60.2, May 2013

Book Reviews

Books Reviewed in This Issue

Julie A. Jacko, ed.

The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications

James G. Speight

Clear and Concise Communications for Scientists and Engineers

Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche

Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World

Maggie MacNab

Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay

Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach

Michelle Boule

Mob Rule Learning: Camps, Unconferences, and Trashing the Talking Head

Neil Perlin

Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6

Alexander Dawson

Distinctive Design: A Practical Guide to Creating a Useful, Beautiful Web

Daniel Jacobson, Greg Brail, and Dan Woods

APIs: A Strategy Guide

Margot Bloomstein

Content Strategies at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project

David Weinberger

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room

Jan Middendorp and TwoPoints.Net

Type Navigator: The Independent Foundries Handbook

Sarah Maddox

Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A Wiki as Platform Extraordinaire for Technical Communication

Verlyn Klinkenborg

Several Short Sentences About Writing

Aaron A. Toscano

Marconi’s Wireless and the Rhetoric of a New Technology

Christopher A. Paul

Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play

Charles Cole

Information Need: A Theory Connecting Information Search to Knowledge Formation

Jeff Sauro and James R. Lewis

Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research

Sean Adams, Peter Dawson, John Foster, and Tony Seddon

Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans. 365 Graphic Design Sins and Virtues: A Designer’s Almanac of Dos and Don’ts

Krista Van Laan

The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing

Kim Dushinski

The Mobile Marketing Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Dynamic Mobile Marketing Campaigns

Kevin Cheng

See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas

Elizabeth Buie and Dianne Murray, eds.

Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants

Jim Williams

Type Matters!

Paul Thewlis

WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers

Aaris Sherin

Design Elements: Color Fundamentals

Pauline Hope Cheong, Judith N. Martin, and Leah Macfadyen, eds.

New Media and Intercultural Communication: Identity, Community and Politics

Charles Abraham and Marieke Kools, eds.

Writing Health Communication: An Evidence-Based Guide

Ross Maciejewski

Data Representations, Transformations, and Statistics for Visual Reasoning

Alexei Kapterev

Presentation Secrets: Do What You Never Thought Possible with Your Presentations

The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications

Julie A. Jacko, ed. 2012. 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-4398-2943-1. 1,584 pages, including the index. US$149.95 (e-book available)].

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 9.53.21 AMWhen the third edition of The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook became available, I wondered how current it would be, and I was pleasantly surprised. Many bedrock chapters from the second edition have been retained and updated, and new chapters that cover advances in technology have been added. This review offers highlights of the 62 chapters.

The price makes the book particularly suitable for libraries. However, because the book is truly what it claims to be, “the single largest, most complete compilation of HCI theories, principles, advances, case studies, and more that exist within a single volume” (p. xvii), it also should attract teachers, graduate students, researchers, and practitioners. The book is international in scope, offering the work of 145 academic, industry, and government-agency authors from 14 countries. The nearly 7,000 references provide a substantial array of sources for curious readers.

The book is divided into seven parts that encompass a generous range of topics, beginning with the roles of humans (Part I) and of computers (Part II) in human-computer interaction, including such concerns as human information processing, visual and haptic displays, and the effects of ergonomics in the use of computers. Principles and practices of designing for HCI follows (Part III) in chapters that focus on human abilities, for instance, visual design and speech and language interfaces; and on the abilities of devices, for instance, multimedia, multimodal, and tangible interfaces. The book then explores (Part IV) design concerns for applications and domains, such as aerospace, games, and health care. Diversity is a critical issue (Part V), and chapters in this part of the book touch on such groups as children, older adults, low-literacy groups, and users who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The process of developing HCI approaches is explored (Part VI), from the basics of specifications and theories of design to prototyping and using personas and scenarios as tools for design. This part of the book also explores usability testing, various ways of evaluating HCI, and technology transfer. The final part of the book (Part VII) addresses what the editor calls “emerging phenomena in HCI” (p. 1341). Here such measures of cognitive load and stress as pupil dilation, heart rate, and eye tracking are covered, as are the potential uses of “HCI4D” or “HCI for Development,” a user-centered movement that concentrates on the use of technology, often for the improvement of living conditions, in developing countries (p. 1376).

New chapters of the book address the functions of HCI in currently prominent arenas, such as social media, e-commerce, and digital privacy and security. The grounded theory method of working with HCI data and technologies that enable collaboration are also covered in new chapters.

The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook is weighty in every way. It contains enough provocative ideas to keep legions of readers busy until the next edition appears.

Ann Jennings

Ann Jennings is a senior member of STC, the 2009 winner of STC’s Jay R. Gould award, and professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, where she teaches in the BS and MS degree programs in professional writing. Her master’s students enjoyed using an earlier edition of The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook as one of their textbooks.


Clear and Concise Communications for Scientists and Engineers

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.20.19 AMJames G. Speight. 2012. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-4398-5479-2. 200 pages, including index. US$59.95 (softcover).]

Speight’s Clear and Concise Communication for Scientists and Engineers joins the list of books that recognize and address the communication problems that scientists, engineers, and technologists have. Speight, unlike others, covers most communication genre in 11 chapters.

One chapter is a microcosm of the problems in the book, which are that the suggestions are of a high level of abstraction, there is considerable repetition of material, and the book lacks specific examples that would support Speight’s generalizations. Chapter 6 on writing style addresses how the scientist/engineer should write the documents. But, just what is style? Speight tells us that style and format are closely intertwined so that selecting the proper format will automatically lead to proper style. Yet, he says, “For those situations in which no specified format exists, the writer should choose a professional format to follow that is appropriate for the situation” (p. 94) (emphasis added.) We are left not really knowing the basis of the choice and just what a professional format is. To further confuse matters, Speight later says, “Generally, style comprises structure, language, and illustrations (which all contribute to format)” (p. 96). He does cite two style manuals as sources for scientists and engineers: The Modern Language Association Style Manual and Chicago but does not cite APA, ACS, CSE, and other major manuals in the scientific and engineering disciplines.

Likewise, one would expect this chapter to define what he means by clear. The chief characteristic of clarity, he says, is short sentences that are “the key to an understandable document” (p. 101). For him, short means no more than three typed lines. Most would not consider sentences that could contain up to 30 words short. But he also adds the usual advice of one idea per paragraph and definitions for key terms. The effect is not convincing.

Speight includes material that most books do not. His Chapter 3, Sections 3.2 to 3.5, explain specifications for type, line spacing, margins, headings, visuals, and other design features. What is so unusual is why include such material? Journals frequently specify what the manuscript should look like and are not interested in authors imitating the published journal. Yet, he provides layout advice even though he points out that imitating journal design in a manuscript will “most of the time, irritate both the Editor and the reviewers and may encourage rejection” (p. 48). Companies, likewise, often have style manuals.

Clear and Concise Communication for Scientists and Engineers is a book that offers advice, often conflicting and repetitive, on how to communicate effectively. Yet, advice is all it does offer without examples or commentary telling us if the example is good or bad and why. This book can provide a framework for discussion in the tutorial, workshop, or classroom.

Tom Warren

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.


Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.20.29 AMNataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche. 2012. New York, NY: Perigee Trade. [ISBN 978-0-399-53797-4. 272 pages, including index. US$16.00 (softcover).]

Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche’s book, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, combines great storytelling with interesting facts about the localization and translation industry. I couldn’t put it down.

As David Crystal says in the Foreword, “Few of us though, take our appreciation of the role of translation to the third level—really grasping how it influences the way we live.” Kelly and Zetzsche show, through the stories they include, how translation touches every aspect of life on this planet. Just as technical communication is so much a part of the infrastructure of life that we only notice it when it’s missing or poorly done, so too, is translation vital to life on this planet. Without it, we could not communicate with our peers who speak languages that are different from our own.

This criticality is demonstrated in the story of how a mistranslation of a 2009 Chinese news story about the appreciation of Chinese currency caused the world’s markets to drop significantly as traders scrambled to buy up Asian currency. The translation was corrected, yet the damage had already been done.

Translators and interpreters also keep the multi-country space station flying. While all the astronauts are required to have basic fluency in each other’s languages, interpreters and translators ensure that mission critical information is communicated accurately.

Other stories talk about the human relationship side of the industry. In one story, a young Jewish man who lost his entire family during the Holocaust was asked to interpret for the Nazis being tried in Nuremberg. He did his job and then never interpreted professionally again because of the toll it took on his psyche.

In another story, the interpreter for a couple in love found herself in an awkward situation when she realized that the couple did not understand the double meaning behind the words being spoken. After some back and forth, she was able to get the point across.

At Localization World a few weeks ago, someone commented, “Localization is the biggest industry that no one has ever heard about.” In Found in Translation, Kelly and Zetsche state that the market for language services is more than US$31 billion annually, with just 50 companies accounting for nearly US$4 billion in revenue. According to a Common Sense Advisory survey mentioned in the book, 72.4% of consumers are more likely to buy a product if the documentation is in their own language and that this availability was more important than price. Such information has huge implications for companies that want to do business globally.

I will be adding this book to my recommended reading list for all my clients. Understanding the localization industry and the skills of the translators and interpreters we depend on is critical to effective globalization.

Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra

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.


Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.20.39 AMMaggie MacNab. 2012. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN: 978-0-321-74776-1. 296 pages, including index. US$44.99 (softcover).]

Maggie MacNab invites readers, rather than challenges them, to learn to integrate nature into their lives to become great designers. This is truly about design, and how nature is the ultimate designer. As MacNab shows, good design by humans builds upon nature itself by creating a textbook that is truly enjoyable for its own sake. You might consider keeping it handy as a reference book as well.

I was first intrigued about reading the book because of MacNab’s background, and the way she’s always integrated nature into her life in New Mexico, where she has lived her entire life. She introduces striking natural design elements that she grew up with.

MacNab’s examples and exercises ask you to go outside and appreciate nature to create projects at the end of each chapter. This is a change from designers whose examples are mainly from metropolitan areas. The appreciation exercises are so universal that you can use them in college art classes, the target audience, as well as building nature appreciation with grandchildren.

MacNab puts the first three chapters into a section she titles “Memory: Remembering What We Know.” She asks the reader first to look at the way nature solves design problems, by looking up close and very far away. Use the 12 Design Principles from Nature (pp. 69–71) to inspire you and ensure that your design is on track, and is about the design process more than how to draw lines and shapes.

Once we’ve begun to relax enough to appreciate nature again, MacNab shows us the basics of design in the second section, titled “Matter: Understand and Create.” “Patterns: Nature’s Dynamics,” the first chapter, are “energy visualized.” Next, we can appreciate the “Shapes: Nature’s Vocabulary” chapter and then the chapter, “Elements: Nature’s Sensuality,” which explores color.

Section Three, “Motion: The Experience Enhanced,” moves us into using the knowledge we’ve gained to communicate. In “Structure” Building Beauty,” the first chapter, MacNab explains Gestalt. She then shows three types of symmetry: translation, reflection, and rotation in their own chapters. “Messaging: A Meaningful Medium,” the last chapter, invites readers to communicate using sophisticated shapes and visual metaphors, as is done in nature. This culminates the subtle build from appreciating to communicating in complex visual ways.

MacNab puts much thought into the case studies, so they’re relevant and from a range of designers, and includes sketches as well as finished products. She shows the progression a designer uses in logo design. Page layout is effective at combining dense information without seeming crowded. Illustrations and photos are often rich close-ups from nature, which require the reader to make connections from nature to communicating with audiences. Page headers orient readers easily. Even the credits and index are robust and useful!

Beth Lisberg Najberg

Beth Lisberg Najberg has more than 25 years’ experience as an information and instructional design consultant, documenting systems, developing custom training solutions, and creating technical presentations for large corporations and public entities. She is principal of Beginnings (www.BeginningsDesign.com), an information design consulting firm.


Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.21.02 AMW. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. 2012. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. [ISBN 978-1-4443-3645-0. 180 pages, including index. US$34.95 (softcover).]

In Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: A Communication Approach, W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay provide an excellent overview of the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for practitioners and students alike.

The book’s early chapters focus on introducing the CSR concept. Although the authors note that CSR is still in its formative stages, they offer this definition in an attempt to standardize discussion of the process: “CSR is the voluntary actions that a corporation implements as it pursues its mission and fulfills its perceived obligations to stakeholders, including employees, communities, the environment, and society as a whole” (p. 8). Perhaps the most important information the authors offer in these early chapters is a section on strategies for selling the importance of CSR to upper management and other stakeholders. These strategies, particularly the cost-benefit analysis, help communicators put the argument in terms that bottom-line-oriented audiences will appreciate.

The middle section of the book walks the reader through the process of developing CSR initiatives. Many of the stages in this process—researching audience expectations, drafting the initiatives, testing the initiatives with audiences—will be familiar to practitioners, particularly those who already focus on issues management or risk and crisis communication. However, Coombs and Holladay are careful to note the ways in which the CSR process is distinct from many other communicative processes.

A major strength of Managing Corporate Social Responsibility is that it offers frequent practical applications of the CSR concept besides its basis in theory. For example, Chapter 5, Create the CSR Initiative, includes an extensive list of questions to answer before a company develops a CSR initiative. Furthermore, ample, extended case studies of CSR initiatives address the potential impacts of CSR on corporations and their stakeholders. These case studies focus on companies well known for their community-based programs, such as Ben & Jerry’s, as well as smaller, lesser-known companies that have successfully implemented CSR initiatives.

Finally, Coombs and Holladay painstakingly address different types of “-washing,” such as greenwashing and pinkwashing, which can damage stakeholder trust. As recent coverage of the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s funding and communication practices suggests, mishandled CSR can significantly diminish even a widely well-regarded organization’s reputation. CSR is thus a practice that demands careful, reflective attention, and Coombs and Holladay’s Managing Corporate Responsibility can help communicators succeed in this practice.

Ashley Patriarca

Ashley Patriarca is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric and Writing at Virginia Tech. She earned her master’s degree in English (technical and professional writing) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she also worked in the Department of Enrollment Management as a technical writer.


Mob Rule Learning: Camps, Unconferences, and Trashing the Talking Head

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.21.19 AMMichelle Boule. 2011. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books. [ISBN 978-0-910965-92-7. 218 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]

Michelle Boule, in Mob Rule Learning: Camps, Unconferences, and Trashing the Talking Head, offers a post-structuralist approach to conferences and learning. The book’s premise is that traditional conferences are failing the expectations of the institutions that run them and the needs of the participants. The current model positions talking heads, empowered by PowerPoint presentations and pre-fabricated agendas, as the center to adult learning. Boule asserts that what is needed is a fresh approach that wrests power from outmoded structures of false authority and puts freedom into the participants’ hands. At the tactical level, this occurs in products such as “camps” and “unconferences,” which results in “mob rule learning.”

Boule presents tools to help readers develop their own events and to infuse their organizations with a mob learning ethos. While she introduces case studies of successful trials, interviews with learning innovators, and point-by-point explanations of various techniques, the sections I found useful were the principles of mob learning, in-depth views of different “unconferences,” and the use of facilitation methods.

Boule explains one root of mob rule learning being Open Space Technology (OST), where “technology” refers to anthropological dynamics rather than computer systems. In OST, the principles are freedom around participants, outcomes, and timing. Whoever shows up are the right participants; whatever happens is meant to happen; and when it starts and ends is when it starts and ends. Now compare this to planning a typical conference: the time spent getting the attendee list right and deliberating over who should attend based on the session objectives; the stress in directing discussions; and the effort spent in corralling people to start and end on time. OST provides a framework that frees everyone from these constraints and allows one to use his or her own inherent brain power and creativity to deliver better results.

Boule also provides multiple case studies and examples of types of “unconferences” and “mob learning” events, such as Foo Camp, the ALA Unconference, and Mashup Camp. These eased my skepticism by providing a context of the ideal conditions for mob learning. Personally, I find it useful to understand how and why other people have tried new approaches.

Finally, Boule’s facilitation techniques section was immensely valuable. As a communications professional, I often facilitate workshops, brainstorming sessions, and meetings where I have used many facilitation methods. I’ll be putting several of Boule’s techniques into use in the future.

Boule ends Mob Rule Learning by suggesting that learning needs to shift from its current authority-centric model to a decentralized model where the power/authority resides with the participants. I’m not sure this is a new idea; in fact, thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, and Wittgenstein readily come to mind. What is new about Boule’s book is that it offers a practical way to implement post-modern tools in today’s workplace without getting mired in esoteric theory.

Gary Hernandez

Gary Hernandez is a communications director for BP. He received his English literature MA from George Mason University and received his technical writing MS from Utah State University. Gary belongs to STC and IABC.


Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.21.29 AMNeil Perlin. 2012. Seattle, WA: CreateSpace. [ISBN 978-1-4752-7124-9. 220 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]

Looks good and tastes even better! Upon receiving Neil Perlin’s Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6, my apparently attention-starved miniature schnauzer decided to do his own book review—by shredding the outside covers and preface. Amazingly enough, he stopped at Chapter 1.

Knowing the intended audience is a good place to start with my review. As I read the first few chapters, I felt like I was getting a review of my undergraduate studies in technical communication. Perlin does a great job of skimming the waters of instructional design and explaining to a newbie what ADDIE (Analyze, Develop, Design, Implement, Evaluate) is and how it can help you create a well-rounded project. Someone who is starting out in the field or someone who is not familiar with basic instructional design concepts will greatly benefit from this information.

If you like to think of yourself as more of an expert, don’t get frustrated—skip ahead! No one is watching you…

As an experienced Adobe Captivate user, learning more about MadCap’s Mimic intrigued me. In addition, as I learned more and more about their similarities, I knew I had to try it out. While reading this book, I decided to download the 30-day trial version to accompany me as I read the book. I like to try things on my own, and with job descriptions including the latest software to know, this would only help me out later!

From the beginning, the software was intuitive, yet I kept Perlin’s book by my side to continue my review as I learned the software. The most rewarding bonus was how Perlin not only explained the step-by-step instruction, but also WHY the step was important and the intended function. Sometimes it is nice to know why you have to do something! I also really appreciated the seasoned tips throughout the instructions, such as selecting contrasting colors for box displays to help them stand out more. These tips can be no-brainers to someone doing this 24/7, but it served as a good reminder for those who don’t necessarily design every day.

