60.4, November 2013

Book Reviews

Books Reviewed in This Issue

Mobile Usability

by Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu

This Means This, This Means That: 318 A User’s Guide to Semiotics

by Sean Hall

Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience 318

by Peter H. Jones

Writing Operating Procedures: Developing 319 Procedures to Support Employee Task Training and Process Best Practice

by C. T. James, “Mr. Procedure”

Polishing Your Prose: How to Turn First Drafts 320 Into Finished Work

by Steven M. Cahn and Victor L. Cahn

Playing with Color: 50 Graphic Experiments for 321 Exploring Color Design Principles

by Richard Mehl

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing 321

by Constance Hale

Marketing Semiotics: Signs, Strategies, and Brand Value 322

by Laura R. Oswald

The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the 323 Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

by David Skinner

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House 324

by Christopher Beha

The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need 324 to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age

The Writers of SciLance as edited by Thomas Hayden and Michelle Nijhous

Information System Design Using TWiki 325

by Phil Gochenour

Designing Training and Instructional Programs 326 for Older Adults

by Sara J. Czaja and Joseph Sharit

Logo Life: Life Histories of 100 Famous Logos 327

by Ron van der Vlugt

Ultimate Guide to Pinterest for Business 328

by Karen Leland

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: 328 A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

by Joe Randazzo, Editor in Chief

Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing 329 Online User Experiences

by Jesmond Allen and James Chudley

Online Education 2.0: Evolving, Adapting, and 330 Reinventing Online Technical Communication

by Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie, eds.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to 331 Instructional Design

by Miriam B. Larson and Barbara B. Lockee

Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare 8: 332 What the Heck Does That Do?

by Neil Perlin

The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, 332 Nations and Business

by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

Handbook of Indexing Techniques: 333 A Guide for Beginning Indexers

by Linda K. Fetters

DITA Metrics 101: The Business Case for XML and 334 Intelligent Content

by Mark Lewis

The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: 335 A Guide for the Serious Searcher

by Randolph Hock

The Picture in Design: What Graphic Designers, 336 Art Directors, and Illustrators Should Know About Communicating with Pictures

by Stuart Medley


Mobile Usability

Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu. 2013. 1st ed. Berkeley, CA: New Riders. [ISBN: 978-0-321-88448-0. 204 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.27.53 PMIn previous publications, Jakob Nielsen has taught us much about usability. In his latest publication, Nielsen, along with Raluca Budiu, teach us about usability as related to content delivered on mobile devices such as smartphones, e-readers, game devices like Microsoft Kinect, and tablets.

Mobile Usability is designed to be read in hard-copy format. As I read the book, I realized the irony that the book is much easier to read as an actual book instead of reading a copy on a mobile device. However, that one comment is the only drawback to this book. I highly recommend it for any person who is working on delivering content that will be read on a mobile device.

The compact, 198-page book is bundled with a five-page index, two-page table of contents, and four-page preface. Nielsen and Budiu have written a book that’s easy to read in a few days.

The book’s organization lends itself for use as a reference guide by going to the Index. For example, if you’re asked to maintain content on a traditional Web site that is accessible from a laptop and deliver the same content on an app that can be installed on smartphones and tablets, the Index gives you multiple ways to find what you need.

I love that the Index is thorough and seems to have been usability tested. As an aside, readers of this publication are savvy enough to know when someone has rushed a book to print. This book has not been rushed and the Index is an excellent example of what happens when you take the time to do something
well. You have something that people can rely on for accurate results.

For the person who wants to read the book in a linear format, you can skim the Table of Contents to see how the authors have organized their ideas. Like the Index, this section was not rushed: It is a thorough outline of what you will find in the book.

As you start to read, you understand how the researchers organized their studies and how terrible mobile design was when the researchers started to gather data. Because the researchers began studying mobile usability in 2009, they have several years of data available as they present arguments about what defines mobile usability. And, as Nielsen and Budiu create a schema for mobile usability, they educate the reader using a variety of teaching methods.

For the person who learns by lecture, the text is accompanied by screen captures. For the person who learns by demonstration, you will find detailed case studies that make you feel like you’re in the room as
the researchers debrief the client. For the collaborator, you have the opportunity to go online and interact
with the examples that are described. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend this books as a buy, and, yes,
you’re welcome.

Angela Robertson
Angela Robertson is a technical communicator at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. She has a MS degree in technical communication from North Carolina State University.

This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics

Sean Hall. 2012. London, England: Laurence King Publishing, Ltd. [ISBN 978-1-85669-735-4. 192 pages. US$29.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.29.32 PMThis Means This, This Means That is an accessible, entertaining, and useful introduction to semiotics. It can serve as a classroom text for a beginning semiotics course or as a source book for thinking more deeply and creatively about graphics and text as integrated sign systems.

Hall’s organization and formatting itself illustrates his argument that semiotics subsumes textual, graphical, and interactive communication methods. He starts the introduction with words, yet very quickly shifts to graphical forms—tables, flowcharts, drawings, directory trees—to show rather than tell the reader what he means. Hall then adds an explicit interactive element by reversing the usual text-to-graphic flow. First, he presents an image with a question for the reader to ponder; then offers
on the next page a primarily textual discussion of possible answers.

In one example, a glass door with an outward extending handle marked “Push” is accompanied by the question, “How do you open this door?” The “door handle looks as if it should be pulled, so people tend to pull it” (p. 48), even though the writing on the handle tells them it should be pushed. The written message contradicts the door handle’s “affordance,” the way the handle’s design invites or signifies a particular way in which to use it.

Hall observes that the right solution is to replace the door handle with a flat plate, the new “handle” inviting us to push rather than pull the door open. This way the handle in itself communicates how to use it, dispensing with the need for the written message, “Push.” We then realize the handle’s purpose and meaning purely in its physical shape as it becomes, in semiotic terms, an icon.

Another intriguing example involves two sticks with irregular notches, curves, and indentations carved into them. The sticks are actually maps created by the Inuit, who hold them “under their mittens and feel the contours with their fingers to discern patterns in the coastline” (p. 28). Like the door handle, the Inuit maps are physical items that embody their meaning (or icons).

Hall also explores the ways semiotic concepts work in advertising, media, and art, concluding with comments on the narrative commonality of literature and science. Science “often describes its progress in a form that is storylike” (p. 170). Hall could further develop this insight to show how, considered in terms of their common semiotic deep structure, scientific causality and literary narrative (plot) function the same way. He might also explore the semiotics of legal argument, showing how narrative is necessary to constitute “facts.”

This Means This, This Means That offers a useful, clear, and stimulating guide to semiotics. It can also introduce fledgling designers to the theory of affordances—how products, understood semiotically, can signify their purpose purely through their design. This book is recommended for anyone interested in semiotics, whether as student, seasoned communicator, or product designer.

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.

Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience

Peter H. Jones. 2013. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 1-933820-23-1. 356 pages, including index. US$39.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.29.42 PMDesign for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience addresses design issues encountered in healthcare with practical information that practitioners can use to innovate patient-centered healthcare services. This book is for designers, design researchers, healthcare professionals, clinical practitioners, and product and services companies working in healthcare. Since these audiences typically work in their respective silos, it aims to bridge the knowledge gap and encourage collaboration to improve healthcare experiences.

