61.2, May 2014

Recent & Relevant

Lyn Gattis, Editor

The following articles on technical communication have appeared recently in other journals.  The abstracts are prepared by volunteer journal monitors.  If you would like to contribute, contact Lyn Gattis at LynGattis@MissouriState.edu.

“Recent & Relevant” does not supply copies of cited articles.  However, most publishers supply reprints, tear sheets, or copies at nominal cost.  Lists of publishers’ addresses, covering nearly all the articles we have cited, appear in Ulrich’s international periodicals directory.



Developing a playbook strategy for efficient collaboration

Robidoux, C., Abe, M., & Dill, T. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 14–18. [Center for Information-Development Management]

“When writers manage content at the component level, they can lose a sense of ownership, certainty, and control over the writing process. Their overall sense of competence can become undermined, along with their willingness to collaborate. In this article, [the authors] explore how to create more structure to solve this problem. Cultivating collaborative writing efficiency depends on a clear delineation of how the team will work together during key phases in a project. The process of scripting a set of tasks ensures that each member on the team knows exactly how to coordinate with the others. [The authors] refer to these scripts as ‘plays,’ drawing on the analogy from team sports or dramatic performances. [The article contains] a short background of the play and the playbook strategy, a description of how it works, and a snapshot of how teams in our organizations are using the strategy to optimize efficiency.”

Lyn Gattis


The effects of task complexity and group member experience on computer-mediated groups facing deception

Giordano, G., & George, J. F. (2013). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 56, 210–225. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2013.2273817

“Due to globalization and the increased availability of online collaboration tools, individuals are now likely to work together in settings where computers are their primary mode of communication. However, because communication characteristics are different in virtual team settings, especially when they are text based, communication problems, such as deception, arise. Recent research found that deceptive individuals in virtual teams can have a negative impact on group task performance, and it recognized that in addition to the communication medium, task and group characteristics, such as task complexity and group member experience, are important influences in these settings. However, the impacts of these additional influences have not been empirically examined. . . . Previous literature has shown that deceivers are an important influence on computer-mediated groups. However, few studies have compared different group settings, and no studies have empirically tested the impact that task and group characteristics, such as task complexity and group member experience, have on these types of groups. . . . An experiment was designed to test the effect of group member experience and task complexity on computer-mediated groups facing deception. Two-hundred fifty-six undergraduates (256) were selected for the experiment. . . . Quantitative analysis, which included multivariate analysis of variance, revealed that (a) groups performing a low-complexity task were better at detecting deception than were groups performing a high-complexity task, (b) groups with members who had experience with each other had higher task performance than did inexperienced groups, and (c) experienced groups did not have higher accuracy in detecting deception than did inexperienced groups. These results highlight the importance of understanding the different affects that task complexity and group member experience have on virtual teams facing deception, and they provide insight into what practices can help minimize the impact of interactive computer-mediated deception.”

Lyn Gattis



A study of how information system professionals comprehend indirect and direct speech acts in project communication

Yin, C.-P., & Kuo, F.-Y. (2013). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 56, 226–241. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2013.2263648

“Indirect communication is prevalent in business communication practices. For information systems (IS) projects that require professionals from multiple disciplines to work together, the use of indirect communication may hinder successful design, implementation, and maintenance of these systems. Drawing on the Speech Act Theory (SAT), this study investigates how direct and indirect speech acts may influence language comprehension in the setting of communication problems inherent in IS projects. . . . The current study uses a quantitative approach. A between-groups experiment design was employed to test how direct and indirect speech acts influence the language comprehension of participants. Forty-three IS professionals participated in the experiment. In addition, through the use of eye-tracking technology, this study captured the attention process and analyzed the relationship between attention and comprehension. . . . The results show that the directness of speech acts significantly influences participants' attention process, which, in turn, significantly affects their comprehension. Professionals and managers of organizations should be aware that effective communication in interdisciplinary projects, such as IS development, is not easy, and that reliance on polite or indirect communication may inhibit the generation of valid information.”

Lyn Gattis


Switching in Twitter’s hashtagged exchanges

Jones, J. (2013). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 83–108. doi: 10.1177/1050651913502358

“Networks have a remarkable ability to bring people together in communities, both online and offline, but such community building is not the only possible result of network use. This article examines the case of a tagging network on Twitter, the online social networking service characterized by short messages. Although Twitter has many social features that foster interaction between users, the use of hashtags to signal the topic of a message exists outside of the site’s primary social structures, creating a unique writing environment. This article analyzes a hashtagged exchange surrounding the 2009 health care debate in the United States, examining the social features of this exchange and how participants used it to communicate about that debate. While traditional social features were certainly present within the exchange, they were not prominent or common; rather, users engaged the network properties of this exchange to make connections with other networks, drawing on a form of network power called switching. The analysis focuses on how the Twitter network’s structural features affect communication between users.”

