Books Reviewed in This Issue
Vanessa Fox. 2010. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-470-53719-0. 242 pages, including index. US$25.95.]
Marketing in the Age of Google, by former Googler Vanessa Fox, delves into an area of Internet search that some argue has been overlooked—organic search. Fox changes the conversation about search by taking the focus off ranking and moves it toward connecting with your best audience. Her goal is to help her readers “harness it [search] for better customer engagement, more informed business and product strategy—and introduce them to a whole new world of customers who they may have been missing” (p. xiv).
The book provides an eye-level look at why search is important to nonsearch people. You'll learn
- Why search is important
- How to integrate search into everyday business goals
- How to use search to drive business and product strategy
The introduction to the basics of search treats search in an essential, yet different, way than what you find in most books. It is an excellent read for anyone interested or involved in building a business case for search strategies. Fox includes nuggets of information about the evolution of search marketing. She encourages you to understand that developing a Web site for particular personas and building search engine optimization (SEO) are not two separate aspects of your Web presence: “Searchers aren't an isolated demographic from the rest of your target audience. They are your target audience” (p. 27). In effect, she redirects your focus to the bridge that connects a Web site, SEO activities, and business strategies with customers. (Experienced search marketers might need to be patient in the early chapters.)
She then catapults you into an overlooked approach to search. She walks you through building searcher personas to create an effective search acquisition strategy that includes
- Aligning business and product goals
- Identifying a target audience that will evolve into customers
- Determining queries that are used by your target audience
- Building content that resonates with both search queries and searchers
- Offering a compelling call to action
- Understanding metrics for determining the effectiveness of your strategy
Her discussion includes tactical uses of social media, which promote visibility in search results and serve as “a brand amplifier and customer support extension to deepen engagement with your customers” (p. 185).
Fox provides enough concrete information for you to act, effectively balancing the “why” of search with the “how” of using search to improve business. Checklists, complete with memory joggers for where to look or what to do, conclude her “how” chapters.
Marketing in the Age of Google is the beginning of the conversation about organic search rather than a detailed description of the tactics of SEO implementation. That being said, the strategies laid out in this book will give you an edge over the common practices of your competitors as you integrate search into your business and marketing activities.
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.
The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World
Chris Barr and the Senior Editors of Yahoo! 2010. St. Martin's Griffin. [ISBN 978-0-312-56984-6. 512 pages, including index. US$21.99 (softcover).]
Yahoo! has been creating digital content for about as long as the Web has had a graphical user interface. And in that time it has learned a lot. Now it has released what it knows in the Yahoo! Style Guide.
The authors emphasize that the digital environment is different from the print environment in challenging ways. You have little control over how your audience views your content. Screens range from large to minuscule. Your pages may not be viewed sequentially and may be jumped to from outside your site. Your audience might include people who are not proficient in your language or familiar with your cultural references; it may also include people with special sight or hearing requirements that you must accommodate. These and other considerations make creating content for the digital world its own special craft—a craft well covered by The Yahoo! Style Guide.
At 512 pages, the guide is comprehensive. It thoroughly covers all the usual matters one would expect in a print style guide—grammar, punctuation, usage, difficult words, and so on—but with a special emphasis on the needs of digital content. Where warranted, the authors point out that what might be preferred in print might not work onscreen. Italics, for example, might not display correctly on some screen devices.
Although the guide may be used as a reference, it is sequentially organized, and the chapters make sense if read straight through. Often the point of view—define your voice, write for the world, make your site accessible for everyone—is as important to absorb as the detailed advice.
In general, the guide argues that short, strong, sentences are the essence of good digital content. It offers many suggestions for crafting good content and for cleaning out the deadwood. At the same time, it stresses that you want to cut length, not clarity. Some “optional” function words (for example, “that” in “make sure that the wheels don't roll”) might safely be cut for native readers but provide important clues to meaning for non-native readers and should be retained.
Where a style choice is subject to debate, the guide makes a recommendation but discusses the issue, so that you can know what the arguments are for doing it differently.
The guide stresses the importance of proofreading digital text and cites statistics that typographical errors can devastate a company's or a site's repute. To help, it provides many suggestions, time-savers, triage tips, lists of what to look for, and things likely to be missed, such as mathematics, link text, and image alt tags.
The discussion reaches well beyond Web page design to include advice on such matters as streamlining text for mobile devices, writing engaging e-mail and newsletters for online distribution, and producing alternative new media such as blogs.
Any editing and publishing endeavor should keep a word list of style choices. The guide contains an extensive Yahoo! word list to get you started.
The guide also includes many tips and sidebar articles, such as a quick reference list for common abbreviations, summaries of best practices, and so on. Where a subject is too broad to be adequately covered in a printed guide, this guide points you to online resources.
Each chapter concludes with a section called “Ideas in Practice,” which takes various forms to reinforce the covered material. It might include an extensive before-and-after example, followed by solution notes explaining the reasoning behind the changes. Or it might include exercises or tests with answer keys at the back of the book.
