Books Reviewed in This Issue
Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis
Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner
Patricia L. Fry
James W. Cortada
Steven Heller and Lita Talarico
R. William Holland
Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne
Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz
Lothar Seiwert and Holger Woeltje
Dona M. Wong
Roger E. Sanders
Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James
Richard W. Bailey
Allan M. Stavely
Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper
Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo
Stephen Blake Mettee
Teresa S. Stover, Bonnie Biafore, and Andreea Marinescu
Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis. 2012. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [ISBN 978-0-470-16873-8. 606 pages, including index. US$85.00.]
Make no mistake, Meggs' History of Graphic Design is the gold standard of books on the subject. However, the updates for this edition were not limited to a simple addition of new information and images. Most, if not all, of the page layouts have been revised and updated, leaving few without at least one example image. While the prose is sometimes stuffy, the pictures represent hallmarks of design history. It is hard to flip through this book and not be inspired.
The book focuses on the developments that contributed to the progress of graphic design as a discipline. Readers unfamiliar with Meggs' History of Graphic Design might be surprised that Meggs begins with prehistory and cave paintings. From there it is a quick run to the development of the book (something Meggs' seems to give preference to) by way of the invention of writing and alphabets. But he's not wrong to get to the book so quickly. The work of early graphic designers centered on print publications like books and broadsheets. Following the development of the book came developments in page layouts and typography, which led to technologies like the printing press and movable type.
The way Meggs presents the information feels like early graphic designers were only working toward the book. From there graphic design began to branch out from that central development. Branches include typography, which included such areas as typeface design and methods of producing those typefaces, work on the printing press, and a focus on papers and inks. A noticeable theme in each of these branches is the assumption that graphic designers produce for the masses. By extension, it means that further developments in these areas made mass production easier to accomplish.
If I have one quibble with the book, it is this: It does not readily acknowledge the influences of artistic trends until we get to the arts and crafts movement in the last decades of the 19th century. Innovations in the arts happened concurrently with innovations in graphic design and no doubt influenced one another. That said, I understand why Meggs omitted this relationship: the book is already an encyclopedic survey of design history, and art history has already been thoroughly covered by scores of other authors. This volume focuses on what is unique to graphic design as a discipline and profession. As such, this is important reading so that designers “have a historical knowledge of their vocation” (p. vii), understanding where the field has been, and where it could be headed.
Spencer Gee holds a Master's degree in Composition and Rhetoric and teaches Freshman Composition at the University of Central Oklahoma. He also is working toward a degree in Graphic Design.
Robert McCrum. 2010. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company. [ISBN 978-0-39-333977-2. 332 pages, including index. US$16.95 (softcover).]
That English has become the lingua franca for the world's business, entertainment, research, and the like has become a cliché. But, teaching and learning English has become big business. Langenscheidt, the German dictionary company, published a 120-page catalog in 2012 devoted to teaching and learning English. On the first 12 pages alone, they list over 100 titles.
So, why the commercial interest? Robert McCrum cites the British Council's prediction that “by 2020, nearly a third of the world's population will all be trying to learn English at the same time” (p. 276).
McCrum's own answer is the rapid expansion of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Globish: How English Became the World's Language, he traces the origins of English from an obscure dialect on a tiny island to its prominent place in the world today.
The audience for his story is similar to the audience for The Story of English that he co-wrote with William Cran and Robert MacNeill. It is a general audience rather than an academic specialty audience, and McCrum's style reflects that. He tells us the story without the interruption of numerous footnotes and in a language and style that is easily accessible. For those who want resources for his assertions, he includes extensive notes at the back and a bibliography.
McCrum divides the 15 chapters of his story into 5 parts beginning with the origins of English and ending with what he calls the “Globalisers.” Along the way, we learn about how and why Anglo-Saxon becomes Middle English that becomes modern English and how the British Empire exported not only military conquest but also cultural conquest through its language. McCrum's purpose, then, is to provide a “biography of a phenomenon, one that is both simple and unique” (p. 14).
“Globish” of his title is a term coined by Jean-Paul Nerrière in 1995 (p. 11) as a general term for all the multitude of local versions of English: Japlish, Singlish, Hinglish, Franglish, among others and some 61 different English creoles (with 200 million speakers). McCrum argues that it is the street culture rather than court or cloister culture that accounts for its spread. Following World War I, the cultural center shifted from Germany and France to England and after World War II to America, principally through American film. After the Berlin wall fell, English became the language of government, companies, rock-and-roll, and royal decree. Also of importance to the spread of English were the UN, NATO, and the IMF.
Globish is highly simplified, has no real grammar or structure, and is comprehensive with a “utilitarian vocabulary of some 1,500 words” (p. 11)—similar, but not as rigid, as Simplified English.
For those wanting a readable history of English as a world language, Globish is an excellent place to begin. McCrum's style is light and easily followed, and for the price, the book is a great bargain.
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.
Ellen Lupton. 2010. 2nd ed. Revised & Expanded. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. [ISBN 978-1-56898-969-3. 224 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Thinking with Type follows the example of Jan Tschichold's extraordinary survey of modernist design and asymmetric typography principles in Die neue Typographie (The New Typography) to present a theoretical and practical introduction to the fundamentals of typography and its uses in modern design. In author Ellen Lupton's words, “This is not a book about fonts. It is a book about how to use them” (p.13).
The book is divided in three sections of Letter, Text, and Grid, plus an appendix covering punctuation, editing, and proofreader's markup language. The text progresses from principles of typefaces, to rules and aesthetics of typographic communication for text designs, page grids, and page designs offering a fundamental education in types, their use, and application in contemporary design.
Each section begins with an essay that, in turn, details the history and development of fonts, rules of text design, and the use of grids in page designs. Lupton's knowledge, teaching experience, and wit are evident in the quality and depth of the essays, the well-chosen illustrations, and her often-humorous sidebars elucidating “Type Crimes” like the sin of vertically stacked neon type, though perhaps this received too much space at two pages.
The Letter essay presents a thorough, concise history of the development of writing from Chinese movable types of the tenth century to Gutenberg's movable types, and the evolution of font designs from Nicolas Jenson to digital fonts spanning Wim Crouwel to Zuzana Licko and beyond. The section covers the evolution of typeface designs, font classifications, anatomy, nomenclature, basic rules of punctuation, use of capital and numeral styles, as well as font licensing and includes select exercises in type design.
The Text essay traces the evolution of text from fixed and stable manuscripts of the printed word to downloadable, linked, and fluid online texts, and addresses Marshall McLuhan's, Jacques Derrida's, and Roland Barthes' and other theories of text readings and design interpretations that emerged in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Lupton uses the essay text itself to demonstrate alternate design structures for reading texts. The Text section addresses kerning, tracking, alignment, hierarchy, leading and paragraph styles—though here the small format limits the ability to see the text formatting examples in detail.
The Grid essay is a well-illustrated presentation of page designs from the fifteenth century to the present. Lupton's examples of single column to varied multi-column and modular grids illustrate text as ideas as both fixed and fluid form in page design. Throughout the book, Lupton used a grid design that enables the placement of quotes and captions on the page that, in themselves, illustrate an effective fluid design interpretation that all students should find useful.
Thinking with Type illustrates the objectives of typographic design as a modern visual language approachably and is a valuable tool for the education of design practitioners and students alike.
Stephen Goldstein is an assistant professor in the Communication Media Department at Fitchburg State University with more than 25 years practicing graphic design. He is a contributing writer to Meggs' History of Graphic Design (5th ed.), an editorial committee member, and has been published in Baseline Magazine, Novum, IdN, and other publications.
Patrick Forsyth. 2010. 2nd revised ed. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Publishers. [ISBN 978-0-7494-6032-7. 132 pages. IU$14.95 (softcover).]
How to Write Reports and Proposals by Patrick Forsyth is a comprehensive primer that does exactly what the title states: help businesspeople write better reports and proposals. Unlike the text in many business books, Forsyth does not either assume that the reader knows nothing about writing reports, or work on the assumption that the reader is already an expert writer who is looking to polish their writing. Instead, he finds solid middle ground by taking the reader systematically through the key aspects of report writing and includes useful tips and tricks for making the report or proposal successful.
