Books Reviewed in This Issue
Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo. 2010. San Francisco, CA: No Starch Press. [ISBN 978-1-59327-199-2. 280 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
If you’re in the marketing realm, you know that you need to be involved in social media. And though there is widespread knowledge that you “should” be present, many businesses and individuals are still waiting for the business case centered on “why” it’s a business “need” rather than a passing whim. Whether you’re trying to make that case for you or your boss, Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo provide ample ammunition in their Friends with Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook.
Barefoot and Szabo make promises that they deliver on from the beginning. In this book, they guide the reader through the basics:
- How to find your way around the social media landscape
- How to launch a social media relations campaign
- How to make your website social media ready
- Ideas and inspiration for original approaches in your own campaigns
- How to avoid the risks and pitfalls of social media marketing
From providing general definitions for the newbie to real-life case studies and strategic tips for the “Kool-Aid” drinkers, they deliver. One thing I really like is that even though they focus on popular sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the tactics they provide are timeless and transcend what’s hot now and can be evolved as technology evolves.
The reason they can transcend technology lies in the fact that they focus not on the effort or task of making the sale, but rather on creating a customer relationship (user, friend; whatever you call your audience). Everything they discuss centers on putting the user first and consequently engaging the user. Barefoot and Szabo share, “Instead of Return on Investment, it’s more about Return on Engagement. On a purely marketing level, we’re really trying to arm the really good fans with the brand’s attributes so that they will spread them” (p. 183).
Many strategies they recommend are rooted in Forrester’s four-step social strategy approach: People, Objectives, Strategy, and Technology (p. 101). And as such, it’s a refreshing perspective to the initial mad rush to social media bullhorns that are thankfully beginning to die out. If you’re in the camp of waiting to see if social media will “take,” have decided it has indeed changed the way we market, and are ready to integrate it sensibly, then this book is worthy of being read.
Even if you’re not in the marketing department, if you’re using social media in the realms of customer support, product support, or customer education, you’ll find value in this book. Barefoot and Sbazo address how to deal with crisis issues as well as how to be a good community steward. In short, there’s something for everyone.
Friends with Benefits does a great job of cutting through the frenzy and providing solid, logical, and actionable tips for starting or evolving a social media marketing campaign.
Louellen S. Coker has more than 15 years in public relations, marketing, Web and instructional design, and technical writing/editing. She has an MA in Professional and Technical Communication and is founder of Content Solutions, STC Associate Fellow, and past Lone Star Community president. She conducts workshops about effective use of social media and portfolios.
Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky. 2010. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. [ISBN 978-1-4493-7986-5. 398 pages, including index. US$59.99 (softcover)
Beautiful Visualization is useful for readers from laypersons with no data graphics software experience to experienced people with data visualization and who want to read a variety of examples of data interpreted visually. Julie Steele and Noah Iliinsky have commissioned authors, mostly academics and researchers, who create data visualization to write articles explaining the process and tools they use.
In the first chapter, Iliinsky defines a beautiful visualization: “For a visual to qualify as beautiful, it must be aesthetically pleasing, yes, but it must also be novel, informative and efficient” (p. 1). In the last chapter, Jessica Hagy defines a visualization as “only something (and everything) you can see” (p. 353). Iliinsky works with graphics software; Hagy uses pencil on index cards. Chapters in between describe ways the contributors use software to analyze millions of data points and share the stories in varied visualizations.
The authors describe the process of creating beautiful visualizations in a similar pattern. It often starts inductively by looking at raw data to see what information might be extracted. Next, the authors pose questions about what story might be told. They describe choices they must make along the way, in data and graphic displays. Actually creating the visualization becomes an iterative process until the authors extract and display the information that tells their story.
The range of visualizations takes numerous forms, which each contributor describes. Maps appear in various ways: proportional to show election results (Iliinsky) and patterns of car purchases (Shapiro), time-lapse animated maps to show patterns in airplane takeoffs and landings (Koblin with Klump), and a day in the life of accessing the New York Times (Young and Bilton).
Social interaction patterns that drive Netflix and Amazon are shown (Krebs and Holloway) as well as patterns of US senators (Odewahn) and ways to study other networks (Perer).
Beautiful Visualization also shows some newer graphic techniques. Dense area graphs as well as chromograms show patterns in editing Wikipedia pages (Wattenberg and Viegas). Parallel sets display categorical data about people who died on the Titanic (Kosara). Several visualizations are used to show submissions to panels over a 20-year period (Stefaner) and research submissions (Schich). A tutorial explains how to explore data from New York Times articles that are now online (Thorp).
Chapters about visualizations not in a graphical axis include the creation of Wordle (Feinberg), how color conveys information (Driscoll), how virtual autopsies are becoming an important aid to forensics departments (Persson), depictions of the New York subway map (Jabbour), and a comparison of animation used in a presentation with animated data that users explore independently (Fisher). An exploration of visuals and sounds in a real physical setting is a current California experiment (Putnam, Wakefield, Alper, Adderton, and Kuchera-Morin).
The layout of Beautiful Visualization makes navigation easy, with the chapter number, title, and page number all in the footer. “Don’t make it pretty, make it communicate a story about the data” is the actuating tag line that Steele and Iliinsky succeed in sharing.
Beth Lisberg Najberg has more than 20 years experience as an information and instructional design consultant, documenting systems, developing custom training solutions, and creating technical presentations and for large corporations and public entities. She is principal of Beginnings (www.BeginningsDesign.com), an information design consulting firm.
Charles Lipson. (2011). 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-48464-8. 213 pages, including index. US$14.00 (softcover).]
This modestly priced volume offers significant, immediately applicable coverage of major citation styles. Although intended for students and authors who write for journal publications, Cite Right deserves a prominent place on the bookshelves of technical editors, technical communicators, proofreaders, and others who work with the manuscripts of professionals in the 18 fields (the humanities; social sciences, education, and business; anthropology and ethnography; biological sciences; biomedical sciences, medicine, nursing, and dentistry; chemistry; physics, astrophysics, and astronomy; and mathematics, computer science, and engineering) Lipson covers.
Of the book’s 12 chapters, the first two introduce the reasons for and basics of citations, and the last presents frequently asked questions (FAQs) applicable to all citation styles. The remaining nine chapters cover stand-alone manuals and industry-specific journals whose citations styles are used in certain fields.
Chapter lengths vary from 6 to 47 pages, depending on whether the citation style discussed applies to a field that depends on journals to set that style or whether the style is covered by a major guide such as The Chicago Manual of Style, The Modern Language Association’s MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing and MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, or The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. In each chapter, Lipson credits appropriate manuals and journals so that those interested in going directly to his sources can do so.
In breezy, first- and second-person prose, Lipson presents tidily organized chapters that feature 1 to 6 sections. All chapters start with an overview of the field(s) in which the particular style of citation is used. All chapters contain an alphabetized, comprehensive index that lists the types of reference materials that a researcher might consult. These materials range from books and journal articles to social media, audio and video podcasts, posters, and numerous others. All chapters present examples of reference list entries and in-text citations for the types of reference material common to the field.
Additional sections appear in several chapters: a list of abbreviations commonly used in the reference list of a paper written in certain fields; FAQs regarding the citation style featured in the chapter. Unique sections appear in some chapters, for instance, in the Chicago (Turabian) chapter a short section on citing tables and notes; in the MLA chapter common abbreviations of the names of publishers; in the chapter on physics, astrophysics, and astronomy citation formats for pre-prints of unpublished papers.
One major field omitted by Lipson is law, whose citation style can be found in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. That lapse aside, Cite Right is a valuable aid worth purchasing.
Ann Jennings is a senior member of STC, 2009 winner of STC’s Jay R. Gould award, and professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, where she teaches in the BS and MS degree programs in professional writing. Her technical editing students use The Chicago Manual of Style as one of their textbooks.
(2010). 16th ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1. 1,027 pages, including index. US$ 65.00.]
When this venerable manual is reissued once a decade, the publishing world pays attention. In the 16th edition, The Chicago Manual of Style reaffirms its premier status in a publishing world that now includes digital media, social media, and other formerly unimaginable delivery methods. Because its editors both safeguard useful tradition and offer ways to handle new issues, the manual remains a necessity for technical editors, proofreaders, and technical communicators.
While examining the 16th edition, I compared its chapter headings and content with those of the 15th edition, published in 2003. Topics and chapters carried over from the 15th edition have been reorganized and resequenced, and 70 pages have been added. NOTE: As a symbol of continuity, the pale blue front flap of the 16th edition’s dust jacket flows into an orange back flap identical in color to the dust jacket of the 15th edition.
Much bedrock material remains in the new edition, including chapters on the parts of books and journals; manuscript preparation, editing, and proofreading; copyright and related matters; and reviews of grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Additional holdover chapters include those on names and terms, numbers, mathematics in type, abbreviations, foreign languages, quotations and dialogue, and indexes. Two chapters of the new edition are devoted to Chicago‘s traditional systems of source citation: notes and bibliography and author-date. Some material has been significantly rewritten; for instance, the 15th edition’s Proofs chapter that has become a segment of the 16th edition’s Manuscript Preparation, Manuscript Editing, and Proofreading chapter.