A reference section includes a basic introduction to Web page coding, offers extensive suggestions for search engine optimization, and covers the basics of U.S. law for online content, including copyright.
If you are involved with creating digital or online content, The Yahoo! Style Guide belongs on your reference shelf.
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.
Brian Fling. 2009. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-596-15544-5. 336 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]
Mobile is the new buzzword. There are mobile devices (for example, the Apple iPhone and iPad and the Android smartphone), mobile applications, and mobile Web. Because of the rapid growth of mobile technology, you will likely be developing code or documentation for one or more mobile devices in the near future. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of the technology.
In Mobile Design and Development, Brian Fling does an outstanding job of providing an overview of mobile technology and things to consider when developing mobile sites and Web applications. For example, he addresses
- Variables of the mobile medium, such as networks, devices, and operating systems
- How to understand the role of the mobile device in your user's life
- How to select the right mobile technology for your user's needs
Just days before reviewing his book, I purchased an iPad. Having little knowledge of mobile technology, I found Fling's introduction of the 1970s telephone to be the ideal starting point. He points out that the telephone, the most commonly used electronic device in the world today, has revolutionized communication. He goes on to describe how mobile can perform all the functions of the previous six media: printing press, recordings (vinyl to CDs), cinema (newsreels to movies), radio, television, and the Internet.
Fling reviews the types of mobile applications, the pros and cons of a mobile Web site, mobile Web applications, games, and informative applications. Although mobile brings applications into the user's hands, Fling points out the cost of these mobile applications can be two to three times more than creating one full-featured desktop application. So you'll want to spend time up front developing your mobile strategy.
After developing your strategy, you'll want to consider the design of your mobile application, for example, creating a site map and prototyping. You'll also need to consider color and typography. Because of the limited screen size of a mobile application, readability and screen layout are very important. Fling suggests using a high-contrast typeface, providing decent line spacing, not crowding the screen, and generously utilizing headings to break up the content in the screen.
Fling also addresses using markup and style sheets, making money in mobile, and selecting what devices to support.
This is a great resource for understanding mobile technology, a medium with which each of us in technical communication must become familiar. According to Fling, “People who think they can ignore the mobile web and succeed by launching new brands and services on the desktop alone need to wake up” (p. 43).
Rhonda Lunemann is a senior technical writer with Siemens PLM Software, a senior member of STC's Twin Cities Chapter, and a member of the Hill Speakers Toastmasters Club (Club 4415).
Six Sigma for Technical Processes: An Overview for R&D Executives, Technical Leaders, and Engineering Managers
Clyde M. Creveling. 2010. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. [ISBN 978-0-13-706985-9. 358 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
Six Sigma is not new; practitioners are well aware of most of the technical processes. To supplement the use of Six Sigma to achieve and sustain excellence in product development and commercialization, Prentice Hall has introduced a new series of books that seeks to communicate a newly emerging branch of Six Sigma that focuses on creativity and new business growth.
Six Sigma for Technical Processes is designed mainly to help business and technology leaders achieve excellence in new product development by adapting to newly defined Six Sigma processes. Clyde Creveling has done a marvelous job of providing a logical framework by proposing a lean Six Sigma to promote excellence in all facets of new product development, mainly market sensing, portfolio management, technology development, commercialization, and post-launch service and support. He presents tools, methods, and best practices for selecting the right projects, prioritizing them, and executing them rapidly, consistently, and successfully. Although the book offers no case studies or success stories, the author clearly explains his proposed strategy.
The simplified version to implement Six Sigma is popularly known as “lean” Six Sigma. The author innovatively proposes four lean Six Sigma processes: IDEA, I2DOV, CDOV, and LMAD.
The first process, IDEA (Identify, Define, Evaluate, and Activate), is well designed for strategic product and technology portfolio renewal. Creveling explains the role of I2DOV (Invent/Innovate, Develop, Optimize, Verify) in applying a very structured approach to be used in research and technology development environments. CDOV (Concept, Design, Optimize, Verify) helps organizations achieve tactical product commercialization; in particular, it defines stripped-down, fast-track processes for commercializing high-risk and high-reward opportunities in businesses. The fourth process, LMAD (Launch, Manage, Adapt, and Discontinue), is better used for operational post-launch engineering activities.
Technical communicators will benefit from the book by coming to understand these four processes. They will be able to communicate more effectively with research and development executives, technical leaders, and engineering managers who are planning to implement Six Sigma processes. Overall, the book is an excellent reference on Six Sigma-enabled workflow for technical communicators.
Vivek Vaishampayan is an experienced information technology analyst who designs, develops, and tests computer systems. He has more than 15 years’ experience in the information technology industry.
Roy Peter Clark. 2010. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. [ISBN 978-0-316-02791-5. 294 pages, including index. $19.99 USD.]
