60.3, August 2013

Book Reviews

Books Reviewed in This Issue

Steps to Amazing Webinars

by Sharon Burton

Information Literacy Beyond Library 2.0

by Peter Godwin and Jo Parker, eds.

Studying English Literature and Language: An Introduction and Companion

by Rob Pope

Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature

by Alison Gibbons

You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity

by Robert Lane Greene

How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking

by Franck Frommer

Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content

by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Solving Problems in Technical Communication

by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber, eds.

A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning

by Ray Jackendoff

The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed

by David Shumaker

Understanding New Media

by Eugenia Siapera

Cultural Technologies: The Shaping of Culture in Media and Society

by Göran Bolin, ed.

How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them

by Ben Yagoda

The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality

by Markus Werning, Wolfram Hinzen and Edouard Machery, eds.

Internet Research Skills

by Niall Ó Dochartaigh

The UX Book: Process and Guidelines for Ensuring a Quality User Experience

by Rex Hartson and Pardha S. Pyla

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design

by the Editors of Phaidon

Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-based Graphic Design

by Andrew Shea

Communicating Clearly about Science and Medicine: Making Data Presentations As Simple As Possible… but No Simpler

by John Clare

Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists & Engineers

by Felice C. Frankel and Angela H. DePace

Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations

by Clay Spinuzzi

What Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing

by Philippa J. Benson and Susan C. Silver

Rethinking Academic Writing Pedagogy for the European University

by Ruth Breeze

The Oxford Handbook of Business and Government

by David Coen, Wyn Grant, and Graham Wilson

Microsoft Manual of Style: the Everyday Guide to Usage, Technology, and Style for Technical Communications

by the Microsoft Corporation

The Network Society

by Jan Van Dijk

Scientific Papers and Presentations

by Martha Davis, Kaaron Davis, and Marion Dunagan

My Ideal Bookshelf

by Thessaly La Force, ed.

#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community

by J. S. McDougall



8 Steps to Amazing Webinars

Sharon Burton. 2012. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press. [ISBN 978-1-937434-04-5. 90 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 11.19.25 PMSharon Burton more than delivers on her promise that your online seminar will be a success if you just follow her 8 Steps to Amazing Webinars. The book is written in a direct, easily applicable way. Much thought was given to the order in which the information is presented and the level of detail to which certain elements are explained (or not explained with instructions for the reader to seek information from reliable sources).

While it would have been easy for Burton to have simply listed eight horrible mistakes and pointed to what she would have done differently, this instructional volume walks the reader through what is required to set up a sustainable Webinar program that adds potential profit to a department or company. In current economic times, this is a serious value for technical communicators looking to add skills to their repertoire. To that end, the reader feels like a student in Burton’s classroom listening to her speak quite authoritatively about a topic on which she has exhaustive knowledge and a great amount of passion. Having attended both a conference session on the book and a Webinar delivered by Sharon on another topic, I can attest that she practices what she preaches.

First, Burton clearly defines for the reader the word Webinar and what it can offer to an organization. Next, you learn the options for who should run the Webinars you have decided you want to produce. While the options mostly presume that you are part of a large company or organization, the analysis also gives the consumer an inside glimpse as to why certain Webinars are more of a “sales pitch” and still others are not focused, even though they may be delivered by a member of the C-suite. Once the “who” is decided, there is the “what”…as in what topics should you talk about. The focus on audience in this section should not come as a surprise to anyone in technical communication, but the examination of what makes for a good Webinar topic was enlightening.

Because this is content you are generating, it must be marketed. The chapter on advertising focuses not surprisingly on writing good copy about your Webinar to both entice and inform your potential audience about exactly what you plan to deliver in your hour together. By the time you read the final steps, Burton has prepared you to take to the microphone and deliver your well-rehearsed material with your technology/back-up person in place should anything go awry. Finally, the author presents tips for the follow-up with the attendees and those who watched the archive or recording of your Webinar. After all, you want to have a conversation with these folks who are now interested in what you have to say and will hopefully be devoted consumers of your next amazing Webinar.

David L. Caruso
David L. Caruso currently serves as the Web content manager and social media coordinator for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. He is a senior member of STC; Vice President of the Greater Pittsburgh Chapter; and former manager of the Information Design and Architecture SIG.


Information Literacy Beyond Library 2.0

Peter Godwin and Jo Parker, eds. 2012. London, UK: Facet Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-85604-762-3. 268 pages, including index. US$99.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 11.19.40 PMSpecialists and non-specialists apply “literacy” to a wide variety of items: math literacy, Bible literacy, graphic literacy, TV literacy, food literacy, and so forth. Library science adds “information literacy” to that list. For librarians, information literacy includes library use, search strategies, and other activities related to locating and using information. Librarians see their mission expanding to developing such materials as E-tutorials, E-tours, and the like for use in the new media.

Godwin and Parker’s contribution is an anthology of 22 essays from 23 authors divided into three parts: updating the field, case studies, and the future. “Library 2.0” of the title refers to Web 2.0 as well as the electronic media associated with the social context: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so forth.

Part 1 brings research in the field up-to-date starting with an earlier collection by the same editors (although the current book is not considered a second edition). Part 2 contains 11 essays that are case studies of students and how librarians are developing materials to aid them to increase their information literacy. Part 3 contains five essays and is a look into the future.

While Information Literacy Beyond Library 2.0 focuses on librarians, technical communicators often face similar problems. For example, how can you help users get the information they need to solve a problem? Both groups want to minimize the effort required; both face users or patrons with varying levels of competence in the media and accessing the content. So, both have a two-fold problem: providing the information and ensuring that the user or patron can access it.

Technical communicators can easily apply the concepts that the essays offer. For example, what tools do you use to get the content to work with smart phones? QR codes? Clickers? SMS? Even gaming? The answers are in the section that describes case studies and could be the most interesting for technical communicators. Although the cases involve educational environments from the secondary school through the university, they present what is essentially an answer to the question that the collection addresses: how can libraries and librarians provide instruction to enhance their patrons’ information literacy? The short answer is through understanding what information literacy is and then using tools and media to provide necessary tutorials.

The essays in part 3 emphasize that libraries are changing as a result of Web 2.0. The problem now is helping people navigate the new platforms and pathways to the information in this new environment. Godwin’s own final three essays address the evolving digital media and how we got there as well as the future and what’s beyond Library or Web 2.0.

In spite of Information Literacy focusing exclusively on librarians, there is much helpful information, especially in the case studies, for technical communicators who are producing tutorials for a variety of platforms. While the book’s price is rather high, company libraries especially could benefit from adding a copy for their collections.

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.


Studying English Literature and Language: An Introduction and Companion

Rob Pope. 2012. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-49876-0. 428 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 11.20.09 PMStudying English: Literature and Language: An Introduction and Companion by Rob Pope is an essential guide to some of the more nuanced aspects of earning a degree in English. He does a nice job in explaining and demystifying so much of what English students typically fail to master until they are in graduate school. For instance, Pope reviews analytical strategies for approaching a text which many students have to learn through trial and error or by bribing their muse. This book excels as a guide to navigating an English degree.

Studying English comprises six sections: an overview of English studies, a review of analytical strategies, a compendium of literary theories, an explanation of key literary terms and topics, an anthology, and a career guide. You will view every section through the lens of academia. If you are well versed in the indirect approach of many scholars, this is a good thing. If you prefer a more direct edge to your rhetoric, it will prove infuriating.

The first four sections, which cover largely academic concerns, are strong. They offer firm grounding for a beginning and even intermediate English major. Pope uses a wonderful tactic of creating insightful dichotomies—“open discussion or hidden agenda,” “repression and expression,” “accent and dialect”—and exploring the spaces in-between. In doing so, he effectively describes the rich landscape of the English degree through which a student can then navigate.

The last two sections—the anthology and career advice—are problematic. First, do English majors need another anthology in such an over-canonized field? When I initially saw the section, I assumed the book was a writing primer. It wasn’t until I read the introduction that I grasped the intent of including such material, though I was not and still am not convinced of the need for it.

Second, it’s evident that there was little non-academic input into the career section, which is a shame. From my experience, society mistakenly believes a degree in English is an indulgence. What I have seen, however, is that people with English degrees are highly employable in non-academic settings both for their writing skills and for their critical thinking skills. What English majors usually lack is an understanding of how to bridge the gap between applying critical thinking and writing skills in academia and applying those same skills in the workplace. I wish Studying English would have done a better job in meeting this need.

Pope’s book is a great find for the first, second, or even third year English major looking to find a better understanding of their field of study. For the graduating senior or graduate student looking for advice on non-academic career options, Studying English probably isn’t the answer.

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.


Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature

Alison Gibbons. 2012. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-87361-1. 260 pages, including index. US$130.00.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.23.44 AMAlison Gibbons investigates the cognitive impact of a growing “multimodal” literature that self-consciously and pervasively mixes text and image. Unlike traditional literature, multimodal works incorporate “Devices that draw attention to the text’s materiality” by inflecting the standard narrative plot line with self-reflexivity (footnotes, stories within stories); interpolating graphics that point to themselves as graphics (font variation, concrete poetry, collage); and mixing literary and visual genres (horror within comedy, newspaper clippings within text) (p. 2).

This disruption of conventional narrative demands more active cognitive involvement from readers by expanding their role from relatively passive consumers into active co-creators and users of the text. As conventions from one genre (hypertext links) show up in another (the printed book), or as footnotes become part of the fiction itself, the reader is compelled into a “performative engagement” with the text that is both intellectual and physical—the reader must now consciously flip between textual and visual elements to make sense of their relationships (p. 210).

In this way, the multimodal text creates a “bistable oscillation” in cognitive understanding, shifting the reader’s focus from looking “AT” the material text to looking “THROUGH” it, and back again (pp. 208–209). This oscillation occurs within a formal cognitive structure analogous to what linguists call deixis, words whose specific meaning depends upon the users’ knowledge of their context. The pronouns “you” or “it” can refer to any number of referents, yet are in themselves empty of a specific referent. At the narrative level, deixis can accommodate extreme, sudden, or strange shifts in literary conventions or semiotic systems. Thus, by grounding multimodal reading in narratological deixis, Gibbons develops a critical method flexible enough to interpret even the most unpredictably bistable, oscillating, multimodal texts.

The reader now assumes the role of active co-creator of the work’s meaning, connecting elements as a “user” might respond to a set of prompts. This aspect of Gibbons’ theory, usability, may be the most pertinent to technical communicators, graphic and Web designers, and other creators of interactive communication. As she suggests, her theory can facilitate the development and understanding of video games like Nintendo Wii that combine physical movement with intellectual cognition to produce fully realized, dynamic, embodied understanding. The reader as game player actively participates in a blurring of the distinction between writer, user (reader), and text, thereby creating a cognitive fusion not dissimilar to virtual environments involving physical participation (pp. 211–212).

Technical communicators may find deictic mechanisms useful in developing real-time “virtual” environments for applications that must optimize awareness and sharing of information in human-machine interaction. In this setting, the user is involved in performative engagement with the text and the machine, immersed in real-time feedback offering greater flexibility than a fixed manual or online procedure. Gibbons’ theory of deictic processing could be a rich area of investigation for technical communication theorists, and for that audience, I can recommend Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature.

Donald R. Riccomini
Donald R. Riccomini is a member of STC and a lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specializes in teaching engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.


You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity

Robert Lane Greene. 2011. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. [ISBN 978-0-553-80787-5. 314 pages, including index. US$25.00.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.24.38 AMIn You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity, Robert Greene invokes the diversity and vibrancy of language as a lens to better understand history, politics, and human behavior. Starting with what we “think” we know, Greene uses quirky facts and quick wit to show us what we “should” know about the role of language in our world. The book is well-paced with enough cohesion for a dedicated read-through, yet amenable to a more selective or periodic reading.

Greene opens by discussing commonly perpetuated myths about language, such as “X language can’t say Y,” observing that language is integral to our humanity and thus, people invest language with great power and meaning. He then takes on the “sticklers”—language pundits such as Strunk and White who rail against abuses of language “rules” and worry that language chaos is imminent. Greene deftly highlights absurdities of the sticklers’ language claims with tales of early sticklers like Caxton and Webster, language comparisons across the ages, and evidence that these issues arise regularly across cultures.

In following chapters, Greene grounds his approach to language in linguistic research, contrasting sticklers and linguists. Arguing the linguistic tenet of language equality, he questions whether one can actually claim the superiority of one language over another, given that “no language has ever declined in intelligibility” (p. 188) Greene summarizes the evolution of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which, in its strong version, suggests that our language controls our understanding of the world.

Chapter 5 highlights Greene’s argument that language is central to the human experience. He frames the development of what we label as “languages” within the evolution of the nation-state, exemplified by English, French, and Spanish histories. Greene then presents a compelling case that language has played a key role in world wars, and instability and strife from Spain to South Africa.

Transitioning from nation-states, Greene explores the role of language academies and official government policies about language. He cites Turkey and France, then examines interesting debates about alternative Chinese and Japanese writing systems. Greene accurately notes that such language planning efforts are rarely successful, despite rationales of modernization or practicality. He proceeds to dismantle arguments that English and French are losing ground to other languages and thus somehow warrant special status to avoid minority marginalization. Greene further observes that efforts to limit language variety may be harmful, as research correlates multilingualism with higher intellectual performance.

In the final chapter, Greene offers a metaphor for languages as clouds that have moving boundaries. With thought-provoking data correlating national wealth with lower linguistic diversity, Greene challenges us to consider how to balance goals of enhanced linguistic diversity with the apparent economic incentive to limit linguistic variety.

Robert Greene taps into a topic that is hard to resist—ourselves, making this book a provocative read for humans.

Michelle Moosally, PhD
Michelle Moosally has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. She currently teaches linguistics, grammar, editing, and technical writing at the University of Houston-Downtown and is an STC member. Her research interests include grammar pedagogy, applications of linguistic research in writing contexts, language variation, and cross-linguistic coordination and agreement patterns.


How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking

Franck Frommer. Translated from the French by George Holoch. 2012. New York, NY: The New Press. [ISBN 978-1-59558-702-2. 288 pages, including index. US$27.95.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.24.51 AMIt is almost impossible for a technical communicator to never encounter PowerPoint (Microsoft’s computer-assisted presentation program) by experiencing its use in a meeting, at a conference, or more directly by creating, editing, or presenting PowerPoint slides. For anyone interested in reading an in-depth study about PowerPoint, I recommend How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking.

The first part of the title (How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid) is a slight modification of a quote originally made by Marine General James N. Mattis in 2010—“PowerPoint makes us stupid”—reflecting the arguably overreaching role the software was playing at the time in the U.S. Armed Forces.

This book is well organized with a traditional format (an introduction, eight chapters, conclusion, and notes). The introduction is worth reading to get a good summary of all the chapters and to gain an up-front understanding that the book does “not” contain any advice on how to make slides or become a better presenter with PowerPoint. What then is the book about? Frommer states: “This book tries to understand and evaluate the devastating effects of what I have chosen to call PowerPoint thinking. It tries to understand how what started out as a simple medium accompanied, accelerated, and sometimes initiated fundamental changes in business and in the transformation of information and knowledge” (p. xv).

I found Chapters 3–5 to be the most relevant when thinking about my own professional use of PowerPoint. The reason is that these chapters include a critical analysis of some real-world examples of PowerPoint slides and major issues with using bullet points, which are so pervasive. These chapters also cover Frommer’s bold paradox of PowerPoint: “…it is the favored medium for the new ideology of creativity in business while producing very controlling (and impoverishing) frames and forms of organization and thinking” (p. 85).

To briefly sum up the rest of the book: chapters 1 and 2 thoroughly explain the entire history of PowerPoint and how “meeting” evolved to mean “presentation”, as well as  “the general contamination of all areas by PowerPoint” (p. xvi), which includes consultants (Chapter 6); Army, state and personnel management (Chapter 7); company training, and universities and schools (Chapter 8).

I found How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid to be surprisingly readable and not as intimidating as you might think for a serious study. One not-obvious audience for this book is anyone wanting to understand how to structure a presentation for use exclusively in continental Europe (Chapter 6). Also worth mentioning in closing is that the book was published first in French 2010, but not available in English until 2012, so it does not include any research from the last couple of years.

David Kowalsky
David Kowalsky is a technical writer in the Seattle area. 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.


Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content

Sara Wachter-Boettcher. 2012. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-87-3. 224 pages, including index. US$39.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.25.08 AMWachter-Boettcher addresses the contemporary issue of how to make content available not only on the desktop, but also on numerous mobile devices. Her answer lies in structuring the content so as to make it readily adaptable to these various platforms. Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content outlines procedures for accomplishing this goal. Wachter-Boettcher’s main message is in two parts: (1) we can no longer afford to design content using page models, and (2) we must stop designing content for individual platforms.

Technical communicators will recognize this approach as a logical definition of the document in a document type definition (DTD). From the early development of styles and style sheets to the Department of Defense’s Computer-Assisted Logistics System, to DTDs, to DITA, and to content management systems, technical communicators are already working to make that information accessible for many platforms including mobile devices.

