, Hock spends a good portion of the book on the ins and outs of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Ask). Search parameters and features of each are compared, and screen shots aid in his explanations of what the results offer. If you regularly use these search engines, there may not be much new for you here, although I did pick up a few tips that should help me refine my future results.
What I find most useful about The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook are the resources other than the search engines. Hock introduces you to a whole realm of directories, portals, forums, aggregation sites, locators, one-stop reference Web sites, and other tools that may or may not be accessed by search engines for various reasons. Not only is it useful to have a computer handy when reading this book, but be prepared to be sidetracked by Web sites and other resources you didn’t know existed. While the target audience for the book is the general computer user and not necessarily technical communicators, there are many resources, such as specialized medical and scientific directories, forums for technical troubleshooting, and writing resources, that could provide valuable support and information for anyone in technical fields.
This third edition of The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook includes a general overview of sharing and networking websites, and Hock describes Web 2.0 sites, such as LinkedIn and Blogger. He provides some advice on setting up a Web site but does not go into detail about optimizing them to improve search engine results. Both his own Web site at www.extremesearcher.com and a list of URLs at the back of this handbook list all the URLs that he uses as examples.
Linda M. Davis is an independent communications practitioner in the Los Angeles area. She holds a master’s degree in communication management and has specialized in strategic communication planning, publication management, writing, and editing for more than 20 years. Linda is a member of IABC.
Lee Ayers Schlosser and Michael Simonson. 2009. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-60752-138-9. 249 pages. US$45.99 (softcover).]
It might appear as if a book that announces in the title that it is going to be a list of terms might be simply utilitarian in providing only that type of information. However, in Distance Education: Definition and Glossary of Terms, the definitions associated with distance education are perfectly prefaced with thought-provoking discussions about distance education in general. In fact, the chapters that precede the definitions provide you with a more thoughtful context in which to interpret the definitions, for it is only in reading about, understanding, and acknowledging the complexity of distance education and many of the issues surrounding it that you can begin to grasp the multiple interpretations that are possible for each term presented in the latter part of the book. The first three parts of this book provide you with enough background information that you can hold intelligent conversations with colleagues and students about distance education as well as help them understand the meaning and complexity of the terms.
The opening chapters provide a brief history of distance education and then short introductions to theories associated with distance learning, such as andragogy, independent study, and industrialization of teaching. The second part provides information about the current status of distance education and thoughts on what is yet to come, such as in accreditation. Then you get an overview of research in distance education, including current literature reviews in several key areas, as well as mention of the gaps in research and where more attention is needed.
Throughout this book, the authors fully acknowledge the dynamic nature of distance education. For instance, you cannot separate hardware from learning theories, because one aspect of distance education influences another. This book does an excellent job of covering the wide spectrum of concepts related to distance education, including hardware, software, learning theories, and instructional design and platform terminology.
If you are teaching an online class, work as an instructional designer, or are at an institution that offers distance education, Distance Education is a must-read for the background information and as a reference when conversations about distance education arise.
Todd Zaki Warfel. 2009. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-933820-21-7. 197 pages, including index. US$36.00 (softcover).]
I had started a series of sketches, sort of pre-prototypes for a large software redesign project, when I picked up Todd Zaki Warfel’s book. I’d become acquainted with his work while editing articles for Boxes and Arrows, the information architecture-focused webzine.
Warfel’s book is wonderful. I’ve been doing software and Web site information architecture and prototyping for a number of years, and I learned several tricks and techniques from this book that I will put into practice.
What makes a book on prototyping good? For one thing, it addresses the basics: Who is your audience? What are the foundations and best practices? How do you select the prototyping methods that you should use? When should you use them?
Few books start with frequently asked questions, but this one does. And the questions are appropriate for the book’s audience: visual/graphic designers, interaction designers, information architects, usability engineers, or even business owners—anyone who wants to learn how to use the power of prototyping to increase and improve communication within the company and with customers or system users to avoid costly development mistakes.
After explaining the value of prototyping, the process, and the five types of prototypes, Warfel shares his Eight Guiding Principles:
Warfel really makes his case with these principles; if anyone can encourage you to start sketching, he can.
Six chapters discuss specific prototyping methods, from paper prototyping to coded HTML. Each chapter provides a matrix that shows how well a given method works according to a number of important characteristics, such as whether it is Mac- or Windows-compatible (for software), where in the design process it is most useful, whether it is distributable (it is difficult, or example, to use paper when you work with a virtual team), and whether it generates reusable code. You can find a matrix for all the methods on a foldout at the front of the book.
The book is loaded with case studies, tips, resources, and examples. More resources and graphics are available from the publisher’s Web site and Warfel’s Flickr site as well.
If you aren’t already sold on the value and merit of prototyping, whether for some physical entity or for software, this book will convince you that this should be an integral part of your design process. If you use only a couple of the described methods, you’ll learn a few more for your toolbox. Whether you are a seasoned prototype veteran or a novice, if you are considering prototyping, this is the book for you.
Elisa Miller, senior member of STC, is a senior user experience engineer for GE Healthcare. She’s a past president of the Lone Star community as well as an active member of the STC Usability & User Experience SIG.