New material appears alongside traditional material. For instance, appendix A on production and digital technology discusses print production as well as XML markup. A helpful XML work flow diagram (p. 879) shows how a single manuscript is tagged to produce a print book, an e-book, and a Web publication. The diagram also addresses the processing requirements for the artwork that accompanies each version of that manuscript.
The key terms of publication production featured in the 15th edition have evolved into the 16th edition’s appendix B glossary that contains those key terms plus new terms familiar to many technical communicators, for example, CSS, GIF, HTTP, JPEG, PNG, URL, vector graphic, Web browser, and XHTML.
Scattered updates appear in the 16th edition. For example, the relative merits of Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) and Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) are discussed. A DOI is a unique numerical code assigned to a publication for ease of identification and retrieval. The DOI system was under development when the 15th edition (pages 56 and 646) was printed. Now Chicago considers DOIs so important that “Authors should include DOIs rather than URLs for sources that make them readily available” (p. 657).
Note: The online version of The Chicago Manual of Style, http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org, lists rules changes and new features of the 16th edition.
James Mathewson, Frank Donatone, and Cynthia Fishel. 2010. Upper Saddle River, NJ: IBM Press. [ISBN: 978-0-13-700420-1. 177 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content is about writing for the Web. More specifically, it provides guidance on creating content that is relevant for a specific audience that comes to a Web page directly through a search engine. Authors James Mathewson, Frank Donatone, and Cynthia Fishel, who work in various marketing and brand communications capacities at IBM, have extensive experience in attempting to zero in on the specific content that will engage potential customers, and they share their ideas on methods for creating that content, with an emphasis on content for marketing Web sites.
The authors take rather a methodical approach to sharing these ideas and, depending on your level of expertise in Web writing, you may want to pick and choose among the topics. While the authors’ own target audience for Audience, Relevance, and Search “includes writers, editors, content strategists,” and while they claim that “no book adequately focuses on creating text exclusively for the Web” (p. xix), many in their target audience will not find all the contents relevant. Mathewson, Donatone, and Fishel spend a good deal of the book telling, and retelling, readers that “writing for the Web is fundamentally different from writing for print” (p. xix). Anyone who has done any Web writing in the past decade will be more than familiar with many of the concepts and will want to look at the chapter-end summaries to find the content that may be new to them before reading entire chapters.
If your goal in writing for the Web is to improve your results in Google searches, you may glean some valuable tips from Audience, Relevance, and Search. The authors focus exclusively on Google and analysis of Google’s search algorithm. They provide methods for narrowing down your specific audience before you begin writing as well as instructions for using tools, such as Keyword Discovery and Google AdWords, for determining the keywords for which that unique audience may search. The next step—using the targeted keywords in specific ways to create content and metadata—is also explained. The sidebars offer good examples of some of these practices in actual use.
Audience, Relevance, and Search goes beyond creating content to creating Web site architecture and forming linking relationships with other Web sites to improve PageRank in Google. In addition, the authors include some information on incorporating social media concepts, such as social tagging and microblogging, into overall keyword research and Web site architecture strategy. Measuring audience engagement using Web site metrics tools and social media is also covered.
Linda M. Davis is an independent communications practitioner in the Los Angeles area. She holds an MS in Communication Management and has specialized in strategic communication planning, publication management, writing, and editing for more than 20 years. Linda is active in the STC Los Angeles chapter.
Sonja Neef. Trans. Anthony Mathews. 2011. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [ISBN 978-1-86189-653-7. 365 pages, including index and bibliography. US$40.00.]
How long has it been since you sat down and wrote a document—any document, even a personal letter or a diary entry—by hand? The computer keyboard has taken over from the pen in our written lives. Jane Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, read aloud to her family sitting in front of the fire, have been replaced by blog entries produced by an array of Bridget Jones imitators and read silently and in solitude by millions sitting in front of their computers. We might be tempted to think that the entire concept of handwriting without technological augmentation is obsolete, some relic of an earlier and more graceful age. Not so, claims Sonja Neef in Imprint and Trace. Handwriting and technology have evolved in tandem and their fates are still intertwined. She argues, “there is no definitive dichotomy between printed script in the sense of mechanical, technical or digital writing techniques on the one hand, and handwriting in the sense of an individual, unique and singular trace on the other, but … the principles of ‘imprint’ and ‘trace’ are always historically and systematically bound up with one another” (p. 20).
Neef sees writing produced individually by hand and that produced in mass quantities by machine not as adversarial but as complementary. Rather than replacing handwriting, technology makes it ubiquitous. Imprint and Trace explores these new frontiers of handwriting, “areas in which technical reproduction makes previously unique, original works of art into repeatable, palpable and permanently available instant replays” (p. 24). While kaleidoscopically looking at these areas, Neef finds connections such as the one between the handprints painted on prehistoric cave walls and those pressed into the cement of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Both sets of handprints represent the same cultural practice, but the modern set of imprints is accompanied by the trace of the celebrities’ handwriting.
A significant portion of this book includes case studies in which Neef discusses such diverse topics as screensavers and diaries: the (authentic) diary of Anne Frank and a (fraudulent) diary attributed to Adolf Hitler. “The return of handwriting in the age of the photocopy and the computer marks neither an end nor a radical turning point,” Neef concludes (p. 300). It is only the latest iteration of the back-and-forth motion that is inherent in the physical act of handwriting itself.
Scholarly in content and tone, Imprint and Trace draws on Barthes, Baudrillard, Benjamin, Bolter, Butler, Derrida, Foucault, Freud, Irigaray, Lyotard, Marx, McLuhan, Ong, and others well known in academia as Neef constructs her argument. It finishes up with 43 pages of endnotes and a 19-page bibliography. Readers interested in the history of technology as applied to writing and printing will find this book useful. It will also appeal to those studying current cultural issues involving writing, such as tattooing, graffiti, and how we conceive of and investigate the authenticity of documents and personal identities.
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.
Lex S. van Velsen. 2011. The Netherlands: University of Twente Press. [ISBN: 978-90-365-3139-9. 210 pages, including index (soft cover).]
In today’s virtual world, one can easily encounter popular customizable Web sites such as BBC and iGoogle. For the designers of personalized system, questions like these arise: How can we optimize the correspondence between electronically personalized communication and the individual? How do we approach issues such as privacy, trust, and the need for control? How do we evaluate a website when it looks different to each person? Lex van Velsen, a Dutch technical communication researcher from the University of Twente, aims to address these questions in his book, which focuses on applying “the user-centered design approach to the context of electronic personalization” (p. 9).
In the first chapter, he draws a comparison between Socrates’ rhetorical steps and the personalization process to explain the evolution from Socrates’ “personalization by means of face-to-face communication” to today’s “personalization by means of interactive media” (p. 15). He also takes us through the brief history of mass media communication to discuss the shift from “audience” to “user,” which is made possible by new media technologies. To better understand user attitudes toward new technology (personalization), van Velsen conducted a large-scale Web survey where the respondents evaluated a fictitious municipality Web site. He found that trust in the technology and perceived controllability can significantly influence the users’ intention in using the online content personalization.
The next chapter focuses on applying a user-centered design approach to user requirements engineering in a case study on an e-government Web site. The author demonstrates how user requirements for a personalized service can be engineered through interviewing potential users, developing a low-fidelity prototype, and conducting a prototype walk-through.
User-Centered Design for Personalization presents a literature review on publications that discuss user-centered evaluation of personalization by calling attention to the lack of details in the reporting of focus groups and interviews, which prevents the readers from duplicating the study or gaining useful information from the research design.
In the concluding chapter, van Velsen summarizes his book and introduces a technical approach, “layered evaluation,” which breaks the personalization process into several steps. He advocates for an integrated approach, which combines layered evaluation and user-centered design, to create a better personalized system.
Although van Velsen’s writing style and explanations are relatively accessible for lay readers, the highly statistical case studies in chapters 2 and 5 target an audience skilled in analyzing data and interpreting results of empirical studies. Terms like “univariate ANOVA analysis” and “Cronbach’s alphas” can be quite daunting to the less statistically savvy. The list of references in the book was nice, yet a proper index would make this book more useful. van Velsen’s goal with this book is to “contribute to the UCD toolkit for designers of personalized system” (p. 23). Hence, this book is most helpful for designers who would like to develop personalized systems using the user-centered design approach.
Felicia Chong is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Technical Communication at Michigan Technological University. Her current research interests include usability testing and multimedia development and production. She has experience in teaching graphic design, Web design, and college composition.
Guy Kawasaki. 2011. New York, NY: Portfolio. [ISBN 978-1-59184-379-5. 214 pages, including index. US$26.95.]
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions is about “delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea” (p. xix), creating voluntary, long-lasting, mutually beneficial support. Kawasaki’s aim (as in his previous books) is to change the world for the better, following sound ethical principles. He emphasizes that people must like and trust you before you can enchant them, and honors this principle by consistently conveying a likeable, trustworthy persona—and one with a gentle sense of humor. He’s clearly enchanted with life, and wants to share that with you.
This book resembles an interaction-design primer for messages rather than products, but products are never far from the surface. Both are appropriate subjects for enchantment, yet the book sometimes strikes an awkward balance between message and product. Kawasaki assumes you understand key terms (e.g., tweets, RSS), leading to superficial treatment of some techniques. If you already understand the tools, you’ll cope, but neophytes will have to do some homework. Fortunately, a two-page bibliography lists 20 key books that inspired Enchantment, and relevant Web links (not all free) are sprinkled throughout.