“Language is a gift, a treasure of evolution but also a spark of the divine” (p. 264). If you have lost your love of language, this book will help rekindle that love. It is reminiscent of Don Bush's columns in Intercom; indeed, Don once gave a presentation at an STC conference entitled “The Glamour of Grammar.”
Peter Roy Clark is an interesting combination of journalist and academician. He teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, a prestigious school for journalists in Florida. He has a PhD in medieval literature and was elected a distinguished service member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. So he has a foot in both the academic and workplace worlds, but he is first and foremost a proponent of good writing.
This book is broken into “Words,” “Points” (punctuation), “Standards,” “Meaning,” and “Purpose.” Each section has something valuable to offer.
Like Ammon Shea, who spent a year reading the Oxford English Dictionary, Clark believes in reading dictionaries for fun and learning, and favors the American Heritage Dictionary because of its emphasis on usage. He also advocates using a thesaurus, not to look up fancy words, but to “remind yourself of words you already know” (p. 28). So don't be afraid to press the Thesaurus key combination in Word!
He notes that Shakespeare's vocabulary contained 25,000 words, which was double that of his closest rival. Clark is not surprised: “best writer, most words” (p. 57). He further demonstrates that Shakespeare either showed the meaning of new words in action or gave synonyms. So should we, translating new words or making sure the meaning is clear from context.
Clark compares editing to cropping photographs: “Like a photographer who crops a photo to omit extraneous images and improve composition, a writer has an ethical obligation to ‘ellip’”—that is, omit words and sentences without destroying the original meaning (p. 99).
Clark sees writing as a mastery of tools over rules: “Whenever we concentrate on the rules of grammar… we run the risk of veiling…the flexibility to authors who think of them as tools of meaning and effect” (p. 108).
Controversially, Clark allows use of the singular they because “gender equality trumps the arithmetic logic of formal grammar” and because “that's the way we talk” (p. 124). I'm not sure I'm convinced of his argument; I still prefer rewriting or making the pronoun match the noun in number, usually by switching to plural.
It looks like the journalist in Clark trumped the academician, because he does not attribute the sources of quotes, nor does he provide a bibliography. Despite these omissions, The Glamour of Grammar is refreshing to read if you want to learn how to write better.
Charles R. Crawley is the lead technical writer for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA. He is the public relations chair of the Eastern Iowa Chapter of STC and a member of the Technical Editing Special Interest Group.
Geoff Colvin. 2010. New York, NY: Portfolio. [ISBN 978-1-59184-294-1. 234 pages, including index. US$16.00 (softcover).]
One of life's eternal questions is why some people perform so brilliantly. It's tempting to assume they were born with a divine gift, since that would explain why prodigies are so rare in any field and would help us feel better about not being prodigious ourselves. Unfortunately, scientific evidence for such “gifts” is lacking, and the few gifts that have been demonstrated rarely explain exceptional performance. There are obvious exceptions. For example, some of us are born with physical gifts (a seven-foot basketball player will surpass a five-foot player of comparable skill and dedication), some of us lose initial gifts over time (I'll never play in the National Hockey League because I lack a 20-year-old's endurance), and there are unquestionably savants who have a single supreme skill, such as the ability to perform complex mental calculations, yet do nothing else noteworthy. But there's a growing body of evidence that anyone can excel if they're willing to put in the necessary work—which means the right kind of work.
Superstars may have worked harder than everyone else, but the reason they stand above ordinary performers can't be explained by hard work alone. Until recently, it was unclear why there were so few superstars. But the research of K. Anders Ericsson and colleagues over the last several decades has shed intense light on why some people excel, recently summarized in their extensive review of the psychological literature (The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, Cambridge University Press, 2006). Since then, several books have attempted to popularize this thorny theoretical material, Talent being one of them. Does Colvin add anything to the familiar advice that “practice makes perfect”? Indeed he does, both skillfully and engagingly.
He presents overwhelming support for the claim that not all practice is created equal. Deliberate practice—intensely focused, often exhausting honing of one's weakest skills—is what creates prodigies, not mindless repetition. Talent‘s inspirational message, illustrated by copious examples, is that you can improve any skill through focused practice guided by a mentor who understands your individual needs and can help you work on them. This rationale is why we send our children to school: We believe that thinking skills are learned, not innate, and that with the right teacher, the education process will help our children learn those skills. Colvin also notes that we should never assume that because we've reached a plateau, we can't progress further. By repeating the process of attaining mastery (identifying and honing key skills), we can continue improving throughout our careers.
Colvin provides many examples that illustrate how to use the book's principles, both personally and in an organization or team. Understanding how both we and our employers can encourage—or quash—excellence is knowledge each of us can use at work and in our daily lives, and that makes Colvin's book a must-read.
Geoff Hart plays an expert on the Internet (www.geoff-hart.com), but is living proof that practice doesn't make perfect. He has only reluctantly abandoned his dreams of hockey glory.