For students and those new to technical communication, Wachter-Boettcher’s book introduces them to formatting information to fit a variety of purposes. For both groups, she offers contemporary insight into that age-old problem of helping users use the information in the environment that makes it readily accessible to them. However, Wachter-Boettcher presents only a high-level overview of how to structure documents.

She divides her book into four sections: two introductory chapters on content being everywhere, five chapters of modeling, four chapters on adding structure, and two chapters on her proposed new architecture. Along the way, she intersperses interviews with leading experts in content management systems, content strategies, and information architecture.

Key chapters that will interest technical communicators include one that traces the lineage of content management and mentions the role technical communicators play (chapter 2), markup (chapter 6), and content application program interfaces (APIs) (chapter 7). She also addresses issues of reusable content (chapter 10), what technical communicators may recognize as single sourcing.

Content Everywhere has plenty of screen shots to demonstrate her key points, with some showing before and after revision. Wachter-Boettcher also uses an informal style that is friendly and addresses the reader directly, and she directly addresses the reader and uses a variety of layout devices to keep that interest high.

This book is best for those who have little or no experience dealing with information that should be available on a variety of platforms—including the mobile ones. For someone more experienced, it would serve as a good review or refresher, especially if reviewing a new assignment to improve the availability of the information.

Wachter-Boettcher’s focus throughout on the user’s experience and how content management can enhance that experience should appeal to all technical communicators. Her main focus that permeates in Content Everywhere is that the content that you work with can be structured to be available on any platform.

I would recommend Content Everywhere to both those new to content management and those who want to review its contemporary status.

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.


Solving Problems in Technical Communication

Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber, eds. 2013. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-92407-6. 522 pages, including index. US$40.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.25.27 AMSolving Problems in Technical Communication is a wonderful book to be published at a time when technical communication has grown into a shifting and dynamic profession. Edited and written by over 25 experts in the field, the work assembled here will be useful to students, teachers, and professionals alike. By focusing on real-life examples of technical communication work, the book provides clear instructions and models for how to apply theory and research within a workplace setting.

The book is impeccably organized. Following an educational heuristic for the field, it is divided into four sections: Mapping the Field, Situating the Field, Understanding Field Approaches, and Developing Field Knowledge. Each of these parts contains 4–6 chapters that answer specific heuristic questions; the questions are, in fact, the titles of each chapter. And every chapter is itself a perfect example of a research paper and lesson plan rolled into one, containing a summary, introduction, literature review, heuristic, extended example, conclusion, discussion questions, and works cited.

Part 1: Mapping the Field “includes fundamental questions about what technical communicators do, where they work, and how they progress as both students and professionals” (p. 9). Especially useful in this section are the concrete work samples used as examples to show a clear context for the responsibilities, work patterns, and paths technical communicators take in contemporary organizations.

Part 2: Situating the Field answers questions about how rhetoric theory informs practice, how work tools shape and organize technical communication, and what the history and future of technical communication can teach us. This part provides helpful theories that technical communicators can use when thinking about, planning, and doing effective work.

Part 3: Understanding Field Approaches examines approaches that technical communicators use to conduct research, plan, evaluate, assess, and manage projects. Applications of technical communication via methodological procedures are described in detail with real-world examples, such as ethics and legal issues, advocating for users, studying work contexts, evaluating usability, and managing projects.

Part 4: Developing Field Knowledge “distinguishes technical communicators from … other types of writers” by explaining what technical communicators need to know about genre, writing, information design, new media, collaboration, and international environments (p. 11). This section shows how much technical communication has expanded beyond words and written texts and beyond software manuals and documentation.

Solving Problems in Technical Communication is well timed, well written, and indispensable. It covers the breadth and depth of the field, and inspires readers to learn more. It will become essential reading for anyone interested in or already working in technical communication.

Liz Pohland
Liz Pohland is an STC Senior Member, Editor of Intercom magazine, and the director of publications and content strategy for STC. She is pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University’s technical communication and rhetoric program. Her research interests include museum studies, new media, and digital humanities.


A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning

Ray Jackendoff. 2012. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-969320-7. 274 page, including index. US$29.95.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.25.37 AMSteven Pinker calls Ray Jackendoff “a monumental scholar in linguistics” (back dust cover). Jackendoff has written many books on language, cognition, and consciousness. Here he presents A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning for a lay audience, while the same material in the form of a scholarly treatise would require 1,000 pages.

The heart of Jackendoff’s argument is that thought and meaning are almost completely unconscious. We are aware of pronunciations, sentences, visual surfaces, and a small set of feelings that arise from unconscious processes. The feelings, called character tags, tell us, for example, that a certain sound or visual surface is meaningful, significant, good, taboo, based on sensory input, and so forth. If you say “thit,” I’m aware that you said something meaningless, but the mental processes that produce that awareness are as unavailable as those that tell me when to breathe (p. 41).

Jackendoff presents dozens of small examples that refute many widely held ideas and lead him to conclude that meaning is unconscious. Reading them is enlightening and delightful. They often contrast the ordinary perspective, which is natural, but can lead to paradoxes (there’s no such thing as sunsets), with the cognitive perspective, which always asks, “How does the brain do that?”

Jackendoff thinks communication is why language developed, with rational thinking as a side benefit. Rational thinking is important, but it isn’t what most of us think it is. As Lewis Carroll pointed out in What the Tortoise Said to Achilles, every syllogism relies on a hidden syllogism in an infinite regress. We rely on an unconsciously generated character tag to tell us whether the syllogism is correct.

In Thinking Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), Daniel Kahneman popularizes System 1, the fast, intuitive mode of thought, and System 2, the slow, rational mode of thought. Jackendoff says these correspond to his ideas of unconscious and conscious thought and that they are not separate. System 2 sits atop System 1 and uses its capabilities.

Jackendoff speculates on the structures that support our unconscious thinking. Besides meanings linked into conceptual structures and spatial maps, every entity that we deal with in the long or short term has a reference file, which holds everything we know about it. Rational (conscious) thinking enables us to create reference files for thoughts, so we can manipulate and explore them without losing track of them. This distinguishes us from chimpanzees.

All this has implications for teaching, learning, or becoming a virtuoso of art or science. Jackendoff illustrates this by telling how his chamber group spent 15 minutes deciding how to play the first six seconds of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet.

Jackendoff is concerned with the social consequences of his theory. He tries to show that the arts matter as much as science, and he addresses the phenomena of confirmation bias and denial. The book is densely packed with insights and ideas, which are well worth the effort of grasping them.

Richard Mateosian
Richard Mateosian is an independent technical writer in Berkeley, CA, specializing in documentation for programmers. He has written the Micro Review column in IEEE Micro since 1987. He is an STC Fellow and has volunteered in many capacities for STC.


The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed

David Shumaker. 2012. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.. [ISBN 978-1-57387-452-6. 214 pages, including index. US$49.50 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.29.00 AMWhen in school, you probably consulted a reference librarian when a Web search was inconclusive, your friends could not supply the needed information, or the teacher used your confusion as a teaching moment. You found that librarian sitting at a desk waiting for questions. Such, according to Shumaker, was the model for reference librarians for the past 200 years.

Fast-forward to today, and when you need information and the Web is once again inconclusive, your colleagues do not know the answers you need, and the manager also does not know what you’re looking for, where do you turn? David Schumacher, in his The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed, suggests in his subtitle a new model for reference librarians. The model adds a research librarian to your team along with the others: engineers, marketing specialists, and financial planners. So, instead of a librarian now participates in team decisions instead of waiting passively to respond to questions.

No doubt proposing an embedded librarian would be a hard sell, especially when companies are closing their libraries. More difficult is showing how embedded librarians add to a return on investment and can be a profit center, not a cost center, or, even revenue neutral. Schumacher’s book offers no easy answer, especially because the economic climate is constantly shifting. What it does answer are questions about what embedded librarians are and what they do.

His case studies give some insight into what such a proposal could contain. Ultimately, it comes down to demonstrating need and justifying cost.

Part one explains the history and development of an embedded librarian system and offers case studies from academic, nonprofit, for profit, and government organizations. Part two focuses on the person who would want to become an embedded librarian, beginning with an assessment of the candidate’s readiness with several questionnaires and interpretive text. Chapter 7 includes suggestions for evaluating an organization’s readiness to accept an embedded librarian. Chapter 8 shows how to become an embedded library and the last chapter offers insights into how the embedded librarian can evaluate him or herself.

The value of part two for the technical communicator who contemplates proposing an embedded librarian is that it shows the qualifications needed to be successful for not only the librarian, but also the organization. Once you present the justification and budget , knowing what kind of person would be a valuable addition to the team can strengthen the argument.

While it may seem unusual to include a review of a book targeted to librarians in this journal, it is not too far of a reach. Improving the quality of the information that a team uses is certainly within the purview of a technical communicator, because both groups have a mutual interest in quality information delivered in a timely way to those who need it.

