Books Reviewed in This Issue
Ellen Lupton, Ed. 2011. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. [ISBN 978-1-56898-979-2. 184 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
An oft-used definition of graphic design is “problem solving.” Lupton’s new book, Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, effectively shows readers how to use graphic design thinking in solving their graphic design problems based on her collaborative work with the students and faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The MICA design process has three phases: defining the problem, getting ideas, and creating form. Lupton defines and then summarizes the MICA process in an effective example in the introduction. She then expands on each phase in the book.
Graphic Design Thinking is a useful reference because the three phases are clear, concise, and practical. Its format also exemplifies all the points Lupton and the team describe. The table of contents lists the phases and the techniques, becoming a useful job-aid. The introduction spells out the design process in a graphic format, illustrated with what appear to be hand drawings. Lupton follows a MICA project through the graphic design phases to demonstrate how the team-based process works.
Each MICA phase has its own chapter: the first two-page spread defines the phase while the remainder of the chapter includes the techniques. The book effectively uses a combination of photos and drawings without borders to illustrate many concepts and examples.
The techniques for each phase comprise the book’s core. The left-hand page clearly defines each technique and the facing page has the steps and tools needed for implementing that technique. Each technique concludes with one or more Case Studies. Lupton says that these case studies include team-based approaches, the approach used in many work settings. One can use these techniques individually to enhance their own designer skills.
Phase 01, How to Define Problems, includes nine techniques from the general problem defining Brainstorming and Mind Mapping techniques to Brand Books and Creative Brief, which are more geared to graphic design.
The Case Studies are especially useful in showing the eleven techniques in Phase 02, How to Get Ideas. Alex F. Osborn says that the Using Action Verbs technique “involves taking an initial idea and applying different verbs to it” (p. 74). An example is to take a couch and flatten, magnify, or invert it. Visual Diaries and Icon, Index, Symbols are other techniques that designers can use to stimulate getting new ideas.
How to Create Form, Phase 03, is putting the ideas into practice. The Sprinting technique forces designers to determine a new solution within a given time frame. Other techniques include Creating a Mock Up and Using Unconventional (artist) Tools. Lupton shows visual examples for Building a Brand Language, yet people in other fields can do this with words alone. The last chapter includes quotes from numerous graphic designers on how they get into a creative mood, how they create form, and how they edit.
This well-crafted book is a good action plan for solving visual and other business problems.
Beth Lisberg Najberg develops custom training solutions for large corporations and public entities. She incorporates graphics into materials to explain processes and concepts. Beth also teaches people how to create effective presentations. She has been making information useful and graphic professionally for more than 30 years.
The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, With Exercises and Answer Keys
Amy Einsohn. 2011. 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [ISBN 978-0-520-27156-2. 560 pages, including index. US$24.95 [softcover].)
To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, “of the making of editing books there is no end.” Most editors own at least one such book; my wife and I, both editors, own more than a dozen, and Einsohn’s book is a worthy addition to our collection. Besides discussing all the usual suspects (punctuation, hyphenation, grammar), Einsohn covers the basics of copyediting (tasks and procedures, essential references, relationships with authors), and provides copious examples and explanations of why something is problematic and how understanding the problem can lead to solutions. Throughout, the wording is clear, even when dealing with the often difficult language used to describe grammar. The core topics are handled with encyclopedic knowledge, clarity, and well-chosen examples, often supplemented by the words of influential authors and editors who provide useful insights.
Given the monumental task of mastering not only a language, but also key dialects of that language such as “science”, any such book faces the problem of scope: no single book can cover everything. But an egregious omission is that Einsohn devotes only three pages to onscreen editing and how it integrates with the processes and problems she covers; worse, the sample illustrations of editing markup are exclusively for typescripts. The importance of onscreen editing in modern editorial workflows (on-paper editing is increasingly rare) makes this a significant problem. Given the book’s emphasis on copyediting, it appropriately focuses on this core subject, but the discussions of several areas (for example, onscreen editing, graphics) should have been supported by citations of key references on these topics, as was done for grammar and usage guides.
Though this book is aimed at new editors, the goal is to teach readers how to think about editing processes and problems. Rather than simply prescribing rules, Einsohn clearly distinguishes between wordings that are unquestionably wrong, wording “problems” that are a matter of opinion (surprisingly many grammatical issues fall into this category), and wording that is merely more difficult than necessary to understand, all in aid of illustrating the editorial thought process. Chapter 14, where Einsohn diplomatically chastises the prescriptivists without forgetting that many of us learned our grammar from such people, is a breath of fresh air on these points. Supported by a decent index, The Copyeditor’s Handbook achieves its additional goal of supplementing popular guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style. As a result of Einsohn’s choices, the book nicely supports an introductory copyediting course, with most chapters offering at least one exercise to help you test your knowledge, accompanied by an answer key. But it also provides a great refresher course for experienced editors, as well as a useful reference on thorny points of grammar and usage that is less doctrinaire and better reasoned than some alternatives.
Geoff Hart has been editing for nearly 25 years, and wishes he’d had this book to learn from when he was getting started.
Robin Williams. 2010. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press. [ISBN 978-0-321-65621-6. 168 pages, with index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Robin Williams has done it again. The reliable Williams has written another book that is a must-have in your reference library. It is a book that you will refer to repeatedly for inspiration and confirmation that you can be a terrific presenter no matter what your content.
If you attend many seminars and presentations, you might want to buy multiple copies of the book. That way you’ll feel free to share Williams’ wisdom with presenters who read their slides, embellish with unrelated art/logos/photos, and vary each slide’s formatting so much that your head spins. It is hard to learn much from presenters who don’t prepare and who don’t hold your attention. Help them out!
This volume, part of Williams’ Non-Designer series, covers more than slide formats. It includes the all-important steps that you (or your boss) should take before you start designing slides: thinking about the presentation content and organizing it. In the second section, which Williams calls “optimizing the content,” she walks you through winnowing down sentences to pithy bullet points, presenting them cleanly, and in a logical order (think story telling), with enough space to showcase your main points.
Then it’s on to the design of the slides. (Interesting, isn’t it, that she doesn’t start with the design? Something to remember!) This section is filled with beautiful before-and-after examples of well-designed slides that support the subject matter. The final section deals with learning your software and listening to your presentation.
Bless her, Williams covers one of my personal pet peeves about the ubiquitous Microsoft PowerPoint. You know that supposedly helpful option (“autofit”) that reduces the point size of your text as you add words to a slide? Did you know that you “can” turn that feature off? You can and should. Your slides and presentation will be the better for it.
The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book is marvelous. Written in a breezy yet highly informative style, the book is packed with examples that make the principles Williams espouses easy to understand and remember.
You want this book. You probably need this book. It could be the best $25 you spend this year on reference materials.
Ginny Hudak-David is the senior associate director in the Office for University Relations at the University of Illinois, which has campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.
Linda Holtzschue. 2011. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-470-38135-9. 259 page, including index. US$65.00 (softcover).]
Color plays a part in everyday life; designers specifically choose many of the colors. I remember learning about color in third grade; the teacher put the three primary light colors on the overhead projector to prove that color mixes differently as light than as paint. Understanding Color expands on those classes, explaining basics like the color wheel, to more complex issues like the bezold effect and fluting.
Understanding Color covers everything from what makes color to how color interacts to how designers work with color. Most of the book is about color basics, which can be a mind-boggling topic. More than one person has had a hard time wrapping their mind around light. I learned a few interesting facts. For example, the possible effect of mathematical harmony on having seven colors for the ROYGBIV (red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet) color wheel even though most people cannot distinguish indigo. “Despite his genius, Newton was a product of the seventeenth century. He may have elected to include seven colors because the number corresponded to the musical notes of the diatonic scale” (p. 135).
Holtzschue’s explanations are thorough to ensure that you use the same vocabulary. She defines that “Lamps are the principal man-made light source. ‘Lamp’ is the correct term for a light bulb. The fixture that holds the lamp is a luminaire” (p. 22). You can always have the glossary to use if you forget what a term means when it comes up later.
Many graphics illustrate each point. Two illustrations of leaves, one blue/green and the other red/orange, illustrate that “analogous color groupings contain two primaries but never the third” (p. 75). Nearly every page has some graphic illustrating a recent idea that while not always referenced or adjacent to the related section, the caption does clearly define them.
The book’s last two chapters contain information about how color applies specifically to designers. The most important point is that “printed colors, for example, are not exactly the same as product colors; designers strive only to get the closest possible match” (p. 189). Much of the information is on the history of how designers have used color, and this is where Holtzschue discusses how to work with monitors. Yet, it seems a big oversight to not cover color-blindness in a book on color for designers. She may have skipped this information since the book does not cover how to use color. Holtzschue does explain the history of color theory and the expansiveness of the field.