Jones divided his book into three parts where he steps you through different perspectives of healthcare: Part I: Rethinking Care and Its Consumers, Part II: Rethinking Patients, and Part III: Rethinking Care Systems. Each part has chapters that discuss topics or design issues and offers practical information to address them.

I appreciated the structure of the chapters, starting with the story of Elena, a woman whose healthcare journey you follow throughout the book. Readers see her transition from being solely a consumer of health information to being a patient where she formulates her own experiences of the healthcare system. Jones builds upon Elena’s story by pulling out her experiences and expanding on them, providing research that has been done on the topic. For example in Part I, Elena is a caregiver to her ailing father. As a caregiver, she wants to be informed about her father’s condition, so she seeks out materials from articles to online forums that she can trust. The chapter that ensues discusses the topic of health information seeking. In addition the author provides a real world scenario through a case study and suggests a research method to address the topic covered in the chapter. My favorite parts of the book are the bulleted lists: design best practices, lessons learned (after the case study), and tips on techniques (after the methods section).

Design for Care is a great book that is comprehensive and full of applicable information. Even though there is a targeted set of audiences for this book, I think it is a good read or reference for anyone who is interested in understanding the current perspectives and obstacles to implementing innovations to services in healthcare.

Dawn Sakaguchi-Tang
Dawn Sakaguchi-Tang has a master’s degree in Human-Centered Design and Communication from the University of Washington. She is currently working as a research consultant for a user centered design agency.

>Writing Operating Procedures: Developing Procedures to Support Employee Task Training and Process Best Practice

C. T. James; “Mr. Procedure”. 2012. Upland, CA: Mr. Procedure Productions. [147 pages. Free upon request (PDF).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.30.41 PMWriting Operating Procedures: Developing Procedures to Support Employee Task Training and Process Best Practice prepares process analysts and writers with varying levels of experience and expertise for success with procedures. James presents this work to explain how procedures can be created for use in training and everyday use as part of a process. Written in an expository style—there are even quizzes—Writing Operating Procedures is an excellent work of the concise, yet illustrative, narrative writing seen in the very best procedures themselves. Indeed, the book itself is a darned good example of how to teach someone to do something.

James begins with two of the most often overlooked aspects of procedures: Purpose and Scope, and then moves on to explaining the relationships and roles of policy, work instructions, procedures, and records. He include two thought-provoking illustrations of the perceived roles of policy, procedure, work instructions, and records (p. 10). With simple, yet very effective, illustrations to support key points, Writing Operating Procedures then gets down to business and takes us through the process of developing procedures while keeping in mind their purpose and scope.

James also asks us to think about the “place in the organization” each procedure has and repeatedly reminds us to stay true to purpose and scope when considering the structure of our procedures, and again with every sentence we write, with every illustration or photograph, and with each call-out or note. His “Seven Step Training Method” illustrates perfectly that although procedures have an important role, (indeed, they are step one of seven) environment, experience, equipment and hands on training for people also matter very much (p. 110).

The quiz questions at the end of each chapter ask for answers “in your own words” essay style. You can also use these as interview questions or discussion points for process owners, employees, or other subject matter experts. James includes two appendices: one with guidance on formatting with good style, and one on the activities associated with procedure development.

Overall, Writing Operating Procedures is a complete resource for new through mid-level procedure writers and policy analysts working everywhere, but especially those working in manufacturing, production, or process dense environments. I do think, however, that effective procedures are more complicated than just using color, emphasizing text, and adding illustrations. I would have liked for James to have included more discussion on the procedure life cycle, especially the approvals and the change process.

Dawnell K. Claessen
Dawnell K. Claessen is co-manager of the Policies and Procedures SIG. She is a certified security systems professional (CISSP) for the Military Health System. Dawnell holds a Master of Library and Information Science with a federal information policy specialization from the University of Texas at Austin.

Polishing Your Prose: How to Turn First Drafts Into Finished Work

Steven M. Cahn and Victor L. Cahn. 2013. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. [ISBN 978-0-231-16089-6. 85 pages. US$14.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.30.54 PMThe Cahn brothers’ Polishing Your Prose: How to Turn First Drafts Into Finished Work briefly offers advice on editing your material to make it more readable and enjoyable. The authors divide this book into three major sections: Part I contains 10 suggested strategies for improving your prose; Part II consists of three passages that they edit to demonstrate these strategies while adding three supplemental strategies; and Part III contains a Conclusion and Epilogue.

Part I offers nothing that has not already been suggested by other similar books, for example, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. The tone, however, is less strident in Polishing Your Prose than in Elements. Each strategy includes an explanation, some examples, and sample sentences for reader practice. Several strategies relate to verbosity and wordiness; others relate to sentence structure. Yet the authors confusingly label the first two practice sets “samples for correction,” while another six sets are labeled “samples for practice,” and a third set, “samples for revision.”

And then there is Part II. No previous books on
style that I have seen provide what amounts to thinking-aloud protocols on how and why the reviser makes changes. The Cahns edit three sections from an early draft of a mathematician’s informal essay while explaining why they are deleting words and phrases, adding additional words such as transitions, and reorganizing the sentences and paragraphs. I found much to disagree with when I read the reasons for what they were doing as well as the things that were left undone, but that is not the point. Rarely do authors understand how and why someone makes changes in their text. That insight into their methods is well worth the cost of this reasonably-priced book. The protocols are also useful when technical communicators edit others’ work and need to explain changes.

The Conclusion adds little other than acknowledging that rewriting is never done. The Epilogue contains two autobiographical samples from the authors. The headnote to the samples says that they are presented so that the reader can see the authors’ work and that, while they may have violated some of their strategies, the total effect of the prose vindicates them. These two points present problems: First, do we need another sample of their writing when we already have 67 pages of it, and second, if they violate their own strategies, doesn’t that undermine the whole of Part I?

In spite of the shortcomings of Parts I and III, I would recommend this book based on Part II with the caveat that you focus on their protocols rather than on their actual changes.

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.

Playing with Color: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Color Design Principles

Richard Mehl. 2013. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers. [ISBN 978-1-59253-808-9. 192 pages, including index. US$40.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.03 PMAs the title indicates, Playing with Color is about playing, but merely saying so oversimplifies what is really taking place. It isn’t “just” about playing and it isn’t “just” about color. Encoded into the DNA of each of these 50 experiments are some spectacular features that make this book a must-have for artists, designers, illustrators, or anyone interested in learning about color.

The history behind these experiments is impressive. Mehl went right to the source: the teaching philosophies and assignments of Josef Albers and Johannes Itten. If those names don’t ring a bell, then the name of their mutual employer might. Both taught at the Bauhaus, the short-lived school of design recognized as the most influential of its kind. Many experiments presented in the book are modified forms of the very assignments Itten and Albers gave to their students to understand and learn to use color. The main purpose behind the experiments is not so much to produce an astounding design or work of art, but rather to learn about color through the experience of play.

Playing, for Albers, Itten, and Mehl, is an important part of the learning process. Mehl goes so far as to equate learning with playing because it encourages creative thought, problem solving, exploration, and discovery. It also encourages readers to keep asking “what if?” to see what happens. Mehl says, “As in game playing, each experience informs the next. Learning occurs” (p. 6). The end result, or goal of the book, is for readers to “develop…an eye for color” (p. 9) by experimenting with it. However, as mentioned earlier, the book isn’t “just” about play or color.