Overall, this is an easy-to-read companion guide to MadCap Mimic and I think anyone looking to beef up his or her skills, or even learn a new skill, would greatly benefit from the book.

Kristin Kirkham Broadhead

Kristin Kirkham-Broadhead is an instructional designer and technical writer from Dallas, TX. She previously served the STC North Texas Lone Star Community as president from 2009–2010. When she is not writing, she loves scrapbooking and photography.


Distinctive Design: A Practical Guide to Creating a Useful, Beautiful Web

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.21.39 AMAlexander Dawson. 2011. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-1-119-99298-1. 352 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]

Alexander Dawson’s Distinctive Design: A Practical Guide to Creating a Useful, Beautiful Web targets Web designers with basic coding knowledge but little knowledge of information design, graphic design, and usability. Overall, Dawson’s emphasis on user-centered design is commendable, yet the book would be more useful if it offered the reader more practical, substantive advice.

Dawson uses the phrase “distinctive design” throughout the book, though he never thoroughly defines the term. The closest he comes to a definition occurs when he writes that “distinctive design is simply about making things stand out and controlling the attention parts of a page receive” (p. xviii). Dawson approaches this goal from a variety of angles, including information design and design psychology. These various angles are reflected in the five main divisions of the book: “Designing for the Web,” “The Art of Distinctive Documentation,” “Implementing Design Theory,” “User-Centered Considerations,” and “Designing for Ubiquitous Users.”

All Dawson’s advice revolves around an implicit thesis: use every tool at your disposal to draw attention to the most important elements and information on your Web site. Users come to a Web site seeking information or services, and if they become frustrated by bad design or distracted by unnecessary elements, they will move on to the next site. Successful design must hold user attention by providing well-organized, appropriately emphasized content.

One of the most practical portions of the book is Dawson’s discussion in Chapter 2, “Designing for Different Devices.” In this chapter, he stresses the need for designers to consider the increasing number of environments in which their designs may appear. Dawson examines software and hardware that will impact the user’s experience, and offers concrete advice for accommodating the wide range of users’ software and hardware choices. He recommends testing the site with different browsers and devices to ensure it appears properly. Dawson also suggests layering content so that if the user fails to have the right plug-in, there will still be a minimal amount of usable content on the page.

Dawson’s underlying thesis is admirable: useful, organized content is more important than stylistic frills. That principle applies to many tasks that technical communicators face. However, Distinctive Design is not completely successful because Dawson sometimes ignores his own advice. The pages are rife with distracting parenthetical asides, copyediting oversights, and a number of unnecessary visuals and “call to action” text boxes that draw attention away from more important content.

I would recommend Distinctive Design to a technical communicator who has been thrust into the role of Web site designer and has some basic knowledge of coding languages. A novice technical communicator might find the overview of information design and usability helpful. Yet for other readers in the technical communication field, a specialized book on one of the various topics will likely prove more useful.

Bonnie J. Shamp Winstel

Bonnie J. Shamp Winstel is a graduate student studying English and technical communication at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. She is new to the field of technical communication and recently joined STC as a student member.


APIs: A Strategy Guide

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.30.34 AMDaniel Jacobson, Greg Brail, and Dan Woods. 2012. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. [ISBN 978-1-4493-0892-6. 138 pages. US$24.99 (softcover).]

APIs: A Strategy Guide, by Daniel Jacobson, Greg Brail, and Dan Woods, provides high-level information for managers who are deciding if implementing an application programming interface (API) is a good choice for their company. This book is not intended for readers who are interested in the technical aspects of API design and implementation.

The authors describe how adopting an API is a valuable business strategy and list examples of reasons why you might need an API: you need to develop a mobile application for other platforms or you have data that others could use (weather data, public transit timetables and schedules). The API value chain defines who publishes and promotes the API, who is expected to use it, what information is provided through the API, what types of applications the API supports, and who uses these applications. You should involve key stakeholders from across your company in defining your API strategy. For the two different types of APIs (public and private), the authors explain the benefits and risks of publishing one or both, ways to use each type, and how to shift from one type to the other. They recommend that you prepare to address any questions or objections that others might have. Some examples include an increased load on systems, security threats, and misuse of content.

After you have defined your API strategy, you can put together the roles for an API team. These roles include a developer evangelist, product manager, community manager, engineers, quality assurance, marketing, and legal. APIs have two main audiences: the developers who use the API and the end users who use the applications created using the API. It can be challenging to design the API to meet the needs of both audiences, and which the authors provide some examples of concerns for both audiences. They also list several best practices for designing APIs, including making your API easy-to-use and understand, and starting with a minimum amount of functionality, adding additional functionality over time, based on feedback. A section on technical design issues introduces the various forms of Representational State Transfer (REST), issues regarding API versioning, and considerations for infrastructure (data center or cloud).

The authors highlight specific security issues for API design and operation, including authentication, encryption, and threat detection and prevention, and describe legal considerations for developing your API. They stress the importance of defining a reliable operating model for the API that includes operations issues, support, documentation, and traffic management and scalability. They also discuss the importance of metrics for gauging the success and use of the API, and the importance of evangelizing and marketing your API so that developers want to use it.

APIs: A Strategy Guide helps readers understand the value that an API can bring to a business, the steps required to define your API strategy, and the importance of involving both technical and non-technical stakeholders in the planning and implementation.

Mary C. Borden

Mary C. Borden is a senior technical writer with F5 Networks, where she writes hardware documentation. She belongs to Sigma Tau Chi and received a professional and technical writing MA from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.


Content Strategies at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.22.05 AMMargot Bloomstein. 2012. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-391922-9. 164 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]

Margot Bloomstein highlights the benefits of content strategy for businesses in her book, Content Strategies at Work. With 164 pages’ worth of real-world stories, she explores the many faces of content strategy, big and small. Bloomstein covers a variety of outlets for content strategy use, such as design, project management and information architecture, copywriting, search engine optimization, and social media. She uses a witty, fun tone throughout the book, going so far as referring to the reader with pet names such as “Buttercup,” making it entertaining and informative (or borderline annoying if you’re touchy about cutesy tones).

This book focuses on strategizing content for endeavors of any size. Bloomstein defines content strategy as ensuring content types, tone, and media support the user experience in a way that is appropriate to the brand and useful to the audience. She argues that lack of a content strategy is a problem for organizations, and that companies, even mom and pop businesses, need a plan for ongoing maintenance and sustainable growth.

I find it difficult to differentiate between a strategy and a plan as defined by Bloomstein (there seems to be only minor differences); however, it’s easy to understand content strategy in the context of the examples presented. Bloomstein makes it seem easy, perhaps a little too easy. I’d argue Bloomstein talks herself (and content strategists everywhere) out of a job by simplifying the art of strategizing content to the Neanderthal level. Companies may only push this idea of strategizing content on a veteran employee rather than hire in a specialist or firm. Although Bloomstein does successfully emphasize content is an asset, her idea of a strategy is a bit of a hard sell because it seems redundant when many companies may already have a plan in place.

This book is filled with easy-to-use models and examples from many different resources. The chapters are cohesive and easy to understand, and the book flows from one type of strategy to another. However, this isn’t necessarily a “how-to” for content strategy. There aren’t any steps to follow—with the exception of setting up message architecture—and the answers to content strategy questions seem to start with, “It depends.” Bloomstein explores different strategies for different situations, but there isn’t one concrete way to strategize content that applies to all types of content. Content strategy is presented as a craft that must be acquired through a lot of practice.

Content Strategies at Work is useful as a supplement for anyone who is knowledgeable or has a personal interest in content strategy. However, I would encourage readers to pursue other sources if they want in-depth information on content strategy. This book provides only a quick overview of content strategy and its many uses in the workplace, but Bloomstein makes it easy to understand with a light, fun tone.

Kristyna Selph

Kristyna Selph is a technical communication rookie. She is pursuing her masters at the University of Alabama-Huntsville with an emphasis in technical communication and looks forward to delving into the wonderful world of technical writing.


Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.22.21 AMDavid Weinberger. 2011. New York, NY: Basic Books. [ISBN: 978-0-465-02142-0. 232 pages, including index. US$25.99.]

In Too Big to Know, David Weinberger (a senior research at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society) grapples with the profound changes that the advent of the online networked world is having not just on the amount, or availability of knowledge, but on the nature of knowledge itself.

“Knowledge,” he argues, “is becoming inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it. Our task is to learn how to build…networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider” (p. xiii).

In developing his argument, Weinberger traces the history of knowledge and mankind’s attempts to ratchet up the standards for achieving certainty.

Briefly stated, about the time of Plato 2500 years ago, we began to search for ways to distinguish mere opinions from knowledge or ideas that we could rely upon. We began to subject ideas to forms of testing, verification, or proof. We also established mechanisms designed to identify some individuals or sources of information as more reliable than others did: higher education, credentialing, election to prestigious bodies, publication in peer reviewed journals, and so on.

The advent of printing also played an important role. It aided the dissemination of knowledge, but also, through a process of filtering, it worked to shape the body of knowledge itself. In a paper-based world, the mechanics and expense of publishing tend to filter out most claims. Whatever does not get published vanishes from sight regardless of its merit.