Wendy Jedlička. 2010. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-470-24670-2. 506 pages, including index. $49.95 USD (softcover).]
Wendy Jedlička, a faculty member at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), oversaw the development of Sustainable Graphic Design. She employed the tools, systems, and strategies necessary to influence the sustainability of natural resources management. With a team of 15 other highly qualified sustainable designers from diverse backgrounds, she put together this comprehensive, seven-chapter book while teaching in MCAD's groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program.
Unlike most books, this guidebook is an approved green, environment-friendly product, made possible by innovators who are responsible for and support sustainability outcomes. Sustainability gems include the following:
The book is printed on Cascade's Rolland Envir 100 paper, which was produced from 100 percent postconsumer, de-inked fiber, without chlorine. Cascade cites, for each ton of this paper, eye-opening savings of 17 mature trees; 6.9 pounds of waterborne waste; 10,196 gallons of water flow; 2,098 pounds of atmospheric emissions; 1,081 pounds of solid wastes; and 2,478 cubic feet of natural gas. The vegetable-based ink contains little or no toxicity. This overall printing process is a win-win strategy recommended by resourceful graphic designers.
Ideas in this book, especially those espoused by the Biomimicry Guild, fascinate me because they help graphic designers mimic nature. For example, observation of elk bulls shows that optimization is more important for reproduction and survival than maximization. If the bull's antlers are maximized, chasing and protecting cows and fighting predators become more difficult. A reduced diet of nutrients helps optimize antlers and gives the bull the speed and agility to fight and avoid being eaten. This biological fact tells graphic designers that they can save resources by optimizing, for example, when they communicate more by placing elements appropriately on fewer pages.
Jedlička also points to a new typeface called Ecofont, designed by SPRANQ Creative Communications to reduce ink usage by up to 20 percent. Savings come from each letter having oblong holes that bypass the absorption of ink. He notes also that 90 percent of U.S. newspapers use vegetable-based (soybean) ink rather than petroleum-based ink; the vegetable-based type is safer for the environment and health.
Practicing sustainability is like emulating nature: We use its materials and then put back materials in a direct or indirect form that nature accepts. Otherwise, nature will become imbalanced and we will pay the consequences. Graphic designers who emulate nature cannot go wrong.
Is this a valuable book for STC members? I'd say definitely, because our concern for the environment is important. With awareness of sustainability efforts practiced by graphic designers, we can influence others to make wise choices in natural resources management.
The late William L. Kidd was a retired federal employee, having worked last with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As a senior writer-editor, he developed publications that educated beneficiaries about health care benefits and related health issues. His experience included managing several newsletters, writing and editing technical documentation, and developing other informational materials.
Joseph E. Harmon and Alan G. Gross. 2010. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-31662-8. 225 pages, including index. US$20.00 (softcover).]
The Craft of Scientific Communication is not just another formulaic how-to book. Instead of providing a list of dos and don'ts, Harmon and Gross dissect excerpts of well-crafted scientific writing to show you why it works. They also present examples of ineffective writing, which they transform by applying a few basic principles. The writing samples encompass a wide range of scientific disciplines and come from scientists, both famous and not. The authors convey the basic principles of effective scientific communication in a manner that is relevant and easy to digest. What scientist wouldn't appreciate the opportunity to learn best practices in scientific writing from the likes of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Erwin Hubble?
The intended audience is scientists, both experienced and newly minted, all of whom must effectively communicate their work to other scientists, journal editors, and granting agencies. Although most scientists must “publish or perish,” many do not invest much time or energy into honing their writing skills. The Craft of Scientific Communication is designed to help you, the scientist, “write prose that creates no serious barriers between your readers and the persuasive argument you have crafted” (p. vii). Put simply, your science will shine if its presentation both informs and engages your audience. Readers of all levels will find practical use for the authors’ guidelines and checklist questions. The practice exercises would be well suited to a teaching environment and offer a wealth of opportunities for science students to discuss the many possible “right” answers. However, the exercises seem overly time-consuming and too abstract for the typical scientific practitioner.
Early chapters address how to prepare for, write, and revise a well-crafted scientific article. You learn how to write the different parts of a standard article, handle acknowledgments, and arrange the parts of an article based on article type. Instead of being a tedious, pedantic presentation of “rules,” this section is engaging and sometimes inspiring. For example, Watson and Crick engage readers by solving a problem when they introduce their 1953 paper, “‘We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.)’” (p. 10). Harmon and Gross conclude that after reading these chapters, you should appreciate that “good scientific articles combine rigorous argument and ritual observance [of routine principles of organization]” (p. 93).