Color choice is only part of the equation. While important, it sometimes takes a back seat to what readers do with that color. Each experiment requires readers to pay attention to not only the colors themselves, but how those colors interact with one another. To that end, the experiments center around some of the fundamental principles of design. Readers experiment with the size, placement, and shape of fields of color, the proximity of certain colors to others, and patterns, among other things.

The real power of Playing with Color lies in actually doing the experiments, perhaps more than once. There is no right answer here, just as there is no “right” way to play. Certainly readers could simply read the book, look at the examples and get inspired, but it won’t be until the readers really come out to play that the book will prove its worth as an outstanding source of inspiration, learning, and discovery.

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.

Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing

Constance Hale. 2012. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. [ISBN 978-0-393-08116-9. 396 pages, including index. US$26.95.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.10 PMTo energize our sentences, and to capture the human condition, writer Constance Hale calls us out to seize the power of verbs. “We need to think of the whole sentence as a mini-narrative” with the subject as the protagonist and the predicate the drama (p. 47).

This stylebook is not exclusively about verbs. Hale discusses the origins of language and language acquisition in the first two chapters. She then explores our language’s Anglo-Saxon roots, the attempts at English grammar throughout history, the traditional eight parts of speech, sentence diagramming, and contemporary syntax and linguistics. Only after this mapping out of English does Hale focus on verbs. Beginning with the fifth chapter, she takes her readers on a tour of the English predicate: she defines tense, voice, and mood; whether a verb is transitive or intransitive; and whether a verb is factitive, causative, or ergative. The final chapters she dedicates to phrasal verbs and participles.

Covering all this verbal ground is daunting. Hale uses “vex, hex, smash, and smooch” as partitions to each chapter to impose order. The “Vex” heading indicates what is annoying or frustrating about a particular verb topic, for example, the overuse of static verbs. “Hex” alerts the reader to what is bad advice, such as always choose the Anglo-Saxon word over the Latin one. With “Smash,” Hale is telling us what bad habits are, as in the case of our tendency for redundancy. In addition, “Smooch” is her way of telling us what to embrace. For example, even authors with reputations for their long sentences know when to use brevity.

Yet, not everything about verbs can be corralled. Hale uses the last quarter of the book for chapter notes and six appendices about verbs, along with an index, epilogue, and bibliography. One of the book’s goals is to make “the back end of the sentence to behave” (p. 193), but clearly the English verb is too dynamic to be neatly categorized.

Hale would not want the verb to be tamed anyway, as indicated by her writing style. To say that the tone of the book is “sassy” may belie the book’s ambition and her respect of language. Hale does state that the book’s purpose is to impart “the art of making sentences that are as enticing, graceful, and sexy as the tango” (p. 13). Her own metaphors are lively, while her comments are a little caustic. Her vast array of amusing, relevant examples––from poetry, to political speeches, to pop culture—keep the book far from being a dry tome.

Like all stylebooks, this one has strong opinions. What sets Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch apart is its comprehensiveness. The book is not about verbs, Hale admits, but about developing an engaging style, with our language’s roots and linguistic details as guides. Anyone who writes for a living would find this book an enriching read.

James Morgan
James Morgan has been in nonprofit communications for sixteen years.

Marketing Semiotics: Signs, Strategies, and Brand Value

Laura R. Oswald. 2012. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-956650-1. 218 pages, including index. US$40.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.21 PMMarketing Semiotics: Signs, Strategies, and Brand Value is an excellent book for the scholar-practitioner wanting to apply more thorough strategies around marketing and branding using a sound theoretical approach. It includes an extensive literature review that helps readers understand how marketing and advertising evolved and how various theories emerged that continue to influence branding today. Balancing the detailed literature review are real-life case studies shared by Oswald, who brings 20 years of experience to the topic. If you are looking to understand marketing research and how you can apply it to your own marketing analyses, Marketing Semiotics is the answer. Oswald’s audiences are those who want to use “theory, method, and the cultural critique to align brands with the culture of consumers and inject creativity into strategic brand management” (p. 49).

It is when Oswald discusses case studies that the strength of the book reveals itself. Move through Chapters 1 and 2 to get to the meatier, example-laden later chapters. She discusses the marketing perils faced by Kodak as it lost market share due to corporate complacency. Oswald dives deeper into the story, however, by citing theoretical research and the “marketing myopia” (p. 73) often faced by organizations. Moving on from Kodak, she provides rich examples around marketing to women, new parents, and baby boomers. Oswald includes companies like Pampers, Coca Cola, and Blue Cross while covering multiple industries including the automobile, tobacco, and technology industries. Readers are sure to find something that resonates with their own work.

Application of the marketing strategies in Marketing Semiotics is made easier through Oswald’s inclusion of step-by-step product analyses. It lets us see how we might apply these steps to product analyses that we currently market or plan to market. Straightforward tables and graphics are simple to replicate in our own analyses and are strategically positioned in this book to clarify key points or enrich tacit understanding while offering readers a break from the text.

Oswald also takes time to discuss strategic brand marketing from the perspective of the multicultural consumer landscape in which we all live and work. While only devoting one chapter to marketing and multi-cultural considerations, she again provides readers with a case study, this time about the Ford F-150, which drives home the considerations that must be taken across diverse audiences.

At the conclusion of Marketing Semiotics, readers take with them a more thorough understanding of marketing theory with practical, on-the-ground examples from someone who has clearly done her research and shared her knowledge in an accessible, applicable way. For those wanting more theory and more background, the book includes an extensive reference list. For those wanting to apply what they’ve learned, Oswald has provided a playground of techniques and thought processes to elevate the level of strategy in their brand marketing.

Liz Herman
Liz Herman, PhD, PMP, is a communications leader with 19 years of demonstrated achievements in delivering superior knowledge management solutions. She is a senior member of STC and is active in STC’s Eastern Iowa Chapter. She currently directs a policy and professional development team for a federal government contractor.

The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

David Skinner. 2012. New York, NY: HarperCollins. [ISBN 978-0-06-202746-7. 352 pages, including index. US$26.99.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.31 PMThe Story of Ain’t begins in 1934 and gives readers a great deal of historical detail about the making of Webster’s Third International Dictionary, Unabridged, published in 1961. During these almost 30 years, there were several men (and a few women) who each had varying degrees of involvement in the final publication of Webster’s Third. David Skinner seems to follow a mostly chronological discussion of the major players, which can be hard to follow at times without a playbook. Thankfully, he includes a section in the back that lists the names of the people who appear in the book along with a short description for each. I imagine that this list could prove invaluable to a reader who wanted to more fully understand the “who” behind Webster’s Third, or to those who at least want to keep up with the story being told.

Skinner gives readers a great deal of research into the backstory of Webster’s Third, but in so doing may have lost sight of how much of this information most readers would want or need. Readers wanting to know about the major players behind Webster’s Third will most likely enjoy the in-depth look into each of these men and women. However, readers interested only in how Webster’s Third came to be such a controversial publication, as indicated by the title, might find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of historical information that comes before the discussion of Webster’s Third after its publication. For these readers, much of the background information could have been left out and the book would still make sense.