With the rise of the Internet and networked information, this all changed. The online world does not filter out, but filters forward. Various sorting algorithms push the most cited, liked, or agreed with information ahead of the rest; but what fails to bubble to the top never really vanishes. On top of that, more information is being gathered, stored, and linked than any human could process, and we need better ways to harvest this bounty. We have moved from knowing too little to being in a world that is “far, far too big to know” (p. xiv).

Weinberger closes by turning his attention to ways we can help “make the networking of knowledge the blessing it should be” (p. 183). He calls for building a new infrastructure for knowledge, one that includes opening up access, building better hooks for knowledge such as the Semantic web, and linking everything using metadata. It will also be important to not leave traditional institutional knowledge behind; it has served us well. And, we must teach everyone to use the new systems.

Too Big to Know is a fascinating and important book; it deserves all the attention it can get.

Patrick Lufkin

Patrick Lufkin is an STC Associate Fellow with experience in computer documentation, newsletter production, and public relations. He reads widely in science, history, and current affairs, as well as on writing and editing. He chairs the Gordon Scholarship for technical communication and co-chairs the Northern California technical communication competition.


Type Navigator: The Independent Foundries Handbook

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.33.37 AMJan Middendorp and TwoPoints.Net. 2011. Berlin, Germany: Gestalten. [ISBN 978-3-89955-377-2. 320 pages. US$78.00.]

With new foundries popping up each day adding to the already huge variety of available typefaces, it can sometimes be a daunting task to find just the right font. Enter Type Navigator: The Independent Foundries Handbook. Its pages hold a sample of this large market with examples of typefaces from some smaller independent foundries, comprised of not more than a handful of typeface designers. The reason for showcasing independent foundries is “many of the newly-established “foundries” are one- or two-person companies, and offer just a small collection” (p. 4). The far better distribution afforded by the Internet has made possible the survival of smaller outfits like the ones featured in Type Navigator.

The foundries are arranged alphabetically with each section containing a short biography of the foundry and its designers, where to find their typefaces online, and examples of their fonts. There are photos of where typefaces have been used for actual projects and the rest of each foundry’s entry is dedicated to samples of their typefaces printed at different sizes and leading. What is nice about this approach, and what I see as one of the book’s greatest strengths, is that for each font, readers can see what it will look like on a printed page using nearly the complete character set.

On the other hand, this strength is also a weakness. The introduction seems to be directed to the casual user or beginner, including such information as the current popularity of the right typeface, where to find and purchase fonts, and how to understand end user license agreements. Everything after the introduction, though, seems directed to readers who know what they are looking at and why they are looking at it. Someone familiar to designing for print would more than likely understand that the experience of viewing fonts on a computer screen is much different than seeing those same fonts on a physical page and thus the importance of seeing a typeface in print.

In my opinion, it is not really for those new to typography, despite the introduction. That said, Type Navigator is a fantastic resource even with only a fraction of the literally hundreds of foundries operating around the globe. It is a good sampling of what is available in the way of top quality typefaces and especially useful in how each font is displayed. The CD at the back of the book is the cherry on top as it contains 100 free fonts contributed by some of the foundries featured in Type Navigator. After reading about the foundries and seeing examples, readers can use some of the fonts for their own projects.

Spencer Gee

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.


Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A Wiki as Platform Extraordinaire for Technical Communication

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.34.22 AMSarah Maddox. 2012. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press. {ISBN 978-1-937434-00-7. 478 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Confluence Wiki users should rejoice as Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate provides them with a great deal of useful information with a light, fun tone, and great enthusiasm from the author.

Comprehensive and thorough—these words come to mind when reading Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate. Confluence Wiki users can read this book to get tips to help their organization work from this Confluence Wiki central platform and become power users.

Whimsical is another word that comes to mind when reading the book. While the overall main topic concerns how-to information, the tone is light and fun, thus chocolate in the title and throughout the book. The book comes from a company—Atlassian—that has a reputation of caring about good documentation and good communication.

Besides tips and tricks concerning the use of Confluence Wiki, the book covers information about topics such as good communication and agile.

One agile tip, “Keep the contributions short at the standups. Just report on work done yesterday, the work planned for today, and any problems that are hindering the work” (p. 290).

Jeanette Evans

Jeanette Evans has more than 15 years in the field. An STC Associate Fellow, she is active in the NEO STC chapter where she serves as academic relations co-chair and newsletter co-editor. She has published in Intercom and presented at various STC functions. She holds an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University.


Several Short Sentences About Writing

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.34.29 AMVerlyn Klinkenborg. 2012. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. [ISBN 978-0-307-26634-7. 224 pages. US$22.00.]

If you are looking for advice on writing that is not specifically meant for technical communicators, there are the obvious classics: The Elements of Style and On Writing Well. There are also books by famous writers, such as Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. More recently, there is a new group of books including It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences and How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. Add one more to the list that was published last year: Several Short Sentences About Writing.

Several Short Sentences About Writing is literally what the book is, for the first 150 pages, after a short prologue. Early on in the book, there is frequently a noticeable question-and-answer format. Examples: Why short sentences? [“Short sentences make it easier to examine the properties of the sentence” (p. 9)], How short is short? [“That depends on the length of the sentences you’re used to writing” (p. 11)], and Why are we talking about sentences? [“Your job as a writer is making sentences” (p. 13)].

The book contains no standard book conventions (table of contents, chapters, and index); just lots of commentary from Klinkenborg and experiments to try. The last 50 pages are clearly organized with two headings: “Some Prose and Some Questions” (passages by established writers to experiment with as you read the book) and “Some Practical Problems” (sentences written by college students with Klinkenborg’s observations).

The experiments are extremely time-consuming. One of the major ones starts by asking you to copy or print out a couple of pages by an author whose work you like. You are told to use separate colors of pencils to circle parts of speech. This is followed by a circling on a separate copy the more difficult parts of speech. Then perform the same experiment with an author whose work has a different feel. Finally, try again with a page from a very different context [“A business article or a best seller or a critical essay in an academic journal” (p. 63)]. There are specific suggested examples mentioned each time, but no mention that the first two examples (by John McPhee and Joan Didion) are included later in the book. It obviously would be helpful to know this up front, which is my big recommendation for what could be done to improve the book.

It may be quite a challenge to apply what you learn in Several Short Sentences to your day-to-day work as a technical communicator. But I would still not be too quick to completely write off this book, especially if you are the type that enjoys taking the time to do lengthy experiments and analyze passages of both good and bad writing.

David Kowalsky

David Kowalsky is a technical writer for NEC Corporation of America. He received his MA in East Asian studies from Washington University (St. Louis) and a certificate of technical writing and editing from the University of Washington. He is a senior member of STC’s Puget Sound chapter.


Marconi’s Wireless and the Rhetoric of a New Technology

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.34.36 AMAaron A. Toscano. 2012. New York, NY: Springer. [ISBN 978-94-007-3976-5. 165 pages. US$49.95 (softcover).]

Aaron Toscano shuns a minimalist view of the technical communication (TC) field—or the idea that most, if not all, TC is produced purely for pragmatic reasons and designed merely for users’ instruction. In Marconi’s Wireless and the Rhetoric of a New Technology, Toscano certainly does everything he can to demolish that idea. In this fairly easy read for a scholarly treatise, he expands the broader context of TC to an extent rarely attempted, or perhaps even fathomed, by other scholars.

In this book, Toscano thoroughly analyzes the diverse types of discourse that accompanied the emergence of wireless technology (precursor of the radio, created by the Anglo-Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi) in an attempt to support an intriguing proposition: not only is all communication regarding technology—even the more consumerist science and technology narratives found in mass media—rightly considered TC; but all TC is inseparable from the culture it informs and by which it is informed. He begins buttressing this view with a particularly fascinating history of TC. (He skillfully portrays how TC and its aficionados over the centuries strategically mirrored various cultural trends from the religiosity of the society during the Enlightenment, to the plain language movement that followed, and on to the modernist movement that introduced the 20th century.) He then further supports his framework with an in-depth analysis of the many concurrent forces—technological, societal, and rhetorical—which led to society’s acceptance and assimilation of the revolutionary wireless technology; and how Marconi and his adherents harnessed these forces to produce the TC of those early 20th century years.

This is actually a big idea Toscano puts forward—that TC is all around us, in the narratives about technology and its effects on us, and not confined to the pedestrian documentation that typically accompanies manufactured products. Of course, the implication of this expansive view of the field is that TC is as ubiquitous (and voluminous) as the technologies it accompanies.

Toscano definitely illuminates for the reader a culturally based heritage of the field, which may have been camouflaged by the field’s more obvious relationship to the specialized and mechanistic worlds of science and technology. But he goes beyond this, to allege that the pedagogy and research in the field have largely overlooked a vast repository of technologically centered discourse. Toscano posits that TC should assume its rightful place as a leader in a field of inquiry that science and technology studies (known as STS) have reserved to itself for far too long. His tone is almost evangelistic, but his arguments are both lucid and reasonable.

Marconi’s Wireless and the Rhetoric of a New Technology is a good read for anyone interested in how technologies impact human societies and, conversely, how human societies—influencers of the rhetoric of TC—impact trajectories of technologies. It unmistakably offers technical communicators a broader context for understanding their discipline.