I would have liked information about how to apply the various color ideas in design. A PDF workbook is available that includes a lengthy supply list and involves plenty of variation.
Understanding Color is a great place to start learning about color. It contains the information you need, how color interacts, before you start learning about color theory, and how to use color interactions for an end result.
Angela Boyle is a technical writer for Tyler Technologies, Inc., where she has worked for four years. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in Technical Communication.
JoAnn Hackos. 2011. 2nd ed. Denver, CO: Comtech Services, Inc. [ISBN: 978-0-9778634-3-3. 424 pages, including index. US$50.00 (softcover).]
Before I review Hackos’s Introduction to DITA, I want to share my background regarding the author and the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). My first introduction to Hackos came in graduate school where a professor used her Managing Your Documentation Projects as a course textbook. I loved the course and feel that much of my success in managing documentation projects comes from what I learned. Having used DITA since 2006 to complete most of my work deliverables, I am comfortable with the standard.
In this second edition of Introduction to DITA, Hackos provides a thorough guide that all readers can expect to use frequently. The book is structured in six parts: DITA overview; DITA topics (100 pages of detail about topics, elements, and metadata); DITA maps (120 pages of detail about structuring maps, including attributes); content reuse (how to use DITA to support single-sourcing information); the DITA information development environment (how to specialize DITA implementation for the unique needs of your assignments); and processing (convert DITA files to output your customers need).
Except for Part I, each part includes lessons and questions to ensure you can apply the information that has been presented. The book also includes a helpful Table of Contents (p. i), Introduction (p. 1), and Index (p. 407). I find no flaws in any of these resources.
There are two appendices: Appendix A (p. 363) provides 30 pages of sample DITA content that is very applicable and Appendix B (p. 395) identifies the many, but not all, elements (tags) that you need to apply the DITA standard. If you use Appendix B along with the Index, you should be able to find any information that you need regarding elements.
DITA experts may skip some sections in each part, but I find all of the information helpful as I know I have developed bad habits regarding tagging. After reading the book, I find I am more contentious about applying the standard and ensuring consistency across libraries.
While there are many virtues to this book, I love how Hackos addresses her audience. She assumes you are an intelligent professional. As she presents the facts about the standard, she provides many ways for you to apply the information.
The lab-type scenarios are not tasks that you mindlessly complete. You learn how to apply DITA with the samples that are easy to extrapolate to the needs of your writing assignments. After you read this book, you can take any type of information, and create DITA maps and DITA topics that can be converted to print and online formats.
Reviewing this book has not been a disappointment as I have found it to be full of resourceful information.
Angela Robertson is a technical communicator at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. Angela has a Master’s of Science degree in Technical Communication from North Carolina State University.
Laurie Lewis. 2011. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. [ISBN 978-1-4051-9189-0. 300 pages, including index. US$44.95 (softcover).]
Organizational Change: Creating Change through Strategic Communication is a great read for anyone who has an interest in implementing organizational change. Lewis uses real world examples by exploring three case studies throughout the book. The examples made the concepts of her perspective interesting and accessible to someone with little-to-no domain knowledge.
Lewis explains that changes are enacted for a variety of reasons, from the desire to be innovative to mandates by regulatory forces, however they share the goal to be successful. This expected result is contingent upon the process in which the change is applied. A wealth of research on organizational change in multiple disciplines exists in the book, yet there is little to connect these major ideas and approaches. Lewis in an effort to bridge this gap pulls from research and theories that cross a range of disciplines providing a fresh perspective of change implementation. The change process in an organization involves many who have a stake in the change including those implementing it to those affected by it and its outcomes. Lewis’s perspective not only emphasizes this social complexity, but also the importance of strategic communication.
Each chapter in this book is comprehensive by offering tables, diagrams, and expanded examples in a highlighted box. I appreciated these elements because they added to my understanding of the concepts. In addition, Lewis using a case study shows how to put the concepts into practice.
Dawn Sakaguchi-Tang has a Masters in Human-Centered Design and Communication from the University of Washington. She is currently working as a research consultant for a user centered design agency.
Arthur E. Rowse. 2011. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-4422-1167-4. 240 pages, including index. US$16.95 (softcover).]
Rowse provides a half-serious, half-hilarious look at increasingly informal American English, which he calls Amglish. But Rowse is to Amglish as Stephen Colbert is to conservative politics: tongue planted firmly in cheek. John Doherty’s spot-on illustrations make Amglish even funnier (picture Tina Fey and Mark Twain sharing a smoke and a joke).
Rowse claims that English, like all languages, undergoes a constant revision through word adoption, invention, and adulteration. Our American ancestors created tongue-twisters like “hornswoggle” (to cheat), “rambunctious” (unruly), and “conbobberation” (ruckus). Today’s language pioneers have given us “digerati” (the computer-empowered), “greenwash” (ecologically friendly), and “carbon footprint” (impact on the planet).
Amglish, born out of 1960s American counterculture, is shedding the whalebone restraints of school grammar and slipping by ruler-wielding language police. Punctuation is passé, spelling flexible, and adverbs definitely extinct. Skip the subjunctive tense. Penmanship? So last century! Fit your thought into less than 140 characters or forget it.
Inventive new Amglish features include filler words like “like” and “you know” which give timid speakers time to think of what to say next. “[E]xperimenting is in and conformity is out. . .,” (p. 23) says Rowse. “I” becomes “me” as “Bob and I will be going,” becomes “Me and Bob will be going” (p. 23). “The little word at has become very popular. . .” (p. 26) “Where are you?” is often written “Where you at?” Rowse believes that American English is the greatest US export. No matter how hard the French Academy, the German Language Association, and other fusspots struggle to repel the foreign invaders, such hardy words as “e-mail,” “podcasting,” and ”supermodel” show up daily in their local print and on TV. Of course, word adoption goes both ways and English has acquired many (particularly European) words such as “bonus,” “calculus,” and “domain” (from Latin); “bureau,” “omelet,” and “unique” (from French); “hamburger,” “kindergarten,” and “wanderlust” (from German).
Evidence of the Amglish’s international connections is apparent from Rowse’s list of “lishes,” mixtures of English with other languages. How many of these combinations can you guess?: Arablish, Chinglish, Dunglish, Finglish, Frenglish, Gibberlish, Greeklish, Hinglish, Italish, Janglish, Konglish, Manglish, Paklish, Porglish, Runglish, Singlish, Spanglish, Swenglish, Taglish, Tibetlish, Turklish, Vietlish, and Yidlish.
What are Rowse’s “ten easy lessons” for Amglish speakers? Here they are, to be taken, like, with a grain of salt: 1. Go with the flow. (Life is short. Don’t sweat the details.) 2. Better to phone than write. (Writing is so overrated.) 3. Fudge the grammar. (Become a journalist.) 4. Be creative with language. (Invent a word today.) 5. Abbreviate where possible. (Give your thumbs a rest.) 6. Let words spell themselves. (Blame it on spell-check.) 7. Disconnect the dots. (Commas, what commas?) 8. User fillers, like, a lot. (Hey, they’re better than “uh” and “ah”.) 9. Kill obscenities with excess. (Maybe they will just go away.) 10. Learn to code-switch. (Become “cool-smart” by using the lingo that fits your current scene.)
Mike McGraw is a senior staff technical writer for Qualcomm, Inc. in San Diego, California. His team helps Qualcomm engineers with information management systems such as SharePoint, Jive, and wikis.
Robert A. Day and Nancy Sakaduski. 2011. 3rd ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood. [ISBN 978-0-313-39173-6. 228 pages, including index. US$29.95.]
Scientific English seeks to make scientific writing, whether in a blog or a journal, “beautiful in its elegant simplicity” (p. 11). Unlike other scientific writing guides (including Robert A. Day’s How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper), this book addresses more than just formal traditional scientific articles, with their standard sections (introduction, methods, etc.) and their graphs and figures. It focuses more broadly on scientific language itself. Sample chapter titles include “Words,” “Action Words (Verbs),” “Voice, Person, and Tense,” “Sentences,” “Clauses,” etc. In addition, this book includes a chapter on communicating science in emails, blogs, and other types of electronic media.
Each chapter has enough examples and depth to be a good reference. Day and Sakaduski make references to placing commas around appositives (p. 136), abbreviating scientific units (p. 94), and using numbers as part of an adjective (p. 145). Quotes from famous scientists often lighten the discussion, as do many of the authors’ own short and often funny comments. The appendices present punctuation principles, problem words and expressions, and words and expressions to avoid.