It would seem that the title of The Story of Ain’t overpromises, as “ain’t” is only rarely discussed, and usually only in reference as to why the public relations campaign for Webster’s Third was such a failure or why critics were so unforgiving of the changes in the new edition. However, the subtitle seems to be closer to the mark as Skinner spends a great deal of time explaining how Webster’s Third was meant to be a dictionary that showed how the English language was actually being used. Webster’s Third was certainly a controversial publication according to The Story of Ain’t, with critics vilifying not only the book and its material, but also Philip Gove, the mastermind behind the radical changes from Webster’s Second.

I believe that if the average reader finds the first thirty-one chapters of the book mildly interesting, then they will certainly enjoy the last nine chapters when The Story of Ain’t focuses in on the actual publishing of, and response to, Webster’s Third. Overall, I believe that this book has enough information to attract the deep historian and enough drama to interest the more casual reader.

Laura Dumin
Laura Dumin is an assistant professor and the director of technical writing at the University of Central Oklahoma.

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House

Christopher Beha. 2012. Portland, OR: Tin House Books. [ISBN 978-1-935639-46-6. 246 pages. US$18.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.40 PMWhat do prominent writers, writing teachers, and editors write about when they write about writing today? The answer, in part, comes in The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House, a book that continues with a second set of essays.

The essays in The Writer’s Notebook II come from the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop participants, Tin House magazine contributors, and Tin House Books authors. Based in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, Tin House is a publisher of books and a literary magazine.

Beginnings, middles, and endings—these topics, as you would expect, appear throughout the book’s essays. Author Ann Hood, in her essay “Beginnings,” gives us plenty of ideas about how to start a piece of writing. She looks at what other successful writers do and includes writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. “It was a dark and stormy night” as a beginning, of course, makes it into the essay. You should have fun seeing what Hood has to say.

The idea of an effective beginning—according to Hood—is that it makes the reader want to know more and keep reading. The beginning, Hood argues can be in media res, facts, a character description, a setting, a philosophical statement—as Tolstoy does in Anna Karenina and the “happy families are all alike” statement (p. 14), dialogue, introduction, or what Hook calls an old saw (p. 9) such as “once upon a time.”

If you wonder as I do what happens at a writer’s workshop of this sort, you can now wonder no more, at least when it comes to the workshop held by this impressive group. If you also enjoy thinking about writing outside of what is your normal sphere of technical communication, as I understand that many of us do, this read could be for you.

Jeanette Evans
Jeanette Evans is an STC Associate Fellow who is active in the NEO chapter serving as a co-chair on the academic relations and newsletter committees. Holding an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University, Jeanette has published in Intercom and presented at various STC and other events.

The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age

The Writers of SciLance as edited by Thomas Hayden and Michelle Nijhous. 2013. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press. [ISBN 978-0-7382-1656-0. 308 pages, including index. US$17.50 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.48 PMThere really isn’t very much difference between technical communication and science writing. As Alison Fromme points out about her co-authors, “Our common mission is to explain very complicated things with both maximum simplicity and maximum accuracy” (p. 4). Sound familiar? The Science Writers’ Handbook offers abundant instructions, advice, and real-life stories that apply to all writers, particularly those interested in starting or increasing a freelance writing business.

Like technical communicators, science writers have an obligation to “Getting it Right” (Chapter 4), and this book covers everything about the business of being a freelance science writer. As you would expect, there are chapters about gathering information, creating a gripping narrative, and working with editors. There are chapters on understanding contracts, writing queries, and managing your time. I am particularly impressed that they also include chapters on procrastination (Chapter 11, “Just Write the Friggin’ Thing Already!”), the challenges of a home office (Chapter 16, “Creating Creative Spaces”), and the importance of networking (Chapter 20, “Networking for the Nervous”).

A small member community of science writers, who call themselves SciLance, wrote The Science Writers’ Handbook. SciLance is an online group of about 35 members who contributed to this book with their breadth of experiences. Most chapters are written in first person. Though their styles are different, it isn’t easy to keep track of who is speaking in each chapter. This is only slightly startling when, for example, you think you’re reading something written by a man until he talks about the challenges of writing while pregnant.

Minor quibbles aside (I would have moved that apostrophe in the title!), this book is a great guide for anyone considering the business of freelancing. The authors have also provided a companion Web site at http://pitchpublishprosper.com that provides more information on the topic and encourages audience interaction.

The Science Writers’ Handbook has lots of information about getting started with science writing and getting started as a freelancer. Even if you are already familiar with the tidal nature of freelancing, this book has many great tips and suggestions. For example, several of the authors take time every year to evaluate their business status, and one even goes so far as to create her own annual report.

For technical communicators, this book offers a window into a related field we may not have considered. And expanding our knowledge (and then sharing that knowledge with others) is very much what technical communication is all about.

Brenda Huettner
Brenda Huettner is a technical communication consultant, a fellow in STC, and a member of the Management SIG, the Usability SIG, and the Southern Arizona chapter. She is co-author (with John Hedtke) of RoboHelp for the Web and has published numerous articles.

Information System Design Using TWiki

Phil Gochenour. 2012. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press. [ISBN 978-0-9822191-7-1. 94 pages. US$19.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.31.57 PMOverall disappointing, Gochenour’s text Information System Design Using TWiki suffers from several systemic problems. First is a regular lack of context for and continuity between content sections. For example, after Chapter 1’s good, brief introduction to wikis, the author jumps into wiki markup and why TWiki is good wiki software. No transition is offered; no relationship is established. Background information about how wikis operate, insights into wiki culture,
best wiki-editing practices, or how wiki markup relates to any of these schemes would have been helpful. Similarly, four pages in, Gochenour jumps into TWiki variables. The five-line paragraph introducing the variables is not sufficient to frame or explain why he places the material here. Then Gochenour adds material about plug-ins and documentation. And so it goes for most of the book. Why discuss these aspects when readers still don’t know what TWiki can do? If the book is for TWiki veterans, then that should be clear from the start. Sadly, few items are given the depth or explanation they need for proper understanding.

Information quality is the second problem. In Chapter 6, Gochenour introduces Information System Design (ISD). No definition of information systems or ISD is offered. This is problematic because ISD is the book’s core focus. If Gochenour assumes a specific or shared definition, he should make that explicit. Chapter 9 has a section labeled “Users and Usability,” and the section on users is passable. Ironically, the basic overview Gochenour provides on users and usability is the kind of overview that should have been provided for TWiki at the start of the book. Moreover, the three paragraphs on page 46 about usability testing are useless and off target. Gochenour urges the reader to have users test the usability of specific content—in this case, recipes—instead of seeking feedback on the usability of the system. Because a primary goal of usability is testing the usability of systems and not just the content that comprise parts of said system, and since system is a part of the book’s title, the reader’s attention is at best misdirected—at worst, the reader is misinformed.

Certainly, multiple sections of Information System Design Using TWiki are handy for people already using TWiki, and Gochenour provides plenty of examples, directions, and tools on how to work within TWiki. While this text could work within a course context, that course would need to provide the necessary framing and narrative. As an instructor considering TWiki as a tool for potential use in my instructional design course, the book left me frustrated and confused. It reads like a compilation of course notes or instructions; unfortunately, it is missing the framing and narrative necessary to make sense of and properly understand the material presented.