Steve Lemanski

Steve Lemanski, an STC member and a 20-year professional communicator in the IT field, regularly alternates writing/editing in several genres—technical documentation, feature articles, and marketing content. His BA in communication is from University of Colorado, Boulder; and he is currently pursuing an MS in English/technical writing from Utah State University.


Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games: Analyzing Words, Design, and Play

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.05 AMChristopher A. Paul. 2012. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-89306-0. 220 pages, including index. US$125.00.]

What promises to be a rhetorical and critical analysis of video games ends up being an exploration of several games, their game play, and their marketing strategies. Paul begins by defining wordplay as the use of “the tools of rhetorical criticism to examine the various elements of games, from the words found within and around them to the design, play, and coding of them” (p. 2).

He argues that wordplay informs our understanding of the significance of games and it helps us “understand the discourse of games” (p. 3). Yet his definition and application of the term shift throughout the text.

While Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games successfully summarizes gameplay in several games and presents a history of some game technologies, the book tends to make claims and illustrate them, but only weakly analyze them. For example, in one of the more interesting chapters—on the game, Grand Theft Auto (GTA)—Paul writes that to “understand games as texts” and see violence in video games like GTA as a “game mechanic,” we need to “investigate the whole response to GTA” (p. 87). Furthermore, to “understand why GTA is so interesting,” we need to look at the role of humor in the game, the controversy of the game (because of its violence), and how reviewers demonstrate the players’ focus on game play rather than on game violence. What is “the whole response”? Why is GTA “interesting” in this context? (p. 88).

Without further clarification, Paul moves on to polarize the humor as either appreciated by players or misunderstood by “those who just do not get the joke” (p. 88). He writes less than a page of rhetorical analysis on the humor and its function in the game. When Paul moves to the controversy of the game, he again tends to claim and illustrate without further analysis by saying, “dissonance…in discourse…offers a platform upon which to engage in critical analysis” (p. 91). He further writes that to see the focal point in GTA is not violence, we must know that players like the detailed game design and players identify with the characters. Paul cites the paucity of references to violence in the game reviews, he points out the awards and acclaims the games received, and he writes that game immersion experience draws in players, but he doesn’t take the next steps of explaining how these elements work to expand our understanding of gaming/game studies.

Kelly A. Harrison

Kelly A. Harrison, MFA, works as a consultant, speaker, and writing instructor in San José, CA. For over 20 years, she has written print and online content for various high-tech computer companies. Currently, she teaches writing at San José State University and contracts for computer software.


Information Need: A Theory Connecting Information Search to Knowledge Formation

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.13 AMCharles Cole. 2012. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. on Behalf of The American Society for Information Science and Technology. [ISBN 978-1-57387-429-8. 226 pages, including index. US$59.50.]

For some time, technical communicators have analyzed who will use their material. Such user analysis has evolved from demographic data and focus groups to individual user analysis. Techniques have moved from guesswork and surveys to interviews to speculation about the user’s cognitive processes.

Recently, user analysis has turned toward studying in more detail what the user wants to know. Research from information science has enabled technical communicators to examine that need. For example, information behavior researchers have examined user reaction to both an information system and the results such a system produces.

Charles Cole’s Information Need: A Theory Connecting Information Search to Knowledge Formation continues in this research tradition by focusing on the user’s need for information. Information need, according to Cole, is the “start state for someone seeking information” (p. 3). In examining this need, he divides the 19 chapters into 4 parts: Part I defines information need and presents historical background; Part II presents the conscious aspects of information need; Part III provides an extended example of a student essay; and Part IV concludes the work.

Cole begins his behavioristic approach by suggesting that the user’s subconscious perceptions of reality are based on schema or frames modeled on four levels ranging from subconscious receipt of an environmental stimulus to the conscious developing of a query. Searching for information begins with something that triggers the user’s subconscious to recognize that the frame for the stimulus is inadequate or missing. This subconscious recognition leads to a conscious description of the need.

Cole then turns to the research and contrasts computer science views with those of information science. He does this by identifying three stages: Pre-Focus, where the user forms queries for the information system; Focus, where the user queries the information system and gets results; and Post-Focus, where the user responds to the results.

In computer science, Cole asserts, the process is straight-line because the user “commands” a response. In information science, the user adjusts the search based on the results from the information system. Thus, the computer science approach is based on horizontal phases while the information science approach uses a hierarchical approach.

So what is the book’s value for technical communicators? If the user’s need for information is precisely formulated, then Cole’s theory has minimal value. If that information need is strong, then the book offers insights into how the user can be accommodated. For graduate students and technical communicators who want or need to explore how users develop and respond to the search, the book can be a valuable addition to a personal library.

One caution, however: Cole has written a scholarly book both in its style and in the abundance of references. Ultimately, the book is most valuable to those who design information systems and want a research-based way to analyze potential users.

Tom Warren

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.


Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.29 AMJeff Sauro and James R. Lewis. 2012. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-384968-7. 296 pages, including index. US$49.95 (softcover).]

When I first started conducting user research, I found that few of my colleagues conducted anything other than qualitative research. As more companies use user experience (UX) research in their processes to build software and Web sites, more want to better understand the return on investment. They want DATA.

Quantifying the User Experience: Practical Statistics for User Research by Sauro and Lewis is the newest book that teaches UX researchers and social science researchers how to respond and use numbers to make a quantitative case. Had I had this book several years ago, I might not have pursued a graduate certificate in Applied Statistics, since this book really covers most of the topics I sought to understand.

Sauro and Lewis take the user researcher on the journey of conducting and reporting on UX research. They start with a series of decision trees to guide the decision in what kind of data the user has and how best to present the findings.

The authors cover topics found in traditional statistics texts: margin of error, significant differences among and between groups, and selection of an appropriate sample size. Among the topics that set Quantifying the User Experience apart are the discussions of standardized usability questionnaires (SUS) and a discussion of “enduring statistical controversies of which user researchers should be aware” (p. 241). Their examples cover topics like rating scales for continuous data, comparing completion rates to a benchmark, comparing two designs (A/B testing), standardized usability questionnaires, and other topics.

Sauro and Lewis provide a Microsoft Excel calculator that performs the calculations in this book, which mentions a companion book, Excel and R Companion to Quantifying the User Experience: Rapid Answers to over 100 Examples and Exercises.

Quantifying the User Experience will make a terrific textbook for any series of UX research courses. Each chapter features key points and references with many including examples, a list of the formulas used in that chapter, and problems to solve using those formulas. The chapters on sample size address both formative and summative usability testing and have given me the ammunition to explain why we need more usability test subjects.

Sauro and Lewis save the best for last—the appendix, which functions as a crash course in fundamental statistical concepts. A colleague saw this book on my shelf and asked me about my interest in ”sadistics”; I was eager to share this book with him to show him that with a book like this one, there is no reason to fear quantitative analysis and the value it brings in supporting our UX efforts.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to integrate quantitative data into their UX practice. I probably could have saved myself the costs of four semesters studying applied statistics for $49.95.

Elisa Miller

Elisa Miller, an STC Associate Fellow, is a senior user experience designer for ARGO Data Resources Corporation. She is a past president of the Lone Star Community and is the Director of Professional Development for UXPA (formerly UPA).


Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans. 365 Graphic Design Sins and Virtues: A Designer’s Almanac of Dos and Don’ts

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.37 AMSean Adams, Peter Dawson, John Foster, and Tony Seddon. 2012. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press. [ISBN: 987-321-81281-0. 384 pages, including index. US$24.99.]

If you’re a fan of Comic Sans, don’t let this book turn you off. It’s full of practical advice for writers who would be designers, and for designers who want to be better designers. It is handsomely designed, with every page containing an illustration of the text, though not always successfully. It is a wonderful price for a hardcover, especially since it’s printed on glossy stock. For a book on design, I was disappointed that it contains no colophon, though I did find out on page 17 that it was set in Archer.

The book is broken into six sections: Type and Typography (my favorite); Layout and Design; Color; Imagery and Graphics; Production and Print (very technical); and The Practice of Design. I learned something from every section, though some more than others.

Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans offers lots of good practical advice, such as “Thou shall always choose a typeface with an acceptable range of weights for body text” (p. 32). Some advice is obvious, and probably not helpful for experienced technical communicators, such as “Thou shall not set body copy using a script typeface” (p. 34).

I really appreciate the authors’ struggle to point out the differences between the print and digital worlds, for example: “Thou shall periodically check a printed laser or inkjet [copy] rather than viewing a layout on screen” (p. 116). Of course, how many of us had problems with printouts varying from printer to printer!

Here are just a few gems from the book:

  • Against stretching type: “Claude Garamond did not spend decades drawing Garamond, only to have it inflated and distorted” (p. 50).
  • Against defaults: “Thou shall not automatically use the default margins in your layout program” (p. 110). Ever wonder why Microsoft Word has default left and right margins of 1.25 inches?
  • Speaking of Microsoft Word: “Thou shall not use Microsoft Word for layouts” (p. 138). I remember the day I had to abandon a really good layout program for Microsoft Word, just so the developers could get their mitts in the source files. I’m still fighting that battle…
  • In favor of white space: “White space is my friend” (p. 134). That is a mantra that I try to teach my students every year.
  • In favor of style guides: “Thou shall own a copy of, or subscribe online to, The Chicago Manual of Style” (p. 309).