Lyn Gattis



Icon design to improve communication of health information to older adults

Kascak, L., Rebola, C. B., Braunstein, R., & Sanford, J. A. (2013). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 2, 6–32. doi: 10.1145/2559866.2559867

This paper describes the studies undertaken in order to improve and simplify communication of health information for Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) devices, specifically the BL Healthcare Access Tablet, to older adults. Current icon and information design of the RPM devices are not well designed to reflect the needs, experiences and limitations of the older adults. In addition to this, compliance with self-management schedules is often poor due to complex and unclear instructions and information design. The issue of compliance, with the need for effective communication between chronic disease patients and healthcare professionals emphasize the need for the appropriate information design and communication technology. Communication of health information was improved from the perspective of the user experience (UX) design and information design. For the purpose of addressing the UX redesign, usability studies were conducted, followed by the information redesign and icons design. Although medical peripherals, such as an electronic thermometer, are required to measure the patient information, a mobile or tablet application can easily be used to record, send and view this data. A concept for the RPM mobile application is developed, that could be used on existing tablets and smartphones, thus eliminating the need for the current costly hardware.”

Lyn Gattis



Using editing checklists for more efficient editing

Schrank, K. (2014). AMWA Journal, 28, 164–5.

Inspired by Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2010) Schrank proposes that editorial checklists designed for specific, regularly encountered document types can increase efficiency by providing the optimal sequence for performing editorial tasks and by limiting errors possibly caused by interruptions during the editing process. Even though the initial creation and implementation of the list may take time, the result is less time spent on copyediting, leaving more available for substantive editorial work.  Instructions for writing the lists are provided, along with a table comparing a poorly-constructed list with a good one.

Magdalena Berry



Defining “research”: Undergraduate perceptions of research in a technical communication classroom 

Ross, G. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 44, 61–69. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.1.e

“This article presents data from a two-part study of student perceptions of research. Fifty-one research proposals are analyzed in order to understand perceptions of research, and results from a survey are analyzed to better understand how students both perceive and articulate their understanding of research. The data show that students assign multiple definitions to the concept of research, and suggest that increased attention to clarifying terminology and identifying student perceptions would facilitate better work.”

Nick Carrington


Teaching evidence-based writing using corporate blogs

Lee, C.-C. (2013). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 56, 242–255. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2013.2273117

“. . . . The ability to engage in argument from evidence is one of the Next Generation Science Standards for scientific and engineering practices. Thus, it is important for engineering students to know how to present evidence-based arguments. The communication model framework was introduced to provide students with a framework to base their arguments on. This framework builds on the genre-based and academic literacies approaches to teaching writing. More companies are now using corporate blogs (an open, participatory, and globally networked social media tool) to engage stakeholders directly across multiple contexts. The framework is useful in analyzing evolving genres like corporate blogs because it is not only structured but also flexible. . . . Working in groups, the students used the framework for their oral practice critique and their critique assignment on a given piece of academic writing or corporate blog. They also had to write a reflection paper individually at the end of the course. . . . Overall, the mixed groups and international students groups made a stronger attempt to apply the framework compared to the Singaporean student groups. The students' educational backgrounds, the group dynamics within the group, and the nature of the discussions affected the level of adoption of the framework in their writing. . . .”

Lyn Gattis


Wicked problems in technical communication 

Wickman, C. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 44, 23–42. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.1.c

“This article develops a framework for rhetorical inquiry that builds on the concept of wicked problems as conceptualized through social policy and design studies research. Responding to technical communication scholarship that calls for increased engagement with public issues and controversies, the author specifically discusses a writing course that used the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a basis for teaching problem-based rhetorical invention, document production, interdisciplinary collaboration, and professional development. The framework described in this article ultimately offers a heuristic for students to research and write about ill-defined problems that must be addressed in time but that demand sustained engagement over time—activities that begin in the classroom but ideally continue to develop throughout their personal and professional lives.”