It is difficult to choose which sections are most valuable because different readers will take away different aspects of the book. However, as an instructor, I found the chapter on “The Power of Writing” (p. 59) to be particularly useful. It can be difficult to impress on students the need for clarity and reader-centeredness in business writing, but Forsyth outlines the importance of these aspects in a manner that is engaging and easy to read. As I read this section, I found myself taking copious notes about integrating Forsyth's ideas into my current lectures. The section on “Mistakes to Avoid” (p. 72) serves as a useful checklist for eliminating common grammatical, syntactical, and style errors before the report reaches the reader's desk.
The “Dealing with Numbers” chapter is another notable reference for students and professionals alike. Too often, writers get bogged down in the details when they discuss budgets and numerical data, and they forget about the reader who must make sense of the numbers. Forsyth offers valuable advice for using tables and graphs, as well as how to integrate complex figures into the report or proposal without overwhelming the reader.
Forsyth's writing style encompasses his advice for writing reports and proposals: it is clear, direct, and reader-oriented. He breaks the text down into logical headings and subheadings, and bulleted lists summarize the key points at the end of each chapter. Examples of real-life business situations illustrate the key concepts, as well as capture the reader's interest.
How to Write Reports and Proposals is suited for many potential audiences. This book would be a useful and informative reference for graduate students pursuing an MBA or a master's degree in technical writing. Businesspeople and technical writers working in the corporate world would be the most logical audiences for this text. Practitioners of technical writing will find How to Write Reports and Proposals useful because most of the book's advice can also be applied to grants and technical reports. Additionally, Forsyth's book would appeal to readers like me, instructors of business and technical writing courses.
Nicole St. Germaine-McDaniel is an assistant professor of technical and business writing at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance health and legal writer. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican-American audience and technical communication in the health fields.
Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner. 2011. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [ISBN 978-0-69-114743-7. 260 pages, including index. US$22.95 (softcover).]
“Style,” the Reverend Samuel Wesley tells us, “is the dress of thought ….” This 18th century aphorism nearly summarizes Clear and Simple as the Truth. Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner argue for a return to classic style in writing instruction. They point out that while there are many books and articles on style, they fail to provide the kind of instruction that leads to a classic style of writing.
These books include various style manuals such as The Chicago Manual of Style and others that address consistency problems for specific writing situations. A second group also addresses specific problems, but they are meant for a much wider application. Chief among these is Strunk and White, and, I might add, various usage guides. The last group focuses on revision and editing and includes Williams and Colomb.
The main objection to all three groups is that they address only the surface features of text. And that takes us back to Wesley. Of the two items mentioned, the focus in classic style should fall on “thought” and not “dress” as it does in the current texts.
Classic style starts with truth—not “the” truth, but “a” truth. Once the writer recognizes the truth of an observation, he or she can then focus on what is unique about it and help the reader also observe it.
Thomas and Turner divide Clear and Simple as the Truth into three main sections: A long essay on what classic style is and why writers need to know about it, annotated examples of the classic style, and exercises to help writers develop a classic style.
Classic style prose assumes that writer and reader hold a common set of perceptions and values and that the writer calls attention to some aspect of the truthful observation that the reader may not have foreseen. The resulting text is devoid of hedges, most metadiscourse and modification, and other “dress” elements. The writer “may speak with a technical mastery not possessed by the reader, but [the writer's] attitude is always that the reader lacks this mastery only accidentally” (p. 45).
For technical communicators, classic style runs counter to many of the precepts used to produce clear communication of technical information. For example, the classic style author does not do audience analysis to determine what the audience needs to know and especially how to help the reader to understand. Nor is classic style used to persuade.
Yet, this book has value for the technical communicator who has an interest in style, and teachers who teach style in their classes. Thomas and Turner are right about the current crop of books that essentially ignore this way of writing, and their discussion of styles can be valuable to a fuller understanding of the relationship between thought and dress.
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.
Patricia L. Fry. 2011. New York, NY: Allworth Press. [ISBN 978-1-58115-857-1. 208 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).]
Ever written a book or thought about it, but didn't know where to go regarding promotions, sales, and tours? Patricia Fry's Promote Your Book is an all-encompassing book that provides you with helpful hints and tips on how to promote your book, as well as provides formulas for you to follow starting with the initial stages of book development to selling your book in retail stores. From reading this book, we learn that promotion is important and the key point to any successful book launch or sales. Without it, you have just created another book to sit on the shelf waiting to be read.
What I liked the most about Fry's book is the guidance she provides with extra information sources that she created or with which she is involved. Although the book doesn't bombard you with too much information, Fry ensures that the information she shares is substantial, relevant, and to the point.
It would be fair to say that the days of finding a publisher to do all this work is dying out. Using social media to promote your book is the new way of getting noticed and getting the word out there.
Fry breaks Promote Your Book into twenty-four information-rich chapters that aid in the first steps of starting your book to finally being thankful to those who helped along the way to becoming the expert in your field of knowledge. She looks at other ways of increasing book sales by making audio recordings of the book for the blind and the busy. This is another great way to get your book out there.
Writing a book is not as simple as sitting down and penning away a potential best seller. These days you have to start with a proposal.
Promote Your Book is essential for any library or author. It's like having one handy reference book to guide you to other resources, provide concepts, and serve as a workbook. What I find interesting is that Fry isn't just telling you what she would do, she shows you what herself and others have tried and where they succeeded and failed.
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 and doing Web-based reviews.
James W. Cortada. 2011. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. [ISBN 978-0-262-51641-9. 160 pages, including index. US$11.95 (softcover).]
Information and the Modern Corporation provides an overview of information in the corporate world for those unfamiliar with a corporate setting or who are returning after a long hiatus. If you have worked in a corporate setting within the last five years, I recommend a different read.
An early quote by Cortada accurately describes the sequence of content: “People collect, analyze, and use information to do their work, to gain insights, to make more informed decisions, and even to share those roles and decision-making capabilities with machines, some of which are computers and some of which have computers built into them” (p. xi). The first third of the book defines data, information, and knowledge, and how to manage it in a corporate setting. The second part discusses how various corporate processes use information. The last third of the book provides a high-level overview of information systems and the future of information in a corporation.
Chapters 1 and 2 focus on understanding the difference between data, information, and knowledge, and how to manage knowledge. Data are facts such as numbers. Information says something that the data cannot say alone. Finally, knowledge is the combination of data, information, and experiences that create direct or indirect connections or observations about data. Analytics are increasingly used to understand information to create knowledge and improve decision-making. Analytics are the systematic “fact-based understanding of how processes work” (p. 14) and how those processes perform. Cortada notes that information and knowledge are a company's most important assets that are managed improperly.
Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the role data, information, and knowledge play in the various processes of the modern corporation. A combination of corporate processes can refer to a company's supply chain. A supply chain is a “sequence of activities that are coordinated in order to make and sell a product or to provide a service” (p. 34). Large amounts of data and information are used to streamline supply chain processes, and knowledge and wisdom are used to create an efficient supply chain. Cortada also discusses how information is used to create and market new products. Corporations use information to implement “the next big idea” regarding a new product, understand who and how to market a product, and how to build relationships with customers.
Cortada summarizes the future of information and the modern corporation: “The modern enterprise has been undergoing significant changes in the past 30 years, and it is just now entering a new phase of evolution that can best be summarized with the biological metaphor of an ecosystem of systems comprising partners, firms, and supply chains” (p. 101). The adage, knowledge is key, is still the case with the modern corporation. With better technology, corporations will continue using information to compete in an increasingly complex world.
J.A. Dawson is a PhD Candidate in Technical & Professional Discourse at East Carolina University. His research interests include professional communication and social change within a global context.
Steven Heller and Lita Talarico. 2011. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-59253-759-4. 224 pages, including index. US$25.00 (e-book).]
Authors Steven Heller and Lita Talarico write in their introductory comments that “in the annals of design pedagogy, a few seminal projects stand out, usually associated with preeminent teachers” (p. 6). It seems to be their aim with this book to show design projects that, while not taught by someone famous, are nevertheless extraordinary. And the best projects, according to the authors and the design instructors polled on this topic, should do three things: challenge, inform, and elevate the student. From a pedagogical standpoint, it can be a daunting task to create projects that achieve these goals, but perhaps this is something else the authors hope to accomplish with this book: to give other instructors ideas for equally extraordinary projects that produce these results. To that end, the book is principally a showcase of extraordinary projects that successfully met these objectives.