Later chapters cover proposals, presentations, and writing style. The two chapters on style almost seem an afterthought, although they do nicely summarize tips for writing and editing scientific text. The authors’ discussion of proposal writing and visual presentations emphasize that successful scientists will likely need to present their work in person. As in the rest of the book, the discussion of PowerPoint goes beyond rehashing others’ comments to present examples of successful presentations and show why they work. The authors make an excellent point about a common flaw in PowerPoint presentations: “their creators fail to adjust the contents to take into account that their audience has only a minute or two to view each slide” (p. 153).
The Craft of Scientific Communication reads at times like historical fiction, which is a refreshing (and unexpected) approach for a writer's guide. The authors illustrate, in easily accessible excerpts from reputable scientists, the principles of well-crafted scientific communication. The checklist questions at the end of each chapter allow you to evaluate both published and in-process writing samples. This book deserves a prominent place on the bookshelf of every established and aspiring scientist, but only after it has been culled for helpful suggestions and interesting stories.
Patti Blair is a freelance science writer who has spent nearly two decades in the scientific field, both at the bench and in various support functions. She specializes in writing grants and protocols/standard operating procedures. Patti is a member of STC.
Francis C. Dane. 2011. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [ISBN 978-1-4129-7853-8. 371 pages, including, epilogue, glossary, references, and indexes. US$62.95 (softcover).]
One important part of educating technical communicators is teaching them how to analyze research. Gone are the days when they relied on traditional grammar and instinct to provide effective communication through designing, editing, and presenting the product. Now, technical communicators have to provide research-based reasons for what they do. For example, when designing communications, they must understand how the receiver actually reads and processes the information. Justification for communication decisions comes from research in several different fields. The problem is how do technical communicators know that the research is accurate and well done?
Other academic disciplines also have this need. Each usually has a textbook to help students learn how to evaluate the research that underlies the assertions in publications and decisions. Such is the case with this book.
The book is designed for students of public policy. The examples and the evaluation techniques rely heavily on the author's experience as a researcher in public policy. However, even though the two disciplines are quite different, the research methodology used in both is essentially the same.
Dane's book consists of 12 chapters, beginning with a general introduction. Then he takes students through such topics as the scientific approach to research, how to read a research report, a conceptual overview of statistical analyses, and a variety of techniques that researchers use to develop experimental procedures that lead to the results and the conclusion. Chapters 7 through 12 describe various research approaches, such as experimental approaches, non-experimental approaches, and field and archival research. The last chapter brings everything together in helping students to develop a method for evaluating research. In order to evaluate research, they need to know how research is conducted; and that is what Dane teaches.
Because technical communicators use research methodology for such things as usability research, focus groups, and product testing, Dane's book can provide helpful suggestions for designing the research that technical communicators do.
Chapter 4, on statistics, can be especially valuable. Dane's approach is to give enough information about various descriptive and inferential statistical measures to allow readers “to critically assess the ‘researchers’ interpretations of their results” (p. 80). Technical communicators can use this chapter and the next on sampling techniques to design their own research projects.
While the whole book may not be of use to technical communicators, the chapters on how research comes about can be very valuable not only when they actually do research, but when they have to evaluate research done by others. Dane's style is readable and does not get in the way of the information he presents. I would recommend that technical communicators who do the research themselves or use the research of others look into this book.
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.
Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill. 2011. Boston, MA: Course Technology, a part of Cengage Learning. [ISBN 978-1-4354-5512-2. 270 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]
In Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees, the authors warn that many businesses are facing a tsunami for which they are ill prepared. In the next few years an entire generation of workers—many of them the most knowledgeable and experienced in their companies—will retire, taking with them undocumented knowledge and operational experience vital to the smooth running of their companies.
Although many companies are aware of the problem, its sheer magnitude—combined with the pressing demands of day-to-day operations—has kept many from confronting it. It would help to have a strategy for approaching the problem, and that is what the authors have produced.
Since the problem is essentially one of knowledge capture, retention, and transfer—a problem with which technical communicators have some expertise—savvy technical communicators who pick up the required management vocabulary may well be able to participate, while increasing their value to their employers.
Even though the book is primarily aimed at managers, technical communicators who want to contribute should find it valuable for several reasons:
- It describes the nature and size of the problem and provides a useful analysis of the relevant audiences. It discusses the types of knowledge—explicit, implicit, and tacit—that need to be captured and the challenges presented by the different preferred communication and learning styles of both the departing Boomers and the Gen X and Gen Y employees who will replace them.
- It discusses a wide range of knowledge capture and retention strategies, from warehousing written knowledge, to mentoring, to using social media, to establishing communities of practice to share expertise.
- It provides a full road map to setting up a knowledge capture and retention initiative—researching and selling the need to management, researching the scope of the problem within a particular company, producing planning documents, designing and implementing the chosen strategies, and establishing metrics and analyzing results.
One needs to conduct in-depth interviews and produce written deliverables tailored to discrete audiences—activities at which technical communicators excel. Instead of documenting a product for an external audience, technical communicators would capture vital operational knowledge for an internal audience. The shift in focus might be just the move a technical communicator needs to get noticed and boost a career.