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.


Understanding New Media

Eugenia Siapera. 2012. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. [ISBN 978-1-84860-779-8. 280 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.29.08 AMThis book introduces college students to the nature of new media, defined as the “convergence between the computational logic characteristic of the computers and the communicative logic characteristic of the media” (p. 5). It synthesizes representative scholarship clearly and concisely to establish the theoretical framework of the argument, then proceeds with an insightful analysis of the major changes engendered by new media, with particular emphasis on the transformation of self and society.

These changes include the shift from industrial to informational capitalism, or from centralized, material production to networked, immaterial production; the decentralization of media control, where readers become reporters and vice-versa; the emergence of consumers as “produsers” actively co-creating commodities with traditional suppliers; the “blurring of boundaries between work and leisure” (p. 168), visible not only in adult professional and personal life, but also in online games that instill players “with cognitive abilities and skills that serve informational capitalism” (p. 219); the expansion of surveillance “in which people are themselves turned into watchers” of each other (p. 109); and the replacement of the geographically defined nation–state with a virtual network of decentralized, “ad hoc joint ventures” and transient socio-political associations (p. 42).

New media empowers individuals with greater freedom to define their identities, yet dislodges them from a stable, predictable frame of socio-cultural reference. It promotes collaboration among newly defined individuals, appearing to enable the formation of group identity, yet simultaneously prompts those same individuals to transform their identities anew. This self-canceling process undermines the persistent identification with others that authenticates relationships and stabilizes the self.

The variable new self is now experienced as a “space of flows” (p. 15) where time “can no longer be divided, measured and compartmentalized into specific slots” (p. 127), but is replaced with a “timeless time” that redefines the person “as an autonomous communication node” (pp. 127, 199). The existential self disappears into a virtual, protean world of infinite replication and revision that renders the relevance of ethnic, cultural, or statist (territorialist) identity arbitrary.

For the technical communicator, the issue of informational instability crystallizes in the vulnerability of intellectual property to piracy, especially as legal compliance disappears with the dissolution of the nation–state charged with enforcement. Siapera foresees a Habermasian model of deliberative democracy as the likely best governance model for resolving such issues, because “all stakeholders are represented,” all are “included in the decision-making process,” and all are required to advance “rational arguments until a consensual decision is made” (pp. 244–245). For now, technical barriers to replication may be the technical communicator’s best defense against intellectual theft.

Though well-organized for classroom use, Understanding New Media’s main font is too small to read comfortably, the margins are too big, and the “E-tivities” (student exercise) sections are barely readable in faint gray text. Correcting these problems would ensure wider classroom adoption of an otherwise balanced, well-researched introduction to the new media.

Donald R. Riccomini
Donald R. Riccomini is a member of STC and a lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specializes in teaching engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.


Cultural Technologies: The Shaping of Culture in Media and Society

Göran Bolin, ed. 2012. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN: 978-0-415-89311-4, 210 pages, including index. US $135.00.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.29.22 AMYou might be hard-pressed to find someone who does not have a comment or concern about how technology affects our lives, most especially our future. In a world where speculation abounds about this very topic, Cultural Technologies: The Shaping of Culture in Media and Society offers research-based and insightful “analyses of technological phenomena as well as epistemological discussions on the uses of technology” (p. 10).

The articles that comprise this anthology span the histories of particular technologies, the relationship between technology and knowledge, and lastly, the uses of technologies in cultural contexts. Many of the chapters are a good example of mixing functional and critical literacy, such as “The algorithmic turn,” a chapter that discusses how Photosynth (Photosynth.net) works, as well as how an algorithm can act as an author. Other chapters offer unique perspectives on technologies like how Web 2.0, most especially blogs and social networking sites, can be considered technologies that foster self care. This concept of self care or “technologies of the self” implies that some technologies can and are used for the purpose of transforming the self, of attaining a state of happiness in one way or another. This idea self flies in the face of more popular beliefs surrounding the egotistical aspects of Web 2.0, such as how social networking feeds generations of individuals who believe themselves entitled and who seek any form of attention they can get. Likewise, historical chapters frame present day use with lenses that lead to critical reflection on the evolution of certain technologies that we may sometimes take for granted, such as CDs, digital audio files, and peer-to-peer file sharing.

The collection of articles in Cultural Technologies has breadth and leaves room for ample discussion on cultural perspectives and more pragmatic matters concerning hardware and software technologies. For American audiences, the diverse international authorship is refreshing and broadens discussions on culture, technology, and globalization.

Diane Martinez
Diane Martinez is an assistant professor of professional and technical communication at Western Carolina University. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist. She has been with STC since 2005.


How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them

Ben Yagoda. 2013. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. [ISBN 978-1-59448-848-1. 178 pages. US$15.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.29.41 AMBen Yagoda teaches journalism at the University of Delaware. His aim in How to Not Write Bad is to help writers write not badly. Yagoda is a premier wordsmith, as he shows throughout the book, and he would probably re-write the previous sentence so that I didn’t repeat the word “write.”

His audience for the book is students, high school and college teachers, and “everyone who wants to improve his or her prose” (p. 3). I would assume the latter would include most STC members, and would particularly interest those of us who also teach, whether full-time or part-time. One thing I was looking for in this book was confirmation of what I’m seeing in my students and in writing in general. And, what he writes in this book confirms it.

The single most important thing I got out of this book is the importance of reading for writing. I’ve been preaching this sermon for several years to my students. Yagoda writes, “By osmosis, they [good writers] learn from the reading an incalculable amount about vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, style, rhythm, tone, and other crucial writing matters” (p. 15). He confirms what I always tell students about research: “Your writing will improve in direct proportion to the amount you read” (p. 20). I could substitute the word “grade” for “writing” in that sentence and it would still be true.

Yagoda urges what he calls “mindfulness” in writing. That means that you pay attention to nothing else when you’re writing. What does he exclude? Multi-tasking. That means that I cannot listen to classical music while writing this review and or a Cubs game while I’m grading papers. And, those are mild compared to what many students are doing today while they’re doing their homework.

We always discuss the importance of spell-checking in my writing class, and I’ve even been dinged on that at work. Yet, while it may not be possible to proofread a 1,000-page report at work, I do expect my students to proofread a five-page essay. Hear what Yagoda has to say: “Spell-check, in many ways a wonderful innovation, has caused spelling muscles—never robust to begin with—to atrophy to the point that they now have the firmness of mint jelly” (p. 61). Spell-checking has inspired a false sense of confidence, when we should be living with a dictionary at arm’s reach at all times.

While I love How to Not Write Bad, I do wish Yagoda had documented the source of some of his wonderful quotes. The paper is cheap and the book has an abrupt ending. And, while the parallelism of the last sentence in his book is rough, it sums up his program nicely: “If you turn off the music, you’re mindful, and you read, read, read, you can do it” (p. 172).

Charles R. Crawley
Charles R. Crawley is a long-time STC member and adjunct professor of English and business at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality

Markus Werning, Wolfram Hinzen and Edouard Machery, eds. 2012. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN: 978-0-19-954107-2. 746 pages, including index. US$150.00.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.29.48 AMThis weighty tome is a compendium of scholarly articles on compositionality, a notion “first introduced as a constraint on the relation between the syntax and the semantics of languages” (p. 1). Originally the domain of logic, psychology and linguistics, the principle of compositionality over the last two centuries has been applied to an expanding range of disciplines as diverse as neuroscience and computer programming. By including chapters representing these various disciplines in The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality, editors Markus Werning, Wolfram Hinzen and Edouard Machery hope to find “an audience in the broader cognitive science community, including philosophy, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, modelling, and logic” (p. 2).

The principle of compositionality, most often attributed to Gottlob Frege, is commonly stated as: “The meaning of a compound expression is a function of the meanings of its parts and of the way they are syntactically combined” (p. 19). This concept has spawned “myriad controversies in regards to its scope, formulation, and psychological reality” (p. 1). Similarly, the statement of the principle is open for interpretation. For example, do the parts have meaning within themselves or only when taken together? Contextualism, judging the meaning of an expression through its context, also possibly attributed to Frege, continues to be the main opposing principle espoused by scholars. Each of the more than 40 contributors to The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality has been invited to weigh in on “almost every major aspect of these controversies” (p. 2) Thus the handbook provides not only a sampling of points of view among the disciplines adhering to the principle of compositionality, but also a cross-section of thought and opinion on the merits of the principle itself.