There are 53 projects included, each coming from a different school of design. Assignments range from working with typography to creating posters for social causes to imagining transportation in a world without oil. Each project includes the project statement, and in many cases, short paragraphs from the students about their work. The projects really are extraordinary. Flipping through the pages, it is obvious that the students have responded favorably and risen to the challenge placed before them. No doubt hours of work went into each project. As the authors indicate, the best design projects will make students want to dedicate that time to creating the best response to the assignment that they can.
There's a delicate balance to be struck here between breadth and depth. The book definitely has breadth. Fifty-three projects from 53 schools. However, that is a lot to cover in just over 200 pages, and I found the depth somewhat lacking. The project descriptions often read like assignment sheets, which in my experience are intentionally somewhat vague so as to require some interpretation on the student's part. It might have been beneficial for instructors who approach this book as a resource for assignment ideas to have project descriptions that at least included what the instructors were hoping to get out of the students. It also would have been helpful to have greater depth in what the students wrote about their projects, thus making it easier to understand how they were interpreting the assignment given them.
Instructors looking for assignment ideas should approach this title understanding these limitations. Even with these limitations, Design School is a good resource, perhaps even a valuable one, for creating extraordinary design projects that are challenging, informative, and elevating.
Spencer Gee holds a Master's degree in Composition and Rhetoric and teaches Freshman Composition at the University of Central Oklahoma. He also is working toward a degree in Graphic Design.
R. William Holland. 2012. New York, NY: AMACOM. [ISBN 978-0-8144-1734-8. 238 pages, including index. US$17.95 (softcover).]
Books about job hunting and résumés are abundant, yet when I saw “Foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich” on the cover, I wanted to read more. Ehrenreich is author of Bait and Switch (Metropolitan Books, 2005), a book that decries the exploitation of unemployed white-collar workers. Her concerns led Ehrenreich to found United Professionals (UP), and Bill Holland—a career-management consultant and former human resources manager—became its president. About Holland, Ehrenreich says that he “has a…sophisticated understanding of what is happening in the job market and what to do about it on a personal level” (p. x).
Holland gives advice about demonstrating your value to potential employers by laying out practical techniques for doing so. Identify the key items that the hiring manager is looking for, then organize your job application and interviews around those items. The key items point to what the company is willing to pay new employees to do (the value employees must create). Highlight aspects of your experience that show how you have created such value in other jobs. Holland assumes that you can mine job ads for those key items. As technical communicators know, the people writing the high-technology job ads often have little idea what hiring managers are looking for, so work is needed to find the key items.
Holland believes in using social media. He notes the standard advice about the “hidden job market” (p. 74) being available only through face-to-face networking, but says that the statistics cited to support that advice are unverified. New rules apply to the world of social media, where weak ties are just as effective as strong ones. A LinkedIn chain, leading to someone you hardly know, can bring essential information about potential jobs.
Rule #4 of Holland's seven rules is that interviews are “about the value you demonstrate” (p. 103). In applying for the job, you align your résumé with the value the employer wants you to create. Prepare for the interview by reviewing that alignment and learning everything you can about the company. You can't memorize an answer for every possible question. Yet if you relax, you can bring whatever comes your way back to the question of the value you can create.
Holland devotes a chapter to women who take career breaks. In essence, continue professional activities, and stay up to date. He also has advice for young people choosing a career and for their parents. Many colleges don't help students prepare effectively for careers. Any major can lead to a job, but not all majors lead to a marketable education. Good jobs need critical thinking, complex reasoning, and skill at written communication. Parents should not wait four years to see how college works out, but should help their children assess their own progress annually.
Richard Mateosian is an independent technical writer in Berkeley, CA, specializing in documentation for programmers. He has written the “Micro Review” column in IEEE Micro since 1987. He is an STC Fellow and has volunteered in many capacities for STC.
Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne. 2012. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. [ISBN 978-1-85669-794-1. 216 pages, including index. US$29.95 [softcover].)
Many design paradigms we take for granted were radical notions for their time, even if many now seem painfully conventional. In this short, punchy book, Heller and Vienne remind us of a century (pun intended) of game-changers, neatly capturing the passionate ferment and petty feuds that have characterized the evolution of traditional, modern, and postmodern design. Like so many graphics books, this one is all about the graphics; it's printed on luscious paper, with high printing quality throughout. Books, the authors note, are “not neutral containers, but stages upon which words and images performed” (p. 8).
Unfortunately, words are mostly treated as spear-carriers in an opera, with the designer's narcissistic diva taking center stage, privileging esthetics and difference, and trivializing readability. The belief that the designer, not the audience, decides what works seems never to change, and the lack of any serious discussion of how text and graphics should work together is thus not surprising. Some of the 100 innovations nonetheless satisfy our desire for more efficient communication. Changes that improved communication include Letraset (the ancestor of modern dingbat and computer fonts), which made ornamentation available to even fumblefingers like me, and ornamentation “to illuminate rather than obscure content” (p. 30). In that context, it's surprising the authors have misunderstood Beatrice Ward's (in)famous “crystal goblet” speech (p. 63), in which she emphasized the need for design to support rather than conceal the content.
Unfortunately, consistent with that error, most of the book's examples represent changes that were at best neutral and that more often emphasized the goblet over its contents, a problem that surely deserved its own entry in the top 100. No top-100 list will satisfy everyone, but there are egregious omissions: mathematics-inspired graphics (Escher, Penrose), data graphics (whether in science or in the news media), photography versus illustration (degrees of abstraction), and Photoshop. In fact, digital design gets only a few passing mentions, despite its overwhelming impact on modern graphic design.
The layout is compromised by tiny type and an arbitrary limit of three graphics per topic, making it difficult to understand some design references if you aren't a design scholar. Still, what's present shows an impressive range of creativity. Despite the abovementioned flaws, the book is a feast for the eyes, with full-color, full-page images on every spread. The text does a good job of explaining the authors' choices and their impacts. As a survey of the many changes in graphic design and the dialogs between competing schools of thought, 100 Ideas is an entertaining, often insightful read. Just don't look for lessons in how to communicate words more clearly, other than by inverting some of the 100 principles.
Geoff Hart has worked with many graphic designers over the years, and finds it easier to establish peace between cats and dogs than between writers and designers.
Alina Wheeler and Joel Katz. 2011. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-0-470-43342-3. 144 pages, including index. US$29.95.]
As concerns for consistency and effectiveness of branding programs continue to permeate all types of organizations and all types of communicative efforts, technical communicators have to stay in the loop. They have to ensure that the information they produce reflects the brand, of course, but they should also begin to consider their role in brand development. Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible helps by providing an overview of brand-related topics so that anyone at any organizational level can understand the importance, the purpose, and the process of branding. Much like a geographic atlas, Wheeler and Katz's book is a collection of short descriptions and visual representations of branding fundamentals.
Organized into three parts, the book leads readers through the critical considerations of branding within a contemporary marketplace, the fundamental components of a brand, and the management of and maintenance of a brand. Each page introduces a new concept, provides evidence for its importance, and makes practical recommendations. Each concept is accompanied by a sidebar of insightful quotations from business leaders and authors as well as a full-page visual representation of the concept.
Part 1, “Dynamics: Brand Landscape,” discusses consumer expectations and market trends that shape the way an organization defines itself. Entries include social networks, transparency, sustainability, and conversation, where the authors encourage companies to respond “with a human voice, not a packaged message” because “the consumer is no longer a faceless statistic in a report” (p. 20).
Part 2, “Intelligence: Brand Basics,” covers a myriad of fundamental branding concepts that all seem to resonate with the same core mantra: Know who you are as a company. Concepts like vision, purpose, stakeholders, and brand architecture all encourage readers to discover the essence of their organizations.
Part 3 gets a little more practical through topics that discuss the considerations of maintaining an effective brand. Concepts like culture, collaboration, insight, and customer service encourage an almost user-centered approach to brand maintenance.
The book could be even more helpful if it linked all these concepts in some big-picture way. Even geographic atlases explain how the parts of the world fit together, yet not so in the Brand Atlas. While the authors' goal was to distill the core of brand research into this book, some synthesis of that information is necessary to fully grasp its importance and purpose. Furthermore, while the visualizations (what the authors call “diagrams”) are creative and often informative, I was frustrated and confused when some of them reference terminology and create visual relationships that are not discussed within the text.
Overall, Brand Atlas provides useful explanations of concepts for a technical communicator or manager who just needs to understand branding basics. Consultants or small companies may also find it useful as a beginning reference to differentiating themselves from the competition. But, it is not (and was not meant to be) a big-picture explanation of how branding works on a larger scale.