Nick Carrington



Framing sustainability: Business students writing about the environment

Mathison, M. A., Stillman-Webb, N., & Bell, S. A. (2013). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 58–82. doi: 10.1177/1050651913502488

“Corporate social responsibility is a topic that is increasingly incorporated into business school curricula. This article describes a study of undergraduate business majors who wrote about an environmental topic in response to an Analytical Writing Assessment question in the Graduate Management Admission Test™. Of 187 students, only 76 mentioned natural resources in their responses. The study examines this smaller corpus for stance, framing, and argument. The results indicate that the majority of those 76 students supported sustainable practices but were less adept at presenting their perspectives, invoking a personal frame over a professional one. The authors suggest ways to help students develop stronger skills in writing about corporate social responsibility.”

Lyn Gattis


Health communication

Readability and text cohesion of online colorectal cancer and screening information

Liu, C., Yates, K. E., & Rawl, S. M. (2014). AMWA Journal, 28, 146–151.

“A common goal of medical writers is to clearly communicate health information. When the intended audience is the lay public rather than health care providers and scientists, writers and editors have often turned to readability formulas in the quest to improve comprehension by readers. Although their use is widespread, these formulas leave out textual factors that are critical to comprehension, such as text cohesion. Recent advances in reading comprehension studies and computation technology have resulted in the development of automated linguistic analysis tools that writers may find useful to analyze text cohesion. [The authors] sought to evaluate in health education materials whether text cohesion is correlated with readability as assessed by a readability formula. The current study used an online linguistic computation tool, Coh-Metrix, to analyze text cohesion in addition to reading grade levels of 55 online texts of colorectal cancer and screening information. Indices of referential cohesion (argument and word stem overlap among sentences) and semantic cohesion (semantic and conceptual similarity among sentences) were selected to measure text cohesion. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was selected to assess reading grade levels. Results showed that text materials written at lower reading grade levels as assessed by the reading formula seem to be low in text cohesion. Although text length is not associated with the degree of referential cohesion or semantic cohesion, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is positively associated with both. [The] study suggests that text cohesion may need to be considered in the effort to improve readability of written health information. Simply lowering the reading grade level of a given text may inadvertently decrease text cohesion and therefore comprehension. Medical writers and editors may wish to explore linguistic computation tools to analyze their documents and potentially increase comprehension by their readers.”

Magdalena Berry


Information management

A case study in curbing a reliance on inline links

Berry, M. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 19–22. [Center for Information-Development Management]

This article addresses the problem of “[e]xuberant overuse of online links” in help content, which in the author’s organization had created “several problems, including inflexible content, and reliance on links instead of finding better structure.” In the process of “turning a 4,500 page PDF into 13 smaller ones,” the writing team found ways to eliminate about 46 percent of the inline links in the original help document. The author identifies lessons learned as “creating more customer-focused documentation, including examples, and being quick to answer the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’.” The author emphasizes the value of “measurements of actual usage. [The team has] started regular, consistent practices around reviewing page views, comments, and ratings to refine [their] intuition and learn what works and what doesn’t” in creating topics “that more closely match the actual user tasks.”

Lyn Gattis


How we use minimalism and a new form of task-oriented help, WalkHub, to overcome cognitive load in web applications

van Tomme, K., & Lakatos, D. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 23–27. [Center for Information-Development Management]

“This article reviews the evolution of online help and investigates the issues users and technical writers face in online communication. Intense cognitive load, frequent updates, new ways of collaboration on software required new approaches in documenting online interfaces. [The authors] found that DITA principles can build a strong foundation for a new tool that follows the way people actually perform tasks online. To this end, [the authors] developed WalkHub, an open source, step-by-step, interactive tutorial and documentation tool with DITA concepts in mind.”

Lyn Gattis



User manuals for a primary care electronic medical record system: A mixed-methods study of user- and vendor-generated documents

Shachak, A., Dow, R., Barnsley, J., Tu, K., Domb, S., Jadad, A. R., & Lemieux-Charles, L. (2013). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 56, 194–209. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2013.2263649