Enchantment may excite and inspire experienced readers but may overwhelm neophytes. For instance, the chapters on push and pull technologies seemed scattershot at times, aiming for many targets but hitting few solidly. Both chapters emphasize sound principles that apply with any technology, echoing Kawasaki’s emphasis on people over technology. Indeed, he even provides suggestions on how to deal with people who aren’t as nice as he is. In my experience, there are many bad guys out there, and although Kawasaki focuses consistently on the positive, he provides tips on how to enchant them, avoid their enchantments, or reach a “modus vivendi.”
Kawasaki’s advice seems reasonable and matches my experience, but like most business-oriented books, Enchantment sometimes relies more on anecdata than on rigorous studies, and some cause-and-effect relationships seemed tenuous. In his defense, he never calls an idea more reliable than the evidence merits, and clearly presents the weaker advice as suggestions, not facts. Such suggestions are worth trying because Kawasaki’s experience (he’s a veteran enchanter) lends them credibility, and the cost of failure will typically be low.
Enchantment probably isn’t for you if you’re completely new to this topic (too overwhelming) or an experienced pro (not enough meat). The ideal reader is someone who’s already familiar with audience needs, seeking insights on how to better meet those needs, and willing to do the work required to flesh out Kawasaki’s advice. If you’re such a reader, you’ll find Enchantment a call to action to fine-tune what you’re already doing and start doing new things. The table of contents provides an effective checklist for such efforts, and there’s a useful quiz at the end to help you recall what you’ve learned.
Was I enchanted? Mostly. Kawasaki is a charming and trustworthy guide, offers intriguing and insightful suggestions, and inspired me to try his suggestions in my own work.
Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 25 years of writing, editing, translation, and information design experience. As a working editor, he strives to enchant his authors, and is now equipped to do a better job of this in the future.
Richard Lauchman. 2010. New York, NY: AMACOM/American Management Association. [ISBN 978-0-8144-1494-1. 202 pages, including index. US$13.95 (soft cover).]
The key to understanding Punctuation at Work from Richard Lauchman, who specializes in plain-language writing for business and industry, is in the subtitle. This book is about using effective punctuation to write texts in plain language that are clear and easy to understand. If you have not yet investigated the work of the plain language movement in the United States or elsewhere, you’re likely to be more interested after reading through this book.
Lauchman uses popular magazines and newspapers as guides for his punctuation and writing principles. He seeks a middle ground between advertisers and sound-bite journalists, on one hand, and English instructors who inculcate the “religious jargon” (p. 4) of grammar, punctuation, and usage, on the other. Lauchman acknowledges that writers have their own preferences and prejudices about punctuation. His explanations help readers form their own punctuation judgments.
Punctuation at Work has three main sections. The first section provides the definitions of terms that he uses throughout the book. In keeping with a plain style and a focus on results, Lauchman uses grammatical terms sparingly. While grammarphobes will be put at ease, more advanced readers might desire a more technical vocabulary.
The second section covers 19 principles affecting punctuation and writing. Before discussing how to use punctuation, Lauchman discusses why we use punctuation. His emphasis on using plain language is strong. Several principles are excellent maxims on their own. These principles include #1, “Punctuation can’t rescue sense from nonsense” (p. 21) and #4, “In workplace writing, a sentence should yield its meaning instantly” (p. 28). Some purists might object to principles that are phrased as questions—#13, “When is punctuation optional?” (p. 58)—or that aren’t explicitly about writing—#18, “Feed your head” (p. 79). Lauchman discusses each and provides examples to buttress each point. All told, this section provides helpful examples and thorough explanations.
More than half of the book appears in the third section on punctuation marks. Lauchman provides examples and discussion on using apostrophes, brackets, colons, commas, dashes, ellipses, hyphens, parentheses, periods, question marks, quotation marks, semicolons, and slashes. He also discusses punctuating common sentence structures. Lauchman lingers on the marks that can pose the greatest challenges; to wit, dashes get 4 pages, while commas get 16.
The appendix discusses how to list ideas. While Lauchman does not specifically refer to technical writing here, the examples relate to style choices technical communicators often face.
When I agreed to review this book, I thought that a book like this would discuss punctuation thoroughly and might even include a bit of punctuation history. Lauchman has written a helpful handbook that relates to both plain language and to punctuation in general. This book could be a good addition to a writer’s bookshelf or an editor’s set of reference books. If it had exercises, I would recommend it for teachers as well.
Russell Willerton is a senior member of the STC and an associate professor at Boise State University.
Robert N. Lussier. 2010. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing [ISBN 978-1-61735-113-6. 206 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]
Publish Don’t Perish is a comprehensive guide on research strategy, writing, seeking out journals, and all the associated tasks that go with academic writing, such as selecting a coauthor and meeting your school’s requirements for tenure. Robert Lussier has more than 25 years’ experience writing and working in academics as a professor of business management, and he has been published over 300 times in a variety of formats.
Most of the advice that Lussier offers is practical and applies to academic writing in the technical writing field as well as business. Many more experienced writers learned these tips the hard way, such as learning a school’s publication requirements for tenure before accepting the position or keeping an eye out for calls for papers in e-mails from academic organizations or journals. Lussier is providing a valuable service for new faculty and graduate students by pointing out these details.
Lussier shares his advice in a very practical and frank manner, which is refreshing. He talks plainly about dealing with rejection and advises writers to separate themselves emotionally from their work. One way to do this is to view publishing as a “game” in which you win by publishing the article. Some academics would wince at this description of publishing because it might lead the writer to value quantity over quality. Yet such dispassionate views may help academics who are new to publishing take rejection less personally and keep them motivated.
The section of Publish Don’t Perish that stood out to me was the chapter on time management. Anyone in academics knows that it is impossible to be all things to all people and that you must prioritize to be successful. Lussier’s discussion of developing priorities that meet your school’s requirements as well as your academic goals is solid advice that will help to win over tenure committees as well as prevent new faculty from burning out.
The only drawback of Publish Don’t Perish is that Lussier includes information that is so basic that it insults the reader’s intelligence. For example, he includes a section on writing guidelines that discusses basic grammar and contains statements like “Nouns are the names of people, places or things” (p. 31). Most readers would already have a solid grasp of such topics before they earned an advanced degree or attempted to publish in an academic journal. This book is not an appropriate venue for a basic grammar review, nor would most readers expect to find such information here.
Overall, Publish Don’t Perish is a must-have for graduate students as well as new professors in any field. The advice is sound and honest in a way that a mentor or dissertation chair might hesitate to be. Yet, it is advice that many who are new to academic publishing need to hear.
Nicole St. Germaine-McDaniel is a senior member of STC and coordinator of the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance writer and consultant. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican American audience and technical communication in the health fields.
Jim D. Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick. 2010. New York, NY: American Management Association. [ISBN 978-0-8144-1464-4. 239 pages, including index. US$24.95.]
Training on Trial by Jim Kirkpatrick, son of the notable Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick, and Wendy Kirkpatrick, suffers from being oversimplistic and mainstream. However, this book is earnest in its core message—training must demonstrate its value to the enterprise—which is foundational to succeeding as a credible training entity.
The Kirkpatricks build the book on the metaphor of a trial and extend the metaphor to cover defendants, prosecutors, a jury, and a full slate of court-related terms to support the central idea that training is on trial. The point is, unless training managers can demonstrate the value of training, they are indeed guilty. The solution is to follow the seven Kirkpatrick Business Partner Model (KBPM) stages. The stages are identified with an acronym, PARTNER. These two tactics—an extended, simple metaphor and long, forced acronyms—are the downside of the book. The upside is that KBPM is actually a solid process, so although I dislike the wrapping I appreciate the gift.
The Kirkpatricks openly give credit to training mainstays, namely the Kirkpatrick scale and the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) model. They adhere to the Kirkpatrick scale as absolutely central. What they add are fleshed-out descriptions and criteria for each level in multiple scenarios. They reference the ADDIE model to establish common ground with a training readership and to borrow from the established credibility of the tested process.
Without reviewing the entire KBPM or all seven PARTNER steps, I’ll touch on a few insights I found particularly valuable. First is the idea of partnership. The point is that a training manager’s imperative must be to partner with business leaders as those leaders strive to deliver the business’s strategic objectives. The authors note that too often training groups are content with, and sometimes even insistent on, remaining aloof from the business. These groups are invariably found guilty and suffer the consequences—downsizing, puppet agendas, loss of credibility.
Another powerful notion the Kirkpatricks bring forward is return on expectation. Here they note that return on investment is not enough to win over the jury. Good training managers must demonstrate that they not only understand their stakeholder’s expectations predeployment, but that those expectations are actually met postdeployment.
Woven throughout the book is Wendy Kirkpatrick’s personal story of how she entered the training profession, managed several difficult experiences during her tenure, and how she met and eventually married Jim Kirkpatrick. The story works effectively and illustrates the thesis while elucidating many of the key principles.
Overall, Training on Trial is worth the read. The packaging—extended metaphor and overreliance on acronyms—was difficult for me. The content, however, should prove valuable to any serious training manager as either a solid foundation to base a training strategy upon or at least as a reminder to do the right thing.