Matthew Sharp is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Virginia Tech. He has more than a decade of experience as a professional writer and teacher, with research interests in rhetoric, structured authoring, and marketing communication.
Lothar Seiwert and Holger Woeltje. 2011. Sebastopol, CA: Microsoft Press. [ISBN 978-0-7356-6004-5. 254 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]
People who will be interested in reading and using Effective Time Management: Using Microsoft® Outlook® to Organize Your Work and Personal Life are in three categories: those who are already well-organized in both work and home lives and seek a tool to squeeze more productivity out of each day; those who are mostly organized yet find that their systems break down too often; and those who are overwhelmed and seek a tool to begin building a system to change their lives.
This book is for the first two types of people Microsoft® Outlook®, as explained in this book, allows one to effectively set up and execute plans, fulfill commitments, and outsource (to Outlook) the sorts of things at which a computer program excels: visual and audio reminders, calculations of task completion, and clear presentation of the plan put into place by the individual. While the book subtitle says Outlook is a tool for both work and personal life, this reviewer believes strongly that Outlook is primarily a work-useful tool.
The authors' initial chapters address the overall problems of too much to do, not enough time in which to do it, and the need for a tool to effectively plan and execute. The middle chapters review the tools offered by Outlook; the final chapters review what's been presented and how to continue to use Outlook as an organizational method. The book's two strengths are its clear presentation of Outlook's sometimes hidden options, such as grouping categories, creating Action Lists, and using Time Protocols to track time spent on various projects; and its well-structured “You Try It” end to each chapter. Each chapter also reviews general time management problems with which most readers will already be familiar. Effective Time Management is also the sort of book to keep: re-reading it every six months will remind the reader of Outlook tools (such as OneNote) not put into place after the first reading.
Will Effective Time Management create order out of chaos? No. Does it provide a useful explanation of a tool that will allow a reader to usefully structure work tasks and fulfill responsibilities? Yes, most definitely.
Laurel Van Driest is an accomplished writer and editor, working in fields such as sports publications, music promotions, sustainable energy engineering, and mining. Her usual tasks provide the invisible infrastructure that allows others to do their jobs more efficiently and happily.
Lukas Mathis. 2011. Raleigh, NC: Pragmatic Bookshelf. [ISBN 978-1-93435-675-3. 324 pages, including index. US$35.00 (softcover).]
In the introduction to Designed for Use, author Lukas Mathis captures the essence of his book in one sentence: “The best product is of no consequence whatsoever if people don't use it” (p. xv). While this message is intended primarily for interaction designers and programmers, Designed for Use is essential reading for anyone who has a stake in ensuring that product design supports the best possible user experience.
Mathis organizes the book into three main sections, each of which represents a key phase in the design process:
- Research discusses various methods for conducting user research, including on-the-job shadowing and persona creation. This section promotes an activity-based focus, where research emphasizes how the product can solve problems, rather than how it can cater to individual users.
- Design focuses on prototyping, testing prototypes, and designing based on the results. This section digs into specific design considerations such as visually representing state changes, avoiding feature bloat, and taking cues from video games.
- Implementation emphasizes usability testing and its many considerations. This section covers test preparation, common testing mistakes, data collection, and user feedback. Product managers will appreciate the emphasis on simplified, low-cost testing.
Two types of chapters comprise each section. Technique chapters (identified by a cog icon) provide concrete details about how to effectively design truly usable products. These chapters begin with a timeline that shows where in the design process that technique is commonly used. Idea chapters (identified by a light bulb icon) explain the concepts behind effective design techniques, with examples based on supporting research.
The book itself is even designed for use. Technical communicators will appreciate the consistently structured chapters. Headings in introductory sections are often written as questions, such as “What's the Technique?” and “Why Is This a Good Idea?” When appropriate, a “Further Reading” section lists relevant and useful books, articles, and Web sites. Universal Resource Locators (URLs) for Web sites appear in footnotes, and the author has graciously provided a companion Web site to prevent readers from retyping those URLs. Every chapter ends with a “Takeaway Points” section, enabling readers to quickly scan and review key points.
Design for Use also devotes a chapter to product documentation. Mathis emphasizes the importance of beginning work on the manual during the research cycle. He reminds us that users are unhappy when they read the manual, “so manuals should fix the problem, not make people even more unhappy” (p. 33). Mathis recommends also using blog posts, screencasts, and press releases to promote products. Regardless of the communication medium, he stresses that each should maintain a focus on tasks, not features.
Designed for Use is an excellent resource for both aspiring and practicing interaction designers. While the book can serve as a comprehensive overview for newcomers, it also offers sage advice for seasoned practitioners. Mathis covers a broad array of relatively short topics in a thorough, engaging, and conversational style.
Eddie VanArsdall is a technical writer, editor, and business analyst in the Washington, DC area. He has a broad range of experience supporting clients in various industries and knowledge domains. His mission is to ensure that Web sites and other communication channels integrate content and design to optimize the user experience.
The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures
Dona M. Wong. 2010. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-393-07295-2. 160 pages, including index. US$29.95.]
Although most technical communicators do not view themselves as graphics experts, many workplaces expect skills in visualizing data, especially in designing charts and graphs. Wong's book aims to teach professionals who find themselves “scrambling to express themselves graphically” (p. 15). She offers practical “dos and don'ts” based on her experience in designing quantitative displays for The Wall Street Journal.
Wong's slim text has five chapters: The Basics, Chart Smart, Ready Reference, Tricky Situations, and Charting Your Course. She takes an information design approach by emphasizing readers and their needs for clear, point-driven graphics. Although she aims the book at any professional, most of Wong's examples are financial graphics. Throughout the book, Wong emphasizes designing charts and graphs so that busy readers can use data displays productively—making comparisons, viewing relationships, and identifying trends. She reminds communicators to simplify and focus each graphic to direct the readers' attention. For example, she suggests that comparative data is easier to scan when presented vertically rather than horizontally. She offers “before” and “after” examples detailing the weaknesses of the original information graphics and the benefits of the redesigns. Wong spends most of her time on the design of bar charts, pie charts, and line graphs, and says little about diagrams, schematics, or maps.
Wong's strength lies in reminding readers about several key aspects of designing charts. First, in creating bar charts, it is important to make sure the values on the Y axis start with zero (rather than truncating the data). In designing pie charts, it's wise to organize the segments with the largest data slice at twelve o'clock and to work around the pie from the largest to the smallest slice of data. Second, designers should use shading and color in graphs not for decoration, but for cueing readers' regarding what is important. Third, in designing charts, graphs, or tables, it is crucial to filter the data so that the most important comparisons are easy to see at a glance. This means that the typography and the use of color should not overwhelm the data, but bring the main points into focus. Wong offers many elegantly designed examples that support these design principles, arguing that one wrong data point can destroy the credibility of the whole chart.
Although Wong's book offers many useful guidelines, there are few new ideas. Most of the advice compiles the work of previous authors (Tufte, Tukey, Cleveland & McGill, and Kosslyn). She mentions Tufte, her former teacher, but surprisingly, none of the other authors her work draws on are cited. In fact, most of her guidelines are restatements of others' work. One wonders why this book has no data to support its assertions. Technical communicators looking for empirical evidence for data graphics principles will be disappointed. However, Wong's text may prove handy indeed for those looking for thoughtful tips about designing bar and pie charts.
Karen Schriver, PhD from Carnegie Mellon University, is passionate about information design. She authored Dynamics in Document Design (in its 9th printing) and is an STC Fellow and recipient of the Ken Rainey Award for Excellence in Research. She heads KSA Communication Design & Research and posts on Twitter @firstwren.
Roger E. Sanders. 2011. Ketchum, ID: MC Press Online, LLC. [ISBN 978-1-58347-097-8. 402 pages, US$49.95 (softcover).]
Use a great hook to grab an editor's attention. This is some advice that Roger Sanders gives concerning the writing of an effective query for a technical article or book.
Sanders' example of an effective email query provides especially good insight on the hook and the pitch, as well as other details that could make an editor accept an idea.
Having published over two dozen technical books and countless articles (mostly about DB2), Sanders provides in From Idea to Print: How to Write a Technical Article or Book and Get It Published a comprehensive look at his subject. Develop an idea, write a query, convince a publisher, negotiate a contract, submit the draft, and promote the piece once it is published. Of special interest to me outside of the material provided on publishing agreements and simultaneous submissions was the “Staying out of Trouble” section. Topics in this section include bias free writing with great examples of before and after; plagiarism with examples of how to make ideas your own; copyright infringement with real-world rewrites Sanders provides of his own material; and defamation, libel, and slander with valuable reference materials for writers.