Tad Crawford. 2010. 5th ed. New York, NY: Allworth Press. [ISBN 978-1-58115-742-0. 270 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]
If you think that any book with a title that starts Legal Guide for is boring, forget that notion. Tad Crawford gives visual artists practical advice that is well written and thorough.
In today's Internet environment, with some people saying “it's on the Internet, so it's free,” it is critical to spread far and wide knowledge of copyright and the legal and financial problems resulting from infringement. This book does exactly that.
The first half gives the background on copyright and general protections for artists. Crawford defines what is copyrightable and describes the history of copyright. Did you know that copyright issues go back to Roman times? Information on completing the correct paper or Internet form is straightforward and helpful.
What is copyrightable? Typefaces aren't, but the software programs to design them are. In the chapter “Moral Rights,” Crawford describes the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act, which defines protections for American artists. The principles apply to writing as well. The rights of attribution, integrity, and disclosure and the duration and enforcement of copyright are the key to the entire book. Crawford includes clear examples in which artist Jeff Koons wins one case and loses another based on subtlety of the law and differences in what he did. Crawford gives specific case numbers, should you want to research any case further.
Crawford describes other issues for artists: unfair competition, trademarks, protection for domain names, the right to privacy, and defamation in art. Particularly interesting is his analysis of New York state's Arrington Bill, which gives freelance photographers and agents the same protections that publishers and employee-photographers have.
The second half of the book explains contracts and other legal documents one should—and should not—sign. Crawford recommends negotiation, which can result in a win for both sides. Although most chapters are specific to visual artists, there is a chapter on publishing contracts. Four chapters on taxes indicate the author's practicality. After reading the preceding chapters, you shouldn't need the final chapter, “How to Avoid or Resolve Disputes with Clients.”
The book is comfortable to peruse, lying flat when opened. Margins are generous so you can easily take notes. The index is good but could use some expansion of terms for the novice.
Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is one of the most clearly written and organized nonfiction books I've read. The principles and examples are so illustrative of legal issues that anyone involved in writing for a living will benefit. I highly recommend the book especially for anyone who is self-employed and for technical communication teachers.
Beth Lisberg Najberg is principal of Beginnings, an information design consulting firm. She has over 20 years of experience as a consultant to large corporations and public entities. Beth teaches people to communicate complex messages clearly and develops custom information graphics. She speaks frequently at national conferences and is an STC Associate Fellow.
Marianne Dainton and Elaine D. Zelley. 2010. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-14129-7691-6. 246 pages, including index. US$61.95 (softcover).]
If you teach upper-level or graduate courses in communication theory or are a practitioner who is interested in learning more about communication theories, you will find Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life useful. The theories described can apply to technical communication as well as other communication fields.
The first two chapters include foundational information not included in the first edition. They introduce you to the nature of communication and theory and to theory development. The remaining chapters cover many of the major communication theories, including intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, organizational communication, persuasion, leadership, and mass communication theories. Each chapter details a particular theory and concludes with a concise summary and a real-life case study that illustrates a practical application of that theory in communication or business situations. The case studies are followed by open questions that can foster classroom discussion. Tables and visuals enable you to quickly review the central concepts of each theory.
In the discussion of interpersonal and intrapersonal communication theories, one of the more interesting theories is uncertainty reduction theory. There are two types of uncertainty. Behavioral uncertainty “takes into account your insecurity about which actions are appropriate in a given situation” (p. 44). For example, when starting a new job, you may be unsure about when you should arrive at the office and how long you are expected to stay. This is typical behavioral uncertainty for a new employee. Cognitive uncertainty “emphasizes the doubts in your ability to pinpoint the attitudes and beliefs of others” (p. 44). The authors provide the example of a colleague noting how “comfortable” you look on a casual Friday. You are then unsure if he is complimenting you or hinting that you are too casually dressed.
One of the most interesting concepts in the chapter on group communication is that of fantasy themes, which help a group to develop a cohesive group identity. Fantasy themes start “with a dramatizing message—a joke, pun, figure of speech, anecdote, double entendre, or metaphor” (p. 88). The case study describes how a team's fantasy theme revolving around the Austin Powers movies helped them get through a challenging project.
Managers may find relevant the descriptions of theories of organizational communication, persuasion, and leadership. Dainton and Zelley describe four leadership theories and contrast management with leadership. One perspective on leadership is the theory of leader-member exchange (LMX), which “argues that leaders actually treat each of their subordinates differently” (p. 155). The authors debate whether “high employee performance lead[s] to an LMX relationship” or if “an LMX relationship lead[s] to high employee performance” (p. 156). They conclude that both situations work. An employee who is trusted by leaders will perform well, and leaders trust an employee who performs well.
User experience professionals may find relevant the discussion of mediated communication and cultural theories, because these theories stress the importance of knowing your audience and using the appropriate media for that audience.