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.

Designing Training and Instructional Programs for Older Adults

Sara J. Czaja and Joseph Sharit. 2013. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-4398-4787-9. 310 pages, including index. US$ 69.95.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.33.46 PMIn Designing Training and Instructional Programs for Older Adults, Czaja and Sharit quickly answer why trainers and instructional designers must consider older adults—people 65 and older will number one billion worldwide by the year 2030. The authors, however, do not merely rely on population numbers to emphasize the importance of considering this audience. Czaja and Sharit detail continuing changes in technology and healthcare that serve as catalysts for older adults to seek out training and they dispel the myth that older adults are not interested in learning.

Czaja and Sharit use a human factors approach where “the characteristics of user populations must be considered in the design of products, tasks, environments, and programs that people use” (p. 11). Trainers and instructional designers are likely to connect with this approach having conducted needs analyses that focus on what their product users need. Trainers and instructional designers looking for a how-to are likely to be disappointed, although the authors are clear that Designing Training is not a how-to or prescriptive approach to training and design for the older adult.

What readers will find is a comprehensive list of recommendations at the end of each chapter. While some repetition exists between the chapters and the sheer number of recommendations can be overwhelming, any trainer or designer interested in thinking more in-depth about this audience should consider Designing Training. As for where to start, the authors make a convincing case to start with the time-tested and proven needs analysis and the older adults’ motivation for learning. The added benefit is that readers will also take away in-depth information about how issues like cognition, visual acuity, memory and retention, and motor skills affect the older adult learner.

Liz Herman
Liz Herman, PhD, PMP, is a communications leader with 19 years of demonstrated achievements in delivering superior knowledge management solutions. She is a senior member of STC and is active in STC’s Eastern Iowa Chapter. She currently directs a policy and professional development team for a federal government contractor.

Logo Life: Life Histories of 100 Famous Logos

Ron van der Vlugt. 2012. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers. [ISBN 978-90-6369-260-5. 224 pages. US$32.00.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.33.59 PMIn Logo Life: Life Histories of 100 Famous Logos, author Ron Van der Vlugt investigates the stories behind the evolution of 100 logos from around the world, and their progression into their most current version. The book includes at a minimum a two-page spread for each logo, sometimes extending to a four-page spread, highlighting a description as well as several incarnations of each logo, and sometimes an advertisement or two featuring one of the logo versions in action. Van der Vlugt describes in the text how the logo was initially developed going back to the its earliest inception, including in the description any major and whenever possible, all minor adjustments over the years that have led to the end result and most current solution. Readers may be surprised at just how often logos are updated, and how many minor adjustments that each of the logos within the book have undergone over the years. Many of those small changes may have even gone unnoticed.

Insight has been given as to why many of the changes have been made over the years. Some of the logos needed to be simplified and modernized, having been developed during an earlier time such as the Victorian era, where a more intricate and complex logo was appreciated. Others were changed to reflect name changes or mergers with other companies. Also major logo changes can also be reflected in changes in goods or services a company offers. These insights can help designers, and business owners to better understand the necessity of changing or updating a logo, when to do it and why.

van der Vlugt is a creative director and principal at SOGOOD, a design firm that focuses on corporate identity design. He has worked for a number of the companies whose brands he features in Logo Life. In the introduction, he states, “The objective…was to collect an interesting mixture of… well-known international companies and brands to gain better understanding of the reasons why logos look the way they do” (p. i). One issue that van der Vlugt does not address in this volume is why he selected these logos. Was there any sort of criteria that determined which logos got in and which ones did not? The subtitle of the text eludes that only famous logos were selected, but what criteria did he use to determine the level of fame? It would be more beneficial from an academic standpoint if these questions were addressed.

Logo Life was an entertaining and quick read, with a good balance of visuals to text. Readers will learn the basic histories of many of their favorite brands and possibly learn about some international brands that they are not as familiar with as well.

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.

Ultimate Guide to Pinterest for Business

Karen Leland. 2013. Irvine, CA: Entrepreneur Press. [ISBN 978-1-59918-508-8. 190 pages, including index. US$21.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.09 PMWhy Pinterest? Karen Leland’s book helps position this image-centered social media firmly in your business marketing plan. Consider using Pinterest, especially if your target audience is women 35 years and older who admire and purchase beautiful things to enjoy or give.

Leland holds your hand from signing up for a Pinterest account, to setting up one or more boards, to inviting followers. A board is a collection of pinned images and can be public or private. Select one image as the cover for that board.

Sign up as a business if opening a Pinterest account for your company. Pinterest will verify your Web site and instruct you on how to add Pin It buttons to product Web pages.

Leland also explains the fine art of pinning. To pin means to add an image (or pin it) to a board you have created. Images can be repinned from existing Web sites or boards created by others. Give credit to anyone whose image you pin. Business-related photographs or original art should be watermarked.

Pinning for sales. A business account can pin product images that show real-time pricing, availability, and where to buy. Follow instructions in Pinterest’s business section for how to prepare your Web site to use this type of Rich Pins. The Gifts option lets someone searching for gifts to select a price to search by. Pinned images of Quick Response (QR) codes can also drive traffic to your site.

Pinning from another Web site. The new Pin It bookmarklet places an icon at the top of your browser. When clicked, pinnable images on the current Web page display. Select the image to pin and it will appear in your open board. Check the Goodies page in Pinterest to get this bookmarklet.

There are several ways to invite followers. You can use the Pinterest search if you know a follower’s Pinterest name. Use the hash tag to search for followers by topic or location. For example, #Boston locates images that have Boston in the comment. Or you may want to sign up through your Facebook or Yahoo accounts to retain existing followers.

Leland recommends contests and group boards for connecting with your community and adding new followers. Make the rules clear. Likewise, make the prize a winner.

Learning the language and courtesy rules of Pinterest takes some getting used to, though you should find it quite intuitive. If so, then why buy this book?

Besides business hints throughout, Chapter 14 focuses on how Pinterest can be used by various professions from “A” (architects) to “Z” (zoos). For example, a published author could create a separate board for each book title and then invite fans to follow.

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

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information

Joe Randazzo, Editor in Chief. 2012. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. [ISBN 978-0-316-13326-5. 244 pages. US$29.99.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.18 PMI’m not sure when I first bumped into The Onion, but I do recall my reactions—delight that such an organization existed and mostly dismay that I was not made aware of it the second of its inception in 1988. The Onion is a satirical news agency (I use that term loosely), although every now and then a serious news agency will report on one of its stories, much to the chagrin of regular Onion readers and to the horror of soon-to-be-fired editors.

The Onion Book of Known Knowledge is an encyclopedia cataloguing…well, all the known knowledge in the universe—an impressive feat for 244 pages. The copyright notice at the end of the volume says it all: “…The Onion has acquired the rights to all knowledge, past and present, and thus any future written or published words, sentences, thought fragments, scientific works, metaphors, or images containing any information whatsoever must be first cleared and licensed with The Onion” (p. 244).