Another valuable find are the sections of the book that review what is good writing with striking examples of good tables, artwork, sidebars, and general advice such as “Use small words and simple language” (p. 165). Thank you, Roger, for reminding us of this and believing in it. “Be your most pleasant self” as people prefer to spend time with someone who is considerate and not arrogant (p, 174). Fortunately, in this book the author practices what he preaches.
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 tries to publish often in Intercom and has presented at various STC functions.
Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James. 2012. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. [ISBN 978-0-300-17627-8. 192 pages, including index. US$22.00 (softcover).]
“Listen. Write. Present.” The three title words summarize this book's purpose. Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James write a concise, thorough summary of the skills needed to succeed beyond the classroom in science and technology professions.
One reason Listen. Write. Present. is successful in reaching its audience is that it encompasses highlights from other communication books into a one-stop shop resource. For example, the writing section highlights important grammar and punctuation rules, of which many are found in Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The chapter on presenting includes tips about how to optimize the use of slides—information that is a condensed version from Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen Design.
Also covered are topics of networking, serving, and listening. These are always helpful soft skills to review and practice, but particularly necessary for advancement in science and technology. Networking, serving, and listening are also necessary skills in other professions. This book is practical as a guide for almost any career. The chapter about meetings includes a section about how to run an effective meeting. Having sat through many meetings unrelated to science and technology, I kept thinking about how I wished everybody, regardless of their discipline of study, would review these skills to create faster, more efficient meetings. Perhaps Barnard and St. James could modify their title to encompass additional career fields and garner a larger audience.
Listen. Write. Present. could be used as a job searching tool for scientists as it includes sections about interviewing and résumés. A helpful addition might be a curriculum vitae sample as it is often easier to understand format by example than by description.
Many of the traditional communications books do not include information on how to incorporate technology into professional communication. This book does. From helpful tips about email etiquette to tips about formatting PowerPoint presentations, technology is definitely emphasized as a critical component to current communication.
One goal stated in Listen. Write. Present. is to create a quick reference manual for scientists. Although this is largely successful for the general information about writing and communicating, I found a flaw in this book for specific disciplines of science. The writing chapter includes a section about writing in the active voice instead of the passive voice. In writing scientific papers in chemistry, the passive voice is the accepted format for publication in a journal. For the scientist trying to submit a paper for publication, this section would provide misleading advice.
However, for a general guide about how to effectively leverage soft skills to maximize career opportunities, Listen. Write. Present. is an excellent resource. With its detailed index and list of additional resources at the end, it is a one-stop shop reference for any scientist's shelf.
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.
Saul Carliner. 2012. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press. [ISBN: 978-1-60728-786-5. 239 pages, including index. US$29.95 (e-book)].
I have to admit that I was initially put off by this book's preface material because the wording implies an entirely pragmatic approach to helping workers be more productive in the workplace. The implications of such an approach to professional training and development had me concerned because it came across as employee manipulation for the benefit of employers. I was, however, pleasantly surprised as I began reading the well-researched, practical, and theoretically based information about informal learning and how it can be applied in the workplace for the betterment of employees and employers.
A discussion regarding the definitions of informal learning, formal learning, and learning awakens readers to the complexity of training and development in the workplace. The first chapter introduces other helpful information such as learning about trends in the economy and workplace that force companies to explore alternatives to formal training, issues that concern educators as well as company trainers. Introduced early on in the second chapter are the nine principles or characteristics of informal learning. These nine principles provide the basis for understanding how to use formal and informal learning in the workplace and how training and development professionals can support informal learning. Informal Learning Basics also has chapters on how trainers can develop group and individual activities to support informal learning, and how to use technology in these efforts as well. Most especially helpful is the final chapter on evaluating informal learning.
This book's strengths are its research-based content that sets an excellent example of theory and application in the workplace, its easily understandable principles and strategies, and its individualistic approach for trainers to help workers achieve a greater sense of self-awareness regarding their interests, strengths, and abilities. While seemingly minor, the preface material mentioned above and the use of stick figures for icons may give readers, such as me, the wrong impression that Informal Learning Basics is highly corporate and only pragmatic in nature. Therefore, some readers who may actually benefit from reading this book, such as educators, may not get past the first few pages.
Written for training and development professionals and managers, Informal Learning Basics, is highly accessible in language and content. Furthermore, each chapter is well organized with easily understandable principles and strategies that are scaffolded for optimum learning. Even the exercises and worksheets are well placed, relevant, and extremely helpful in demonstrating the concepts presented in each chapter, but they are also useful by themselves for training and development purposes in the workplace and worksheets in a classroom setting.
Diane Martinez is an assistant professor of professional and technical communication at Western Carolina University. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist. She has been with STC since 2005.
Peter Elbow. 2012. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-978251-2. 442 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).]
Most people know Peter Elbow through his major work, Writing Without Teachers, now almost 40 years old. That book is known for his advocacy of freewriting, a type of writing style that gets students to write without being overconscious of grammar, spelling, and punctuation until a later stage.
Elbow recently has been devoting himself to the relationship of speech and writing, or as he puts it, using the benefits of speech for writing so that “we can enlist the language activity most people find easiest, speaking, for the language activity most people find hardest, writing” (p. 139). The result after eight years of writing is this book. The target audience for Vernacular Eloquence is writers, teachers, scholars, researchers, and “people in the general intellectual community who think about writing and literacy but don't care about the scholarship” (p. 8). I would think that the latter would include technical communication professionals.
What is it that speech has that's so valuable for writing? Basically, it does a better job than writing in reaching, touching, and manipulating us. It lends itself to storytelling better, which helps us experience meaning better. Speech has a social dimension, whereas writing tends to the private and individual side of life.
What this means for writing is that we need to have a more relaxed attitude. We should allow roughness in writing, at least in its initial stages, so that the value of speech is preserved in the written word. But what Elbow hopes it means, is that the literacy standards will change so that goodness, and not correctness, will be the goal. Prescriptivists, those who think that there are standards of English, will not like this. Descriptivists, those who think that we cannot prescribe such standards, will like it. Elbow finally lets his hair down when he says, “In truth, this whole book is a celebration of hybridity and impurity” (p. 195).
Rather than get caught in this battle, I think it is more important to learn what else Elbow has to teach us. And one of the most interesting of them is what he calls “speaking onto the page” (p. 147) This is his term for the process whereby he writes as naturally as possible on the computer screen, without thinking about its correctness. This should not be surprising, given his emphasis on freewriting. But it made me immediately think about voice-activated software. While such software has made writing easier, and has improved over the years, “…it won't give you ‘correct written English' unless you speak with ‘correct written English'” (181).
Elbow examines punctuation traditions and finds that the older follows rhetoric (speech) and the newer one grammar. Copyeditors follow the latter, unless they are dealing with literary prose, where there is more freedom.
Finally, his notion that writing should come before reading for schoolchildren is worth exploring. “People fall asleep while reading, never while writing” (p. 322).
Charles R. Crawley is a lead technical writer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He also teaches as an adjunct at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids and serves as the public relations manager for the Eastern Iowa Chapter.
Richard W. Bailey. 2012. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-517934-7. 207 pages, including index. US$27.95.]
“The English and the Americans,” George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said but not written, “are two people divided by a common language.” Shaw, at least in this quote, saw nothing in American language to suggest inferiority. Others, however, did not agree.
The late Richard Bailey, in Speaking American: A History of English in the United States, points out that “Almost no British visitor in this era [1800–1850] described American society without a sneer at the English used here . . .” (p. 112) And the Fowlers in The King's English (1906) echo this attitude by insisting on classifying Americanisms as foreign words, and insisting that they be treated as such. And in the second edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, H.G. Fowler turned the whole issue of Americanisms over to other experts.
Certainly, this attitude persisted until H. L. Mencken published his monumental The American Language in 1919. Thereafter, the identity of American English as a viable language was assured.
Most books focusing on all facets of American English are scholarly tomes that are meant for academics. Bailey's contribution, while solid in its scholarship, is remarkably readable. He takes you on a tour of eight geographical centers of influence, each focused on a 50-year time block. Beginning in Chesapeake Bay (before 1650) and ending in Los Angeles (1950–2000), his explanations of how American English grew as the country grew will give you a strong background for understanding the American language.