Scientific English also does a very good job of showing how one can improve individual sentences. Its chief virtues are its wealth of examples (new in this edition) and the special care it gives to the trickiest parts of scientific writing. The authors say that scientists often produce “sentences that are difficult at best and incomprehensible at worst” (p. 58). One bad habit is nominalization, a tendency to replace verbs with nouns or noun phrases. Another is the habit of writing in the passive voice, which seems to have become academic and authoritative. Of course, many writers use the passive voice for the right sentences (Scientific English’s authors challenge us to improve upon sentences such as “Petri dishes are made of plastic” and “His invention has been superseded” (p. 126). In addition, the passive voice is often mandatory in the methods section of a traditional paper. Yet it does appear where it isn’t wanted, and it is often linked to or caused by unnecessary nominalizations.
The book’s most concise and elegant section talks about verb tense. A few excellent examples show why a scientist must use the past tense for current work and then use the present tense for past results. Day and Sakaduski recommend avoiding the use of the perfect tense. A few “before-and-after” examples show how rephrasing can improve a sentence’s clarity.
Such examples, which appear throughout this third edition of Scientific English, contribute to its overall success. Only occasionally does its light tone and humorous phrases go too far. For instance, it is flippant when discussing how to express different levels of scientific certainty (p. 43). This is a tricky task, especially for non-native English speakers, and should get more attention. Scientific English overall is an excellent guide for those people writing scientific English, from peer-reviewed journals to blogs, online comments sections, grants, and social media.
Jake Ashcraft has worked as a teacher, manager, and writer in the scientific sector for more than 10 years. He recently graduated from the Technical Communication program at the University of Washington, where he focused on scientific communication. He is a tenure-track professor of chemistry at South Seattle Community College.
Francis DeRespinis, Peter Hayward, Jana Jenkins, Amy Laird, Leslie McDonald, and Eric Radzinski. 2012. Upper Saddle River, NJ: IBM Press. [ISBN 978-0-13-210130-1. 390 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
The year 2012 is a big one for style guides. Style guide publishing includes the fourth edition of the Microsoft Manual of Style (Microsoft Press) and the completely new The IBM Style Guide: Conventions for Writers and Editors (IBM Press). By “completely new,” I mean to the audience outside of IBM. In the “About this publication“ section, I learned that the IBM Style Guide represents many years of work by IBM’s internal Style and Word Usage Council. This group of individuals is responsible for managing the IBM Style and Word Usage guidelines and “supporting their colleagues in creating and producing the highest quality information possible for IBM clients around the world” (p. xxi).
The IBM Style Guide is divided logically into ten main chapters, covering everything you would expect in a style guide, including “big topics” such as language and grammar, punctuation, and numbers and measurements. Examples are easy to identify by being in light gray boxes, and include both correct and incorrect usage.
One of the appendixes, Word Usage, is an 80-page list in alphabetical order of words and terms most relevant to technical writers. What I like about this section is the clever use of icons to divide the terms into three categories: “preferred term,“ “use with caution,” and “do not use.“ Another notable section is Chapter 8, “Writing for diverse audiences,” which includes two important topics to so many technical communicators: accessibility and writing for international audiences.
What differentiates this new style guide from the older, widely used guides and handbooks (examples: Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry, Third Edition, Prentice Hall, 2009, and Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors, Second Edition, IBM Press, 2004) is the quality coverage of the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) in two places: Chapter 4, “Structure,” and then in appendix B, “DITA tags for highlighting.” And if that is still not enough, some references mention the availability of more detailed information on DITA from the IBM Press book, DITA Best Practices: A Roadmap for Writing, Editing, and Architecting in DITA (2011).
It is good to see that the IBM Style Guide is available in the current standard formats (paperback, Amazon Kindle, and ebook from IBM Press) and as part of Safari Book Online (typically for organizations or corporations that purchase volume licenses). Yet what I found missing is the mention of a link to a Web site for corrections and feedback.
Is The IBM Style Guide going to be my new “go to” book to use as a general style guide? It is really too soon to tell. I’ll definitely be keeping it on my desk, and can say I have a favorable impression of the book so far.
David Kowalsky is a technical writer for NEC Corporation of America. He received his MA in East Asian Studies from Washington University (St. Louis) and a certificate of technical writing and editing from the University of Washington. He is a senior member of STC’s Puget Sound Chapter.
Joe Kraynak. 2011. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books. [ISBN 978-1-61564-084-3. 423 pages, including index. US$24.95 USD (softcover).]
The first thing that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to HTML5 and CSS3 tells you is that Joe Kraynak assumes you have no prior experience with designing Web pages. So for people like me who have created Web sites for years, this book may seem elementary. I did find that the book did provide a good review of many concepts I’d forgotten about, such as basic HTML tags, the steps involved in getting a picture ready to post online, and a brief introduction to image maps, which I’ve struggled with previously. In addition, it does explain in good detail the process of finding a place to host your site, whether you want a free or pay site, and whether you want to create the site yourself or use a content management system to do some of the HTML for you.
Kraynak devotes several pages to discussing WordPress, my favorite CMS. He even mentioned a few WordPress plugins I hadn’t heard of, ones that turned out to be useful for a WordPress site I maintain.
Two new HTML5 tags—video and audio—are obviously used for adding video and audio clips to a Web site. Kraynak describes them in detail in Chapter 8.
Tables is a topic that the author discussed in another chapter. As a Web designer, I had thought tables were obsolete among Web designers in favor of the div (or division) tag for displaying text in columns, but apparently not. It appears that tables are still an excellent way for describing how to display text in a table-type format.
About halfway through Complete Idiot’s Guide to HTML5 and CSS, CSS is first mentioned with a description of CSS basics before moving on to more advanced CSS topics. I felt this was a good review and would help a novice understand why they are important. Several of the book’s chapters are devoted to CSS properties and their descriptions. Everything from making your text look nice, to what colors do you want (adjusting the hue, saturation, and value), making your lists and margins look good, to how you want your page laid out. There’s even a chapter devoted to more advanced CSS, once you’re ready to take that step.
Kraynak finishes off with tips about how to ensure a high ranking on search engines, which clearly is important if you want to make sure your site is seen by many people.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to HTML5 and CSS may be a book intended for beginners, yet it’s one that more advanced site designers will also enjoy.
Todd Hawley has been a technical writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 15 years and is currently the Webmaster for STC Silicon Valley. He enjoys reading books related to technical communication, Web publishing and information security.
Amanda Spink and Jannica Heinström, Eds. 2011. Cambridge, MA: Emerald Group Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78052-170-1. 320 pages, including index. US$124.95.]
“Information behavior” might seem a strange term to technical communicators, especially when understood to refer to how people respond to information rather than how information acts in a system. As a discipline, information behavior research dates to the 1970s when it was most closely associated with human-computer interface research. Now, it is a broader field, although, in their conclusion (Chapter 12), Spink and Heinström urge broadening the research even more to include evolutionary and developmental sciences.
This collection of 12 original papers reviews the extensive research literature available in this field. Yet, the essays are not strictly literature reviews because the authors present their own work as a basis for explaining different facets of the field.
The editors announce (p. xvii) that information behavior examines “complex human information-related processes that are embedded within an individual’s everyday social and life processes.” Thus, the anthology is important because the research is “critical to the development of new approaches to the design of Web and information retrieval (IR) systems” (p. xvii And that is why information behavior is important for technical communicators—especially as a supplement to information architect guides such as Rosenfeld and Morville’s.
After an introductory section, the editors divide the essays into five sections: Research History and Overview, Psychological Dimensions, Contextual Dimensions, Emerging Dimensions, and Conclusions and Further Research. A section of author biographies and index complete the book.
Technical communicators will find plenty of interesting material that adds to their understanding of user analysis. Generally, though, the approach is quite broad, as reflected by the point that information behavior research usually comes from Information and Library Science programs and is aimed at a general public. That does not mean that little in the book is relevant. For example, Burnett and Jaegar’s “The Theory of Information Worlds and Information Behaviour” offers a comparison between the world views of Jürgen Habermas’ large social structure worlds and Elfreda Chatman’s smallest social units. How do information users in each behave toward information? Web designers could benefit.
I was disappointed in the collection for a number of reasons. For example, the proofreading and editing left much to be desired. Evidently, each set of authors was responsible for both editing and proofing their contributions, which resulted in an uneven set of essays. The style guide, if one were used, was decidedly British English, but that does not excuse missing apostrophes to indicate possession and typos such as “board” for “broad.” Also, no one really defined what information is and who creates it. Is the material really data that the user converts to information? The authors seem to think that the conversion has already happened and that the users are converting information to knowledge.
Ultimately, though, I would recommend the book for library purchase. Otherwise, it would be a good edition to your professional library if you are contemplating working in information and library science.
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.
Stephanie Krieger. 2011. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. [ISBN 978-0-7356-5199-9. 836 pages, including index. US$54.99 (softcover).]