Like The Onion Web site and newspaper, the encyclopedia is filled with articles calling out mundanely profound truths such as “Youngstown, Ohio, [a] city in eastern part of Ohio and one of the many places in the world where a human being can be born, go to school, get a job, and pass away” (p. 230). Adding variety to the mix are hilariously coy entries such as “Dadaism, bubblegum anxiety flapjack explosion bang” (p. 51). My personal favorite are the entries that break the third wall—“Notary Public, Dave’s a notary public. Weird, right? But apparently he is” (p. 142).

Articles in The Onion are sometimes mistaken for real news because they mimic the Associated Press style so well. Following that convention, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge is designed exactly how one would expect a mainstream encyclopedia to be designed. The book includes full color pictures, graphs, and diagrams situated in crisp sidebars and clean call-out boxes. It occurs to me that good satire mimics that which it seeks to spoof. In this regard, The Onion is masterful.

Here’s the test. Can you actually learn useful information from The Onion? I think yes. That information, however, does not necessarily pertain to facts of the subject in question, but rather about how that subject is being digested by society. From reading the section on Ancient Egypt, for instance, a reader can glean some sad realities about the American consume culture.

I’m not sure I’ll ever read The Onion Book of Known Knowledge from cover to cover. It’s not that type of book. I do know I will swipe it off my shelf time and time again to take the edge off a long day or put a smile on a scowling face. For that it’s worth the price of admission.

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.

Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences

Jesmond Allen and James Chudley. 2012. Chichester, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. [ISBN 978-0-470-66685-2. 418 pages, including index. $44.99 USD (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.28 PMIn recent years, there has been a “…huge growth in the awareness of the importance of user experience” (p. 26). Smashing UX Design: Foundations for Designing Online User Experiences covers the whole range of user-centered design (UCD). From my point of view, there seems to be a focus on usability testing, but that is only a portion of UCD. This book covers not only usability, but all the other types of research and how to apply the data you gather. “As user-centered design becomes a more and more widely adopted design approach, the issue of usability stifling creativity and innovation will become less of an issue” (p. 77) as companies move forward in understanding the importance of user experience (UX).

Smashing UX Design starts with an overview of what UX design involves: how to do the research, how to implement that research in design, and examples of components you will typically need to design Web projects. Each step in the overall process is expanded with why, when, and how to use each method or tool. Allen and Chudley include many scenarios of why you would use a method or tool and examples of what it would look like. They explain: “Choose to run a requirements workshop if you have a large, complex project where different stakeholders and different requirements may conflict” (p. 60).

The authors write from their own viewpoints from working with UX in a consulting firm. This viewpoint lets them cover all levels of information you might need to gather. “I once conducted some contextual research within a small and very busy mobile phone store. I quickly became aware…” (p. 110).

Allen and Chudley write in a personal manner, like they are teaching you the UX process face-to-face. For example, they encourage you to “…think of UX as a project philosophy as opposed to a set of tools, methods, and deliverables” (p. 31). The authors also explain why they find UCD useful. “I like to think of analytics as providing the ‘what’ to which user experience research can provide the ‘why’” (p. 113).

Allen and Chudley are obviously very passionate about UX design since they often write about the “joys” of UX design: “One of the joys of being UX consultants is getting to work with lots of different disciplines on a daily basis” (p. 40). One of the most astounding “joys” I found was that they find it “really interesting to sift through the data…” (p. 114).

Smashing UX Design is a great starting point and reference book for completing UX design. It is easy to read with plenty of helpful examples. The book has a few typos, but the personality and useful information far outshine any shortcomings. I am going to share it around my office.

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.

Online Education 2.0: Evolving, Adapting, and Reinventing Online Technical Communication

Kelli Cargile Cook and Keith Grant-Davie, eds. 2013. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-89503-806-7. 328 pages, including index. US$62.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.37 PMEight years after Cargile Cook and Grant-Davie’s award-winning Online Education: Global Questions, Local Answers, they present another anthology: Online Education 2.0. This anthology is a triptych: evolving programs and faculty; adapting to changing student needs and abilities; and reinventing course contents and materials. This review focuses on an implicit theme that Jaramillo-Santoy and Cano-Monreal point to in Chapter 5: Marjorie Davis’ (2005) assertion that “technical communicators are ideally situated to use their theoretical knowledge to help in the design of online education programs” (p. 92). Viewing Online Education 2.0 through a lens of locating resources to help colleagues within and beyond our own field, four core chapter resources emerge.

Jaramillo-Santoy and Cano-Monreal’s “Training Faculty for Online Instruction” offers an important grounding in the importance of mentoring faculty and the role that technical communicators can have in their relationships with other faculty. This can provide a shared perspective and vocabulary with non-technical communication stakeholders. The authors also provide a scalable, replicable faculty peer mentoring model that could be applied at diverse institutions.

While mentoring and collaboration are important at the start of an online teaching career, Meloncon and Arduser show how this same pattern can support faculty in Communities of Practice (CoP). The authors present CoP as a model for sustainable online course development in Chapter 4. This chapter offers a possible answer to inevitable questions of time, resources, and funding. Meloncon and Arduser make it clear that CoP offer more than a sustainable approach to content and course generation. CoP can generate community, dialogue, and value while leaving participants free to choose their engagement level.

Having established grounding in mentoring and a sustainable development process, Jones’ chapter “Expanding the Scaffolding of the Online Undergraduate Technical Communication Course” makes the important step into reevaluating how we design and present courses to students. Jones makes a compelling argument for using a folder-based approach to scaffold content and integrate transparency in the course. He does not suggest replacing linear walk-through modules. The folder’s approach may be a welcome alternative to the universal walk-through for faculty new to online teaching or online working with modules.

Finally, in Chapter 11, Cason and Jenkins discuss how to effectively adapt instructional documents from classrooms to online learning environments. They set out their development in a progressive, sustainable, and pedagogically sound approach. The authors model how faculty can, through critical and reflective analysis of course content and goals, adapt and modify existing resources to meet different online learning goals.

Cargile Cook and Grant-Davie have compiled resources here that empower us to prove Marjorie Davis’ assertion about the value technical communicators can bring to online education. It would be a shame to not share such riches with others.

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.

Streamlined ID: A Practical Guide to Instructional Design

Miriam B. Larson and Barbara B. Lockee. 2014. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-50518-5. 278 pages, including index. US$49.95 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.47 PMStreamlined ID is rooted in an iterative approach to the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) method of instructional design (ID). Larson and Lockee’s approach lets instructional designers keep the historical and experiential benefits of working with ADDIE; the iterative angle frees practitioners from some of ADDIE’s shortcomings. The authors’ use of iterative design and the sustainable ID practices that increase efficiency and shorten turn-around time together make the book worth reading. More than an interesting approach to ID, Streamlined ID is a great textbook.

The introduction and opening chapter provide a useful, referenced, and clearly written overview of concepts core to understanding and practicing ID. Their presentation can build new knowledge for novices or improve practitioners’ existing skill sets. To achieve this, Larson and Lockee’s definitions of terms and descriptions of concepts are short enough to establish common ground with practitioners, yet long enough to orient novices. Multiple references and examples are provided for readers who want additional background. The authors continue this thoughtful and practical awareness of their reading audiences from start to end.