H. Russell Bernard and Gery W. Ryan. 2010. Los Angeles: Sage. [ISBN 978-0-7619-2490-6. 451 pages, including appendix, references, and indexes. US$55.95 (softcover).]
Most technical communicators are familiar with quantitative data analysis, both in the materials they work with and in the various counts that marketing departments provide. Handling quantitative data is fairly straightforward, as technical communicators apply both descriptive and parametric statistics to arrive at averages, trends, and most and least liked features. Perhaps even more frequently, they deal with qualitative data in feedback from user and focus groups, responses to user interfaces and Web sites, and comment cards. These data require different handling, especially because such analysis is becoming more and more important as people realize that numerical responses do not tell the whole story. In fact, qualitative research is of such importance that Technical Communication devoted a special issue to it (November 2008), and Jamie Conklin, the editor of that issue, has coedited a forthcoming anthology on qualitative research in technical communication.
Bernard and Ryan’s textbook offers technical communicators who need to understand how to handle and what to do with such data a full range of practices that will prove useful when they confront them. The authors divide their book into two main parts: “The Basics” and “The Specifics.” They also include an extensive list of resources, including software that does most of the analyses, starting with transcription and voice recognition software, and a list of journals addressing analysis of qualitative data.
“The Basics” provides those new to qualitative data collection and analysis sufficient background in collecting and analyzing the data, techniques to use to recognize themes and trends in the data, techniques for developing codebooks and code, and an overview of the conceptual models applied in such research. While the book is aimed at students in introductory classes in qualitative data analysis, the authors present the basics in a style that makes it easy for readers to grasp the essentials and either review or skip parts that would be redundant for them.
In the section on specifics, the authors cover topics that could bear directly on quality control in technical communication projects. For example, they address cross-cultural communication, a major issue in technical communication today, in the chapter on cultural domain analysis and pages on cross-cultural content analysis.
Additionally, several chapters address the kind of data that technical communicators need for analyzing existing documents. The authors also cover narrative analysis (useful for examining focus group discussions) and sampling.
For academics, especially those teaching graduate courses in research methodology, this text offers students a complete survey of the various analytical techniques they will use both in their graduate work and later on the job. For technical communicators who collect qualitative data and need to know what to do with them, the book offers a wide range of alternatives and easy-to-follow discussions of the various analytical techniques.
Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender. 2010. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-596-80227-1. 180 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
Search Patterns uses a creative format that insightfully frames the theme of this book: visualization and innovativeness in search design.
Beginning with the preface, which uses a series of graphic panels, including a PowerPoint presentation, you know that you are in for a ride that will pique your interest and get you thinking creatively. Indeed, this book isn’t so much about tried-and-true search patterns and best practices, although those are covered, as much as it is about the creative force behind search design. As the authors state, this book is intended for designers, information architects, students, entrepreneurs, and “anyone who cares about the future of search” (p. ix; my italics).
With search an integral part of the Internet/intranet/kiosk experience, it is important to get it right when designing a new search. What this book stresses is that to get it right, you need to visualize; you need to go outside the boundary of what exists to find the next best search.
The authors lay the groundwork. They provide the basics about the search function. Users go to search to find a known item or to explore an idea. Designers must know how to design for the different types of searches, how to best match search output with user input. They must be advocates for the user and consider all the variables involved to develop the best design strategy. But they also must fit the design concept within the reality of the software and hardware used in search engines. Designers take what’s desirable to engineers and software developers to find out what is possible, and perhaps to push what could be possible.
In discussing design principles, Morville and Callender focus on simplicity and ease of use. The goal, of course, is to give users what they want, or more than they want, with as little frustration on their part as possible. The authors cover the current design principles of incremental construction (for example, start with a key word and provide autoprompts), progressive disclosure (for example, start with an initial map, with overlay features available), predictability (use features easily recognizable by search users), recognition over recall (provide tools that users recognize, such as shopping carts), and minimal disruption (search results appear on the same page from which the user is searching).
The authors present 10 design patterns, from the most universal to the most nuanced: autocomplete, best first, federated, faceted navigation, advanced search, personalization, pagination, structured results, actionable results, and unified discovery. For each, they provide a high-level overview with suggested points for consideration. I would have liked more information and details and was expecting more, given the title of the book, but this presentation provides more of a springboard for design concepts.
Vision and ingenuity play definite roles in building a better search. It is vision and ingenuity, in fact, that will enable search to go beyond what is to what could be. The authors present different scenarios of what search might look like in the future.
This book is not a how-to on existing search patterns, but rather a gentle guide through the basics of what is to the future of what could be. It is a book that could provoke thoughtful discussion and planning of what can go into a new search design.
Barbara Scott Zeller has over 20 years of experience in technical communication. She has written, edited and designed a variety of publications for corporations and nonprofit organizations. She is a senior member of STC and is currently a senior technical writer for a financial institution in Minneapolis, MN.
Gilsoo Cho, ed. 2010. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-4200-8852-6. 276 pages, including index. US$89.95.]
“I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.”