We all think we know how to use Microsoft Office, but Stephanie Krieger’s book will help make your documents get noticed. She based Documents, Presentations, and Workbooks on the software versions: Office 2010 and Office for Mac 2011. This book is a hands-on guide that provides constructive advice and advanced timesaving tips to produce compelling content that delivers not only dynamic documents in print, but for on screen as well. The layout and clean design makes locating information fast and easy.
I liked the way Krieger made this book accessible to all levels of understanding for people who use Microsoft Office programs. The easy access to information and the simple, clear, and precise steps and information make it worth being added to your collection. In Chapter 4, Krieger says that learning core concepts of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel can help you get more from these programs and create incredible documents, presentations, and workbooks. The book’s size, although bulky, shows you how to make the most out of your programs and advance your potential to customize and increase knowledgeably into the workings of Microsoft Office. The graphics and screenshots provided make it easy to follow and to follow your progress through the development of your Word document or PowerPoint presentation.
The Table of Contents is clearly defined and easy to find information at a glance. Krieger has broken down the programs used into parts and then chapters. For example, you would go to Part V: Templates, Automation, and Customization to learn about making templates. Each chapter’s crispness is refreshing and provides interesting and thorough information, tips, and tutorials. Krieger introduces all the programs at the beginning of each chapter, then breaks down the use of tools within the program, and how to use the tools to their best advantage to get the most out of the programs.
Krieger says that when it comes to determining where a document should live, consider not just whether you can accomplish the task, but also what will be the best tool. I would go as far as saying Documents, Presentations, and Workbooks is a life preserver in ease of use, relevant information, and practical applications.
Julie Hazmoon Kawano has a BA in Media Studies. She spent three years teaching English to Japanese students in Japan. Now back in Australia, Julie spends her spare time reading books, doing Web-based reviews, and she is planning to run for local government in 2012.
Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business Is Done
Michelle Manafy and Heidi Gautschi, eds. 2011. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN: 978-0-910965-87-3. 394 pages, including index. US$27.95.]
Experts from business and academia provide insight in this book on the digital natives who are those immersed in digital technology from birth and now always connected and socially networked. Each article provides great food for thought on topics including how these digital natives work, learn, shop, and play. The goal of Dancing with Digital Natives is to “make the most of these interactions” (p. xiv) and create environments where everyone wins as these individuals increasingly begin to dominate business and society.
In one analysis of how digital natives work, an article in the book explains how digital native police officers can use technologies in various ways on the job. While each technology can have its own drawbacks, in some cases, police officers can effectively use mobile technologies to get information and complete useful research from either a car or a work site, not having to wait to return to the office. Another example of technology use by a digital native police officer is how “years ago it would have taken months for a new officer to acquire. . .knowledge about a street gang. . . . Nowadays, that officer need only run a Google search” (p. 69).
Concerning how this generation does business, one of the articles proposes that “this generation has developed a distinctly different mindset. . . .This distinct world view will shape the way this generation decides with which companies to do business” (p. 175). With cyberspace being a big part of their lives, their shopping will depend partly on which businesses are online. Social media will also impact their shopping, where postings, for example, of negative statements about certain companies could influence the digital native.
The article, “Making the Grade: Standards and Promoting Achievement Through Technology”, in this book is about education and this generation. It is easy to argue that today’s students need more than traditional literacy. They need to learn analytical skills to deal with digital media and information and achieve literacy in this realm. In addition, teachers can use techniques such as a wiki to teach about writing effectively and providing feedback on drafts.
Jeanette Evans has more than 15 years in the field. An STC Associate Fellow, she is active in the NEO STC chapter where she serves as academic relations co-chair and newsletter co-editor. She has published in Intercom and presented at various STC functions including several national conferences.
Mark Hayward. 2011. Darren Rowse. [No ISBN. 143 pages. US$49.99 (ebook)].
Mark Hayward’s book ProBlogger’s Guide to Blogging for Your Business is a must-read for technical communicators—whether you’re considering or actively blogging for yourself, your department, your product, or the company for which you work.
I’ll admit, I’m a big follower of ProBlogger, and have purchased each of the brand’s books since I read the review of Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett’s first ProBlogger publication, Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income, First Edition, in this journal two years ago. And while all his titles are worthwhile, the ProBlogger’s Guide really focuses on the basics a technical communicator needs to know to effectively step into the world of blogging and social media. For those who have been blogging for years, it serves as a great basis for evaluating and refocusing your efforts.
Each chapter includes a tutorial that practically holds your hand through the process. Hayward even provides common examples to get your thoughts started. Whether he directs you to consider your reasons for blogging (pp. 18–19), define your target audience (p. 23), or create an editorial calendar and draft a post (pp. 76–77), he gives you a solid foundation to begin taking action right away.
Besides suggestions for plugins to install, methods for evaluating your return on investment, and a year’s worth of weekly blog topics (pp. 83–86), you will find solid, usable information. I’d be surprised if you don’t find at least one nugget that lets you recoup the value of the book’s purchase price. (And I’d love to pick your brain!)
Hayward provides the perfect balance between current technology (known as the platform du jour) and basics, creating a book that will resonate for many years. Even if the interfaces of WordPress, YouTube, or other social media platforms change, readers will know what they need to do and the steps they need to consider. His recommendations for finding readers and traffic for your blog in Chapter 10 are timeless and can be revisited repeatedly.
My only complaint, which is really minor, with this ebook is that it is available only as a PDF download. This causes the need for extra steps for note-taking, highlighting, bookmarking, or social sharing from mobile devices. And while I certainly understand the business thought behind the presentation format and enjoy the reasonable price, my delight with ProBlogger’s Guide to Blogging for Your Business would be increased were it available in iBook or mobi formats as well.
ProBlogger is definitely a trusted brand that has helped thousands over the years with outstanding content. Whatever your motivation for blogging, you’re sure to enjoy this information-packed resource and find that it is worth the $49.99 investment. And even if you don’t take my word for it, they have a 30-day money back guarantee!
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, 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.
Susan Weinschenk, PhD. 2011. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-76753-0. 244 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People includes one hundred facts about how people see, interpret, and interact with the world. These facts are broken into individual chapters that are grouped into different categories, resulting in these sections: How People See; How People Read; How People Remember; How People Think; How People Focus Their Attention; What Motivates People; People Are Social Animals; How People Feel; People Make Mistakes; and How People Decide. The author covers each individual point in two to three pages and includes a description of how this information should inform design.
Weinschenk draws from many research areas to make her points and often cites external sources, encouraging readers to seek out additional information. This book is a fast read and one that should find a home on your office shelf for the foreseeable future as the advice seems sound and the organization is intuitive to reference a relevant topic later. The colorful formatting is a refreshing change of pace that makes it easy to find the most important bits of information. The flagging of external resources is particularly effective because it allows Weinschenk to open the door to an area of concern, offer up additional resources, and still maintain the book’s quick-point flow. The Takeaways sections are effective at driving home each chapter’s key concepts as they should be applied to a design project and prompting readers to consider how their projects could be affected by this situation.
While chapters are short, the topics are not shortchanged. Weinschenk provides enough information to get het point across, while maintaining the book’s faster flow format. While many of Weinschenk’s points may seem to be common sense, she quickly demonstrates why a designer needs to be aware of the fact, as well as how one can accommodate people’s natural instincts when designing. She does an excellent job of breaking down the different aspects of human behavior and perspective, and applying those to a user-centered design focus. Weinschenk’s advice brings a truly human quality to the process of design. It is no longer about understanding the consumer of a product; it is about understanding the consumer as a human.
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about Peopleis a work that could easily become a staple for young or new designers. It could also be very complimentary in an undergraduate Web or document design course. However, this book should not be restricted to the youth of technical communication. Weinschenk’s topics span the range of the human experience and likely include design questions that even the most experienced designer has not considered. This book has the potential of prompting a reader to walk away with a different, more holistic perspective of design, and could easily spur new research topics in how some of these human impulses impacts the work and goals of technical communication.
Sandra Wheeler is an STC student member of and is pursuing her MA in Technical Communication at Texas Tech University. Her primary interests are document/visual design and new media.
Louis Rosenfeld. 2011. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-20-0. 224 pages, including index. US$39.00 (softcover).]
Do you have a Web site? Do you offer a search function? Are you collecting analytics on the search? If you answered ”yes” to the first two questions and ”no” to the last one, continue reading. For the rest of you, this review is optional! Targeted to user experience professionals (content strategy, information architecture, design strategy, or usability), Search Analytics for Your Site provides you with the tools to improve your search.
Even if the word ”analytics” scares you—Louis Rosenfeld provides step-by-step techniques for understanding what your customers are looking for on your site and how to make your site search more effective for your customer groups.