Gary Hernandez is a communications manager for BP. He received his MA in English Literature from George Mason University and received his MS in English-Technical Writing from Utah State University. Gary belongs to STC and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
Shawn D. Long. 2010. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. [ISBN 978-1-61520-979-8 438 pages, including index. E-book ISBN: 978-1-61520-980-4. US$180.00 (hardcover). US$30.00 (e-book).]
This collection of scholarly articles analyzes how the virtual workplace, despite early promises of enhanced management-employee collegiality, has actually increased control over workers while reducing their initiative, autonomy, and work-life balance. The studies show that communication and organizational effectiveness in the virtual workplace suffer from a loss of face-to-face interaction and nonverbal cues (pp. 47, 57, 230), poorly defined roles and responsibilities, inconsistent identity formation (pp. 101, 115), and increased “ethical risks” fostered by the limited “socialization process in virtual organizations” (p. 75). By weakening interpersonal communication, the virtual world takes “longer to build trust,” if it does at all (p. 230). Thus, the technology that enables virtual work fails to resolve “major tensions between autonomy and control and between flexibility and rigidity,” disempowering the employee (p. vii).
The virtual environment resembles Bentham’s panopticon, a prison that maintains order through the inmates’ sense of being constantly spied upon (pp. 87, 91). Eventually workers in the virtual panopticon, like the real prisoners, internalize the constant surveillance and become their own watchers. By co-opting the workers’ freedom, the manager, like the jailer, induces paranoia and anxiety in the employees, the constant fear that the invisible yet omnipresent supervisor might actually “appear” or intervene unexpectedly in their work (pp. 89, 90). The fear of surveillance in the traditional workplace is intensified in the virtual world by the real “manager,” the tracking system that is in fact continuously watching and monitoring.
The anxiety virtual workers experience derives from the connectivity software’s ability to track productivity comprehensively and minutely—measuring keystrokes, counting calls, tracking time on task, and even recording employees on camera. Politically motivated workers learn to game the software to their advantage by identifying and maximizing the preferred metrics, thereby appearing indispensable to the remote manager (pp. 92–94, 196–197). Technology that promised to enhance collaboration and depoliticize corporate hierarchy thus facilitates its worst aspects: surveillance and politics.
Research does show, however, that worker satisfaction can be improved by defining roles and responsibilities more crisply, holding regular face-to-face meetings, decreasing the frequency and increasing the predictability of monitoring, engaging employees more proactively in making decisions (pp. 230–232), and defining a mutual code of ethics at the outset (p. 82).
Though clearly organized, with helpful abstracts and glossaries, this book badly needs copy editing (two errors in the first paragraph, dozens throughout). The style, often prolix and sometimes jargonish, could be simplified and condensed. The intended scholarly audience can be asked to tolerate the jargon, perhaps, but not the recurrent solecisms.
Virtual work is no panacea and can be abused, especially by employers, but it can also be improved by following the author’s recommendations. This volume is therefore useful not only as a source of research for scholars, but also potentially as a basis for training managers and employees of virtual workplaces to communicate more effectively and constructively.
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.
Adrienne P. Lamberti and Anne R. Richards, eds. 2011. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-89503-399-4. 250 pages, including index. US$51.95.]
From the private sector-employed professional communicator to the professional classroom communication teacher, it is becoming increasingly important and necessary to understand how to use digital technologies within various contexts. Rather than serve as a reference guide on how to use digital technologies for communication purposes, Complex Worlds seeks to explore the various contexts in which digital technologies affects the work of professional communicators.
Just over 200 pages, this edited collection is suitable for a wide audience range, although the editors note that the book “offers teachers and students of professional communication a collection of provocative responses to some of the most urgent challenges facing communicators today” (p. 13). For educators, this book provides upper level students with an introduction to theoretical and practical applications of digital technologies to professional communication work. I would argue that a couple of the essays would be useful to activists interested in digital culture and practitioners interested in how digital technologies can enhance their communities of practice.
Complex Worlds is divided into four parts, each part focusing on a different community of practice, from activists to practitioners to educators. The first part, “Transforming Advocacy,” examines the relationship between digital technology and advocacy, and how digital technologies can prompt social action through cyberactivism, scholarly digital journals, or citizen journalism movements. The second part, “Shaping the Professions,” explores how digital technologies influence the work of industry communicators. The third part, “Building Communities,” highlights how digital technologies create new communities that cross physical boundaries through online spaces. The final part, “Informing Pedagogy,” provides professional communication instructors with recommendations on how to make students digitally informed. The edited collection ties the various essays together through the concept of digital divergence. The editors write, “the term digital divergence is used to evoke the multifaceted and heterogeneous contexts, users, purposes, genres, and products of digital technology” (p. 2).
Overall, the anthology is a good mix of essays that explore the interconnected, complex relationships between digital technologies, rhetoric, and professional communication. Strengths of the collection include a wide array of communities of practice (from the classroom to the newsroom) from a variety of perspectives (from the activist to the theatre enthusiast), all dealing with professional communication issues. These strengths overshadow the primary weakness, such as the timeliness of the objects of inquiry. For example, one essay examines an interactive CD-ROM and DVD, which are becoming obsolete in the era of cloud computing, flash drives, and Blu-ray disks. The final assessment is that the book is a good read for audiences interested in digital technologies and professional communication. Complex Worlds‘ topic is definitely one that is important to the professional communication discipline and will continue to receive attention as the discipline progresses.
J.A. Dawson is a PhD candidate in Technical & Professional Discourse at East Carolina University. His research interests include professional communication and social change within a global context.
John Ayto. 2011. New York, NY: Arcade Publishing. [ISBN-978-1-61145-053-8. 584 pages US$14.95 (soft cover).]
Those who work with language know that a word’s derivation often enriches its meaning beyond the simple definition. However, in the interest of concision, many dictionaries give only bare-bones derivation information, leaving the reader wondering what circuitous path a word must have taken to arrive at its current meaning.
For those who hunger for more, the Dictionary of Word Origins has selected 8,000 key English words and given them a fuller treatment. First published in 1990, the book is now available as a quality paperback. John Ayto is also the author of the Oxford Dictionary of Slang, the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Word Origins, and Twentieth Century Words.
In the present work, each word gets a paragraph-long article covering where it came from, how it relates to other words, and when certain usages and meanings entered the language. You can read the articles as mini-narratives where you to see each word’s evolution as a comprehensible story. Many entries also contain pointers to related words, so more than the cited 8,000 words are actually touched on.
Written in an engaging and informative style, the work is not only a useful reference, but an entertaining and instructive work to browse.
Many words have histories that shed light on our social past. For example, the words we use for livestock (cow, lamb, swine/pig) are rooted in Old English, while the words we use for table meats (beef, mutton, pork) are derived from French. The anomaly is due to the Norman Conquest, and reflects the social hierarchy—who mainly raised meat and who mainly consumed it—that prevailed at the time.
Some words are linked in surprising ways. For example, who would have guessed that map, apron, and napkin are related; each traces back to Latin mappa, which denoted a sheet, cloth, or towel. Or that buccaneer and barbeque both trace back to Caribbean words for the practice of drying meat on a frame over an open fire. (The woodsmen who practiced this outdoor cooking art apparently were a lawless lot, known for their piratical ways.)
You can find all this and more in Dictionary of Word Origins. Readers should be warned, however, that browsing through it can become addictive.
Patrick Lufkin is an STC Associate Fellow with experience in computer documentation, newsletter production, and public relations. He reads widely in science, history, and current affairs, as well as on writing and editing. He chairs the Gordon Scholarship in technical communication and cochairs the Northern California technical communication competition.
Nancy Duarte. 2010. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [ISBN 978-0-470-63201-7. 248 pages, including index. US$29.95 (soft cover).]
The pendulum has swung … back. For two decades, I have listened to some engineering, business, and computer science types lament having to learn about or read classical literature. The new millennium for technical communicators, however, reveals that mythology and great stories are the meat of successful communication, especially in presentations.
Nancy Duarte’s resonate effectively analyzes the great stories, speeches, and presentations of our time—from Aristotle’s rhetoric to Martha Graham’s dance performances to Steve Jobs’ minimalist slides—and then poignantly teaches us how to transform our audiences. She says, “Resonance occurs when an object’s natural vibration frequency responds to an external stimulus of the same frequency” (p. 4). The goal of resonate is to allow us to view the audience as the story’s and our calling as the supporting role, the character who influences and persuades the hero to change world views.
I did not want to like this book, yet when I discovered that resonate‘s thesis was simply to use literature, music, dance, and other humanities fields to prove how storytelling strengthens the connection between presenter and audience, I proudly rolled my eyes and verbalized a “Duh, Nancy! We English types have known this forever!” In the book’s first few pages, Duarte mentions many plugs for her presentation design business: the appearance of the yellowish green |www| sign means that the reader can find more at www.duarte.com, a rhetorical move with limited persuasive value.
I was Duarte’s resisting reader (p. 84ff). I did not want this book to change me because I did not think I could relate to Duarte at all. But then it happened. About halfway through Duarte’s book, she won me over. I remember my arm hair standing up and the epiphanic rush of humility when I realized that resonate‘s presentation method and Duarte’s elegance in moving me from an ordinary world into an improved world absolutely worked for me and my profession.