Instructors should take advantage of the additional online resources provided by the publisher, including access to a password-protected site that includes such things as sample syllabi, a test bank, and PowerPoint slides.
Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life provides a comprehensive view of multiple communication theories that becomes more enjoyable as you start seeing applications of theories in real-life situations.
Mary C. Corder is a senior technical writer with F5 Networks, where she writes hardware and command line interface documentation. She edits the Puget Sound STC chapter's newsletter and belongs to Sigma Tau Chi. She received a Professional and Technical Writing MA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Ben Henick. 2010. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc. [978-0-596-15760-9. 318 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]
Ben Henick wrote his book to fast-forward to the “good parts,” or best practices that Web developers need in order to create efficient sites, because wading through the specifications of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is “sleep-through-it boring” (p. xvii). This is a much-welcomed book for developers, because reading the minutiae of markup can be impenetrably dry. Keeping lines of markup to a minimum, Henick deftly describes the structuring of elements in real-world examples.
After giving an overview of hypertext, HTML, and CSS, Henick dedicates the bulk of the book, 10 chapters, to exploring the good parts of HTML and CSS. These cover the gamut of the presentation layer of Web sites, including Web standards; color and backgrounds; tables and forms; and images and multimedia. He addresses both basic features, such as working with lists, and more advanced techniques, such as the use of Fahrner Image Replacement for backgrounds.
Henick painstakingly walks through the “notoriously hard to master” CSS layout techniques (p. 73), including multicolumn designs. Yet, after explaining technical markup, he also expounds on layout aesthetics, such as the importance of the rule of thirds.
Indeed, non-computer technology passages are interspersed throughout the book. For example, Henick provides background on image publishing etiquette, how letterforms led to computer typography, and color theory.
Henick provides even more help by identifying the worst of the Web, “the bad parts,” and how to avoid detrimental or outdated practices. Even CSS is not spared his critiquing. For example, the z-index and clip properties are “great in theory, lousy in practice” (p. 284). Henick also explains the particular problems with Internet Explorer 6. Henick's humor comes through: “Just don't—not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” he pleads about the use of frames (p. 278).
The audience for this book is wide, from software engineers needing to learn presentation markup, to graphic designers delving deeper into Web design, and to other Web professionals who have not updated their HTML skills for a while. The book is definitely not for beginners. Henick writes on the companion Web site's home page that the “intended audience is professional developers with at least 3–5 years’ experience.” Because the target audience is varied, the book has an unbalanced feel. As Henick admits, “there may be times material meant for engineers is painfully obvious to designers, and vice versa” (p. xix).
Also, given the many aspects of Web page presentation that the author addresses, it is curious that he omits any discussion of the growing prevalence of content management systems. Perhaps this omission is his opinion; Henick has written a practical book that implicitly encourages readers to design sites from the ground up. But he also acknowledges that pre-written markup can be useful, such as when he lists third-party helps for multimedia insertions.
Henick has a passion for the fundamentals of Web site development. He does not speak as a theorist or as an educator but rather as a veteran practitioner sharing hard-won experience. His “good parts” are concise and interesting as well as effective, and he also previews several new markup elements being developed for HTML 5. Web professionals needing to brush up on their markup skills can use this book to add more elegance to their designs within the constant evolution of Web technologies.
James Morgan has been in nonprofit communications for sixteen years.
Thomas Lockwood and Thomas Walton, eds. 2008. New York, NY: Allworth Press. [ISBN 978-1-58115-656-0. 239 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Building on the widely accepted maxim that “the successful organizations of the future will be those that make the most of the creativity of their employees and their partners” (p. xi), the 26 contributors to these chapters apply principles of design to the various facets of corporate creativity. In many of its operations, the corporate world includes both public and private organizations.
As the editors point out, creativity has traditionally been associated with the arts rather than business. But this is mythology: “Learning to think creatively in one discipline opens the door to understanding creativity in other disciplines” (p. xii).
The authors emphasize the integrative and multidisciplinary nature of the process, approaching it from the several points of view that comprise the book's major sections: “Create,” “Collaborate,” and “Innovate.” The first section explores how personal and team creativity works, the second discusses building the best environment for creativity and innovation, and the third provides examples.
We're at the mercy of the jargon. The discourse examined in this book includes such words as discovery, integrative, multidisciplinary, collaboration, innovation, team creativity, and creativity itself. As buzzwords become overused, they lose their creative force. The best way to restore them is probably to accept a range of meanings rather than to establish a canonical form.
As technical communicators, we constantly face questions of meaning across various technical fields. Fittingly, the 26 authors provide stories illustrating how creativity helps bring new products to market and transform businesses into brands within a wide range of disciplines. They draw from several applications familiar to us, including open source systems, prototyping, design management, and crisis communication.
The authors remind us to maintain our creative faculties in adulthood. One of the best ways of doing this is making connections between things and things, between things and people, and between people and people. And of course, between words and things; this is, in the end, a primary charge of our craft.