So why employ site search analytics (SSA)? “SSA will help you understand how people entered searches, where they were when they entered them, and how they interpreted the results” (p. 22). Rosenfeld also explains how SSA helps with navigation patterns and metadata, as well as content strategy. Wouldn’t you like to better understand why people might leave your site after one search? Does it mean that you are missing something?
The book is arranged logically, starting with an introduction to site search analysis. The next five chapters cover different analysis techniques and the last four chapters cover tips for improving your site (based on the analysis described in the previous chapters), as well providing a bridge between search analytics and improving the overall user experience of your site and your search.
The analysis chapters include many examples and easy-to-follow graphics and tables. Each analysis technique can help you solve a particular problem (p. 23):
- Pattern analysis: What patterns emerge when you “play” with the data?
- Failure analysis: When your search returns no results or poor results, what can we do to fix the problem?
- Session analysis: What happens during a specific search session?
- Audience analysis: How might we use the tools to uncover the difference between audience segments?
One thing I really like about Search Analytics for Your Site is the fact that it is not all about analysis—it is about solutions. One key chapter is Chapter 8: Practical Tips for Improving Search. As a frequent searcher for information on the Web, it occurs to me that many sites with their own search engines could do well to note some of these suggestions.
One thing I like about the Rosenfeld books is that each published book has an associated Web site. The site for this one includes the most current presentation that Rosenfeld has made about site search analytics.
Still reading? If this sounds like a set of tools that you could use to help your site, Rosenfeld also includes tips for selling the concept of the analysis. . . . It’s a complete package that I highly recommend you purchase.
Elisa Miller, an STC Associate Fellow, is a Senior User Experience Engineer for GE Healthcare. She is a past president of the Lone Star Community and is an active member of the STC Usability & User Experience SIG.
Gerald J. Alred, Charles T Brusaw, and Walter E Oliu. 2012. 10th ed. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. [ISBN 978-1-250-0441-3. 650 pages, including index. US$47.99.]
This book’s latest edition shows how this reference, which has been around for almost thirty years now, continues to be an important resource for all technical writers. I’ve always considered The Handbook of Technical Writing to be the technical writer’s “Swiss army knife,” because it’s a collection of many important topics for writers. This tenth edition includes updated information on topics such as using PDFs, Wikis, FAQs, and blogs. The authors have also updated the documenting sources section (which I’ve always liked), whether they’re print or online.
Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu discuss many grammatical and punctuation issues, yet this is not a grammar book. It discusses many writing style tips, but it isn’t strictly a style guide either. There are definitions of some terms, along with similar sounding words, but it’s not a dictionary either. It is also not specifically about technical writing topics. It also covers grant writing, white papers, proposals and other types of formal reports, items that writers may create depending on their job duties.
I enjoyed the book’s “Web links,” which are URLs describing helpful Web sites related to the just described topic, that are sprinkled in small boxes throughout the chapters. Another feature I found helpful were the “Writer’s Checklist” I found after various topics as well. The checklists call attention to important points not covered previously.
All entries are in alphabetical order as always and there’s a handy contents by topic at the book’s beginning when you want to refer quickly to a topic. The entries that are more detailed (such as formal reports, different types of letters and memos) will give examples of how they should be written. Some of the more detailed entries contain their own small “table of contents,” so you can directly go to a mini-topic inside the bigger one. Figures are also used throughout the book to great advantage to further explain certain topics.
The Handbook of Technical Writing also touches on some non-writing topics that are of importance to writers, like looking for and applying for a job, how to conduct a presentation and/or meeting, and the best way to display mathematical equations (something that likely has vexed many a writer).
The book’s back-end matter includes a two-page “Model Documents and Figures by Topic” section. This allows the reader to refer quickly to a visual example of a document or figure, a feature that most writers will find quite helpful.
The Handbook of Technical Writing has so many wonderful features that cannot be adequately described in a short review like this. I do recommend this book to any writer wishing to learn more about the real art of technical writing.
Todd Hawley has been a technical writer in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 15 years and is currently the Webmaster for STC Silicon Valley. He enjoys reading books related to technical communication, Web publishing and information security.
Culture, Communication and Cyberspace: Rethinking Technical Communication for International Online Environments
Kirk St. Amant and Filipp Sapienza, Eds. 2011. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.. [ISBN 978-0-89503-398-7. 258 pages, including index. $54.95 USD.]
Culture, Communication and Cyberspace is a collection of ten scholarly essays divided into three sections: theoretical approaches to online technical communication, online cross-cultural interactions, and cross-cultural collaborations, especially in an educational context. Contributors include STC award winners, university professors in the US and Taiwan, and PhD students. Because of the contributions from Taiwan universities, most of the research presented involves interactions with Asia, in particular China. The exception is one experiment in Kenya for developing better AIDS prevention materials.
Having graduated college a while ago, I found myself back in study mode, annotating sections as if I had to write a class paper. Students are also likely the intended audience for this book. For them, there is lots of interesting information and suggestions on where further research is needed, potentially topics for readers’ dissertations. Others parties will find intriguing nuggets of information, such as “The average information system user, in English-speaking locales, spends fewer than 10 seconds browsing the results of a retrieval algorithm” (p. 75) It would be interesting to see such a statistic for other languages. Do people from other cultures spend more time looking at search results before moving on? Are there differences in attention span between different English-speaking locales, such as South Africa and Canada?
Not surprisingly, Culture, Communication and Cyberspace is less useful for practicing technical communicators. Few chapters offer advice on real-world application of the research presented, although awareness of the issues studied—such as the way in which cultural factors affect online communication between Asian and North American writers—is certainly helpful. After all, even if our colleagues elsewhere in the world communicate with us in English, or our international readers peruse an English-language Web site, they still apply their own cultural assumptions to those activities. Knowing that fact may help US-based technical communicators design Web sites and help systems that are better adapted to such cultural differences.
However, I am not sure that this awareness couldn’t also be gained from reading a couple of online articles, rather than an entire book of academic essays. So if you are a student or an educator, or are simply interested in the theory of international communication, this may be a good read for you. But if you are looking for practical advice on designing an international Web site or communicating with your international team, you may be better served by more practice-oriented publications.
After majoring in Media Studies, Barbara managed an IT department and wrote software documentation. She now translates technical, legal and business documents from German into English for her own company, reliable translations llc (www.reliable-translations.com). Barbara also writes a blog, On Language and Translation (http://reliable-translations.blogspot.com/), and tweets (@reliabletran).
Stephen M. Shapiro. 2011. New York, NY: Portfolio Hardcover. [ISBN 978-1-59184-385-6. 206 pages, including index. US$22.95.]
Imagine you are asked to contribute ideas to out-innovate your company’s competition. What approach would you consider taking?
Wanting to always help my company stay ahead of its competition, I eagerly thumbed through the table of contents of Stephen Shapiro’s Best Practices Are Stupid. I envisioned seeing such tips as thinking outside the box, as that is a commonly used phrase. But, what caught my eye was Shapiro’s tip to consider hiring people you don’t like, and he also suggests “not” thinking outside the box! I was so curious to learn Shapiro’s viewpoint on this that I requested to review his book and find out for myself the advantage of taking this advice.
In his book, Shapiro shares his 40 tips by sorting them into categories, such as overview, process, strategy, measures, people, and creativity. Since each tip stands on its own, you can read the tips in any order.
One of Shapiro’s tips is Tip 7: The Goldilocks Principle. Recalling the story of Goldilocks, she was tired after her walk in the woods and sampling the porridge the bears left behind on the table. So, she decided to try their beds. Papa’s bed was too hard, Mama’s bed was too soft, but she found baby bear’s bed just right. Using the bed analogy, Shapiro points out that when addressing challenges, you must not be broad and abstract nor must you be overly specific. However, if you ask specific questions, you will arrive at the best solution. He illustrates by using a study of a cell phone company wanting to improve customer service. A typical approach would be to ask customers how their experience could be improved, which might be considered being too broad. However, in this case, the company studied the call data and determined there were ten top reasons people called customer service. One of the most common was about a specific billing issue. When the company changed the tariffs associated with the issue, customer calls dropped in number. Therefore, challenges are best addressed when they are not too big (abstract) or too small (overly specific), but when they are just right.
Have you ever wondered what your innovation style is? Shapiro includes a chart in Appendix B that you can use to rate yourself on 40 characteristics, such as realistic, loyal, and curious. He recommends your team should include people who represent each of the four innovation styles that he defines.
I suggest you purchase Shapiro’s Best Practices are Stupid to learn for yourself why you should consider hiring people you don’t like. There is a distinct advantage to doing so. And remember, don’t think outside the box; find a “better” box. You’re likely to observe your team out-innovating the competition!