“Tutorials and user manuals are important forms of impersonal support for using software applications, including electronic medical records (EMRs). Differences between user- and vendor-generated documentation may indicate support needs, which are not sufficiently addressed by the official documentation, and reveal new elements that may inform the design of tutorials and user manuals. . . . Effective design of tutorials and user manuals requires careful packaging of information, balance between declarative and procedural texts, an action and task-oriented approach, support for error recognition and recovery, and effective use of visual elements. No previous research compared these elements between formal and informal documents. . . . [The authors] conducted a mixed-methods study. Seven tutorials and two manuals for an EMR were collected from three family health teams and compared with the official user manual from the software vendor. Documents were qualitatively analyzed using a framework analysis approach in relation to the principles of technical documentation described before. Subsets of the data were quantitatively analyzed using cross-tabulation to compare the types of error information and visual cues in screen captures between user- and vendor-generated manuals. . . . The user-developed tutorials and manuals differed from the vendor-developed manual in that they contained mostly procedural and not declarative information; were customized to the specific workflow, user roles, and patient characteristics; contained more error information related to work processes than software usage; and used explicit visual cues on screen captures to help users identify window elements. These findings imply that to support EMR implementation, tutorials and manuals need to be customized and adapted to specific organizational contexts and workflows. The main limitation of the study is its generalizability. Future research should address this limitation and may explore alternative approaches to software documentation, such as modular manuals or participatory design.”

Lyn Gattis


Intercultural communication

An important link in the chain connecting ancient Chinese philosophy to present-day style of Chinese technical communication: Introducing Yellow Emperor's classic of internal medicine—China's first comprehensive medical book

Ding, D. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication44, 43–59. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.1.d.

“Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, China's first comprehensive medical book, served as the key link between Yi Jing, which initiated China's high-context culture, and the high-context style of modern Chinese technical communication. In the form of dialogues between Yellow Emperor and his minister, its 24 fascicles cover four major topics of the organs, diagnosis, diseases, and treatments. While examining the body and discussing various diseases and treatments, the book expands on Yi Jing's philosophy through integrating three interrelated concepts: Tao, Yin and Yang, and Five Elements (word, fire, soil, metal, and water). In this way, the book, for the first time in Chinese history, explicitly treated humans and their behaviors as individual events conditioned by the natural context, emphasizing context as the conditioning force. This emphasis on context is manifest in modern Chinese technical communication as two textual devices of establishing personal relationships and creating ideal physical environments.”

Nick Carrington


Leadership styles in multicultural groups: Americans and East Asians working together

Aritz, J., & Walker, R. (2014). International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 72–92. doi: 10.1177/2329488413516211

“The global economy has created new realities for businesses, and the need for understanding differing communication practices and cultural values is greater than ever, particularly with regard to the surging economies in the East. Working in multicultural work groups is a new workplace reality that has created a greater need to understand how to lead these groups to maximize the quality and effectiveness of multicultural group work. Cultural differences exist regarding the importance and value of leadership. Still, much remains to be understood as to the way in which culture influences leadership and organizational processes. To what extent do cultural forces influence the expectations that individuals have for leaders and their behavior, for instance? What principles of leadership and organizational processes transcend cultures? This article is primarily directed to an American audience and uses a discursive leadership approach to provide a better understanding of how different leadership styles affect group member interaction in multicultural groups involving participants from American and East Asian cultures. Our results demonstrate that differing discursive leadership styles can affect the participation and contribution of members and may affect their feelings of inclusion and satisfaction within the group. Our results also provide evidence that particular styles of and approaches to leadership may not be as successful with all cultural groups.”

Katherine Wertz


Lying in intra-Asian business discourse in an ELF setting

Hiromasa, T. (2014). International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 58–71. doi: 10.1177/2329488413516209

“Previous studies have reported that the act of lying is ubiquitous. Although lies are generally regarded as a threat to the moral fabric of society, some lies are told in order to maintain or even enhance human relations. Such lies, therefore, could even be justified as an adaptive tool at times essential for the maintenance of social relationships. When speakers of English as a lingua franca (ELF) from different cultural backgrounds interact in order to build and maintain business relationships, the communication problems that develop can be accounted for in terms of differing perceptions that individuals have of what deceptive communication entails. This study aims to redefine intercultural business communication from an Asian perspective by examining naturally occurring business interaction between Japanese and Indian small business owners. The participants seek to establish a mutually beneficial relationship in order to cooperate in joint commercial activity. Special attention is paid to the lies told and detected by interlocutors. Employing the notion of business discourse, this study uses multiple analytical methods. The analysis depicts meaning jointly created as a result of strategic interaction. Because presenting truth tactfully requires of interlocutors’ high linguistic and communicative competence, ELF users use lies as an easy strategy for avoiding conflicts. This study emphasizes situated discourse and identity as critical factors affecting intercultural business communication.”