Besides the book’s content offering a personal philosophical earthquake for anyone who genuinely listens to Duarte’s premises of presentation truths, resonate contains some amazing visuals. By amazing, I mean that the book has beautiful yet informative graphics and captivating illustrations that fundamentally relate to the adjacent textual promises. My favorite is the stunning, minute-by-minute timeline of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This technical graphic actually delineates, over a four-page spread, what happens in King’s speech and why these individual parts helped make the presentation of his words so meaningful. Duarte performs this type of engrossing visual analysis many times in resonate, with several prominent speeches and presentations as she brings you from your reality to hers.
This book resonated with me. I highly recommend it for those who want to transform their presentation audiences and those who are willing to be transformed by them.
Nicole Amare is a senior member of STC and an associate professor of technical communication at the University of South Alabama. Her research interests include ethics, editing, and visual rhetoric. With Barry Nowlin and Jean Hollis Weber, she has written Technical Editing in the 21st Century (Prentice Hall, 2010).
Catherine Marshall and Gretchen B. Rossman. (2011). 5th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ISBN 978-1-4129-7044-0. 322 pages, including index. US#49.95 (softcover).]
Designing Qualitative Research is a practical, comprehensive book that walks readers through all the major stages of running an academic-oriented qualitative research study. These stages include navigating the diverse qualitative research genres, designing a qualitative research project, writing an impactful research proposal, handling the unique ethical issues that pertain to qualitative research, managing and interpreting qualitative data, effectively distributing financial and other resources throughout the duration of a research project, approaching the final research report, and finally, advocating in support of qualitative research methods to those who are more accustomed to quantitative methods.
According to Marshall and Rossman, the three most important considerations every researcher should take into account when considering whether to conduct a qualitative research study are the study’s “do-ability,” “should-do-ability,” and “want-to-do-ability.” While do-ability refers to how feasible the study is given financial and human resources, should-do-ability concerns whether the study will contribute to the building of theory. Want-to-do-ability involves how motivated the researcher is to conduct the research project.
I greatly appreciate that Marshall and Rossman take the time to address topics that are sometimes left behind by academic professionals. For example, they touch upon the importance of taking into account the perspective of experts outside of academia in approaching a qualitative research project. Specifically, the authors state that including the views of policymakers, practitioners, and journalists ultimately demonstrates the should-do-ability of a study in asserting that “people outside the academy have spoken about the need to find answers, to explore reasons why, and to find new ways to look at a problem” (pp. 78–79). Among other things included in Designing Qualitative Research, I appreciate the discussion surrounding the importance of having an exit strategy when ending a qualitative research project to protect researchers and participants from the sometimes emotional ramifications of commencing a study.
My only regret after reading Designing Qualitative Research is that I wasn’t exposed to the book when in graduate school. Although the book appears to be targeted toward less-experienced qualitative researchers, seasoned research practitioners and novice researchers alike will benefit from the ample real-world examples integrated throughout it and the exhaustive list of further resources at the end of each chapter. Graduate students, or those just becoming acquainted with the benefits and challenges of conducting qualitative research, will find the many conversations shared between learners to be particularly insightful and reassuring.
In summary, Designing Qualitative Research presents the challenging, ambiguous, and oftentimes intimidating landscape of qualitative research in an approachable and actionable way.
Chelsey Glasson is a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s Master of Science in Human Centered Design and Engineering Program. She is currently working in usability research for Salesforce.com and has worked in user experience and government research.
Anne Marie Kanstrup and Pernille Bertelsen. 2011. Portland, OR: International Specialized Book Services. [ISBN 978-87-7307-960-7. 105 pages. US$39.99 (softcover).]
User Innovation Management shares new participatory collaboration approach that engages users in designing solutions. User innovation management (UIM) is a method based on the 3Cs theme (Cooperation, Context, and Concept), with steps and techniques related to each. Kanstrup and Bertelsen also created an electronic digital toolkit, eUIM, that “supports the planning of the UIM process. … with steps, questions and techniques” (p. 12).
UIM involves the users early in evaluating or testing designs based on their values, needs, and dreams. A UIM project has a UIM facilitator, who is a reflective practitioner who helps to “establish co-operation with users, create insights and visions with users and build innovations on this ground” (p. 14). The outcome is to create a design solution that takes the users’ innovations and transforms them into a usable solution.
The Co-operation theme has the UIM team with the UIM facilitator identify and select innovators and then create a user innovation plan. The facilitator keeps an “open attitude to users’ perspectives, values and ideas” and maintains a “willingness to embrace their curiosity and uncertainty” to discover the right solution (p. 31).
In Context, the facilitator takes the user innovation plan and helps the users generate insights and explore visions to complete during the Concept theme. The authors recommend that the facilitator use a visual tangible artifacts toolkit, which is a physical set of materials that can “facilitate participation, reflection, conversation and freedom to innovate … typically made with the use of colors, graphics or photos” (p. 48) to stimulate the users to move, form, decorate, and sort materials to reflect on the possibilities and priorities. The TFC principle (Tune in to the design challenge, Focus on the design brief, and Check out of the design activity) helps generate visions based on present context (how it is) and possible futures (how it could be).
The Concept theme is where the users, with help from the UIM facilitator, sketch solutions (creating a framework) and present them to the decision makers. Kanstrup and Bertelsen cover two types of framework. One framework uses a four-quadrant diagram exercise in which users place one solution on each dimension, discuss each solution, and then select a unified solution. In the other framework, the UIM facilitator helps the users develop prototypes that transform their descriptions, understandings, and visions for presenting to the decision makers for consideration.
User Innovation Management provides six techniques that UIM facilitators can use during the UIM collaboration: selecting users, making plans, using insight techniques, creating and exploring visions, sketching and scenarios, and presenting. The authors end by sharing three projects in which they used the UIM themes and techniques.
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 general manager of the STC International Summit Awards. She serves as the book review editor for Technical Communication.
Giles Colborne. 2010. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-70354-5. 196 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]
William Morris, a great English designer, is commonly quoted by proponents of elegant design: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The thought occurs that Giles Colborne followed this general principle when authoring Simple and Usable. This book is more than a philosophical treatise on simple and usable designs; it is a useful workbook for interaction designers and usability experience (UX) practitioners on how best to create Web sites, applications, and mobile devices that deliver compelling user experiences.
Colborne’s essential argument is this: As technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, the increasing complexity of our applications and devices is unsustainable. Simplicity in product design is powerful because people want technology that just works.
Simple and Usable is divided into eight parts, with the first two sections discussing “Why are we here?” and “Setting a vision.” The author then presents the four strategies to achieve simplicity in product design: Remove, Organize, Hide, and Displace. Colborne does not claim merely that “less is more,” thereby reducing features and functionality; instead he says “The secret to creating a simple user experience is to shift complexity into the right place, so that each moment feels simple (p. 180).”
Colborne and his company obviously practice what he preaches. A 20-year practitioner of user-centered design, he features global case studies from his UK-based consultancy, as well as design use cases and practices from such US companies as Cisco, Apple, Yahoo!, and Amazon. To fit into the book’s international scope, the strategies and techniques he espouses are useful across geographies and cultures, and are cost-effective to implement—a major consideration in today’s economic climate.
The book’s layout demonstrates the principles covered in Simple and Usable. Each page has an uncluttered design structure of text in a generous sea of white space on the left, colorful graphics and/or photography on the right. There is only one topic per page spread, with a clear symmetry between the minimal yet descriptive headline and the visuals accompanying it. Pull quotes and practical factoids scattered throughout underscore the topics under discussion.
If there is one criticism of the book, it is that Colborne’s tone can be somewhat “sermon”-like, and intermediate to advanced practitioners (the intended audience) may feel that he is preaching to the choir. Embedded in his doctrine are many useful tips and tricks, as well as analyses to apply to different scenarios and design challenges.
Finally, Colborne includes ways to keep his content fresh and relevant by maintaining a related Web site (www.simpleandusable.com) with frequently updated blog entries and a Twitter feed (@simpleandusable) where he posts and retweets UX and Interaction Design Association tidbits of goodness. In this deceptively simple tome, there are myriad complex and practicable strategies. Simple and Usable offers a way to make a product better.
Paula Croxon holds a BA in Communications, certificate in Technical Communication, and is pursuing an MS in Human-Centered Design Environment from the University of Washington. She is an STC member with industry experience in user experience and usability and is currently a consultant, technical writer/editor at Avanade, Inc.
Jane Hosie-Bounar and Barbara M. Waxer. (2011). Illustrated Series. Boston, MA: Course Technology. [ISBN 978-0-538-47321-7. 94 pages, including index and CD. US$25.95 (softcover).]
Web 2.0‘s target audience is college freshmen and their instructors. Yet anyone teaching about using Web 2.0 technologies in the academic environment will find useful tools in the book’s resources, design, and methodology.
The pedagogical framework is a classroom scenario for a freshman core course: “Building Success with Web 2.0 Tools” taught by Prof. Nadia Ahmed. Throughout the book, learners build Internet skills by working on assignments for Prof. Ahmed’s class. While the average college freshman might already know this content, the book succeeds because it focuses on building and applying particular skills that students need in the demanding college environment.