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 and officer of the Hill Speakers Toastmasters Club (Club 4415).
Stephen Fishman, JD. 2011. 11th ed. Berkeley, CA: Nolo. [ISBN 978-1-4133-1617-9. 428 pages, including index and CD. US$49.99 (softcover).]
Readers come to a book on copyright for many reasons, but my guess is that the two main reasons would be to find out how to protect one’s own intellectual property and to learn how to legally reuse others’ property. If you’ve always wondered whether it’s okay to photocopy material for your own use or for a class, you will get your answer here. If you want to know whether something you wrote is eligible for copyright protection, look inside this work. If you wish to register a copyright for your own works, Fishman’s book tells you how.
Fishman lays out the scope of this work in the introduction: “… [T]his book is about: copyright for the written word” (p. 1). If you want to know how to protect your software, your music, your films, your video games, look elsewhere. Fishman probably has another book that covers those media.
Chapters 1–3 walk us through basic copyright information: Copyright Basics, Copyright Notice, and Copyright Registration. They are suitable reading for the person who needs an introduction to the most fundamental copyright concepts. The remainder of the work, Chapters 4–15, covers more specific topics: Correcting or Changing Copyright Notice or Registration, What Copyright Protects, Adaptations and Compilations, Initial Copyright Ownership, Transferring Copyright Ownership, Copyright Duration, Using Other Authors’ Words, Copyright Infringement, International Copyright Protection, Copyright and Taxation, Obtaining Copyright Permission, and Help Beyond This Book. The accompanying CD contains ten useful forms plus four relevant legal documents. Information on the book’s Web site mostly duplicates the material on the CD, but it also presents (at the time I looked) a video about applying for photo copyrights, obviously beyond the scope of this book, which treats only the written word. The single appendix discusses how to use the forms on the CD, and the book contains a useful index.
Interestingly, Fishman, a lawyer himself, is careful not to assert too definitely some of his opinions concerning what would be considered legal use of others’ property. Since fair use is a defense against a charge of copyright infringement, each case brings its own particular issues. Only a court can affirm fair use; the defendant in a copyright case can merely assert it, substantiate its invocation, and present evidence. Ultimately, a copyright infringement case will be adjudicated based on the facts of the specific case, and a ruling will ensue.
Myths about copyright abound, and Fishman very clearly exposes and debunks them. Fictitious case studies make the details of copyright come alive. Fishman also gives examples of actual cases, presenting the facts of the case and how the court ruled. These case studies can give readers a good feel for the kinds of issues that need to be considered. The rest of The Copyright Handbook offers guidance on how to address them.
Karen Lane is a freelance technical editor, indexer, and coauthor of a technical communication textbook, Technical Communication: Strategies for College and the Workplace. She is an STC Fellow and has served on several Society-level committees, as well as serving as Program Manager for the 2008 STC Technical Communication Summit.
James Gleick. 2011. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. [ISBN 978-0-375-42372-7. 539 pages, including index. US$29.95.]
In The Information, James Gleick, twice a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, draws together threads from history, biography, and science to tell the long, many-faceted, story of how we arrived at the modern age, where information has become “the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world” (inside left dust cover).
Gleick opens at a pivotal moment, 1948 at Bell Labs. The Labs have just invented the transistor, which will revolutionize the hardware side of electronic communication. But, as Gleick tells it, the more significant event is the publication of Claude Shannon’s paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” While complex, and mathematically dense, Shannon’s paper effectively launched the field of information theory, and soon became a “fulcrum around which the world began to turn” (p. 4).
Shannon viewed the essential problem of communication as that of accurately reproducing at one point a message selected from another point. While messages may have meaning, this is irrelevant to the engineering problem. For Shannon, a message was a sequence of information units, binary digits, which he called “bits” (pp. 9–10).
While information theory revolutionized electronic communication, it also profoundly affected other fields. It appears that something very like Shannon’s bits are the universe’s building blocks. Biologists found that DNA was a code, a message to be replicated; physicists found that subatomic “qubits” communicate their binary states to each other. In the words of one physicist: “It from Bit” (p. 10). The universe is bits all the way down.
Having set an anchor near the present, Gleick returns to the past. In retrospect, it is clear that man had been wrestling with the problems of communicating across distance for a long time. Gleick provides a richly detailed account of this back story. He traces a development path that runs through African drums, various line-of-sight signaling schemes, the telegraph, the telephone, and on to the high-tech wonders of the modern age.
Yet hardware technology is only part of the story. Information requires encoding, and that required the development of alphabets, and alphabet substitutes like Morse code. Communicating across distance brought security and privacy concerns, which led to developments in cryptography. Distance also produced problems of signal loss, noise, and message degradation, which had to be overcome. As the amount of information increased, it brought problems of how to understand and cope with the flood; hence a need for dictionaries, encyclopedias, and indexing, storage, and retrieval technologies.
Where possible, Gleick gives the narrative a human face by telling the stories of the individuals involved. Thus we learn of the inventor of an optical telegraph, of a schoolmaster who made the first English dictionary, of Charles Babbage who attempted to build a mechanical calculator, of Ada Byron, daughter of the poet, who worked with Babbage and became the world’s first computer programmer, and many others.
It’s an important story, well told. Science writing doesn’t get much better than this.
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 for technical communication and co-chairs the Northern California technical communication competition.
ConcreteLoop.com Presents: Angel’s Laws of Blogging: What You Need to Know if You Want to Have a Successful and Profitable Blog
Angel Laws with Carol Moore. 2011. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-61608-268-0. 148 pages. US$14.95 (softcover).]
ConcreteLoop.com Presents: Angel’s Laws of Blogging tells you how to develop and maintain a successful blog. Angel Laws is a self-taught blogger who runs ConcreteLoop.com, a blog focused on black entertainers. In her book, Laws describes how she got into blogging, the mistakes she’s made over the years, and how ConcreteLoop.com became successful and profitable.
The first chapter describes how to pick a blog topic. It’s not enough to be passionate about something, you have to give things a distinctive twist. You then see how to choose a blog name, learn about search engine optimization and how to pick a platform for your blog, and define your blog’s demographic. Subsequent chapters talk about how to get ads, branding your blog, working with social networks for greater publicity, and liability. There are also chapters on dealing with celebrities and throwing press parties. The book concludes with an excellent summary of the chapters and what you should take away from each one.
ConcreteLoop.com Presents: Angel’s Laws of Blogging does not go into detail about any one thing. Instead, it presents enough topical information so that you have a vocabulary of concepts and can find out more about them yourself. The book covers a lot of ground, so it may not be a quick read, but you’ll definitely finish with a general idea of what to do and how to do it.
I was impressed with the book’s production values such as good page layout with insets of meaningful tips. It’s nice to see a technical book that uses color well and is printed on heavy paper. Thumbing through it at first, I also really enjoyed the author’s attitude: she starts by asking “What would you write about if there was no money in it?” Laws returns to this idea throughout the book. She also hammers away at the idea of making money with your blog. She talks in every chapter about how doing something fits into getting advertisers and bringing in a greater readership. All the advice dovetails with her three main points: you must always be organized, be consistent, and be motivated.
There are a few shortcomings. The text needs more editing. For example, one of the chapter titles is “Grab a Subject and Angle It!” ~shudder~ This book is written in a very casual style that the typical reader should find very approachable, but there is occasional slanginess that I found a little jarring in a technical book. Although the book is short, it had no index. Having an index would have been nice given the material’s technical nature.
Technical communicators can benefit from knowing more about self-promotion. If you’re interested in blogging as part of your own PR program, ConcreteLoop.com Presents: Angel’s Laws of Blogging is a good place to start.
John Hedtke has been a technical communicator for many years. He has published 26 books and close to 200 magazine articles. John is an STC Fellow, a member of the STC Willamette Valley Chapter, and several SIGs, and has served on the STC’s Board of Directors.
Richard J. Gladon, William R. Graves, and J. Michael Kelly. 2011. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [ISBN: 978-1-118-01716-6. 356 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]
Gladon, Graves, and Kelly’s book, Getting Published in the Life Sciences, has good concepts that will help its market—science students and newly minted researchers—prepare manuscripts for refereed journals. The authors have pulled together the best information from the best-known textbooks on scientific and technical writing, besides offering several useful suggestions of their own. Exercises at the end of each chapter help the reader practice what the authors preach.
They offer a new paradigm to the hallowed IMRAD (Introduction/Materials & methods/Results, And Discussion) formula, for developing—not “presenting”—scientific papers—a formula, they feel, that gets in the way of manuscript development. Instead, the authors propose starting with “two to four take-home messages” (p. 12). These “take-home messages are the central ideas, or pieces of information, you want the reader to understand unequivocally by the time they have finished reading your published article” (p. 75). The other manuscript components include a provisional title that encompasses those messages and concludes with the Results section, which can help writers define and delimit their paper.