What is a little unusual about his approach is signaled by the title: “Speaking.” Bailey builds his case by beginning with the spoken language found in reports of various kinds in newspapers and court documents, among others. Additional oral influences include various dialects and languages of natives and non-natives alike and advances in technology, science, and the arts. Vocabulary additions are a part of how American English developed, but there are syntactical structures also. For example, ending sentences with prepositions has become part of the language in spite of the criticisms of not only British critics, but also some American ones.
The chapter that will be most interesting to technical communicators is the one on Los Angeles and the influence of the computer. Vocabulary, spelling, and syntax used with computers affect the language we use today.
Television and films are also influential, and Bailey further notes that special language groups come and go. For example, we no longer need translations for the Valley Girl language because it has disappeared.
In an Epilogue, Bailey draws two conclusions about American English. First, our current ways of speaking will disappear; second, the old influences on American English will be replaced by new influences—principally, the Internet.
This historical presentation of how American English evolved is readable and informative. I would recommend it for anyone interested in how the language has changed over the years and what will influence it in the future.
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.
Allan M. Stavely. 2011. Socorro, NM: The New Mexico Tech Press. [ISBN 978-0-9830394-2. 230 pages, including index. US$28.95 (softcover).]
How many times have you heard computer programmers grouse, “I hate to write!” Your best response is now to hand them copies of Allan Stavely's newest book. His Toward Zero Defect Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional, 1998) taught programmers how to bug-proof their code. Now his Writing in Software Development teaches them how to bug-proof their careers.
Stavely shows them what to do, why they should do it, and in general how to do it. He brings up excellent reasons that they must learn to write readable and reasonable code, write design documents, get reviewers' approval, integrate documentation and code, develop various requirements and specifications documents, and harvest the benefits of electronic documentation.
He offers dozens of points of reality-based wisdom that are really applied common sense. He argues, for example, “If you are doing your development based on a specifications document, your design plan can follow its structure” (p. 43).
The 46 substantive numbered figures include code samples, screenshots, and other graphics that nicely illustrate best practices in programming documentation. And an interesting case study fully explains the differences between user documentation (what this book is not about) and internal documentation for the same product, a hypertext bird taxonomy system.
I like the intellectual crispness found in the three concluding sections of each chapter. In “Notes” Stavely plays with the implications of resource material he's used in that chapter. “To think about” challenges readers to apply his ideas to their own work. The third section, “For managers,” refocuses thinking about the chapter content to ask programmers' managers hard questions and offer excellent advice: “Be sure that you reward good-quality documentation and not documentation by the pound. And . . . . if your organization measures a programmer's productivity by lines of code produced per day . . . you might want to try to change this policy” (p. 66).
The author doesn't provide many pages of specific details on how to write the documents that he introduces. He recommends instead that readers couple this book with a good, detailed technical writing book. Stavely further advises them to read his book first to get an overview of what they should learn to write and after that take a technical writing course. I find this an informed way to get programmers writing with confidence.
It's good seeing programmers (and their managers) getting attention because they are an important audience that is too often neglected in technical communication texts. But the book is also a solid resource for a major secondary audience that the author has perhaps not anticipated: technical communicators. We often lack confidence when we must write, edit, or at least know about programming design and specifications documents, thereby missing an opportunity to add full value to projects.
The full bibliography lists excellent sources of further, including Technical Communication articles and many books that have been reviewed in the journal.
I commend The New Mexico Tech Press for giving programmers an excellent tool for building the applied writing skills that will enhance their careers. I commend the Press also for donating part of the revenue from sales of the book to student scholarships.
Avon J. Murphy is a technical editor in western Washington. A retired college professor and government writer, he is an STC Fellow, a contractor, and principal in Murphy Editing and Writing Services, specializing in computer and Web technologies. Avon served as book review editor for Technical Communication for 17 years.
Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper. 2012. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Press, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-321-81536-1. 366 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]
Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper have significantly revised Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy to reflect the proliferation of technology and publishing channels, as well as the changing specialty of content strategy. This book is a must-have for every technical communicator who wants to understand how to prepare for content management and how to develop a content strategy.
The authors do a great job of providing the reader with navigational aids and summaries. The introduction explains who should read which parts of the book and each section has an abstract and summary to provide further guidance.
If you are brand new to content strategy, chapters 1–6 provide definitions and explanations about why it's important. You will find a couple of good items that you can use on your manager when presenting a business case, such as “Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content (Halvorsen)” (p. 34); “Adaptive content automatically adjusts to different environments and device capabilities to deliver the best possible customer experience, filtering and layering content for greater or lesser depth of detail” (p. 35). And, “[With a content strategy] there is more upfront design, but less rework and less wasted time and effort” (p. 38).
Chapter 7 is where the authors begin to explain how to do an audit and develop a content strategy. Managing Enterprise Content can be used as a primer for the activities required to create a content strategy. The book includes an extensive glossary and an appendix that contains a checklist that you can use to develop your own content strategy.
A few things that are missing from this edition are a chapter on estimating and scoping this type of project and a chapter on return on investment (ROI). The ROI discussion in the 1st edition was very helpful for developing a business case for management. An estimating and scoping chapter would also be helpful in preparing a proposal or business case for management, and would drive home the knowledge that this type of endeavor is non-trivial; it requires a significant investment and commitment to do well.
The real-world examples and case studies are extremely useful in understanding the complexity of doing content strategy, and the governance section provides helpful information on change management and some of the issues that cause projects to fail. The roles discussion is helpful for managers who need to create a skills matrix so that they identify current skills and training needs for their team.
Overall, Managing Enterprise Content is a foundational book for every technical communicator's bookshelf, besides being a quick read. The techniques and information provided here not only help with business case development and creating an actual content strategy, but the information also can be scaled to suit the needs of a particular team or company.
Katherine Brown-Hoekstra, of Comgenesis, LLC, is an Associate Fellow for STC, speaks at conferences worldwide, and has authored many articles on various topics related to technical communication and internationalization. She has a background in life sciences and 20+ years of experience. She also coauthored a book on managing virtual teams.
Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo. 2012. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-57387-425-0. 344 pages, including index. US$49.50 (softcover).]
UContent: The Information Professional's Guide to User-Generated Content is an easy to understand text that introduces readers to user-generated content and how best to capitalize on the growing trend. “UContent” or user-generated content, is the content we often find on Web sites or social media sites that is created by the individual user or visitor. The reviews you read on your favorite online retailer are an example of user-generated content—Web site content that is created by the user instead of the online retailer. Other Ucontent examples are weblogs (commonly called blogs), wikis, podcasts and slideshows, and entries on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Tomaiuolo's book is designed for information professionals (librarians) , yet anyone new to the field of UContent will find this book helpful. Those familiar with UContent will find this book too introductory as it is really designed to introduce the reader to the topic and explain the various types of UContent. Tomaiuolo's writing is clear, friendly (he uses interesting terms such as “juicy utility” and “link-rot”), and easily accessible and doesn't stray into overly technical language that might intimidate those unfamiliar with so called Web 2.0 products. The book begins with a general overview that defines UContent and explains how it has evolved. Subsequent chapters focus on particular UContent tools: Project Gutenberg (an effort to place literary texts and other texts in an online repository), the aforementioned blogs and wikis, podcasts, slideshows, screencasts, video, social media such as Facebook, product reviews, self-publishing, and citizen journalism. The text also details tagging, customized search engines, cybercartography, and Flickr.
Each individual chapter details the chosen UContent tool and how it works. Tomaiuolo also gives readers ideas of how to implement the particular tool. In the Project Gutenberg chapter, Tomaiuolo includes a journal of his efforts to submit a text to the online repository and includes details on how to get started, the individual steps in the process, and how long it took. The text also includes interviews with UContent experts. For instance, in the chapter on wikis, Tomaiuolo includes an interview with a university administrator that details how her university uses wikis. These interviews allow a reader to examine how various organizations are actually implementing these tools.
Tomaiuolo includes a variety of graphics throughout the book with many taken directly from actual sites that are using UContent tools. He also includes a wide variety of Web site links where a reader can find additional information about these tools. Do note that the examples and links are geared specifically toward information professionals, but any reader assigned the task of wading into the UContent phenomenon will find this text a good introduction.
Carolyn Kusbit Dunn is an assistant professor at East Carolina University and an STC member. She teaches technical writing and her research interests are the use of technology in communication, risk and crisis communication, and discourse and power. She has worked in marketing and television journalism.