Streamlined ID is easy to use. As a reader, Larson and Lockee’s use of tables, headings, and bullets make it easy to scan and relocate important sections. The text embodies what it teaches. This also lets the book serve double duty: modeling best practices while educating the novice while simultaneously providing practitioners references and tools. As a teacher, the text is thorough and detailed enough to be the primary text for an ID course at the undergraduate or graduate level. Depending on learning populations and course outcomes, the text could be easily supplemented. For faculty who prefer to compile their own texts and readings, Streamlined ID’s chapters are self-sufficient enough to be excerpted. Thus, if a course has a weak spot, Streamlined ID may well have a chapter to fill that gap. The book’s tables are its richest resource. I have referred back to them repeatedly and have already made copies for my own reference and use.

The best reason to buy Streamlined ID is that Lockee and Larson deliver what they promise on the back cover: “a generalizable approach to instructional design and development—on that addresses the needs of ID novices as well as practitioners in a variety of career settings.” From start to finish, Streamlined ID is a Leatherman tool for instructional designers—only this comes with instructions.

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.

Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare 8: What the Heck Does That Do?

Neil Perlin. 2012. Seattle, WA: CreateSpace. [ISBN: 978-1-4818-5495-5. 134 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.34.56 PMMadCap Flare is a powerful, flexible, feature-rich help authoring tool. Flare stores content in XML files and then draws on those files to output to a wide range of print, online, and mobile formats. Flare can include or exclude chunks of information as needed, assemble indexes, tables of contents, and glossaries; manage drop-down lists and togglers; and lets you customize almost anything that comes to mind. But working such magic comes at a cost. In many cases, there are several ways to approach a desired end, each with advantages and limitations. To get the most out of Flare you need to understand a myriad of features, choices, and settings. The learning curve can be steep, especially for the self-taught.

With Advanced and Unfamiliar Features in MadCap Flare 8: What the Heck Does That Do?, Neil Perlin provides a valuable guide to some 40 features he believes most need additional explanation. He draws on more than twenty years’ experience working with help authoring tools and seven years consulting and training as a MadCap Flare consultant in making his selections for this book. (While the title specifies Flare 8, the information is still valid for Flare 9.)

In clear, concise, stand-alone topics, Perlin covers the use of master pages versus page layouts; linked versus unlinked table of contents headings; hyperlinks versus cross-references; using the float property to control the positioning of graphics elements; the use of a Flare feature, called Mediums (to set alternate properties for a particular style); several approaches for creating context sensitive help; and more. He also discusses Flare’s use with many of the newly evolving technologies and platforms, such as HTML 5, Adobe’s WebHelp AIR, and Mobile outputs such as ePub, WebHelp, and WebHelp Mobile.

Those who must work with legacy documents in Microsoft Word will appreciate his advice on getting the most out of Flare’s Word import features, which involve choices whose implications may not be entirely clear. Should you preserve Word styles or strip them away? How should you best split long topics into shorter topics? And how does the Avoid Creating Empty Topics option work, and how should it best be used?

What makes the book stand out is that Perlin explains not just how to use a particular feature, but why you might want (or not want) to use it. He often recommends best practices, but also gives you the information you need to choose for yourself. Especially valuable is Perlin’s knowledge of the many “gotchas”—such as features that cause problems when used with other features or that apply only to a particular platform—that exist in the rapidly evolving help universe. As its name suggests, this is not a beginner’s how-to-get-started guide, but if you are serious about getting the most out of Flare, you’ll want it on your shelf.

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

The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. 2013. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. [ISBN: 978-0-307-95713-9. 320 pages, including index. US$26.95]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.35.13 PMIf you would like a glimpse into how technology will shape the future, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business provides pragmatic perspectives on “how humans interact with, implement, adapt to and exploit technologies in their environment” (p. 11). It is not a book that teaches about technology; rather, it is a fast-paced book that shows what humans can do with technology.

The book is a mix of technological dystopia and utopia. Schmidt and Cohen are doing more than making predictions, though. Their look into the future is based on insightful aggregation of events that are already happening. It is somewhat difficult to accept the premise that we will have the ability to grow new organs that replace old or diseased ones or that holograph boxes will be as common as televisions are today. But, the technological advances that are leading up to this reality are well documented and let you see what is currently paving the way for a future based on connectivity and personalization.

What is interesting is that Schmidt and Cohen report on the potential for both good and evil and for liberating and restrictive use of technology by nations, individuals, and organizations (both philanthropic and terrorist). The future of our identity and nations, of revolution, terrorism, and military, are all taken into account. And when I say “our,” I mean it in a global sense because all cultures experience and advance technology in very different ways, and the role that governments play in our lives, thus our future, is taken into account. Each chapter carefully considers how democratic and autocratic governments can and will most likely use the latest advancements in technology for their benefit and to obtain more power and control. The future is a mix of physicality and new virtual selves that are already forming based on biometric information that is captured by every electronic interaction we make today. And our new virtual selves will require new laws, as well as constant monitoring by both ourselves and
our governments.

The chapters on the future of terrorism and the military are somewhat unsettling when one considers the new arenas of domination based on our reliance on technology, but again, this future is based on current events. It is inevitable that technology will fracture our lives. However, the ending chapter on reconstruction leaves readers with an optimistic view about the harmony that can exist between our physical and virtual lives. This is not necessarily a book for only technical communicators; it is a good general read for anyone.

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.

Handbook of Indexing Techniques: A Guide for Beginning Indexers

Linda K. Fetters. 2013. 5th ed. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-57387-461-8. 180 pages, including index. US$28.00 (softcover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.35.30 PMIndexing is a much misunderstood art—or is it a craft? or is it a profession? or is it a business? Yes, all of these. But it can seem a bit mysterious no matter how you think of it. As an indexer myself, I have been surprised at the reactions from people who ask me about my work. The most common attitude is puzzlement as to why a person needs to go to the effort of creating an index when surely the book generates its own index automatically, as many people mistakenly assume.

Indexes are written; they don’t just appear magically when a book is printed. Usually they are written by professional indexers, but in many cases they are written by the work’s author or given as an assignment to whoever doesn’t duck fast enough.

Linda Fetters’ admirably readable book is directed toward those people who are not necessarily indexers—in fact, who usually aren’t indexers—who find themselves in the position of having to prepare an index. Her other audience is non-indexers who are interested in entering the profession. Since Handbook of Indexing Techniques is now in its fifth edition, this somewhat niche topic must be of some relevance to many people.

Fetters has divided her topic into eight chapters: Learning to Index (education issues), Starting the Index (overview of what to include, audience considerations, and useful reference works), Writing the Index (nuts and bolts of indexing mechanics), Names and Biographies (handling issues specific to these topics), References (locators and cross-references), Finishing Touches (sorting and formatting), Periodicals (cumulative indexes, newspaper and journal indexing), and Electronic Documents (embedded indexing, Web indexing, and software tools). Each chapter ends with a bibliography of sources mentioned within, and there are two superb cumulative bibliographies at the end of the work: one alphabetically arranged; the other classified by topic. The work ends with a competent index. Within the Handbook, readers will find the two case studies—San Antonio Register and University of Texas policies and procedures Web index—instructive and useful.

A very few items could have been improved. In a work about indexing, a note concerning the book’s own index would have been appropriate. Indexers seldom get recognized in acknowledgments; books on indexing are among the very few exceptions. If Ms. Fetters was the indexer, she should have said so. If someone else was the indexer, that person should have been acknowledged. One is naturally curious.