Katherine Wertz



Do communication abilities affect promotion decisions? Some data from the C-suite

Reinsch, N. L., & Gardner, J. A. (2013). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 31–57. doi: 10.1177/1050651913502357

“Senior U.S. business executives reported that in making recent promotion decisions, they had placed a great deal of weight on candidates’ interpersonal skills, less weight on oral communication skills, and even less weight on writing skills. Older business managers ranked communication skills as more important than did the younger managers. If this age-related difference is a maturation effect, younger managers may place more emphasis on communication as they mature. If the age-related difference is a cohort effect, the relative importance of communication skills for advancement may shift as Generation X executives replace boomer executives in top-level positions at U.S. corporations.”

Lyn Gattis


Public relations

Impression management strategies in company-consumer interactions

Lillqvist, E., & Louhiala-Salminen, L. (2013). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 3–30. doi: 10.1177/1050651913502359

“This study examines interaction between corporate representatives and critical consumers in today’s social media environment. Applying a microanalytical form of discourse analysis to a data set of corporate Facebook page discussions, the study contributes to a better understanding of the communicative resources that organizations use as part of their impression management (IM) for upholding their acceptability and promoting their credibility. The study also reveals the complexity of the work of corporate Facebook representatives, who need to align their individual IM with that of the organization while adjusting to the technologically mediated context.”

Lyn Gattis



Comparison as a mode of inquiry: Rearticulating the contexts of intercultural communication

Cummings, L. (2014). Rhetoric, Professional Communication, and Globalization, 5, 126–146. “Though contrastive rhetoric has strong ties with professional and intercultural communication . . . , further discussions in comparative rhetoric can inform research in professional communication by developing more reflective approaches to comparison as a mode of inquiry. . . . Too often, variations in cultures, human behavior, rhetoric, or language use are seen as obstacles to developing national and cultural relationships, or problems to be solved, rather than generative moments of interaction, where new knowledge is being formed. . . . Drawing from discussions among comparative scholars in English studies. . . , this article examines comparison as a distinct mode of inquiry that requires more precise, yet flexible, methodologies, fostering self-reflexive approaches to knowledge that can rearticulate how we see professional and intercultural communication, particularly in multilingual and online spaces.”

Anita Ford


Designing for engagement: Intercultural communication and/as participatory design 

Getto, G. (2014). Rhetoric, Professional Communication, and Globalization, 5, 44–46.

“Intercultural researchers have amassed a wealth of best practices when it comes to improving communication in situations where interlocutors are globally dispersed, linguistically diverse, and operating from within radically different cultural systems. At the same time, little attention has been paid to the infrastructure that supports such communication, and how its attendant technologies, networks, and specific modes of communication are culturally embedded and thus both encourage and constrain possibilities for intercultural communication. . . . [The author] presents . . . a method for researching and designing communication infrastructure so that culturally-situated practices and values of both designers and users are treated as assets for design. . . .”

Anita Ford


Science writing

Framing and re-framing in environmental science: Explaining climate change to the public

Rademaekers, J., & Johnson-Sheehan, R. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 44, 3–21. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.1.b

“Environmental scientists and science communicators working to educate the public on the science of global climate change often work to present information through an environmentalist perspective. This article uses theories of metaphoric framing to present six guidelines that climate change communicators can use to reframe climate change science in public communication. In particular, the authors argue for environmental scientists to adopt frames that the broader public will find familiar and persuasive. This reframing of environmental science is necessary to counter the framing of skepticism that special interest groups have used to dominate attempts to communicate climate change science to the public.”

Nick Carrington



The quotation theory of writing

Olson, D. R., & Oatley, K. (2014). Written Communication, 31, 4–26. doi: 10.1177/0741088313515164

“Learning to read and write is seen as both the acquisition of skills useful in a modern society and an introduction to a world increasingly organized around the reading and writing of authoritative texts. While most agree on the importance of writing, insufficient attention has been given to the more basic question of just what writing is, that is, how best to think about writing as both a technology of communication and an instrument of thought. In this article [the authors] elaborate and defend the view that writing is distinctive not only as a technology for the visual representation of speech but more basically as a technology for taking language ‘off-line,’ that is, as language enclosed by quotation marks. Writing, like oral quotation, provides a set of objects divorced from the speaker that persist in time and space and that can be considered and reconsidered somewhat independently of the context of expression and the intentions of the original author. Of special relevance are the units of meaning, namely, words and sentences. When writing turns words and sentences into objects of analysis, it facilitates distinctive modes of discourse such as extended prose and distinctive modes of thinking such as formal rationality.”

Hunter Auman