And finally, this caveat about Google: “Thou shall not rely solely on Google” (p. 340). While it may be a good starting point, those who stop there and think they’ve done their research are fools. I have students who will do anything to avoid going to the library—the place where they can learn the most. But I don’t need to preach to the choir on this point.

Charles R. Crawley

Charles R. Crawley is a lead technical writer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He also teaches professional writing and business ethics as an adjunct at Mount Mercy University, also in Cedar Rapids.


The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.43 AMKrista Van Laan. 2012. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press (STC Imprint). [ISBN 978-1-937434-03-8. 332 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]

STC member Krista Van Laan provides a comprehensive step-by-step overview of the technical writing profession. The 24 chapters are grouped into 6 parts, which in turn are arranged in a sequence, from evaluating your aptitude for this type of work all the way through advancing your career in this field. Part 1 helps you figure out whether you should try to become a technical communicator, Part 2 discusses the required skills and how to acquire these, and Part 3 covers the planning of documentation projects. Part 4 talks about starting to work in the profession, Part 5 explains the tools used in the industry, while Part 6 describes the ups and downs of the actual job, concluding with a chapter on managing your career.

The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing is designed like a user’s guide: each chapter starts with bullet points that provide an overview of the information to be covered, sidebars are categorized by icons (which are explained in the preface), and there is plenty of white space. Three appendixes provide a glossary of terminology, a list of reference books, and a list of helpful Web sites. While most of the Web sites listed seem likely to continue for some time after this book’s publication, at least one (Gryphon Mountain Journals) no longer existed at the time I wrote this review. Such problems are unfortunately unavoidable given the pace at which information on the Web changes and the length of a book’s publishing cycle.

When I started to write software documentation more than a decade ago, a well-organized book that clearly explains the profession would have been very welcome. Some of the book’s examples will make you chuckle in recognition. For example: “Should personnel in your department require additional assistance, please register a request with a Technical Support representative.”? Ms. Van Laan drily comments: “What it means, of course, is: ‘For more help, contact Technical Support.’”

Tight deadlines are discussed throughout the book, but they become especially acute towards the end of a project cycle. Now that I translate technical documents, I appreciated the author’s emphasis on planning also for the translation end of that cycle. Fortunately, if technical writers adhere to the writing and planning guidelines in this book, we translators should not be confronted by unreasonable deadlines and poorly written source text

Portions of The Insider’s Guide to Technical Writing were updated from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Technical Writing (published in 2001), which Ms. Van Laan co-authored, although there is enough new material here so even professionals who read the Complete Idiot’s Guide will find The Insider’s Guide useful.

Barbara Jungwirth

After writing software documentation and managing an IT department, Barbara Jungwirth now translates German technical documents into polished English appropriate for a specific audience. She owns reliable translations llc (www.reliable-translations.com), writes a blog, On Language and Translation (www.reliable-translations.com/blog/), and tweets (@reliabletran). You can also connect with her via LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/BarbaraJungwirth) or Xing (www.xing.com/profile/Barbara_Jungwirth3).


The Mobile Marketing Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Dynamic Mobile Marketing Campaigns

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.23.56 AMKim Dushinski. 2012. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-910-965903. 249 pages, including index. US$29.95(softcover).]

With her interactive book, Kim Dushinki launched me into the world of smart phones and mobile marketing. Making that statement shows both my age and my expertise—my age since I am years behind my grandkids’ use of smart phones, and my expertise because her book opens for me the bright mobile future of technical communicators.

The Mobile Marketing Handbook is divided into three sections: Mobile Marketing Strategy and Implementation (overview and legal); Mobile Marketing Toolbox (how to get started); Marketing and Tracking Mobile Campaigns (implementation).

Scattered like pearls within 14 chapters are mobile statistics (five billion active cell phone subscriptions worldwide); best practices (how to avoid pitfalls, like Simon & Schuster’s payment of $10 million in damages for sending unwanted text messages); detailed strategies (how to build a short message service (SMS) list, using mandatory opt-in and opt-out); and strategies to find customers and get them to take action (mobile ads, search, quick response (QR) codes, or location marketing).

True to the nature of the book’s content, there are interactive mobile marketing opportunities sprinkled throughout with a mobile survey at the end of each chapter. Resources are provided on the book’s home page with access only for those who purchase it and sign in. Now you can see why I just had to buy that new Droid. And why I downloaded apps, signed up for text messages, and added my phone number to a social site. All in just a few short weeks. Guess what? My family is right; it’s addictive.

How does this book impact technical communicators who are not typically marketing professionals? In the section on mobile marketing vendors, the author lists Mobile Website Designers. Those who are “tech-savvy” (as the author defines us) will be called on to create millions of mobile companion sites to the company Web site—sites that do not make the user squeeze or scroll to find important information and that provide marketing strategies within a single tap.

Besides content and format design, there is the need for navigation between Web and mobile sites, click-to-call buttons, banners with widths that vary, and simpler graphics. To support future marketing opportunities, Dushinski recommends that these sites have their own URL, typically ending with .mobi.

Dig out your old Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) training materials and freshen up on HTML5. With a copy of the Mobile Marketing Handbook in hand, create a mobile version of your own Web site. The next opportunity for technical communicators is occurring right in our pockets.

Donna Ford

Donna Ford is a senior member of STC and has served on her local chapter’s board. She has been a technical writer since 1987 in the hardware, software, and government health care industries. She holds a certificate in information design from Bentley College.


See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.07 AMKevin Cheng. 2012. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-27-9. 202 pages, including index. USD$39.00 (softcover).]

Storytelling is great for conveying information in a memorable way. Comics can make storytelling even more effective through images. See What I Mean shows you how to present business information using comics. Cheng writes, “Comics are like a Trojan horse for information” (p. 165).

See What I Mean is written for non-artists and the comics uninitiated. It starts with an overview of what comics are and how to read them, such as what a gutter is and the order to read speech bubbles. Then it details how to make comics. Cheng creates an example comic that describes the purpose of Square, a new credit card reader for smart phones. Finally, Cheng goes over how to use comics for business. Each chapter starts with an overview comic. These comics are good examples of his method.

If you give someone this book to convince them to use comics, I suggest starting them with Chapter 8, “Applying Comics.” Start with this chapter to get an idea of how you want to use comics, and then apply the ideas learned on your own work. I make comics in my spare time and wanted to get ideas about using comics in my day job. Chapters 8 and 9 were the most helpful. Also, the table of contents and the overview comics make it easy to find your information if you are not sure.

Cheng is an enthusiastic writer with an obvious passion for comics. Most of the book is spent on creating comics. Cheng is encouraging to the non-artist, but he might spend too much time convincing you that you can draw. If you are that reluctant, I do not think any amount of text will convince you. Because there are already so many great books on creating comics, I was hoping for more information on how comics can be used specifically with business.

Cheng discusses a number of benefits to using comics. Relatively speaking, creating a comic does not take much time. The skills are easy to learn. You can work with tools as simple as a pen, sticky notes, and stick figures to create a story that readers relate to. “By reducing the amount of detail in a drawing, you can encourage your reader to relate personally to what’s being presented” (p. 24). And the restrictions of the format, such as length, can help you present your idea in a concise way.

People are finding that comics are a good way to not only help them retain information, but to get them to read it in the first place. “. . .a senior user researcher at Adobe, used comics to convey her research findings. . .she found that more people actually spent time reading her findings” (p. 168). People will actually read our content if we format our business information to be enjoyable or entertaining.

Angela Boyle

Angela Boyle is a technical writer for Tyler Technologies, Inc., where she has worked for seven years. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in technical communication.


Usability in Government Systems: User Experience Design for Citizens and Public Servants

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.16 AMElizabeth Buie and Dianne Murray, eds. 2012. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-391063-9. 408 pages, including index. US$59.95 (softcover).]

Elizabeth Buie and Dianne Murray have pulled together a book that is long overdue. Government computer systems affect everyone, but until now, no book has focused on improving the user interaction with those systems.

The editors do most things right. Their collection of 24 chapters by 41 authors spread over nearly every part of the globe provides an international kaleidoscope rich in detail. Each chapter focuses on a distinct angle on the general topic, so that there is little repetition beyond general principles. Thus, you have discussions of usability issues with government Web sites, online forms, defense software, emergency response, bill drafting, the content and language of systems, accessibility, security, contract language, requirements documents, cultural differences, and so on.

Most chapters analyze case studies of success and failure and include a “Success Factors” section, which drives home lessons learned. Each chapter ends with a useful list of materials for further reading.

Eight chapters, for me, are particularly useful and interesting. Kathy Gill insightfully reflects, “It is important that the language used on the web site reflects how our citizens think as well as the tasks they are trying to accomplish” (p. 37). Kate Walser describes how to apply personas and storyboards in the government 2.0 environment. If, like me, you’ve worked within a legislature, you might find fascinating Monica Palmirani and Fabio Vitali’s account of the usability benefits of using XML-based legislative bill drafting tools and European attempts to introduce such tools.