Web 2.0 consists of four units: Research 2.0, Finding media for projects, Collaborating and sharing information, and Perfecting your online persona. Each lesson has a practical focus and an assignment that requires the use of the skill taught in that lesson. Throughout the book, students are working on a major project for Prof. Ahmed’s class. They pick a topic, research, find, organize, and share information and media, then create and post their finished projects online. The emphasis is on practicality, collaboration, and respect for intellectual property. For example, it explores the use of Creative Commons as a media source, and in the last unit, “Professor Ahmed” also deals with privacy, protection, and avoiding the pitfalls of the Web world.
Each lesson includes a visually appealing two-page spread focusing on a single skill. The left page is mostly text, featuring a descriptive headline, a brief explanation of why that skill is important, and an “assignment” for Prof. Ahmed’s course that provides a context for the learning. Running down the left margin is a series of tips, while the page’s body contains a bulleted list of detailed topics, each with a brief explanation and references to the large, graphic presentations and procedures on the right page. Each lesson includes a “Clues to Use” section that provides useful ancillary information.
Each unit also provides a unit review, with short-answer and multiple-choice questions; a set of open-ended independent challenges, requiring critical thinking and application of the unit skills; and self-graded visual workshops that engage the learner in independent problem solving. The book also includes a glossary of Web 2.0-specific terms and an index. An Instructor Resources CD, which I did not have the opportunity to review, accompanies the book. It includes an instructor’s manual, sample syllabus, PowerPoint presentations for each unit, electronic versions of all the figures in the text, solutions to the exercises, and an exam-construction tool.
This is a well-done, complete package that instructors can effectively use out of the box or adapt to needs of specific groups of learners.
Marguerite Krupp is an STC Fellow, an adjunct professor at Northeastern University, and a technical communicator with more than four decades of experience in the computer industry.
Martin P. Levin. 2011. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-61608-324-3. 128 pages. US$19.95.]
Not everyone can write a memoir and sell it as a management guide, but Martin Levin has succeeded in doing so. Levin has intertwined stories of his career, lessons from other management gurus, and the antics of his rescue dog Angel to craft a winning management guide.
Levin introduces us to management by relating the story of Angel’s first days with him. After Levin’s wife died, he struggled several months with the grieving process. After gentle prodding, he finally visited a local shelter and adopted Angel, an aging golden retriever/virgule chow mix. “Unexpectedly, I have found that my daily interactions with Angel, the frightened, unknown, and once-abandoned dog, have given me both the inspiration and the challenge to reacquaint myself with those essential management principles that have guided my … life” (p. 22).
Levin breaks his advice into four distinct rules: trust and leadership, communication, problem solving and decision making, and perseverance and success. To help us understand his rules, Levin includes stories of his own career and personal life, as well as stories of celebrities, and applies them to stories of Angel.
For example, to illustrate Rule 2: Communication, Levin first tells of an opportunity to work in India to promote publishing. He almost turned down the opportunity because he thought his wife would not want to live in India. He soon found out, however, that she had dreamed of living in India. He then describes the tough, on-the-job lessons he learned in India to sell his ideas using fables. To cement his communication rule, he uses the example of Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. Then, he relates all these stories to learning how to communicate with Angel with consistent vocabulary and body language.
Levin’s stories easily reach various audiences, from dog lovers who choose the book by its cover to managers looking to pick up sage advice to other readers who know Levin and want to learn more about his life. I must admit that the stretch between the rule he describes and the stories he tells is a bit far at times, but I am willing to overlook that because his stories are interesting to read, and I am sure he has many stories to tell at the age of 91.
After fully describing his four rules, Levin concludes his book with lists of “Books Worth Reading” that include dog ownership manuals, other management guides, and true dog stories. These lists help to focus the audience on Levin’s supposed thesis: “If a manager can develop trust, it will lead to corporate excellence, provided he is able to communicate effectively, make the right strategic decisions, and, above all, persevere” (pp. 11–12).
Levin has succeeded in producing a book that is a very easy, relaxing read, while still conveying important principles that any adult should live by.
Diane Borgwardt is an STC Senior Member with more than 17 years of technical communication experience in the software, K–12 education, and engineering industries, as well as university settings. She currently leads the marketing and technical communication efforts for an engineering/architecture firm in Longview, Texas.
Jesse James Garrett. (2011). 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-68368-7. 172 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]
At a recent family gathering, I was describing user experience (UX) to a relative. All the while, I was trying to think of a text I could recommend that would easily summarize UX. When I saw The Elements of User Experience, I hoped I had found what I wanted. This is a slim volume, with ample use of white space and color graphics that makes for an appealing, easy read. Jesse James Garrett conveys UX ideas clearly and succinctly, defines terms as they arise, and avoids the more technical programming information that may deter a casual audience. His graphics also illustrate the discussion for visually oriented readers.
Elements gives the why and how for considering UX at each stage of the design process. Garrett’s core philosophy is that a reason must exist for every design choice. Generating a working model organizing his approach, Garrett describes five interrelated element layers—Strategy, Scope, Structure, Skeleton, and Surface—that have to work together, arranged bottom-up from abstract to concrete. The book’s eight chapters include an introductory UX chapter, a subsequent chapter that introduces the five elements, then one chapter for each element in which the individual layers are subdivided to incorporate element-specific attributes, followed by a final summary chapter. I particularly like how Garrett subtly weaves UX into each process step.
I regret that I didn’t read Garrett’s original version, so I could comment more directly on the updates in this edition. The new edition’s main difference is its intention to expand the author’s model beyond Web site design, which is a big deal to me because I work daily to apply UX principles to products other than Web sites. Unfortunately, the majority of the book’s examples are Web-based. You are encouraged to apply the same principles elsewhere, yet Garrett doesn’t lead the way. For example, the sensory section of the Surface element chapter concentrates on vision at the expense of other senses. This is helpful in describing current UX for Web sites, but it would be nice if the book also inspired readers to explore new possibilities.
Elements is too basic for active UX practitioners, for whom the principal value is Garrett’s organizational design approach. The book works best as an introductory text for students new to the field or coworkers unfamiliar with UX concepts, but it needs to be combined with more advanced texts if used in a classroom or to actually build a Web site. Overall, Elements feels as if it’s written for use in a business environment, especially with the emphasis on brand identity in the Surface element chapter. So, while I wouldn’t give the book to a relative as a casual read, I would recommend it for Web design stakeholders or team members to help them appreciate the benefits of keeping UX design in mind.
Devor Barton holds a BA in Communications and a certificate in project management from the University of Houston and an MS in technical communication from the University of Washington. He is a member of STC’s Puget Sound Chapter and is an ICIA certified technology specialist.
Clark N. Quinn. 2011. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. [ISBN 978-0-470-60448-9. 256 pages, including index. US$55.00.]
With the increase in smart phones and tablet devices, companies are now looking toward incorporating the mobile element to help employees learn. One leader in this area has been Merrill Lynch’s GoLearn mLearning (mobile learning) effort. You can access such mLearning examples on the Web at www.designingmlearning.com, which Quinn provides in his book, Designing mLearning. I found this link to be a gold mine of information regarding mobile learning. At this site, you will also find information about the tools and different mobile learning blogs. You should add this uniform resource locator to your Web browser favorites.
In the opening chapter, Quinn describes how the move toward mLearning has been driven by cell phones. He explains how mLearning uses a compact digital portable device (a cell phone or an iPad) that a person carries on a regular basis. Quinn continues by defining mLearning as involving users who are now learning on these types of mobile devices. His research found that “Americans are spending, on average, 2.7 hours a day on the mobile Internet” (p. 7). He points out that some companies do not even have an office and their workers’ offices are wherever they are parked with their laptop and mobile phone.
Designing mLearning contains a great list of common misconceptions and the myths behind them. For example, “We can’t provide mobile learning devices” (p. 9) and “mLearning only works when the device is always connected” (p, 10). You should refer to this list when preparing a mobile learning strategy so you can address these common misconceptions. In addition, you can refer to the mobile learning examples detailing companies already using mLearning. You will find this background helpful when presenting mLearning to your company decision makers.
Quinn continues by addressing what the technology is not about and then provides concrete examples of arenas that use mobile capabilities, such as schools, colleges, and pharmaceutical sales. In Chapter 7, he includes mobile models, which will stimulate your thinking as to what you would like to include in your mLearning design. I found the final two chapters, “A Platform to Stand On” and “Mobile Design,” in which he stresses using a four-step approach: analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation, to be most helpful.
The appendixes in Designing mLearning are invaluable as you begin planning your mLearning strategy. Quinn includes a bibliography that provides information on a variety of topics, such as the mobile cloud, along with a glossary of terms common to the mobile environment, such as Bluetooth and QR code. Appendix C contains tables that are useful when brainstorming different media opportunities. Appendix D contains several checklists that you can reference as you plan your company’s mLearning strategy.
You’ll find Desiging mLearning to be a useful book as you begin developing and implementing your mLearning design strategy.
Rhonda Lunemann is a senior technical writer with Siemens PLM Software, a senior member and treasurer of STC’s Twin Cities Chapter, and a member of the Hill Speakers Toastmasters Club (Club 4415).