Authors of the handbook’s 32 chapters represent academic institutions from around the globe. Articles are labeled clearly so readers may choose those that most interest them. Many chapters offer a conclusion or summary paragraph, another aid in determining relevance to the reader. The chapters are organized into seven sections: History and Overview; Compositionality in Language; Compositionality in Formal Semantics; Lexical Decomposition; The Compositionality of Mind; Evolutionary and Communicative Success; and Neural Models of Compositional Representation. They are followed by an extensive list of references.

Because compositionality is “often regarded as a virtually defining feature for the discipline of formal semantics” (p. 1), The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality is of special interest to technical communicators whose field of study is linguistics and who would like to have a survey of current thinking on compositionality, either for their own use or for the classroom.

Linda M. Davis
Linda M. Davis is an independent communications practitioner in the Los Angeles area. She holds an MA in communication management and has specialized in strategic communication planning, publication management, writing, and editing for more than 25 years. Linda is active in the STC Los Angeles chapter.


Internet Research Skills

Niall Ó Dochartaigh. 2012. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ISBN 978-0-85702-529-6. 200 pages, including index. US$43.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.30.03 AMWe often do Internet research haphazardly. The most common mistake is always relying on the same search engine to blindly seek “everything” on any given topic.

Niall Ó Dochartaigh encourages us to take a more reasoned approach. With attempts to catalog the Internet long dead, he says, we must turn to sophisticated keyword search and specialized subject guides. He advises, “In this new environment, the most important research skills relate to channelling, evaluating, selecting and restricting information rather than the simple assembling of large quantities of related information” (p. 2).

He addresses serious researchers who need to improve their efficiency as they regularly seek the best sources in their disciplines and network with other experts. Seven main chapters provide guidelines and expert hints on using databases to locate academic articles and books, harnessing the “open Web” to mine the information on your personal subjects of interest, using advanced tricks to take full advantage of Yahoo! and other keyword search engines, using new interactive services to create new ways of understanding data, unlocking seemingly hidden government information, and evaluating online sources.

Each chapter provides a surprising amount of advice through screenshots and boxed strategies, tips, technical definitions, and examples. (A list summarizes the content of each box.) Challenging end-of-chapter questions require you to use material relevant to your work.

I pride myself on my research skills, but Ó Dochartaigh has prompted me to adopt smarter practices. He offers many methods that I didn’t know and many that I did know, and should use. Here are a few examples:

  • Explore major sources in your field to establish context before turning to general search engines.
  • Search engines often read only home pages, so mine the subpages of a site.
  • Combine resources where possible. For example, use Google Scholar along with structured full-text databases to get a surprising number of articles.
  • Learn the often hidden switches that make online resources more powerful. For example, enter the ISBN of a book into Wikipedia’s “Book sources” page to see masses of detail related to that book.
  • Use the best tools for certain types of searches. Thus, when searching blogs, use perhaps Technorati.com.
  • Don’t overload a Google query: Google uses only the first 10 words.
  • When using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature, use both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
  • Use Google Books or Amazon search to supplement the indexing of a book you already own.

The book is a bit uneven in coverage. Ó Dochartaigh is brilliant on structured databases, archives, and search engines. However, he offers less on new research networks and online surveys.

Be aware that his primary focus is the humanities and social sciences, not science and technology. Even so, use his methods, and you can easily adopt his suggestions to your own research.

Sage Publications titles have long won praise for accuracy and strong methodology. Internet Research Skills further solidifies that reputation.

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.


The UX Book: Process and Guidelines for Ensuring a Quality User Experience

Rex Hartson and Pardha S. Pyla. 2012. Waltham, MA: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN: 978-0-12-385241-0. 938 pages, including index. US$89.95.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.30.20 AMIn this excellent new book, Rex Hartson and Pardha Pyla bring UX (user experience—the broad view of what started out as usability and usability testing) up to date. Just as the STC special interest group has changed its name from Usability to Usability and User Experience, Hartson and Pyla realize that we have moved from “make this easy to use” to “let’s understand the users’ world and find a way to make it better for them.” Their view of UX includes the traditional attributes of usability: effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. It also includes newer views that expand UX to social and cultural interaction, value-sensitive design, and emotional impact (joy, fun, aesthetics).

The UX Book is a worthy successor to the pioneering book on usability and user interface design that Hartson wrote with Deborah Hix in 1993. Hartson’s new co-author, Pardha Pyla, brings up-to-date experience as Senior User Experience Specialist and Lead Interaction Designer for Mobile Platforms at Bloomberg.

In The UX Book, Hartson and Pyla take us through what they call “the Wheel,” (p. xii) a very logical iterative process for user-experience design (analyze, design, prototype, evaluate). They expand each element of their Wheel through several chapters of practical explanation and examples.

After more than 600 pages on the process, Hartson and Pyla add more value with chapters on special topics such as agile development and a long chapter on guidelines. They preface the guidelines with a discussion of cognitive science principles. The authors present each guideline with explanations and examples, as well as remind readers that context always matters. Stating guidelines is easy. Knowing when and how to apply them in a particular context is not always easy. The UX Design Guidelines chapter with its more than 100 pages could have been an excellent book in itself.

Hartson and Pyla have achieved a remarkable synthesis of textbook and trade book. The UX Book is extremely practical, written in a conversational style, with a running case study, and many pictures and examples. It is also deeply grounded in theory and research. Descriptions of relevant research with citations lead to 23 pages of references. These research descriptions and references add credibility and value to the very practical process the book teaches.

For instructors or for self-study, The UX Book includes exercises that are called out briefly in context and described in detail at the back of the book. A companion Web site offers more help to instructors.

This comprehensive book brings together and updates so many of the books that have been part of any UX practitioner’s library that it could be the one book you now need to understand and practice UX design. Despite the book’s length, a detailed table of contents and a 32-page index make specific topics easy to find.

Janice (Ginny) Redish
Janice (Ginny) Redish is President of Redish & Associates in Bethesda, Maryland. Ginny is an STC Fellow and former member of STC’s Board of Directors. Her latest book, Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works, (2nd edition, Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier, 2012) gets rave reviews at book sites and in blogs.


The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design

Editors of Phaidon. 2012. London, England: Phaidon. [ISBN 978-0-7148-4867-9. 1000 pages. US$235.00.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.30.35 AMIn many respects, The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design is impressive. In the first place, it is big and definitely heavy. It is a book-in-a-box that comes with its own carrying harness made from nylon webbing. Potential readers should note that the size and weight of this box discourages any real notion of portability. All that weight comes from the 500 cards inside which measure 9.5” wide by 12.5” tall. The pages themselves are plain white matte cardstock, so each one feels about like a poster. Each card features a large, usually color, image on the front and two or three smaller images, also usually color, on the back with a small block of text. This page size allows for large images and a good amount of detail.

The content is equally impressive. The set is divided into 15 categories ranging from Book Design and Typography, to Posters and Film Graphics. Sitting down with this box is like sitting down with a bag of potato chips. It’s hard to eat just one. The text included for each example is quick and engaging. Readers will find themselves, as I did, reading card after card and thinking, “That’s really interesting!” after each one.

The scope of this collection is both impressive and disappointing: Impressive because the editors have managed to distill the history of graphic design into 500 cards and disappointing because the entire history of graphic design is represented in only 500 cards. Granted, these are all great examples and are definitely high points in the evolution of the field, but it seems a shame to have limited thousands of years of history to only 500 examples. Of course, this is the normal quibble for a book such as this one that tries to be as comprehensive as possible given the page limitation. Lots of great graphic design work will be left out. Readers should perhaps come to this collection prepared to enjoy and be inspired by the examples, included rather than lamenting the work that has been left out.

The limitation of the content is not what will keep readers away from this set, though. What I think will keep many readers from having this set in their personal graphic design library is the cost. It is unfortunate because despite the limitation of scope common to all graphic design history books, this is a great collection. Its presentation is unique and the big images make possible the close examination of minute details. While the price tag might prevent this from becoming part of a personal library, it would be a wonderful addition to a local public or university library if it isn’t there already.

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.


Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-based Graphic Design

Andrew Shea. 2012. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. [ISBN 978-1-61689-0476. 167 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.30.47 AMAndrew Shea’s Designing for Social Change: Strategies for Community-based Graphic Design highlights 10 specific strategies for assistance in the development of community-based graphic design projects. The book follows a very precise format where each chapter defines one of the strategies, each of which are conveniently listed on the book’s front cover, and then shows two examples of community-based projects with the strategy in action (20 in all). The book’s layout is easy to follow with text blocks in each example that identify the specifics that were unique to each project: Project Details, Design Challenge, Engagement Strategy, Design Strategy, Outcomes, and Lessons Learned. These callouts make it easy to identify the main components of each featured community-based project example. Each example is also accompanied with excellent images of the designer’s solution to the design problem and, in some cases, the images of alternate works that were selected for final use instead of the highlighted designer’s solution. All these things help to provide the reader with sound insight on community-based design.