If you work with contracts, don’t miss Timo Jokela and Elizabeth Buie’s thoughts on the many ways to work usability requirements into government requests for proposals. The chapter on system response to terrorist attacks, by Gitte Lindgaard and others, describes design problems when many agencies are involved; I relish hearing about prototyping applications with names like eXplosives Identification Tool!

Three chapters feature authors familiar to STC readers. Ginny Redish and Susan Kleimann establish the need for plain language by analyzing government projects that have won plain language prizes; they offer a fine two-page table of guidelines. Rahel Bailie gives exciting advice on how a governmental body can ensure usability by developing a content strategy, as seen in Vancouver, BC, Canada. In addition, Whitney Quesenbery crisply defends remote usability testing for government agencies.

Unfortunately, the other 16 chapters don’t work as well. Some are dull reading, with too many long, often boring paragraphs. Some chapters (including those on security, privacy, and policymaking) seem not to apply directly to usability at all.

The book suffers from one interesting usability weakness: Neither the detailed table of contents nor the biographical section identifies who wrote which chapter. With several dozen contributors, the book can be hard to navigate.

Usability specialists in government environments should get this book. Technical communicators with occasional responsibilities in this area can borrow a copy to check a few chapters relevant to their needs.

Avon J. Murphy

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.


Type Matters!

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.25 AMJim Williams. 2012. New York, NY: Merrell Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-85894-567-5. 160 pages, including index. US$29.95 (leather cover).]

There is an old adage that most everyone is familiar with: don’t judge a book by its cover. However, if we were to do so, just for a minute, Type Matters! would definitely not disappoint. Simply put, the book is lovely: text pressed directly into the leather bound cover, two ribbon markers, an elastic strap, and inside, some good, heavy paper that is easy on the eyes. Without reading the pages, the message of the title is already communicated through the obvious time and effort that went into producing this quality book. With such a sturdy build, it is obvious that this book is meant to be used, not just look pretty sitting on the shelf.

The book’s quality is not just skin deep. The information on each page is invaluable and is presented in a way that is easy to comprehend. For each “rule,” author Jim Williams gives an example of that particular rule in action. I say “rule,” but they are not presented as rules. Williams’ approach is to show what works, what doesn’t, and why. He does so with short examples, usually blocks of text, that when placed right next to one another highlight the type treatments that really function well. The ideas he explains are not cheap tricks or clever gimmicks meant to fool the reader into reading. Rather, each tip’s point is to create type treatments that invite you onto the page and keep you there long enough to read the information. In essence, you should not notice the type at all.

Williams has himself made Type Matters! a book that is very readable. He doesn’t waste time on the page explaining the deep theoretical underpinnings of why the careful manual adjustment of the space between letters results in more easily readable lines and paragraphs. He gets right to the point, showing clearly what works and what doesn’t. Not only is the information easy to understand, it is easy to find, especially if readers put the ribbon markers to good use.

I see this as a fantastic resource for someone just getting into typography or document design because as stated earlier, this book is as understandable as it is readable. Not everyone is just starting out, though. For the more seasoned professional, who has perhaps already internalized everything Williams explains, it is still a good book to have handy for the times when a quick, simple explanation is needed to help another designer, writer, or client understand specific design decisions that result in cleaner, neater, and more readable text.

Spencer Gee

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.


WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.37 AMPaul Thewlis. 2011. Birmingham, UK: Packt Publishing, Ltd. [ISBN 978-1-84951-132-2. 330 pages, including index. US$44.99 (softcover).]

We’re all aware of social media and self-promotion in principle, but far too many technical communicators don’t push their own boundaries. For the upwardly/outwardly mobile, having a strong online presence in your own blog is an important component of being a maven. Like anything else worthwhile, this will take time and effort, but it’s well within anyone’s grasp. Although anyone can set up WordPress, using it to create a great, dynamic blog takes planning and work. In addition, that’s where WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers comes in: it tells you how to design, maintain, and publicize a blog to promote your brand.

The book starts by explaining the many things you can do with a business blog and introduces you to the ways that WordPress can do them, such as increase sales, add value to your company/product, provide customer service, and many other things. Thewlis uses a detailed case study as an example, an effective technique for demonstrating technical material. In each chapter, after learning techniques, you get to see how they work in the case study.

The presentation is strongly tutorial, yet there’s enough conceptual material and background information that you’ll benefit from reading the book without actually trying anything. That’d be a waste, though, as Thewlis includes many hands-on examples to try out. As soon as you learn about a technique or a concept, you can see how it’s applied to the case study blog. You can download code samples from the Packtpub.com Web site for many of the chapters.

The chapters are very approachable. They tend to start with conceptual material—such as what is CSS, breaking down the elements of content, understanding key performance indicators—followed by detailed instructions on how to use/implement these concepts for yourself, using the case study. There are frequent sidebars with references to programs you can download.

Security is one thing the book didn’t cover. Yet with the knowledge you’ve gained, you can find information and tools on WordPress security easily enough. (Hint: The WordPress.org libraries have tens of thousands of plugins and widgets, including security tools and information you need quickly.)

Although the title refers to business bloggers, this book is of great value to anyone who wants to set up a WordPress blog or Web site. WordPress 3 for Business Bloggers gives you enough information to successfully install WordPress 3. You then learn how to customize and expand your blog. At the end, you’ll learn to analyze Web stats to see how well you’re reaching your audience, how to monetize your blog, and how to manage growth. Whether you go through the book as a reader or as an active participant, you’ll come away knowing more about WordPress 3 and blogs than you did before. Better yet, you’ll know the things you need to know to create and maintain your own attractive, profitable blog.

John Hedtke

John Hedtke has been a technical writer for 30 years. He has published 26 nonfiction books. John 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. He lives in Portland and Eugene, OR, and drinks a lot of coffee.


Design Elements: Color Fundamentals

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.51 AMAaris Sherin. 2012. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-59253-719-8. 160 pages, no index. US$24.99 (softcover).]

Aaris Sherin has written a book filled with design examples that show the impact of color. Drawn from around the globe, the design examples provide visual confirmation of her text that discusses form and space, meaning and emotion, and communicating with color. Her words are few, and can be, because she has selected her examples wisely.

For example, Sherin discusses aspects of color, which she defines as “hues or combinations that provoke a certain response or have predictable characteristics” (p. 92). One example that accompanies the text is a strip of Finnish stamps in a cool green on a white background that she describes as lively and fresh. Also included to illustrate her point is a poster with brightly colored circles giving information about a festival. The largest circle, in a lemon yellow, draws the eye first and contains the most important information about the event–the date and the title.

Design Elements has tips and suggestions scattered throughout. On page 84, Sherin suggests that designers just starting out compile a sketchbook of color combinations that they like to better train their eye. Called an “inspiration book,” the volume will turn out to be a great reference tool. People who haunt bookstores (real or virtual) know that you can purchase books that do this for you. Sherin notes, however, the value in doing this yourself is “that it trains your eye to pick up pleasing color combinations on your own. Do this for a year, and you will be able to make better color choices faster” (p. 84).

The latter part of the book covers how to organize color as well as ten rules for color and when to break them. Rule number three is to make your color choices for a reason, elaborating that colors are associated with specific attributes and suggesting that choices should acknowledge regional and cultural differences. In a page devoted to working with clients, Sherin says that designers need to remember “almost everyone has an opinion about color” (p. 155) so it’s up to designers to explain their color choices and to show how the choices will contribute to effective communications.

Designers are the most likely audience to benefit from Sherin’s advice and examples, which are sophisticated and seem more likely to be building on previous understanding of the topic of color.

Ginny Hudak-David

Ginny Hudak-David is the senior associate director in the Office for University Relations at the University of Illinois, the largest public university in Illinois with campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. She works on a variety of communications projects.


New Media and Intercultural Communication: Identity, Community and Politics

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.24.59 AMPauline Hope Cheong, Judith N. Martin, and Leah Macfadyen, eds. 2012. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-4331-1365-9. 337 pages, including index. US$36.95 (softcover).]

In New Media and Intercultural Communication edited by Cheong, Martin and Macfayden, intercultural communication scholars investigate the complex and dynamic relationship between technology and culture, or what they coined “mediated intercultural dialectics” (p. 5). The relationship between technology and culture foregrounds change, necessitating research that describes the contradictions intrinsic to sociotechnological practices and blurs the boundaries between online and offline as discrete spheres of reality. Yang’s chapter on online identity expression illustrates this complexity. She describes a number of dialectic contradictions negotiated by Web users, such as authenticity/anonymity, stability/fluidity, and trust/suspicion.

Case studies of media use in Niger, Israel, India, Jamaica, Chile, and Russia toward the end of the book contrast sharply with scholarship that predicts cultural homogenization resulting from increased media connectivity. “The dominant perspective stresses empowerment, standardization, and assimilation into alleged global norms and the World Wide Web culture…Yet what actually happens…is contested and negotiated within complex local and political conditions” (p. 2). For example, New Media and Intercultural Communication analyzes the formation of group identities online, differences in levels of mediated disclosure, and contextual variations of Internet use.

Using primarily interpretive and critical research, the authors in this compilation argue that technology and the study of technology are not ideologically neutral, calling for more empirical studies of CMC and global intercultural communication.