Dennis M. Puhalla. 2011. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN: 978-1-59253-700-6. 168 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]
Short, colorful, and chock-full of striking examples, this manual intended for graphic designers is not a quick and easy read. Design Elements presents strategies for visual organization: three chapters devoted to space—spatial forces, spatial order, and spatial structure—a chapter on sequencing, and a chapter on color structure.
The book appears to be written for novice graphic designers, because the author defines basic terms like point, line, and volume. Yet the definitions that Puhalla, a professor of design at the University of Cincinnati, provides are not simple. Note, for example, his definition of shape: “Shapes are self-contained outlines or surfaces that are defined by regular polygons or variable-sided polygons and closed curved configurations” (p. 54). The definitions and explanations throughout the book are precise and technical.
As is typical in design books, gestalt principles are explained, with illustrative visuals, at some length. But this manual defines and illustrates additional visual structures not dealt with in the typical basic design books, such as entopic patterns, the Hermann and Scintillating grids, the Fibonacci sequence, and the Munsell Color Notation System.
Design Elements is worth owning for its hundreds of beautifully presented visuals—photographs of brochure covers, logos, posters, product packaging, building signs, and door fronts, to name a few. These examples are wide-ranging in their places of origin: Cincinnati, New York, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Japan, and other countries.
These attractive photos, which illustrate various design principles, are painstakingly analyzed. For example, to illustrate the visual concept of virtual volume, the author provides a photo of a slat and metal tubing chair design. He points out how “lines and planes define a mass area in space [with] implied surfaces along the contour” of the seat and back (p. 47).
Though labeled a “graphic style manual for understanding structure and design” on the cover and title page, this book is not a how-to manual. Design Elements is a repository of definitions, examples, and explications of design elements with attention to the language and principles of form.
Besides the many photographs, there are numerous grids, diagrams, and charts demonstrating structured spaces and color effect. The chapter on color focuses on how color harmonies—based on hue, value, and saturation combinations—evoke a psychological response. Following a few color charts illustrating the red, green, blue; the cyan, magenta, yellow, black; and the red, yellow, blue color systems, Puhalla uses a collection of color charts to illustrate the perceptual effect of simultaneous contrast.
Produced on high-quality, slick paper, with each individual page carefully designed. Design Elements would serve well as a textbook or a basic reference work for both novice and experienced graphic designers.
Nancy MacKenzie teaches undergraduate and graduate students in the Technical Communication Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is a senior member of STC.
Geri McArdle. 2011. New York, NY: AMACOM [ISBN 978-0-8144-1566-5. 304 pages, including index. US $34.95 (softcover).]
Geri McArdle has been involved in human relations development training for more than 20 years, and it shows in this book. She has analyzed her subject thoroughly and breaks down her own practical research into six chapters: Define the Training Need, Design the Learning to Fit the Need, Prepare to Conduct the Training, Set the Scene for Learning, Implement the Training, and Measure the Effectiveness. Instructional Design for Action Learning can serve as a reference to improve your company’s training. This book does not lend itself to reading from cover to cover because of the bulleted lists and tables that appear on nearly every page.
McArdle offers suggestions throughout the book on how to use action learning. The goal of action learning is to engage participants while in the classroom so that they leave knowing how to apply what they learned. Suggestions include using fun activities that match learning styles, encouraging learners to build on their own experiences, and strengthening learning transfer back to the job. Indicating these with an icon or a box in the page layout would have made it easier to identify them.
The author has worked in the traditional classroom environment training onsite employees. There is only one comment on new technologies (necessary to deliver training online to distant employees). From her perspective, spending more time on researching needs and matching content to those needs will prove more valuable than spending hours creating an electronic curriculum.
The hidden gem in Instructional Design for Action Learning may well be the Tips from ASTD Presentation Masters in the appendix. Seven presenters offer 73 short tips on these aspects of training: Preparation, Openings, Presentation, Endings, and Evaluation. Here’s one tip (#25) relative to action learning: “Continually work for interaction. A reflective question followed by long pause can give participants time to examine a new idea, rather than play three games without having put their brains in gear” (p. 280).
If you are looking for a book that tells you how to design an Adobe Captivate online presentation, this is not it. But if you would like to ensure that your training really meets the needs of your company’s employees or customers, checklists in each chapter of Instructional Design for Action Learning can help you consider all your options and perhaps become a better trainer.
Donna Ford is a senior member of STC and has served on her local chapter’s board. She has been a technical writer since 1987 in the hardware, software, and government health care industries.
Tibor Koltay. 2010. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-8433-4517-6. 227 pages, including index. US$115.00 (softcover).]
Abstracts play an important role in transferring information. Among other uses, they condense longer communications, focusing on the essentials. They can appear at the beginning of articles and reports as well as electronically in online databases. But why do so many abstracts fail to help the reader?
Koltay’s Abstracts and Abstracting attempts to answer that question. Throughout its eight chapters on definitions and characteristics of abstracts, what the abstractor needs to know, and how to prepare abstracts, Koltay presents guidelines for effective abstracts. The book concludes with a summary of the process and its importance.
According to Koltay, one problem is that those who write abstracts do not understand that there can be several types: informative, indicative (or descriptive), and informative-indicative abstracts. Selecting the appropriate type for the communication can be difficult if the writer is not aware of each type’s strengths and weaknesses. Other problems with abstracts include not following the original article’s structure, not avoiding personal opinions, and not considering what information the reader needs.
Koltay first divides abstracts into two general kinds: those created by authors themselves and those created by professional abstractors. Both kinds receive extensive discussion of their strengths, weaknesses, and problems. Then he discusses the types, providing guidance for writers. For example, he tells us that passive voice verbs can be used in indicative abstracts, but active voice should dominate informative abstracts.
Koltay’s assumed audience includes students, teachers, technical writers, authors of articles and conference presentations who have to submit abstracts, and professional abstractors, of whom he is one.
His description of the uses of abstracts is not normally found in other materials on abstracting. For example, he discusses the abstract written in one language of an article written in another—a central component in the Hungarian universities’ courses in information and library science that he teaches. That means that translation becomes a necessary part of the abstractor’s knowledge. He also points out that abstractors need to understand the subject of the original as well as the principles of abstracting.
I kept hoping that Koltay would provide annotated examples of his main points as he presented them. It isn’t until Chapter 7 that we get actual examples and discussions with annotations. And there, rather than place annotations in the margins, he provides several paragraphs of commentary. Still, if you take the time to read his analyses, you will find helpful suggestions.
Having said that, I must admit that I was shocked by the price. Almost all the material in seven of the eight chapters is from other sources, giving the book the feel of a literature review. So, besides discussions of the various types of abstracts and examples, the book offers a view of the scholarship on abstracting, which may increase its value to the point where the price seems reasonable.
Tom Warren is an STC Fellow, Jay R. Gould Award for Excellence recipient, 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.
Thomas L. McPhail. (2010). 3rd ed. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. [ISBN 978-1-4443-3030-4. 400 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]
First published in 2002, this is the third revision of Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends, a scholarly publication about the worldwide distribution of media originating in or controlled by the industrialized nations, in particular the United States. Although not specifically advertised as a textbook, this book does seem targeted at students of communications science, whether they are engaged in formal study or in the informal pursuit of knowledge. Each chapter includes extensive footnotes, as well as an introduction outlining the information to be covered and a summary/conclusion. A long bibliography at the end aids further study of the topic.
Thomas McPhail, a media studies professor at the University of Missouri, divides the world’s nations into three groups: core nations (what used to be called the first world), semiperipheral nations (what was previously the second world—mainly the former socialist countries, most of the Middle East, and the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries), and peripheral nations (everyone else, or the third world). He then outlines several major global communication theories, including Electronic Colonialism Theory (ECT) and World System Theory (WST). ECT describes how foreign communications and cultural products alter the values and habits of people in poorer nations for the benefit of core nations. WST outlines how core nations economically dominate poorer nations and how the export of core nation media and cultural products shapes consumer behavior in the semiperipheral and peripheral countries.
The remainder of the book examines the various facets of international communications (including music, TV, news agencies, the Internet, and global advertising) through the prism of these two theories. In addition, media in several regions (Europe, the Middle East, Asia) are covered by guest contributors who specialize in these areas.
While the chapter titles form a coherent sequence, the individual chapters themselves often seem less focused. Figures sometimes simply repeat in list form information that was already covered in the text, and chapter conclusions occasionally introduce new information. Besides a tighter structure, the book would have benefited from more rigorous copyediting. Numerous spelling and punctuation errors, repeated phrases, and words apparently left behind after revisions make reading unnecessarily cumbersome.
As a theoretical work that addresses large-scale global phenomena and describes multinational corporations, Global Communication is of limited practical use to technical communicators. For readers interested in the influence of core nation media around the globe, however, the book offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the field and its major players. And it concludes with an appeal for investing in peaceful communications instead of warfare—always a welcome sentiment.
Barbara Jungwirth, an STC Senior Member, owns reliable translations LLC (www.reliable-translations.com) where she translates technical documents from German to English and codes for an HIV Web site. She also writes a blog, On Language and Translation (http://reliable-translations.blogspot.com) and posts updates on Twitter (@reliabletran).
Joe Welinske. 2011. Vashon, WA: Writers UA. [ISBN 978-1-257-50372-8. 136 pages, including index. US$29.00 (softcover).]