Now for the problems—definitions, non-use of itemizers, and pronoun selection—with Getting Published in the Life Sciences. Let’s discuss them in order. Several major concepts are mentioned, yet not defined until later or not at all. For example: [i] the “take-home message” (first mentioned on page 12, then on page 66, but not defined until page 75); [ii] “système international” (mentioned on pages 14 and 16, but not explained until page 204); and [iii] “impact factor” (mentioned on page 52, but never defined).
The next, more serious problem found throughout the book is that the authors provide a long series of things—especially do’s and don’t’s—often presented in the paragraph, without any itemizers (a, b, c, d). Such points are not very accessible, nor readable when run together like this. The authors could have presented these in separate list form to improve the readability of the content. Darian’s rule of thumb: When presenting three or more items—especially procedures—put them in list form (16a, 70, 91). The authors sometimes separate material that is not a procedure (p. 92), which doesn’t really need differentiating.
The third major problem—partly a matter of judgment—is the ongoing conundrum of the use him/him his/hers. Another Darian rule of thumb: If it sounds bizarre in speaking, try to avoid it in writing. Since we’re pressed for space, I can only cite a few page numbers (12, 14, 15). Plus one example that I need, to rest my case on: a quote from R. L. Stevenson, that the authors have rewritten: “If a man (woman) can group his (her) ideas, he (she) is a good writer.” I hope they weren’t serious about this, but I’m afraid they were.
Getting Published in the Life Sciences is a good book. Hopefully, these suggestions can make it even better.
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.
Maura Keller, Michelle Taute, and Capsule. 2011. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN: 978-1-59253-738-9. 448 pages. US$40.00 (softcover)].
Overwhelming is the word I would use to describe Design Matters: An Essential Primer. The sheer weight of the book, number of examples, and sort of “in your face” design of each page made me a somewhat timid reader. When I glanced at the table of contents, however, I was pleased to see the three distinct phases of design (planning, creating, and implementing) addressed for brochures, logos, packaging, and portfolios.
The information is priceless as each page addresses a crucial aspect of design and puts that concept in context by referring to and thoroughly explaining a contemporary example from some of the top design and advertising names all over the world. One problem, though, is that the bold and usually up close photos of the examples took over the page, so I had to, basically, force myself to read the text because my eyes were constantly drawn to the adjacent page or to one of the photos.
Generally, color is used as a guide of some sort, but I could not find ways to make sense of the different colored pages throughout the book, which was frustrating. What was the difference between the different colored backgrounds? I couldn’t figure it out. I bring this up because the book is so large and filled with so much good information, but I was too distracted by the design of each page, the larger-than-life examples, and what appeared to be random background colors that the first time through I missed a lot of information because I couldn’t focus on the text. I think this is a serious drawback in that I found extremely helpful information throughout the book, but it was only because I made myself read it. If I picked up this book as a designer brainstorming ideas for a product, or especially as a student, I’m not sure how much actual reading I would do. And in order to really understand the design of the examples, it’s necessary to do so.
The 50 case studies that conclude the book were easier to get through—the pages had a white background, so that was a most welcome relief. Each case study went through the different stages of design, so it was a nice comprehensive story for each product that was easy to follow and concluded the book.
Diane Martinez is a writing specialist for Kaplan University’s online Writing Center and a PhD student at Utah State University. Her technical writing experience has been mostly in higher education, engineering, and government contracting. She has been with Kaplan since 2004 and a member of STC since 2005.
Adrian Shaughnessy. 2010. New ed. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. [ISBN 978-1-56898-983-9. 176 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Shaughnessy’s new edition of his acclaimed 2005 work arrives at a time in fiscal history when even a designer of experience and caliber might find that bowing to client demands, however ethically antithetical, has become a financial necessity. What then of the young designers poised on the edge of a career? How can they maintain artistic and personal integrity in a field dominated by market forces?
By focusing on the “grubby bits” of a designer’s life, Shaughnessy provides the novice with straightforward advice about such varied subjects as finding a job, developing pragmatic business skills, embracing socially conscious design, and working with clients without selling one’s soul. A friendly, even occasionally self-deprecating, tone; notes that function more like anecdotal sidebars; and ample references to the experiences of known designers permit the reader to accept Shaughnessy as a wiser, if somewhat jaded, mentor.
Shaughnessy’s new edition was prompted by the 2008 global financial crisis. He had a glimpse into the ensuing “abyss” which led to a dawning awareness that design needed to become more socially conscious and that designers themselves might need to adapt their skill sets to a field changed daily by globalization, cultural trends, and technological advances. As a result, this version features two new chapters that address those issues.
The first provides advice one might expect to hear from an academic tutor: practice time management, research your subject, plan a strategy, and hone your writing skills. Yet, in the context of the field, they form the core of the real-life skills any successful designer must develop to succeed. Like this chapter, the other new one provides equally pragmatic advice. It examines how a greater emphasis on social awareness, digital media, and global cultural trends is changing the face of design. It has become a fusion of many disciplines, activities, and philosophies, into which the novice designer should be open to delving. Adapting to its needs means not merely loving the act or aesthetics of design, but instead “questioning what we do and who we do it for” (p. 101).
Occasionally, the reader might wish for more concrete, extensive advice—even subsections devoted to dense subjects last at most two pages—but, in general, Shaughnessy provides enough foundational wisdom for young designers willing to listen to a hard lesson. Start thinking not just about design programs or schools of design, but about the sort of designer you will or can be.
Ironically, the least appealing element of Shaughnessy’s revision is its new design. Figure-ground often fails due to a muddy gray and blue color scheme; page layouts shift somewhat randomly in style, evoking not dynamic design but lack of continuity; and some of the visual offerings—such as the cover of Daniel Halpern’s The Art of the Tale—are so poorly reproduced you will be tempted to pull out your iPad to Google the originals.
Despite its less-than-appealing presentation, Shaughnessy’s text succeeds in its simple, straightforward, and even kindly advice to young designers.
Jen Mooney (PhD, UK) teaches at Virginia Tech in the fields of professional writing, document design, Victorian literature, and women’s literature. Since Spring 2010, she has served as the Assistant Director of the Professional Writing Program in the Department of English. She is a new STC member.
Char James-Tanny. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press [ISBN 978-0-9822191-8-8. 378 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]
Learning Author-it Version 5 is a great resource for anyone learning Author-it or needing a refresher to increase their efficiency. James-Tanny provides an in-depth look at Author-it, easing the steep curve on learning how libraries work, how to understand the object-oriented structure, how to work with content, and how to publish your output.
The book starts out with conventions and standards, so you clearly understand the typographical conventions used and the standards applied, as well as what is and is not covered within the Author-it environment. James-Tanny covers only Author-it and Author-it Administrator, and does not cover any modules or the importer, presentations, or version control within the software.
The first section covers creating and setting up a library with Author-it Administrator. If the Author-it library and environment is already set up and you just need to know how to use Author-it, the “Understanding the Authoring Environment” section is a good place to start. This section covers everything a new user would need to know, including opening a library and logging into Author-it. Once logged in, this section covers using the library explorer, using the ribbons and tabs, and using multiple windows. You can also set the user options, the user details tab, and the structure for your publishing folder in the publishing tab.
The biggest section in the book, “Creating Content,” covers a lot of ground. First, you’ll go through creating objects and understanding templates. Once you’ve learned those concepts, you are guided into working with topic objects, hyperlinks, and images, as well as creating an index and adding a glossary.
Once you’ve created content, the rest of the book shows how to reuse content, organize objects, and publish your output.
Learning Author-it is a good book to take you step-by-step through the process of learning the ins and outs of Author-it. While the book is aimed at the beginner to intermediate Author-it audience, even advanced users would find useful tips and tricks, 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 outgoing STC Secretary and is actively involved in the STC Willamette Valley community. She enjoys photography and Photoshop.
Cultural Identity and New Communication Technologies: Political, Ethnic and Ideological Implications
D. Ndirangu Wachanga. 2011. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. [ISBN 978-1-60960-591-9. 399 pages, including index. US$180.00 (ebook).]
Media bring with them original and often unexpected means of accessing and sharing information. The digital nature of many media forms often lets users transcend barriers associated with communication and interact across geographic distances. Wachanga’s edited collection Cultural Identity and New Communication Technologies provides technical communicators with examples of and perspectives on the uses of different media across a range of cultures. The chapters provide important perspectives on how aspects of culture, technology, and politics can affect the ways communities adopt, adapt, and use different media to achieve a variety of objectives. The text also provides key insights on regions often overlooked in discussions of media in international contexts.