“In the Beginning,” Moody Blues, 1970
That quote accurately describes the state of smart clothing in 2010. Smart clothing has been an artificial intelligence (AI) frontier for decades. Considering its current status as well as prognostications, the inevitable conclusion is that it mirrors an old joke I first heard in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and so on: “In five years, we will finally have attained true artificial intelligence.” In the ensuing decades, what we have mostly discovered is the complexity of intelligence itself. Consequently, much of what this book examines remains tantalizingly out of reach, removed from even Moody Blues’ jibe at Descartes 40 years ago.
The challenges are daunting. Smart clothing first must do something worth doing. And that’s the easy part. It must also do it in a way that is safe and convenient, appealing to wearer and beholder alike. Solving these challenges is years into the future.
The book’s contributed essays raise several fascinating points. One of the most fascinating is research that discovered people want smart clothing to solve problems in the order of Maslow’s Hierarchy. If readers consider exposures they have had to smart clothing, then present trends in research and development seem opposed to that hierarchy, smart clothing seeming less than necessary and more a show for AI cognoscenti.
Among the important analyses in this book are nuggets revealing what smart clothing might eventually do. These range from the purely utilitarian to the imaginatively fanciful. For years, the potential of clothing to monitor health has been touted as attainable and useful. It was an aspect of Neil Gershenfeld’s influential book a decade ago, When Things Start to Think (Henry Holt, 1999; reviewed in the November 1999 issue of Technical Communication). The fact that smart clothing has not matured much in the ensuing decade tells readers volumes, because prototypes of these applications remain bulky, distracting, and frankly unrealistic in terms of meeting customers’ standards of appeal and convenience. One exception, however, may be solar panel clothing that can be used to charge the increasing range of electronic equipment people carry at all times. Perhaps midrange between pure functionality and pure fancy are some of the examples of photovoltaic clothing addressed in the book. Runners and bikers use clothing with highly reflective strips that show from hundreds of yards away when struck by automobile headlights. The next step is clothing that glows on its own. At the purely fanciful end of the spectrum is photovoltaic clothing that illuminates and changes color in response to sound, light, body chemistry, emotion, and so on, the textile equivalent of mood rings, one would suppose.In the end, this is a fascinating but odd book, because it marries a writing style aimed at general readers to mathematics and chemistry appropriate for industry experts alone. General readers will trip over the hard parts, while experts may find the tone condescending. And nowhere does anyone address how to clean smart clothing.
Charles H. Sides directs the internship program for the Department of Communications Media at Fitchburg State College. He has published seven books and over two dozen articles on technical and professional communication. Executive editor of the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, he also edits Baywood’s technical writing book series. He consults actively.
Janet Perlman and Enid L. Zafran, eds. 2010. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., in association with the American Society for Indexing. [ISBN 978-1-57387-396-3. 170 pages, including index. US$40.00 (softcover).]
Index It Right! Advice from the Experts is aptly named. Its 10 authors cumulatively represent over 200 years of indexing and related work experience. Therefore, the first thing a prospective reader should know is that this work is intended for practicing indexers who already have at least some professional indexing experience or at least familiarity with the field. The advice these experts offer is so concentrated and detailed that the casual reader will probably not find it so useful.
Having gotten that issue off the table, I will say that I am delighted by the breadth of subject matter, the relevance of the discussions, the attention to practical considerations for indexing projects, the high editorial standards maintained for the work, and—extra important in a work on indexing—the excellence of the index. It was particularly gratifying to see the indexer’s name (Jennifer Burton) attached to the index and her biography included in the list of contributors.
The editors are themselves experienced indexers, and they have selected a good mix of topics for this volume. Victoria Agee and Margie Towery cover subheadings in great detail, including many illustrative examples and citations to classic indexing texts. Janet Russell handles the important and nuanced area of when and how to differentiate locators. (If you don’t know what this means, you’re probably not an indexer!) Leoni Z. McVey explains the considerations that are especially important when indexing textbooks. Enid L. Zafran discusses public-policy indexing, that is, topics related to governmental bodies. Deborah Patton introduces the indexing of military books and the special considerations they require.
Jan Wright presents indexing as a process within the technical writing environment, including its place in the development cycle, considerations of embedded indexing, and guidelines for typical situations encountered in that field. Linda Mamassian provides an introductory look at database indexing for the indexer who may not have experience in this specialty but who is considering entering it. Lucie Haskins gives a detailed look into the processes and software used in embedded indexing, including a frank evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of various products. Heather Hedden introduces the basics of and distinctions among various models of controlled vocabularies, thesauri, and taxonomies.
Sprinkled throughout the chapters are boxed “expert tips,” which emphasize some of the good advice in the text. And most chapters end with clarifying endnotes, a list of references, or both.
So much good information is packed into this small volume that I highly recommend it if you are an indexer or have some indexing training. You will find it an excellent resource whether you want to develop your understanding of the subtleties and nuances of the workday decisions you regularly make or you want to move into a new-for-you indexing specialty.
Karen Lane is a freelance technical editor and indexer. She has coauthored a textbook, Technical Communication: Strategies for College and the Workplace, and has edited and indexed a wide variety of technical and academic materials. Karen holds a master’s degree in technical communication and is an STC Fellow