The book is a result of Shea’s work he did while studying for his Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and is an expansion of the thesis project that he did while there. Designing for Social Change is intended to be a guide for anyone who is considering taking on non-profit work, whether they are new to designing for social change or have done non-profit work before, which is an area of growing interest.

Each example that follows one of the listed strategies shows great ways that designers have become involved with their community to improve something that they were aware of in their own community that needed to be addressed and the design solution that they used to solve the issue. While not all the solutions were successful, it was refreshing that Shea included the solutions that didn’t quite meet the needs of the organizations or communities that they were working for.

The final segment of Designing for Social Change addresses funding for social design, which can be one of the biggest issues for designers working in this field. In fact, some of the solutions that were developed in this book were never realized due to lack of funding. This segment offers advice and resources on how to get funding through grants and granting writing, as well as doing social design as pro bono work.

Amanda Horton
Amanda Horton holds an MFA in design and currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Central Oklahoma in the areas of design technology, design studio and history of graphic design. She serves as a book reviewer for Technical Communication.


Communicating Clearly about Science and Medicine: Making Data Presentations as Simple as Possible … but No Simpler

John Clare. 2012. Surrey, England: Gower Publishing Company. [ISBN 978-1-4094-4037-6. 186 pages, including index. US$54.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.30.56 AMCommunicating Clearly about Science and Medicine: Making Data Presentations as Simple as Possible … but No Simpler is a guide meant for physicians, scientists, and academics who must discuss health information, clinical trials, or science to a wide range of audiences. In this book, Clare focuses on three communication types: peer-to-peer communication, communication to non-experts, and media interviews.

The information contained in this book is the same basic information about presenting technical material found in any technical communication textbook. Some topics covered are presenting effective PowerPoint slides, formatting clear and readable visuals, presentation style, and planning a technical presentation. Clare, however, uses real life examples from science and medicine to illustrate his points.

While the examples undoubtedly serve as useful templates for physicians and scientists who are not familiar with giving presentations, there are so many textual and visual examples that they become overwhelming. The overabundance of block quotations and visuals resulted in my losing sight of the goal of the section that I was reading. Further, in Chapter 4, Illustrating Your Talk, Clare often discusses the colors of the PowerPoint slides in the examples. It was difficult to visualize what he was discussing since Communicating Clearly about Science and Medicine is not printed in color.

Clare does offer helpful advice for novice and seasoned health communicators. Chapter 3, Preparing Your Talk, covers some of the most valuable information on advanced techniques for planning a technical presentation (the grid system for preparing a presentation), helpful advice about tailoring the information for the audience by anticipating their attitudes and objections, and information about focusing on the audience’s current level of understanding about the subject while planning the talk. Chapter 7, Media Interview Techniques, is vital because most texts that cover scientific and medical communication do not offer information about dealing with the media. The points that are especially illuminating in this chapter included information about communicating with a general audience, giving a memorable interview, and strategies to ensure that you communicate clearly so that the journalist does not misunderstand or misquote you.

Communicating Clearly about Science and Medicine is a helpful guide about giving presentations and interviews for physicians, scientists, and academics. Clare offers specific advice with helpful examples that are situated within the field of medicine. While the book is geared toward novice presenters, experienced professionals will find useful information for improving their presentation skills.

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.


Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists & Engineers

Felice C. Frankel and Angela H. DePace. 2012. New Haven, NY: Yale University Press. [ISBN 978-0-3001-7644-5. 154 pages, including index. US$35.00 (spiral).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.31.22 AMVisual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists & Engineers offers a practical guide to increasing the effectiveness of visual representation in the sciences and engineering. Using examples encountered in their own work, Frankel and DePace, in collaboration with graphic designers Stefan Sagmeister and CHIPS, produce a book with the same look and feel as its accompanying Web site, to encourage a fruitful dialogue between the two media.

This hybridization of information allows for updating of examples and collaboration by visitors to the Web site based on five fundamental graphical tools identified as key to producing effective visuals. These tools are presented as a grid for measuring changes made to “before” and “after” versions of an image (shown on facing pages) improved by applying some or all of the tools. Grey dots by each graphical tool grid indicate no change to the original; orange dots represent tools “used to improve the figure” (p. 11). Visual Strategies is purposely designed to “show by example” (p. 10).

The grid tools refer to ways of altering the graphic’s composition, degree of abstraction, color, layering (superimposing images upon each other to highlight differences within one visual field), and refinement (adding or subtracting meta-elements, such as labels, arrows, call-outs). The graphical grid includes the authors’ comments on the effectiveness of each criterion and offers the rationale for introducing a change.

The overview section of the text explains the tools themselves with examples. The tool grid is situated within a broader context of four basic questions: who is the audience, how will the image be used, what is the goal in displaying the image, and what is the challenge in making the image effective. The authors offer analysis and suggestions of how sample graphics might be evaluated with these questions, and then present the original and revised images with the explanatory tool grid.

Further examples from science and engineering are grouped by the graphic’s purpose (form and structure, process and time, compare and contrast). These analyses are of finished images that could have been further improved. Case studies—written by contributors from the physical sciences, engineering, and computer science—explain how their images evolved from rough sketches into effective graphics. A final chapter similarly includes various authors explaining how they developed their interactive graphics (with the animations accessible on the book’s Web site).

The recurrent focus on four fundamental questions and five basic tools provides a consistent, analytical frame of reference while allowing scientists freedom to make their own design choices. The text does indeed “show” rather than “tell” how to create more effective graphics. Visual Strategies itself embodies this practical approach: tabbed, color-coded sections enable usability and the unusual vinyl cover allows pages to lie flat and protects against moisture in the lab or field. This book is recommended for readers comfortable with emulating model practitioners and “learning by doing.”

Donald R. Riccomini
Donald R. Riccomini is a member of STC and a lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specializes in teaching engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.


Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations

Clay Spinuzzi. 2013. Austin, TX: CreateSpace. [ISBN 978-1-4819-6006-9. 302 pages. US$24.99 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.31.31 AMClay Spinuzzi’s self-published Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations is written for working writers, technical communicators, workplace researchers, startup entrepreneurs, or team managers interested in how and why information flows—or not—in their organization. This book’s goal is to help readers obtain an “understanding of the big picture,” (p. iv) in their current working or research context by using valid, reliable, and consistent research methods.

Spinuzzi achieves his goal with ease through accessible writing, scaffolding of skills and best practices, and supporting claims and practices with multiple examples. Chapter 2: Developing a Research Design is arguably the book’s most important chapter as it provides an overview of research methods, approach, intention, and data collection. This chapter and several others could be easily excerpted for research courses. The book builds on this foundation with multiple chapters on preparing, executing, and analyzing research in the field. Concrete examples enrich these chapters. Anecdotes explicate Spinuzzi’s points—particularly in chapter 3, how to protect yourself as a researcher, and in chapter 4, where the author’s experience in getting permission to conduct research could benefit new researchers. Besides anecdotes, Spinuzzi provides substantive sample interview questions, consent forms, and research design. These resources offer a model for new researchers who must submit their research proposals for work with human subjects to an Institutional Review Board. For research instructors, Topsight is rich foundational text that provides multiple sample documents. The book is a powerful research training tool with a conceptual API that should work with almost any basic research course.

Topsight has three small, yet notable shortfalls. First, while Spinuzzi references few theorists and jargon is virtually absent from the text, Actor Network Theory (ANT) appears in Chapter 20. This is no surprise given the author’s prior work with Network and Tracing Genres through Organizations. However, Spinuzzi slips and writes assuming the reader knows more about ANT than most new researchers would. Second, each chapter ends with useful exercises that center on group work and do not fully address the solo researcher’s needs. Finally, during my review, I experience difficult viewing the book’s illustrations on two different Kindle models, which might limit the audience’s takeaways. [Editor’s Note: The illustrations in the printed volume are black-and-white with a moderate difficulty in reading them based on the book’s size.]

Technical communicators work in diverse environments, from Web start-ups to engineering departments. Spinuzzi’s Topsight offers a potential research lingua franca to technical communicators working with professionals, practitioners, students, or academics who are not familiar with technical communication and its research practices or terminology. This book is a gracious ambassadorial bridge between technical communication and others because it exemplifies the STC values.

Gregory Zobel
Gregory Zobel is an assistant professor of educational technology at Western Oregon University. Trained in technical communication, usability, and rhetoric, he supports and trains educators employing technology to enhance and enrich learner engagement, accessibility, and content delivery in person and online.


What Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing

Philippa J. Benson and Susan C. Silver. 2013. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-04314-2. 178 pages, including index. US$20.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.31.42 AMWhat Editors Want: An Author’s Guide to Scientific Journal Publishing is based on workshops the authors have given in China. It provides a thorough explanation of the basic workings of science publishing and gives the readers a perspective on not only what requirements they may encounter in trying to publish, but why those requirements are in place. The readers also receive good suggestions on how to meet those requirements.

The authors address topics that include fundamental concerns such as choosing the right journal in which to submit, authorship issues, and how to write a worthwhile cover letter. Some other topics include the impact factors of journals, preparing for manuscript submission (subtitled “What Editors wish you knew”), an overview of the peer review process, and ways to deal with the variety of journal decisions one might receive after submitting an article. The book’s appendices include a listing of resources for authors (including academic and government Web sites and lists of style manuals and writing textbooks) and a pre-submission checklist.

Benson and Silver wrote What Editors Want in second person, directly addressing their readers as “you.” This choice allowed them to write simply and makes reading their text quite easy. A variety of sidebars, written by experts, amplifies the text and adds perspective. These are set in italic to distinguish them from the main text, but they use the same page margins and only dotted rules at the top and bottom. I forgot several times I was reading a sidebar when it extended to several pages.

This book would be ideal for new authors in science or those unfamiliar with writing and publishing on scientific subjects.  In truth, many researchers beyond their student years might benefit from some of the insights provided about publishing their articles—particularly in the chapters about choosing a journal to submit to and preparing for manuscript submission—but they are likely to find the pace of the book too deliberate. While What Editors Want is not pitched to those established researchers, it is an excellent treatment for those new to publishing their research in scientific journals.

David E. Nadziejka
David E. Nadziejka is the biomedical editor at Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI, and an STC fellow. He has been a science and engineering editor for over 25 years and has taught technical communication courses at the Institute of Paper Chemistry, Argonne National Laboratory, and Illinois Institute of Technology. His major professional topics of interest are substantive editing and levels of edit.


Rethinking Academic Writing Pedagogy for the European University

Ruth Breeze. 2012. Amsterdam: Rodopi. [ISBN 978-90-420-3520-1. 180 pages. US$54.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.31.51 AM“. . . effective written English is likely to empower our students more than many other intellectual accomplishments” (p. 91). Thus, Breeze sets up her approach to teaching non-native speakers of English (L2) how to write successfully in an academic setting. Rethinking Academic Writing Pedagogy for the European University offers language teachers as well as those who work with L2 individuals an approach to teaching them how to write.

She identifies two types of training in writing: Writing in an academic setting and writing at work. As Breeze’s title suggests, her prime concern is with teaching students to write so that they can succeed in the academy. One thing Breeze excludes from academic writing is preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which requires a different kind of writing in a timed setting.

Breeze groups Rethinking Academic Writing into 10 chapters and three parts: chapters 1–5 describe the various approaches and models used by writing teachers of native speakers (L1); chapters 6–8 describe new concepts and trends; and chapters 9–10 offer a summary and draw tentative conclusions with advice on the principles employed to teach L2 students. Throughout, she makes one point quite clear: you cannot employ the strategies and models used to teach L1 students to write to L2 students. There are too many differences including those associated with the cultural attitudes toward writing and the approaches L2 students are used to before they attend a university.

The problems Breeze notes are centered on instruction in writing that is almost an afterthought to English as a Second Language instruction. She wants to change that model and move that instruction to a more prominent place in the curriculum. Look at any discipline in a European university and you will find considerable instruction being offered in English with the requirement that the students write their class papers, theses, and dissertations in English.

Some key features in Rethinking Academic Writing include an historical survey of the research into the evolution of approaches to teaching writing, from imitating models to understanding the process used to create a written document, to a combination with a shift from models to genres.

Breeze writes a typical academic book, yet no index is available, making tracking a particular topic almost impossible. Also, she listed several sources and then failed to include them in the bibliography. Finally, the book has numerous typos that should have been noticed before publishing. The book has some value if you are interested in how teaching writing in the US differs from teaching it in European universities, how L2 students differ from L1 students and why methods used with L1 students do not work, and how one would go about teaching writing to L2 students. Technical communicators working with L2 writers can also find Rethinking Academic Writing of value in understanding the problems L2 writers face.

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.


The Oxford Handbook of Business and Government

David Coen, Wyn Grant, and Graham Wilson. 2010. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-969374-0.788 pages, including index. US$49.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.32.00 AMThe interaction between business and government has a major effect on how we live our lives every day, which was especially clear during the Great Depression and Financial Crisis of 2008 when large banks collapsed, people lost their savings, and some even lost their homes. The relationship between business and government is important to technical communicators because writing is a key activity that manages this relationship through writing regulations to collaborating with writers from across the world to create both business and government documents.

Coen, Grant, and Wilson provide a comprehensively edited handbook that discusses and analyzes the relationship between business and government in various settings across the world. The editors include contributions from authors that address specific policy issues that are important because of the relationship. This handbook provides context to issues that affect writing, yet does not explicitly discuss writing. Also, you never read handbooks from cover to cover.

The Oxford Handbook of Business and Government is a lengthy and distinct five section read. The first section addresses the business and government relationship from four different disciplines: political science, economics, law, and business studies. The second section discusses how these entities interact in different settings, such as business and political parties or capitalism’s effect on business. The third section discusses global viewpoints from the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Section four addresses how governments regulate corporations. Finally, section five focuses on various policy issues that affect businesses including competition policy, training policy, and environmental policy.

This book provides great context on the following issues of interest to technical communication scholars:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR): Scholars interested in how CSR is communicated would find Chapter 22 useful as it distinguishes the various types of CSR in different political environments.

Environmentalism: There is a critical mass of literature in technical communication about environmental policy and environmentalism. Chapter 29 discusses how environmental and food safety policies are regulated by both national and international entities.

Regulatory writing: Section four addresses how various government entities regulate businesses. Scholars interested in regulatory writings’ effect on business would find this section useful.

Overall, this handbook should be on the shelves of any academic researching writing or communication that negotiates the relationship between business and government. Furthermore, perhaps the technical communication discipline can add a similar handbook to the discussion.

J.A. Dawson
J.A. Dawson is a PhD student in technical and professional discourse at East Carolina University.


Microsoft Manual of Style: the Everyday Guide to Usage, Technology, and Style for Technical Communications

Microsoft Corporation. 2012. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press. [ISBN 976-0-7356-4871-5. 438 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.32.14 AMI am an unabashed fan of style guides. I admire the thought and detail that goes into creating one and the challenges inherent in refining the style-vision of the author(s) over time. Depending on where you work and the industry, you might have a choice of style guides that you can apply to your projects.

If you work on technical topics—from software to applications to Web pages—you’ll benefit from having the Microsoft Manual of Style on your office bookshelf. Subtitled “the everyday guide to usage, technology, and style for technical communications,” this 435+ page guide is comprehensive and clearly written. And, quite honestly, it appears to cover everything, from acronyms and abbreviations to punctuation, grammar, international concerns, mouse terminology, and the user interface.

The team of Microsoft writers and editors who helped create the guide uses it in their work. In the Foreword, Director of Language Services Suzanne Sowinska describes watching users struggle with new features in software prototypes because “the words on the user interface aren’t easy to follow or descriptive enough” (p. xvii). The authors’ goal—our collective goal as technical communicators—is to “make the customer experience much better” (p. xvii).

The user interface section takes almost 50 pages and introduces the “first wave” of a new style called natural user interface (NUI) that is found, for example, on smartphones and game consoles. NUI includes speech and gestures besides traditional keyboard interfaces. This section is especially important for technical communicators who work on projects where consistent labeling of the various elements of windows and dialog boxes is critical to user understanding.

In several sections, the authors offer examples of Microsoft style and not Microsoft style (which is not labeled as “wrong”). For example, when documenting a procedure, Microsoft style does not call for a colon or ellipsis to be included in a step even if the dialog box includes that punctuation. This easy-to-follow convention allows for quick comparisons.

Helpful tables are included throughout the guide, from a list of special characters (p. 165) with mostly obvious descriptions to a dozen-page table of acronyms (p. 217) with numerous, specific comments (for example, FTP is not a verb) and a cloud terminology table (p. 112). A 200+ page usage dictionary and a 17-page index are at the end of the guide.

Easy-to-use, well-written and organized, and with a nice lay-flat binding, the Microsoft Manual of Style is a gem.

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.