Shel Israel. 2012. CreateSpace. [ISBN 978-1-4700-0819-2. 76 pages. US$9.99 (softcover).]
This slim volume is geared toward technology entrepreneurs who are trying to sell an audience a product or service. Its four sections cover preparation and delivery of the speech, as well as tips for specific potential problems and a brief chapter exhorting presenters to have fun.
Shel Israel's advice:
- Determine the expected audience, the precise idea/product/service you are trying to sell to this audience, and the desired outcome of the presentation before you write your speech
- Learn from other speakers
- Practice, practice, practice
- Focus on one main point – a “positioning statement”
- Tell stories instead of—or at least in addition to—using PowerPoint slides
- Start with your strongest benefit
- Focus the speech on the product (or service), not yourself and have backup plans for demo mishaps
- Keep it simple—no more than three main points, which are repeated in the introduction and summary
- Be yourself
- Show your passion (for the product/service, not your partner!)
- Use personal pronouns rather than abstract speech
Stellar Presentations draws heavily on both the author's and other speakers' experiences, with anecdotes illustrating the various points sprinkled liberally throughout the text. While many of these anecdotes are amusing, the actual advice offered is fairly basic. On the other hand, “techies” who must become salespeople to get funding or otherwise sell their idea may find such information helpful.
Barbara Jungwirth, an STC Senior Member, owns reliable translations LLC (www.reliable-translations.com) where she translates technical documents from German to English and codes for an HIV Web site. She also writes a blog, On Language and Translation (http://reliable-translations.blogspot.com) and posts updates on Twitter (@reliabletran).
Charles Doyle. 2011. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.[ISBN 978-0-19-959023-0. 436 pages with 4 appendices, US $19.95 (softcover).]
The Oxford Dictionary of Marketing is one paperback reference guide that is not stodgy. After all, Charles Doyle is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Jones Lang LaSalle, a global commercial real estate company. His guide is edgy, with a strong international focus. Alphabetically arranged topics cover traditional marketing right along with the use of digital and multimedia and the impact of social media and internet on global marketing.
The difficulty in reviewing a dictionary stems from the isolation of terms and lack of a cohesive whole. But extra features included in this guide—marketing timelines (appendix 1), detailed case studies of iconic brands (appendix 2), and brand slogans (appendix 3)—make the reviewer's, and ultimately the user's, task enjoyable.
A few tidbits worth noting: It is interesting to realize that it took only 30 years from the introduction of floppy disk drives to the launch of Twitter in 2006. And, did you know that Will Keith (WK) Kellogg, inventor of flaked cereals, put his name on each package to mark his as the original due to competitors? Or, how about naming the year Carnation began using the slogan: Milk from Contented Cows (answer: 1906).
Sidebars covering complex studies provide more to like and from which to learn. Consider the 14-page sidebar overview of the marketing plan. A few of the topics that Doyle covers are Vision, Mission Statement, and Objectives; Pricing for Profit, Discounts, and Preparation of Promotional Tactical Plan with 50 bulleted suggestions; as well as a Distribution Plan to get the word out about a product or service.
Other sidebars include consumer behavior and motivations models, pricing, products, and public relations. Note that all first level entries in the dictionary are in lower case, and, yes, there is British spelling since the guide is from Oxford University.
There are biographical entries on giants of the marketing industry. The Gallup, George entry is condensed to a single paragraph spanning his career from 1922 through 1947 when he established his poll. The Turner, Ted entry has a slightly longer paragraph, going from his first acquired TV station in 1970 to the purchase of the Cartoon Network in 1995.
And then there are the words, terms, and definitions that make anyone turn to a dictionary. Some definitions are short and reference another entry. There are technology entries, such as the definition of GANTT chart, RSS (really simple syndication) Web feed, and podcasting. There are marketing terms most will recognize and quite a few you may not, such as cherry picking and rifle shot approach.
This small volume is the perfect companion for a marketing class, or can provide fodder to ruminate on for those planning to market a product or service of their own.
Donna Ford is a senior member of the Society for Technical Communications. She has worked as a technical writer for various industries, lately health care and insurance IT.
Richard Johnson-Sheehan. 2012. 4th revised ed. New York, NY: Pearson. [ISBN 978-0-205-17119-4. 736 pages. US$102.70 (softcover).]
Technical Communication Today by Richard Johnson-Sheehan is an introductory technical writing textbook that is designed for undergraduate-level students. However, this text is significantly different from other introductory technical communication textbooks.
This book represents a change in how authors will write and organize technical communication textbooks. Johnson-Sheehan turns the traditional textbook organization on its head and makes it as close of a comprehensive, multimedia-like experience as is possible in a printed book. He organizes the book to be scanned and read in parts (not to be read from start to finish) to better accommodate how students look for and find information in the Internet age. Information is chunked with plenty of graphics and case studies to explore. The colored bar that appears at the bottom of the text tells students which unit of the book they are in, as well as presents the Universal Resource Locators (URLs) of Web sites where they can find helpful information such as editing help, additional case studies, or reference materials.
Technical Communication Today has numerous strengths. Johnson-Sheehan presents the traditional genres such as letters and memos, proposals, instructions, and job materials. Instead of taking a prescriptive approach, he describes genres as “flexible approaches that allow people to bring order to the evolving reality around them” (p. xxii). Johnson-Sheehan presents “microgenres,” or ways in which the traditional genres are adapted and used in real-life contexts, to show students the malleability of genres. For example, he discusses a text message, which can be interpreted as a form of electronic communication lying somewhere between an e-mail and a telephone call. Johnson-Sheehan further explains how to approach text messages in the workplace and provides usage guidelines, such as avoiding excessive abbreviations.
Johnson-Sheehan's more focused approach presents technical communication as a workplace tool from which all professions can benefit. His approach to technical communication will help students prepare for careers in the field through his use of highly technical examples and information that is of interest to technical writers, such as the IEEE Code of Ethics. If your students are technical writing or business majors, this approach is a significant strength. Otherwise, the book's focus on technical writing as a profession can be a drawback because students may not reconcile what they are learning with writing in their profession.
Based on the book's novel organization, unique areas of focus, and approach to technical writing as a profession, professors and instructors teaching technical communication will appreciate what Johnson-Sheehan is attempting to do and embrace this text whole-heartedly, or they will reject it for their favorite technical communication textbook. After exploring Johnson-Sheehan's Technical Communication Today, I could be persuaded to change my mind and use this text instead as I found Johnson-Sheehan's approach refreshing and revitalizing.
Nicole St. Germaine is an assistant professor of technical and business writing at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance health and legal writer. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican-American audience and technical communication in the health fields.
Stephen Blake Mettee. 2012. Fresno, CA: Quill Driver Books. [ISBN 978-1-610350-50-1. 128 pages, including index. US$14.95 (softcover).]
One of the best things any technical writer can do to expand their skills and further their career is to write a book. The Fast-Track Course on How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal does an excellent job of stepping you through the first and most obscure part of the bookwriting process: building a successful book proposal.
Mettee's book is short, well-organized, and really only has three chapters that take up the first half of the book: “First Things” introduces you to a number of important concepts about publishing, “The Query Letter” describes what should go into a query letter, and “The Proposal” discusses the elements of Mettee's recommended proposal format. The remainder of the book is samples for you to look at and model: a query letter, a book proposal, an agency contract, a book contract, and many other references.
There's much to like about this book. The information is aimed very specifically at someone who was never written a book before, thinks that they would like to do this, but hasn't a clue as to where to begin. The tone is consistently supportive and encouraging. Mettee presents the information in the chapters in a FAQ style with centered headings, such as “How long should a book proposal be?”, “Self-publishing”, “Will I need an agent?”, “What is an advance?”, and “Will I need an attorney to look at my book contract?”. The book includes sidebars to address common problems for wannabe authors, such as “My writing skills aren't so great” and “Why didn't they like it? It must be a bum idea.” The sample query letter and proposal are excellent general purpose documents that will work for any nonfiction book. Similarly, the sample contracts and agreements are enough to give you an idea of what to expect. There are even cartoons separating many of the chapters and sections.
There are only a few places where I think Mettee could have done better. He might have mentioned that many publishers have a proposal format available for download on their Web sites (although I have never had a book turned down because the proposal format was different from what the publisher recommended). He might also have had links to downloadable versions of some of his samples. Mettee should've taken a couple paragraphs to discuss how to use references like the annual “Writer's Market” and online research to identify publishers to submit proposals to.