In general, the work is well edited and indexed, but a few minor inconsistencies have crept in. For example, the HTML/Prep utility is styled with and without the slash. Consequently, the indexer failed to pick up all mentions when compiling the index.

For the target audience of novice and non-indexers, Handbook of Indexing Techniques provides an excellent introduction to a larger topic, and its extensive bibliography would be useful even for experienced practitioners.

Karen Lane
Karen Lane is a freelance technical editor, indexer, and coauthor of a technical communication textbook, Technical Communication: Strategies for College and the Workplace. She is an STC Fellow and has served on several Society-level committees, as well as serving as program manager for the 2008 STC Technical Communication Summit.

DITA Metrics 101: The Business Case for XML and Intelligent Content

Mark Lewis. 2012. Schomberg, Canada: Rockley Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-9865233-4-2. 150 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover), US$80.00 for MS Excel worksheets that go with the book.]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.35.40 PMMark Lewis is well-known as a DITA expert, and gives us a wealth of methods for calculating return on investment (ROI) in his book, DITA Metrics 101: The Business Case for XML and Intelligent Content. Each chapter provides multiple ways of calculating cost savings for each level and stage of a content development project. The MS Excel worksheets that complement the book make it easy to customize the metrics for your own projects.

One of the challenges that we continually face in our field is how to quantify what we do. This book goes a long way toward providing consistent ROI metrics for content development. While the book focuses on DITA, you could easily customize these metrics for a variety of use cases involving other flavors of structured authoring or content management systems.

For example, you could use the translation cost model and apply it to any similar situation where you have measurable reuse by using the data from the translation memory tool and whatever CMS you use. The chapter on translation also includes information about typical translation workflows and what to watch out for.

However, the book focuses solely on cost metrics, which is a weakness. While ROI is a significant selling point for DITA and other initiatives, it is not the only requirement, and ROI does not equal improved quality. Having useful and quantifiable quality metrics would also be helpful.

If you get the book, spend the extra money and also get the Excel spreadsheets. They will save you time in setting up your own ROI metrics.

Katherine (Kit) Brown-Hoekstra
Katherine Brown-Hoekstra, of Comgenesis, LLC, is a Fellow for STC and the Society VP, speaks at conferences worldwide, and has authored many articles on various topics related to technical communication and internationalization. She has a background in life sciences and 20+ years of experience. She also coauthored a book on managing virtual teams.

The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher

Randolph Hock. CyberAge Books. 2013. 4th ed. [ISBN: 978-1-937290-02-3. 320 pages, including index. US$24.95 (soft cover).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.35.49 PMGoogle has made it so easy to find things on the Internet that many people never realize that other tools and approaches are available for searching that might yield better results, depending on their needs.

In The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for
the Serious Searcher
, Randolph Hock, a well-known search consultant and strategist, seeks to expand your horizons and introduce you to the many resources and techniques that are available for the serious searcher.

This book, now thoroughly updated for the 4th edition, argues that as useful as the popular search engines are, much of the best information on the Internet lies in the “nooks and crannies” (p. xv) of the “deep Web” (p. 23), where it never gets indexed by automatic search engines, or never makes it to the top of popularity-ranked search results.

In addition, you may have specialized needs which call for superior strategies. If, for example, it is important to ensure that you retrieve from a high quality source, or if your goal is to become familiar with the range of information available in a tightly defined field, you may be better served by specialized directories and sites that select content for reliability and relevancy and classify it by subject area, the way a professional librarian would.

Hock gives a brief history of the evolution of Internet information retrieval strategies and covers the strengths and limitations of the major types of tools that are available, including search engines, directories, and portals. He covers the scope and features of the major tools and offers suggestions for getting the most out of them. He points out often-overlooked features, and describes the use of specialized filtering techniques such as phrase searching, title searching, or limiting a search to a specific site, domain, language, range of dates, or file type.

In “An Internet Reference Shelf” (p. 149), Hock recommends what he considers to be the best sites offering particular categories of information. Besides encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs, he includes sources for statistics, company, government, and country-specific information, and more. The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook points to dozens of information-rich sites and notable content collections, and offers techniques for locating others. Finding news (specialized news services, aggregators, RSS feeds), and finding products (catalogues, auctions, product reviews), each get their own chapter.

Not all information is text, of course. Hock covers finding and processing pictures, audio and video, and specialized file types. He also discusses getting information from sources that many of us may never think of as research tools, including discussion groups, forums, newsgroups, blogs, podcasts, and social networks.

For those who want to be information providers, Hock offers suggestions for tools and resources for sharing information.

The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook includes a glossary of search-related terms. For easy reference, the URLs mentioned in the text are listed at the end of the book, and as links on a companion website.

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

The Picture in Design: What Graphic Designers, Art Directors, and Illustrators Should Know About Communicating with Pictures

Stuart Medley. 2012. Champaign, IL: Common Ground Publishing LLC. [ISBN 978-1-61229-050-8. 168 pages, including index. $19.12 USD (ebook).]

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 5.36.02 PMThe Picture in Design: What Graphic Designers, Art Directors, and Illustrators Should Know About Communicating with Pictures is a well-researched complaint about the lack of design theory for illustration in graphic design. When reviewing the history of graphic design schools, Medley notes that “[d]espite a less didactic approach than the Swiss school, these newer texts still suffer from the bias towards type at the expense of pictures” (p. 60). As part of this bias, Medley discusses how present-day graphic design relies heavily on supposedly unbiased photos over personality-driven illustrations.

Medley writes that illustrators need theories about images to make design decisions beyond blind reliance on photos. He notes that illustrations seem to be making a comeback, but “[i]t is not enough to be surrounded by illustration and to be using it for more design tasks; designers…need to know why they are using it if they are to be confident it is communicating what they think it is communicating” (p. 96). Medley reviews how the brain and eyes work together to see, revealing that less realistic images, like line drawings, are the easiest to read. Medley acknowledges “a paradox is at the heart of this book—that one may communicate more accurately through less accurately rendered images” (p. 112).

Medley writes that there should be guidelines for images in graphic design but not what those guidelines should be. Rather, he discusses his thoughts on the idea of rules. For example, “[a] good diagram should have some rules of a strategy imposed on it…” (p. 85).

Continuing his theory that less realistic images are more easily read, Medley writes how comics portray images and tell stories, quoting McCloud’s theories on storytelling and how action occurs between panels. Regarding color, Medley discusses a comic that uses “a limited palette [to create] a colour constancy that is rare in nature and helps the reader establish…character identity” (p. 41). He also praises Herge’s Tintin, who was drawn in a generic fashion so the reader could be the character, but the world and other characters were more detailed to ground the story. That these cartoony drawings read so well “is due, but … only in part, to less distraction associated with the over-reading of unintended messages” (p. 28).

The Picture in Design is a thought-provoking book but over-written. It reads like a college research paper, which makes sense given that Common Ground is a university press. The book lacks focus or any meaningful conclusion beyond suggested ideas. The sheer number of references can be daunting. Medley includes more images that lean more towards the artistic side, posters and book covers, rather than technical process drawings. This book could be interesting to discuss with other illustrators or to start your own pondering on how graphic design uses images.

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.