The Network Society

Jan van Dijk. 2012. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [ISBN 978-1-4462-4896-6. 326 pages, including index. US$47.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.32.26 AMDuring the 20th century, society relied on print, radio, television, and telephone to communicate. And, as author Jan Van Dijk points out in The Network Society, the 20th century networks were simple and included roads, telephone wires, and cable television. However, the 21st century began with a new global communications revolution: the age of electronic networks. We now have Wi-Fi connections, wireless phones, digital television, and computers (desktop, laptop). The new media are entering our private lives. For example, we can now be reached 24 hours a day via e-mail and phone no matter our location. No longer are we conversing over dinner in a restaurant, but it is more common now for each person at the table to have an electronic device.

I find reading Van Dijk’s book similar to what a reader in the 1950s must have felt while reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Van Dijk addresses the key areas affected by our electronic revolution: economy, politics, law, social structure, culture, and psychology. The Network Society describes the multi-faceted impact of the digital age that we don’t think about nor are we told about in our daily lives.

With the need to access data from remote locations, data storage is moving to a more centralized location, the cloud. The cloud consists of central servers that contain our software and stored data. Among the largest companies involved in the cloud are Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. Although this new trend of centralizing data works and may be cost effective for many companies, the possibility arises of personal data being monitored by private companies or companies losing control of their own data.

Three big companies—Microsoft, Apple, and Google—are involved in telephone, computer/internet, and broadcasting netting multi-billion dollar profit. In fact, Google’s $29.3 billion revenue in 2010, for example, was from advertising.

I found the chapter on psychology to be the most profound chapter in The Network Society. As a mother of a teenager, I was struck by the possible impact of the digital age on the psychology of children. “An extremely dark potential consequence of the second-best social personality would be the loss of empathy for fellow humans of flesh and blood” (p. 267). Van Dijk points out that today’s young people, while always connected, feel deprived of attention. We need to devote more of our attention without the electronic devices to our children.

As a technical writer who is involved in mobile applications for hand-held electronic devices, I found this book exposes the numbing effect of this electronic network revolution. There is an old story that a frog can slowly be boiled alive if placed in cold water that is slowly heated. It will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The water in the pot is being heated with the electronic networking of our time. Van Dijk provides us with the wake-up call we need.

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).


Scientific Papers and Presentations

Martha Davis, Kaaron Davis, and Marion Dunagan. 2012. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Elsevier Inc. [ISBN 978-0-12-384727-0. 342 pages, including index. US$ $44.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.32.36 AMScientific Papers and Presentations is intentionally written for scientific graduate students, who need assistance with writing and communicating with non-scientists. The book specifically lays out ideal techniques for scientific writing. It is easy to follow and has an excellent table of contents and appendix. The chapters range from information pertaining to “writing first drafts” to “communication with non-scientists.” The authors have put together a book for scientific writing that feels like a step-by-step set of instructions. It is so easy to follow.

The table of contents appears in a format that makes it easy to find and access exactly what a science writer needs. If a student or professional needs to know how to write a specific scientific paper or presentation, they do not need to dig through the entire book looking for specifics. It is clearly distinguished in the table of contents with a page number provided.

Scientific Papers and Presentations covers everything needed for scientific publications from format to ethics. “We provide the fundamentals of communication along with discussion of associated topics such as ethics and legal issues, communication without words, the challenges faced by international student, communication with non-scientists, and other concerns that anyone working in science may encounter” (p. xvii).

Each chapter simply explains details needed for a competent written report or explanation of information. Several other authors are also referenced for further instruction. This gives the reader a broad spectrum of information and styles of writing. The authors encourage the reader to pay attention closely to chapters 1 and 2. Not only do they provide vital introductory information, but they also make several recommendations for other readings if needed. Personally I recommend chapter 3, Organizing and Writing a Rough Draft, to be a must-read as well. It provides an in-depth explanation of outlining and brainstorming. This step is vital to the writing process.

The remainder of the chapters discusses literature selections, different documentation types, and how to write and present for the audience.

Scientific Papers and Presentations is a well-written book as well as being clear and easy to follow. This book will be beneficial not just to scientists, but anyone who struggles with their writing.

Margaret Wagner
Margaret Wagner is a student at the University of Houston-Downtown majoring in professional writing with a minor in digital media. She is providing book reviews and performing other intern-related tasks for the STC Book Reviews Editor of the Technical Communication journal.


My Ideal Bookshelf

Thessaly La Force, ed. 2012. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. [ISBN 978-0-316-20090-5. 228 pages. US$24.99.]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.44.18 AMNow for a little something different. Quiz: (1) Name 10 books that are meaningful in your life, and (2) write about 265 words justifying your selections. Use one or more of these key criteria: (1) The books represent you; (2) they changed your life; (3) they made you who you are today; and (4) they are favorites of favorites. (They list three more, but these are the key ones.) La Force asked over 100 people in various disciplines for their choices and explanations, collecting the results in My Ideal Bookshelf.

Included among the disciplines of the respondents are writers, artists, journalists, curators, architects, librarians, and 17 others from the humanities, technical fields, and law. La Force admits that the listing for all respondents is but a snapshot. As life goes on, the contents of the shelf will probably change. But, it is an interesting picture of what has helped shape the lives and work of these respondents.

Unfortunately, much is left for you to figure out why some books are important. Some respondents talk about favorites, but many comments provide only biographical background. You might puzzle over certain books selected. For example, Tony Hawk selected books that emphasize perseverance and endurance, yet there’s a copy of Dr. Seuss in his list.

Jane Mount faithfully reproduces the spines of the books selected but adds subtle touches such as different bookends and small birds looking into the books. Even the dust jacket surprises because you suddenly realize that the spines of the seven books are really the criteria used by the respondents. The last page offers you the opportunity to name your favorites, after which you are invited to scan the page and send it to idealbookshelf.com.

A snapshot of the snapshot: Tony Frere-Jones, typeface designer, lists 10 books, but only one is directly connected to typeface design: Printing Types Made at Bruce’s New York Type-Foundry, 1882. Unusual choices include Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Rand McNally’s Cosmopolitan World Atlas.

Malcolm Gladwell, writer, uses books for ideas. He is currently at work on a new book on crime and power, so his bookshelf contains 12 books that support his research. No unusual titles appear.

These two show the range of influence books have on their readers. Frere-Jones’s choices affected his life and taught him an important lesson, that of patience; Gladwell’s are here today, but will change tomorrow when his new book is done.

This collection offers insight into how books have shaped the lives of the respondents. It is an ideal book for dipping into from time to time, especially if you have answered the quiz and keep your listing up-to-date. And it also offers an additional insight into familiar respondents. My Ideal Bookshelf is a great read and a wonderful bargain, so it is highly recommended.

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.


#tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community

J. S. McDougall. 2012. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-449-30911-4. 88 pages.US$19.99 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 1.44.33 AMSocial media is on the rise and many companies are taking advantage of these new tools to connect with their customers. In #tweetsmart: 25 Twitter Projects to Help You Build Your Community, J. S. McDougall goes over 25 different projects to help you use Twitter to connect with your customers. These projects aren’t solely dependent on Twitter; you can use most social media sites.

Many companies jump on the Twitter bandwagon and then realize they have no idea what to use it for. McDougall is whole-heartedly against bland sales notifications. Many companies use Twitter to simply provide products, sales, and coupons. He says, “I’ve made no secret of my distaste for coupon campaigns on Twitter” (p. 61). McDougall suggests using Twitter to interact with your customers instead of merely blasting at your customers.

McDougall provides inspiration for great ideas on how to use Twitter to build a community with your customers. #tweetsmart is a simple list of ideas about how to play with your customers and engage them. The goal is to interest people in you and your product, and reward them for such interest. Each chapter goes over a generic project idea. McDougall provides an example of how a fake business could have implemented the project, such as “a motorcycle shop in Massachusetts called Mohawk Cycle Sales” (p. 55). He relates childhood stories as anecdotes to explain the inspiration behind the project ideas. As an introduction to a Web-based scavenger hunt, McDougall relates, “When I was a boy, every year on a chilly October morning…my parents would sneak around the yard of our brown saltbox suburban home stashing small plastic prizes and scribbled clues” (p. 41). Depending on your company, showing a sense of humor is a good thing. But even if your company doesn’t lend itself to humor, people always like to win prizes, which is the point of many of these projects.

McDougall also keeps in mind that not everyone has the same level of comfort using Twitter or is not so tech savvy. He covers the necessary information for Twitter newbies without going into distracting detail. For example, before going into what a hashtag game is, he defines hashtags as a “keyword or phrase preceded by the pound sign” (p. 9). McDougall then goes over a brief history of hashtags so you understand how they are used. Instead of delving into the details of adding Twitter buttons to your site, he says you can simply contact an IT specialist to make quick work of the job.

As a great example of how inventive you can be with incorporating Twitter, each chapter includes a QR (Quick Response) code. You can scan the code to recommend the project to your Twitter followers. #tweetsmart is full of great Twitter ideas to engage and delight your customers.

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.