The section on “Emerging Media, Community, and Identity (Re)Construction” examines how communication technologies are challenging more conventional ideas of identity, ethnicity, gender, government and politics, and the ownership and uses of media itself. Authors from nations like Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe examine different uses of and attitudes toward conventional and newer media in their nations. They reveal how communication technologies can facilitate changes involving attitudes toward and behavior in communities. Such changes can involve understandings of symbols and rituals, perceptions of and participation in political processes, and relationships among individuals and with different organizations. From these chapters readers can understand the power media have to change society and the unexpected ways in which these technologies can shape ideas of community and community relations.
The book’s “Emerging Media, Language, Pop Culture, and Health Communication” section extends the examination of media and community to the accessing and sharing information within and among specific groups. The authors examine issues like distributing medical and health information, merging different forms of music, and creating an identity as they relate to different communication practices and technologies. The topics covered provide interesting insights relating to audience perceptions and uses of media to share information with diverse and changing groups.
The final section, “Emerging Media, Global Politics, and Cultural Transformation,” extends ideas of media and community by examining the interconnected nature of media and politics. Several entries address issues of power dynamics and how such dynamics influence the conversations in which communities can engage. An interesting theme occurring within this section is how attempts to control media can lead communities to re-think the roles media can play in creating identity and in connecting to others.
Today’s world is one of rapid, often jarring change, where media plays a key role. By understanding how communities use, shape, and are shaped by different media forms, technical communicators can better select the mechanisms for sharing information with different groups. While Cultural Identity and New Media is not a comprehensive assessment of such factors, Wachanga’s collection provides examples you can use when selecting media for sharing information with different audiences.
Kirk St.Amant teaches technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. His research interests include international and intercultural communication (especially in the online environment) and online communication. He is an STC senior member.
David Consuegra. 2011. New York, NY: Allworth Press. [ISBN 978-1-58115-894-6. 320 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).]
Classic Typefaces gives a wonderfully in-depth look at American typeface designers and the major events surrounding the invention of type. Following the Introduction, Consuegra takes a 24-page chronological look at type-related events, starting in the 1600s with the printing of Don Quixote de la Mancha in Madrid, Spain. Some of these events, such as the founding of Jamestown, VA in 1607, may seem to be more of a side note in history than directly related to developing type. Yet, Consuegra does a good job of showing what is happening with typefaces in other parts of the world at the same time as these events. I believe that these historical references let the reader situate typeface development into world history more clearly than might be possible without the extra historical references, and Consuegra notes, “The history of type can certainly be seen as part of the history of civilization” (p. ix).
Consuegra proceeds on to give a chronological list of American and European typefaces and their designers, helping to move the reader from world events to the specifics of typeface development.
In the rest of Classic Typefaces, Consuegra focuses on individual American typefaces and their designers. For each designer, we see a picture followed by a one-page biography of the designer (including the “why” behind the new typefaces), and a graphical representation of the typeface(s) that they designed. The graphical representation includes upper and lowercase letters (if both were included in the design), the numbers 0–9, and basic punctuation marks (as included in the design). Each typeface is shown in its true form letting readers learn about the subtle differences between the different types. If a designer created more than one typeface, they are all given equal display space, again letting the reader note the subtle differences in letter or number design. When available, advertisements or other real-world uses of the typeface are shown after the alphabet.
The book ends with a short discussion of American type foundries, such as Adobe and Linotype, and a well-detailed glossary of typographical terms. These additions help novice readers to effectively use the book to further their understanding of American typefaces without having to seek outside sources for further information.
Consuegra’s Classic Typefaces is a wonderful addition to the library of anyone who is seriously interested in the subtle differences in American typefaces or who wants to learn more about American type designers. This book would also be a great reference for anyone hoping to better understand why different typefaces exist and the historical reasons for the differences in design.
Laura Dumin is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Technical Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Theories of Learning for the Workplace: Building Blocks for Training and Professional Development Programs
Filip Dochy, David Gijbels, Mien Segers, and Piet Van Den Bossche, Eds. 2011. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-61894-6. 150 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]
Theories of Learning for the Workplace, edited by Dochy, Gijbels, Segers and Bossche, is a book I loved. If you work with or for learning professionals, you should too. Here’s why. First, it’s short. Learning professionals can be long-winded. A scant 150 pages of concise learning theory is worth a bucket of gold, or two. Second, this book covers in a digestible way some of the most important and relevant learning theories floating around today.
The book comprises nine chapters, seven that I found enriching and insightful, two not so much. The chapters I found helpful were on deliberate practice, workplace learning, communities of practice, and learning organizations (of the Senge variety).
An issue that learning theory has in general is equivocation where learning theorists have given their systems and models names that disappear in an average organization’s nomenclature. Take for instance “workplace learning.” Mention this phrase to a senior manager and they’ll think you are talking about learning that occurs near where work happens. Try “organizational learning” and “learning organization”—two very different concepts for a learning theorist; a simple word reversal for a project manager.
Why rant about equivocation? As communicators, words are important to us. So while Theories of Learning for the Workplace is filled with really useful information about, well, learning theories, as communicators we need to learn how to talk to non-learning professionals about this stuff. I earnestly believe learning theory can have substantial impacts on an organization, yet a serious obstacle is the language we use to convey it.
Another quality that makes this book great, and which communicators can learn from, is the structure of the essays. Each chapter starts with a case study plucked from real practitioners in real workplaces, the case studies are followed by a review of the theory in question, and the chapter is then capped off with an example of the theory in application. In this way, the subject’s complexity is softened by bookends of concrete demonstrations. Kudos to the editors for building in a pedagogical architecture that truly helps communicate the content in a user friendly fashion.
The richest, most pragmatic chapter for me is “Systems thinking and building learning organisations: P. Senge” written by authors Dochy, Jan Laurijssn and Eva Kyndt. If you have not encountered Senge, let me sum up by saying “nice theory, now make that happen!” The authors offer a case study where they take Senge’s five principles and show how the Wolters Kluwer company is applying them across six stages. What they are not able to offer, unfortunately, are results that quantify the business value of Senge-styled learning organizations. Yet, what they do provide is an implementation roadmap . . . not a bad start.
Gary Hernandez is a communications director for BP. He received his English literature MA from George Mason University and received his technical writing MS from Utah State University. Gary belongs to STC and IABC.
Francis J. Waller. 2011. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-0-470-49740-1. 238 pages, including index. US$79.95.]
When I graduated with a master’s degree in chemistry ten years ago, I knew nothing about intellectual property or anything else about the legal side of science. After joining the local Association for Women in Science (AWIS) chapter, I began to understand the large role that intellectual property and law plays in the vast world of scientific research. I also discovered a wealth of opportunity for women in the development and approval of patents in science. Much of this opportunity remains hidden at the academic level because of the omission of the field from formal tracks of education in the sciences.
This is one of the main reasons that Francis J. Waller wrote and published this book, Writing Chemistry Patents and Intellectual Property. He makes it clear in his narrative that access to information about intellectual property is not readily available. For this reason, The American Chemical Society has had Waller teach a class every year since 2006 on this subject at their national meeting. Because scientists leave their graduate programs without any formal training or knowledge of the subject, Waller attempts to fill this knowledge gap with his all-encompassing, dense, one-stop shop approach in describing his 35-plus years of real-life experience.
Waller’s knowledge and the sheer amount of information necessary to convey in a short book make organization a challenge. Overall, the book is logical in its design: a broad overview of intellectual property followed by vocabulary definitions and a discussion of patent versus trade secrets lead into the meat of the book about patents. The chapters become more focused on the individual aspects of a patent—writing it, formatting it, and filing it—the further into the book that you get. Waller has written some of the book strictly for PhD-level chemists who are looking for answers to questions about real patents. There are, however, some helpful chapters written for anyone who has concerns over general intellectual property questions. An example is his discussion of copyright and trademarks in chapter 11, where he discusses the concept of fair use—a topic that is becoming more relevant to all disciplines, especially on the Internet. One improvement Waller could make is to provide a brief mention of critical definitions in the overview chapter. I found myself flipping ahead to the vocabulary section so I could better understand the general overview.
Chapter 7 is most specific to chemists working on actual patents. In his discussion of specific patents, he cites examples that are included in a special appendix. This is where he really dissects each patent of its components and the issues surrounding these components.
Waller presents a dense topic in a clear manner in only 238 pages. Perhaps he should devote a longer book to the subject for people who could glean from his expertise. For now, this one-stop shop approach will suffice.
Julie Kinyoun teaches chemistry at local community colleges in southern California. As a freelance writer, she writes about biological, physical and chemical sciences for local and national publications. Julie holds an MA in chemistry from San Diego State University.