What do flick, pinch, pan, swipe, rotate, slide, spin, spread, bundle, scroll, and scrub have in common? They are user interface terms that various mobile device manufacturers use. In Developing User Assistance for Mobile Applications, Joe Welinske provides a great link to a reference page showing which names are used by which devices (http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1071, p. 36). Gesture terminology is just one facet of user assistance terminology that accompanies the mobile scene.
The growth of mobile applications is astounding. In fact, Apple recently announced that there are more than 100,000 mobile applications for its new iPad2. Besides mobile applications for Apple products, there are mobile applications for mobile phones and other tablet devices. Welinske reviews the main mobile devices on the market: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and tablets.
What makes a great mobile application? Welinske points out that it is one that is designed well with the user in mind. Therefore, a growing need exists for technical communicators who are skilled in user assistance for mobile applications. Welinske says that the most important questions for user assistance professionals are “What is our role going to be in mobile and how can we prepare to take that on?” (p. 2).
As president of WritersUA, a company that provides training and information for user assistance professionals, Welinske keeps current with usability issues and concerns in the mobile arena, which sets him apart from many other authors. In Developing User Assistance, he deals with many areas that writers of other mobile application books do not address, such as external mobile support applications, Web-based help, having an external Web site, Web-based forums, and integrating with a desktop application. Welinske also packs great pictures and useful, well-selected links into this book. The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is definitely true in such a user assistance book.
Of Welinske’s case studies, I especially liked Quickoffice and Timewerks, two applications for which WritersUA provided guidance. The case studies are helpful because he points out what WritersUA found during usability testing and he includes before-and-after screen captures. I particularly liked the TimeWerks Quick Start Tutorial, which addresses considerations such as color, steps, icons, and numbering.
The mobile application scene requires a different technical communication category. Therefore, it is in our interest as technical communicators to keep abreast of user assistance and design for mobile applications. A key point to consider is that only a few software organizations have a mobile strategy. So, by gaining background in the mobile arena, you can help companies develop their own mobile strategy and mobile applications. Reading Developing User Assistance for Mobile Applications is a great way to begin.
Rick Mathieson. 2010. New York, NY: AMACOM. [ISBN 978-0-8144-1572-6. 282 pages, including index. US$24.95.]
In The On-Demand Brand, Rick Mathieson argues that the way for marketers to succeed in the ever-changing digital climate is to innovate, not duplicate. Drawing from his experience as the vice president and creative director for Creative: Advertising & Interactive Media in Silicon Valley, Mathieson’s 10 rules for digital marketing center on the premise that companies must know their customers to decide which of the current digital trends, or which future trends, might provide the most benefit to the company and the consumer. Mathieson supports each of his rules with case studies and examples from top companies that are currently using digital marketing in creative ways and concludes each chapter with an interview of a leading digital marketer discussing their successes.
In his first and most important rule, “Insight Comes Before Inspiration,” Mathieson notes that successful initiatives start with extensive research into the customer’s wants and needs. In the first interview, Laura Klauberg, senior vice president of Unilever, who spearheaded Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, discusses how she learned who her customers are and what they want from their brands first. Other chapters discuss how companies have used social media, user-generated content, games, virtual worlds, mobile, and more to reach their customers. Mathieson’s interviews lend support to his rules and provide solid examples for readers who are attempting to identify the digital tools and techniques that might work for their own companies.
Although Mathieson presents a wide array of digital marketing possibilities, he continues to stress that digital tools should always be relevant to the customer. “Just because social networking is hot, that doesn’t mean its [sic] right for your brand. Don’t just ask yourself what your social networking strategy should be. Ask ‘why’ it should be, and why consumers should care” (p. 66). These direct statements emphasize Mathieson’s view that while the digital realm holds much possibility, digital marketing initiatives need to be well-researched and well-planned to maximize the benefit. “Digital quite simply is not for repurposing content that exists in other channels. It’s about reimagining content to create blockbuster experiences that cannot be attained through any other medium” (p. 37).
With marketers expected to spend $61 billion annually on digital initiatives by 2012, according to Forrester Research, The On-Demand Brand provides a clear picture of marketers’ current uses of digital technologies while stressing the new platforms and issues that will certainly emerge in the coming years. In particular, Mathieson speculates that the growth of mobile marketing and highly personalized advertising will bring privacy issues to the forefront of the digital era.
The information in The On-Demand Brand is very relevant to the current digital climate and can be beneficial to digital beginners and experts alike. The tools cited may change with future technologies, but Mathieson’s rules will remain useful for many years to come.
Deidre Girard pursued her MS in Human Centered Design & Engineering to explore more deeply the impact of digital technology and social media on learning and engagement in higher education. She has integrated much of her research into her career as an academic advisor and communications manager at the University of Washington.
Laurie Excell, John Batdorff, David Brommer, Rick Rickman, and Steve Simon. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press [ISBN 978-0-321-74132-5. 258 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]
Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots is a great introduction to the art of composition, how components in a photograph are arranged, and how the viewer’s eye looks at the photograph. Primary author Laurie Excell provides the basics of composition in the first six chapters, while contributing photographers John Batdorff, David Brommer, Rick Rickman, and Steve Simon each provide a chapter on other composition aspects.
Each chapter offers one or more assignments, designed to reinforce concepts learned in that chapter, and you are encouraged to share the results of your assignments in the book’s Flickr group online. The “Poring Over the Picture” sections in each chapter show one or two photos that illustrate the chapter concept and point out decisions made by the photographer that make the image a “great shot.”
The first chapter covers equipment, including cameras, lenses, memory cards, flash, and polarizers. Excell explains her choices for what ends up in her camera bag, and how individual these choices are, based on the photographer’s style. This information provides a good grounding for all the succeeding chapters.
Excell then explains the exposure triangle as well as how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO speed (which affects the shutter speed/aperture combinations you can use to obtain correct exposure) work with each other and with light. Light is a key element in photography and composition, which this book explains in the context of quality, quantity, and direction. The next three chapters focus on drawing the eye with points of interest, color, and spatial relationships.
After the first six chapters, the guest authors each write a chapter on their expertise. Batdorff goes through his entire process for shooting in black and white, including what he looks for in an image, what kind of postprocessing he does, and his entire list gear for getting the perfect shot. Rickman uses stories from his long career to illustrate how composition works in sports photography, while Brommer talks about going beyond the rule of thirds and how positive and negative space affect a photograph. Simon closes out the book by providing strategies for finding your way to the best composition for any given shooting situation.
Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots is a good book to illustrate the value of composition in photography. While the book is aimed at the beginner to intermediate audience, even an advanced amateur photographer will find useful information, especially in the later chapters.
Rachel Houghton is a senior information designer at Sage, a leading-edge construction productivity and real estate solutions company. She has more than 14 years of technical communication experience. Rachel is the STC Secretary and is actively involved in the STC Willamette Valley community. She enjoys photography and Photoshop.
Kevin Wilson and Jennifer Wauson. 2011. New York, NY: AMACOM. [ISBN: 978-0-8144-1769-0. 212 pages. US$19.95 (softcover).]
There’s a next step to everything. We’ve written the perfect resume a dozen times. Of course, one can go to extremes—like Dominguin, one of the world’s greatest bullfighters, who gave them everything he had. And when that wasn’t enough, he gave them his life. A handbook covering all the business writing genres should take a few next steps: a few new techniques for some of the genres it describes.
And it does, as in the excellent tips in the Email chapter (pp. 52–54) such as avoid starting a message with Re:; use the BCC field when sending to several people at once to keep their addresses private; and avoid sending long documents as e-mail messages.
The main problem lies in the nature of handbooks themselves, which are normally all-inclusive. In this case, the authors include virtually every type of business document. The trade-off in handbooks is between depth and breadth, as one must be selective. Still, instead of discussing some important aspect of a genre at length, a chapter should at least “refer” to it. For example, the Instructions chapter might mention formats like Information Mapping; Procedures, a mention of Playscript Procedure; with citation in a bibliography. Every major genre (reports, proposals, manuals, etc.) has several books written about it. To be more helpful, the book would benefit from suggested readings for those genres.
Major genres include Proposals (pp. 115–125) and Reports (pp. 133–145). The Proposals genre begins with a 1-1/2 page description followed by a nine-page sample. Considering that proposals are a very important business document, this genre deserves a more detailed description. In addition, the book devotes only seven pages to Reports (nine, if you include the separate chapter on Trip Reports), with another five pages taken up by a sample report. The sample report omits visuals, which are a major part of business and technical reports.
The book could be improved by combining topics that are used together in practice, such as instructions, procedures, and manuals. Also, it might omit items that are more spoken than written genres, like the sections on PowerPoint Presentations, and Speeches and Oral Presentations.
There are always, of course, minor quibbles—it’s the nature of reviews—such as the recommendation that “the body of the report can be single- or double-spaced” (p. 135). Research has shown that 1.1 or 1.2 pt leading is best for the reader.
The AMA Handbook of Business Documents is a very useful conspectus for overall corporate communication needs. It does a good job in pulling together the genres that must be created and coordinated in the modern company.
Steven Darian is an STC Fellow, having retired from teaching business and technical writing at Rutgers for 25 years and in eight countries. He was a manager for Raytheon in Saudi Arabia. Steven is coauthoring a forthcoming book, IMPACT: Writing for Business & the Professions, with Professor Olga Ilchenko.