Steven Darian retired from a career at Rutgers University, where he taught business communication, technical writing, and other language-related courses. His work in several countries includes managing a training school for Raytheon Corporation in Saudi Arabia and teaching in China. His most recent book is The China Business Reader (2006).
Nicholas Carr. 2010. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. [ISBN 978-0-393-07222-8. 276 pages, including index. US$26.95.]
Readers of a book with a title like The Shallows will not be surprised to learn that its author thinks what the Internet is doing to our brains is not necessarily good. But Nicholas Carr is no Luddite writing in nervous reaction to technology he doesn't like or understand. He first encountered computers in the 1970s, bought an early Mac in 1986, and today spends as much time on the Net as any professional must. The Shallows began out of his personal experience after he noticed some changes in his thinking and began to suspect that, rather than being merely a passive tool, his computer was changing him and the way he worked. Exposure to the Internet caused more changes. “Sometime in 2007,” he says, “a serpent of doubt slithered into my info-paradise. I began to notice that the Net was exerting a much stronger and broader influence over me than my old stand-alone PC ever had” (p. 16). This book is the story of those changes.
In the first half of The Shallows, Carr synthesizes material from many fields to provide background for his argument in the second half of the book that electronic media are affecting not only the metaphors people use to think about memory and intelligence but the human brain itself. He counters the claims of technophiles that the Internet will expand the human mind and make a utopian world. While some believe that hypertext and other electronic media promote deeper and more creative thought, Carr argues just the opposite: “The division of attention demanded by multimedia … strains our cognitive abilities, diminishing our learning and weakening our understanding” (p. 129).
A recurring theme is that the human brain is plastic and can be shaped by actions and environments. According to Carr, we are in danger of losing centuries of progress in building our skills of deep thought and sustained close attention. He cites research showing that brains function differently after extended use of digital media. Some of the results may be positive, such as the ability to judge the reliability of information found on the Web quickly and spot patterns in a mass of information, along with the oft-mentioned improvements in “hand-eye coordination, reflex response, and the processing of visual cues” (p. 139). Other results, however, are negative, including the loss of empathy and compassion and “the pastoral ideal of meditative thought” (p. 168).
Carr has written a comprehensive and accessible overview of his subject. He supports his views by referencing history, philosophy, and science, drawing on the work of Ong, McLuhan, Nietzsche, Nielsen, and many neuroscientists. Well researched and including a list of suggestions for further reading, The Shallows is a good place for readers with an interest in the relationship between technology and thought to wade in.
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.
Huafei Liao, Yinni Guo, April Savoy, and Gavriel Salvendy. 2010. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-4200-677-4. 176 pages, including index. US$82.95.]
As an academic who researches content localization across various media, I know firsthand that all too often the furthest a localization effort goes on the Web is to change the surface variables, like the language or colors. This focus on content is why Content Preparation Guidelines for the Web and Information Appliances is important in today's localization research: Liao, Guo, Savoy, and Salvendy advocate that these content changes should not only be considered, but be the most important considerations in a localization effort, because “people in different countries will often approach similar tasks in different ways because of cultural differences” (p. 6). This is very practical advice that many in e-commerce dismiss as not necessary or too expensive, but Liao and colleagues make a very persuasive case that e-commerce sites should be built from the ground up with that culture's preferences in mind rather than merely translated later.
Content Preparation Guidelines for the Web and Information Appliances is, in essence, a large-scale usability study based on the work of Liao, Guo, and Savoy in their dissertations. That may be the text's only downfall: Although that the proposed audience is “usability professionals and Web and IT appliance designers” (p. xiii), the discourse is exceedingly academic, and the quantitative nature of the study may be more complicated than most practitioners would care to wade through.
Despite the complexity of the information, the authors’ work really shines in its part-by-part breakdown of what U.S. versus Chinese users like to see when considering the purchase of an electronic product. Their discussion goes through each individual specification of the product and what the users would prefer to be highlighted on a Web page. Chinese users, for example, prefer information on the weight of the object to be put in a prominent place because they often hang cell phones and MP3 players around their necks.
I appreciate also the discussion of how the cultural dimensions of Geert Hofstede and Edward T. Hall influence the preferences for content on e-commerce Web sites. For instance, Chinese purchasers prefer to see the country of origin information on the product description because they are more accepting of authority, making them more likely to consider the known “expertise” of that country before they buy.
In summary, while academics and practitioners will likely appreciate different aspects of Content Preparation Guidelines for the Web and Information Appliances, it is a valuable work for each audience. Practitioners will enjoy the clear, practical advice on making product descriptions and e-commerce Web sites culturally appropriate, while academics will appreciate the solid methodology and use of theory to arrive at useful advice for constructing these sites.
Nicole St. Germaine-McDaniel is a senior member of STC and head of the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican-American audience and technical communication in the health fields.