Rybas’s chapter on Facebook, for example, argues that identity, relationship, and community development that occurs on the site is constrained by the social network’s allowed programming, which structures users’ experiences. The political nature of communication technology is further evidenced in how knowledge is defined (Olaniran), in who has access to these technologies, and in how use of those technologies are shaped by sociopolitical forces (Haslett, Privalova). However, in dialectic fashion, the authors included in this book collectively problematize both the “digital divide” as well as social media’s “emancipatory” function. While increasing access to communication technologies has the potential for empowerment, it is complicated by gender “textiquettes” (Shuter), commodification of cultural events (Lee), and historical disparities (Chen & Dai). As Gordon and Sorenson argue, “It is problematic to equate the increased adoption of information technology in developing countries with social and economic progress” (p. 282).

A number of the chapters engage in etic theorization, such as applying Hofstede and Hall’s cultural dimensions (individualism/collectivism; power distance; high/low context communication), Gidden’s structuration, and third person effect to new media, providing a quasi-blueprint for studying such subjects as mobile phones, Facebook, database design, e-learning, and Web site preferences. Moving forward, it will be essential for communication scholars to engage in more grounded theory approaches, incorporating social media to study social media, that examine how technology impacts intercultural communication in ways that are distinctive from face-to-face communication. Finally, it will be important to engage in new media research that complicates conflations of culture with nationality, and thus meet Cheong, Martin, and Macfayden’s challenge.

Joshua Hoops

Dr. Joshua Hoops is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication & Theatre at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO. His research focuses on the role cultural identity plays in intercultural communication — interactions that are both contiguous and computer-mediated in nature.


Writing Health Communication: An Evidence-Based Guide

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.25.10 AMCharles Abraham and Marieke Kools, eds. 2012. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ISBN 978-1-84787-186-2. 1800 pages, including index. US$40.00 (softcover).]

Writing Health Communication: An Evidence-Based Guide is an advanced guide for health communicators. This guide covers a wide range of topics that are suitable for novice health writers and advanced writers alike: from organizing information to usability testing and even selecting the appropriate graphics for your audience.

The advice offered in Writing Health Communication is in-depth and insightful. Much of this advice is already available in the literature; for example, you can find some of the same information about graphics in Horton’s 1993 article that appeared in Technical Communication. However, the real benefit from this guide is that it situates its advice about document design and writing specifically to the health fields and explains the research in a practical way that is easy to understand and useful for health writers.

Each chapter in Writing Health Communication treats a different health writing topic. The authors arranged the chapters in a sequential manner, starting with issues in document design and moving to more specific techniques for usability testing, using evidence-based information, and message framing. The final chapter summarizes the information and provides health writers with practical recommendations.

While each chapter offered at least a few pieces of wisdom that I plan to use in my research and writing, the chapters I enjoyed the most were those on developing evidence-based content for health promotion materials (chapter 6) and mapping change mechanisms onto behavior change techniques (chapter 7). While these topics are not exactly new in the health communication or technical writing literature, health communicators frequently ignore them when developing content for their health materials. These chapters remind us of the importance of understanding the audience, how and why they will read the health information, and how to discover which strategies will be most effective for addressing that particular audience.

Writing Health Communication does have a few drawbacks. Some of the design suggestions, such as using tabs or color for brochures, are disregarded as impractical in this age of budget crunching in healthcare. I left off reading the chapters that cover design wondering how health communicators could use these suggestions while working on a tight budget. In addition, throughout the guide, only a passing mention was made of the role of culture in designing health materials. Given that culture has such a large impact on preferences for health communication as well as a patient’s understanding of wellness and illness, I was surprised that it did not play a larger part in the guide.

Overall, Writing Health Communication is a very useful reference for professional health communicators and academics alike. The advice is detailed, easy to understand, and practical. Even the most seasoned health communicator or researcher will find that this book provides fertile ground for improving their techniques.

Nicole St. Germaine

Nicole St. Germaine is an assistant professor in the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance writer and consultant. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican-American audience and technical communication in the health fields.


Data Representations, Transformations, and Statistics for Visual Reasoning

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.25.18 AMRoss Maciejewski. 2011. San Francisco, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-60845-625-3. 78 pages. US$35.00 (softcover).]

Most STC members have heard of Edward Tufte’s classic book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. His work is a great starting point for exploring data graphics whether you’re a scientist or an educated amateur. In Data Representations, Transformations, and Statistics for Visual Reasoning, Ross Maciejewski looks at data graphics from the perspective of those who actually create and manipulate the data, including scientists, engineers, and statisticians. As a result, this book is not for the faint of heart. (Warning: Here be equations!)

Where Tufte relies on persuasive visual examples to make his case, Maciejewski digs deep into the mathematical characteristics of data. In this small book, he explains the different data types (for example, nominal versus ordinal), the various uses of colors to represent value ranges, what he calls “preconditioning” (transformation of the data so that its distribution meets the needs of statistical analysis), how to select appropriate “bins” (value ranges), and how these factors affect the main graph types you can use to display data more effectively. The goal is to help data mavens understand their own data, present it to others, and use it to support reasoning about the meaning of the data. Perhaps the best part of Data Representations, Transformations, and Statistics for Visual Reasoning, though it’s left almost entirely implicit, is the recognition that thinking about and creating data graphics are still largely bound by the constraints of the print model (and its PDF descendant). Maciejewski reminds us that by designing visualization tools that can be shared over the Web, we move beyond sharing our data with our reader to encouraging our reader to interact with that data. That’s a paradigm-changing insight that deserved more explicit treatment.

Unfortunately, the writing is often dense and includes occasional errors (“with green being the lease severe alert,” p. 8; unlabeled graph axes, p. 14) and many terms that assume prior knowledge and that would benefit from explanation (“spread variation,” p. 12), and this is exacerbated by the use of fussy, too-small type that makes the book unnecessarily difficult to read. There are also poor choices such as the failure to use any colors other than grayscale in the chapter on color use—not even a link to a page of color images on the publisher’s Web site, as is commonly done for research journals that don’t publish color printed versions. (The bibliography is decently long, but no Web links appear there or in the text.) The book clearly could have used a more rigorous developmental edit.

These factors may scare off some potential readers of Data Representations, Transformations, and Statistics for Visual Reasoning, although most of the intended audience can plow through and understand the many important points. If you’re not a member of this audience, but willing to devote the necessary effort, you’ll develop an understanding that provides considerable credibility when you discuss data graphics with the subject-matter experts who create them.

Geoff Hart

Geoff has helped hundreds of scientists from around the world design effective data graphics, and has learned a thing or two about visual reasoning along the way.


Presentation Secrets: Do What You Never Thought Possible with Your Presentations

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.25.26 AMAlexei Kapterev. 2011. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley & Sons. [ISBN 978-1-118-03496-5. 288 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Having experienced the embarrassment of a client requesting his management never delegate him to give presentations again, author Alexei Kapterev became determined to master presentation skills and share what he learned.

Kapterev quickly captured my attention in the first two pages of his book by revealing his initial failure with presentations to customers during his work for a consulting company. As a result of his failure, he was determined to master the skill of presenting. He tells how he gained much fame through his “Death by PowerPoint” presentation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFfFQ9XU7Jw ). So, I was eager to learn how he made the turnaround.

Kapterev is like the great football coach, Vince Lombardi, whose team lost for almost 10 straight years. Lombardi took the players back to the basics: “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football.” Likewise, Kapterev begins his book with the basics, “What Are Presentations?” on page 2. Then, he lays out the game plan: story, slides, and delivery.

First, a great presentation needs to tell a story. Stories, he explains, have been used in early communication, but are still important today. Stories unite the facts and the concepts. You must put the facts in a sequence and make connections.

Next, create the slides. He points out that a great slide presentation must be able to work with or without the presenter, as more presentations are being e-mailed rather than presented. Kapterev includes a helpful reference, the slide design matrix (p. 107), where he details that text reminds, images impress, diagrams explain, and charts prove.

Finally, after developing your story and creating your slides, you are ready to deliver your presentation. Two key speaking tips he suggests are to speak faster if you want to change people’s minds when you want to persuade, and speak slower when you affirm the obvious. Not only should you be aware of what you are communicating, but you should pay attention to the nonverbal feedback from the audience.

When your presentation is over and you’ve opened the floor for questions, one of his many suggestions is to repeat the question for all to hear.

In Chapter 11, Where to Go Next, Kapterev provides a concise presentation checklist that you will find valuable. As you prepare your next presentation, use the questions included in the checklist to determine if your presentation is ready to be delivered.

Two key tips I plan to implement in my next presentation are to create conflict (p. 52) and involve a hero and villain (p. 63). As Kapterev points out, if you don’t have conflict, you have no story. Without conflict in your presentation, your audience will become bored. You should ask yourself, “What is the problem (the conflict) that I solved or intend to solve?”

After reading Presentation Secrets, you will definitely come away with useful ideas you can implement in your next presentation.

Rhonda Lunemann

Rhonda Lunemann is a technical writer with Siemens PLM Software, a senior member of STC’s Twin Cities Chapter, and a member and officer of the Hill Speakers Toastmasters Club (Club 4415).