Despite these minor quibbles, this is a first-rate book on this topic. Mettee's knowledge and expertise is visible in every page. Wannabe authors will feel like their questions are being addressed by someone who knows just how they feel and what their concerns are. If you'd like to try writing a book but don't know how to start the process, you will need no other book than this.
John Hedtke has been a technical writer for 30 years. He has published 26 nonfiction books and runs a blog for nonfiction authors called “Hey, Kids, Become an Author at Home in Your Spare Time and Earn Big Bucks!” at www.tradebookauthor.com.
Teresa S. Stover, Bonnie Biafore, and Andreea Marinescu. 2011. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-7356-2687-4. 1352 pages, including index. US$54.99 (softcover).]
When I first perused Microsoft Project 2010 Inside Out, it struck me how, as recently as the 1990s, its topic would not have been a Technical Journal book review target. Now, that “line of demarcation” that once existed between technical communicator and related skills is “clearly blurred” with many of us now wearing “multiple hats,” including project manager. With this in mind, I evaluated this book on how it stacks up as a quality technical communications document, how well it meets the business/content needs of its intended audience, and what separates it from other publications on the same topic.
As a technical document, the authors clearly applied technical communication fundamentals. They identified their target audiences as intermediate to experienced project managers with expectations of having some Microsoft Office Suite experience. Based on this, the authors segregated this book into eight parts:
- Parts 1–4 cover how to set up and manage a project through all stages, including comprehensive coverage on data analysis and reporting.
- Part 5 explores the advance features to manage projects at a program level.
- Part 6 completely integrates MS Project with other key tools within Microsoft Office 2010 (MS Excel, MS Outlook, and MS SharePoint).
- Part 7 provides an advanced, comprehensive tutorial on how MS Project supports Enterprise Content Management.
- Part 8 focuses on customizing the tool.
Technical appendixes detail application installation, online resources, and keyboard shortcuts.
The information organization and presentation is very high quality; written clearly, edited concisely, with sections, and Sections and Chapters, anchored on clearly defined and illustrated procedures. Sign posts, including a set of gutter icons, indicate corresponding content type. Perhaps the document's only deficiency is its lack of a glossary.
Microsoft Project 2010 Inside Out follows industry best practices for project setup, maintenance, analysis, and reporting as defined by PMI LCM for a waterfall or iterative waterfall project. Advanced information is separated so that the “90–10” basics are presented without interruption (for the intermediate reader).
With the publication, the authors include online access to comprehensive examples that can be copied as templates for project setup. The book's online version enables quick look-up of incidental or specific information.
Microsoft Project 2010 Inside Out is not for the “10-minute reader.” It is a serious, thorough treatise on MS Project 2010 that delivers what is needed to take full, efficient advantage of MS Project.
Finally, the clue of how the document separates itself from others on the same topic is captured within the title itself—the “Inside Out” tips. The book is permeated with these standout descriptions of “practical advice” on things like “why this function behaves as it does” or “where there is a better way to complete the same task.” The authors did a great job of anticipating timely questions and technical challenges that perhaps Microsoft did not provide as clear a path as it could have done.
Mark Hanigan has more than 30 years' experience as a technical writer, business analyst, instructional designer, trainer, speaker, and project manager. He has his own consulting company, On the Write Track. He has served in various STC roles at chapter and Society levels, including president in 2000-2001, and was elected Fellow in 2005.
Fraser MacLean. 2011. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. [ISBN 978-0-8118-6987-4. 270 pages, including index. US$60.00.]
Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout is a detailed history of layout in animation. MacLean writes with obvious passion and love for the animation industry and layout in particular. I was thoroughly entertained as I peered behind the scenes of beloved animated movies.
Some of MacLean's passion gets away and the details begin to overwhelm someone with no history in animation. He writes, “Usually drawn in red pencil with the wording in bold capitals, …camera guides indicated what the required fielding (or aspect ratio) of the scene was, where the N/S, E/W (North/South, East/West), and START and END (first frame and last frame) positions were for any requested moves” (p. 43). It begins to make my head spin trying to imagine the work he describes with the cameras.
The book also has many passionate quotes from leaders in the animation industry. MacLean interviewed those he could and the mentees of those he couldn't. They all sound just as passionate as his writing. You can flip to nearly any page in the book to find one. In discussing lighting in computer-animated movies compared to physical lighting, he quotes Pixar Director of Photography Sharon Calahan saying “If you really want that bounce light there, you have to add it, you don't get that for free” (p. 198).
However, it does not include the theory of layout design. Some discussion of theory comes about as part of the process of the evolution of layout design, but none of the theories are discussed in detail. This book may aid you in thinking about how to lay out videos that are more fun, but I didn't read anything that would apply to training videos for software. For example, MacLean points out “how important it is for scenic design to make its impact at the unconscious level” (p. 31).
Setting the Scene also, importantly, includes many spectacular pictures. Again, you can flip to any page in the book and come across beautiful art. These inspiring examples of layout are all described in a caption that lets you look at the movie snapshot under a new light, examining why they decided to lay out a scene the way they did. MacLean describes a background painting by Tom O'Loughlin as “heightened perspective and strong diagonal compositions are used in these Sylvester and Speedy Gonzales backgrounds to help emphasize the contrast in scale between the cat in charge of the gigantic ship and the tiny mice” (p. 130).
If you are lucky enough to create videos, video games, or even photos with humor and heart as part of your technical writing, this book might provide a new way to think about your visual layout approach. As a software technical writer, I did not find any information to apply to my work as much as I enjoyed it.
Angela Boyle is a technical writer for Tyler Technologies, Inc., where she has worked for six years. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in Technical Communication.
Alan Weller. Dover Publications. 2011. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-486-99126-9. 48 pages, including CD. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Photoshop Brushes & Creative Tools–Ornate Letters & Alphabets is a reference guide to the Photoshop preset brushes, custom shapes, and styles contained on an included CD.
Knowledge of installing and using Photoshop presets is recommended. If you are not familiar with using presets or do not have Photoshop, the CD contains 202 JPG images of the ornate letters, texture brush strokes, and custom shape letters. You can view these or route them to Microsoft Paint for editing through the Dover Design Manager, which automatically downloads from the CD during the installation process. However, using only the JPG images reduces the creativity you could achieve with the presets.
The Photoshop presets include 130 letter brushes, 52 letter custom shapes, 20 special texture brushes, and 20 styles. Although Photoshop Brushes & Creative Tools is a thin book, it provides generously sized color visuals of the letters, shapes, and styles, showing details of designs, people, animals, or floral motifs that make up each item. Each letter has five design versions, ranging from blockish styles to lavish opulence. Two letter designs form the Custom Shapes preset: one semi-sans-serif and one made from twigs. The brush stroke presets are primarily water-color strokes, while the style presets blend in with standard Photoshop styles.
The book contains illustrated instructions on how to load the brushes, shapes, and styles into Photoshop, besides tips on texture, color dynamics, and other options that you can do within Photoshop. The instructions are logically organized, cleanly laid out, and easily understandable.
Photoshop Brushes & Creative Tools states that you can use these presets with Photoshop versions CS–CS5.5. However, the actual wording and actions may vary somewhat from the book instructions, depending upon which version of Photoshop you use. If this occurs, it can be resolved with a little thought, Photoshop experience, or online searching. For instance, the instruction for loading brushes on page 15 says to click on “Brushes” in the Window menu. In CS5.1, clicking on “Brush” opens a master palette box with a tab for the Brush Presets palette box. Clicking on “Brush Presets” in the CS5.1 Window menu directly opens the desired palette box where the “Load Brushes…” option is found.
One minor error was noted; on page 25, where Step 4 lists the wrong labels for the style images shown in the graphic. The style used as an example on page 25 is mislabeled as ST 005. On page 48, it is correctly identified as ST 008 (the same identifier as on the CD).
Despite the thinness of the book and variations in wording and actions between the instructions and Photoshop, this book and presets would be useful if you use ornate lettering and brushes often or like to engage in creative designs. If you do not, the $24.95 price tag may seem too high. Use of the images for graphics and crafts applications is free, without the need for special permission, with the caveat of not using more than 10 per project.
Sherry Shadday works for Southwest Research Institute in Utah as a principal technical specialist in configuration management and editing engineering documents. An STC member, she retired from the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft electrical systems maintainer and has a technical communication master's degree from Utah State University.