61.4, November 2014

Books Reviewed in This Issue

Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated so Anyone Can Understand

by Frank J. Pietrucha

The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson

by Lewis Blackwell

Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication

by Mariam F. Williams and Octavio Pimentel, Eds.

The Literary Theory Handbook

by Gregory Castle

The Influential Project Manager: Winning Over Team Members and Stakeholders

by Alfonso Bucero

Legal Aspects of Digital Preservation

by Thomas Hoeren, Barbara Kolany-Raiser, Silviya Yankova, Martin Hecheltjen, and Konstantin Hobel

The Next Digital Scholar: A Fresh Approach to the Common Core State Standards in Research and Writing

by James P. Purdy and Randall McClure, Eds.

Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated so Anyone Can Understand

Frank J. Pietrucha. 2014. New York, NY: AMACOM. [ISBN 978-0-8144-3368-3. 258 pages, including index. US$17.95 (softcover).]

reviews_book1 Technical communicators often must take technical content and make it understandable to non-technical people. An engineer may excel at engineering, but have problems explaining matters to accountants, marketing people, even the general public.

Pietrucha’s Supercommunicator: Explaining the Complicated so Anyone Can Understand addresses this problem, not for technical communicators, but for engineers and other technical professionals. His main advice is to know your audience—something technical communicators have known all along. So, they are not the book’s audience. Yet, the value for them comes in providing a source when asked about communicating to non-technical audiences.

Pietrucha divides the book into 9 parts with 31 chapters where he spends considerable time talking about visualizing the concepts to be communicated for a non-technical audience as though visuals would replace written explanations. He mentions several visualization tools, and PowerPoint receives considerable attention, both negative and positive. Pietrucha thinks that it can be a useful tool and disagrees somewhat with critics like Edward Tufte.

Supercommunicator is not a quick read because of its length and absence of examples. Readers will probably discover the same problems I found: Examples to support Pietrucha’s assertions are not plentiful, nor are detailed annotations pointing out what is wrong with the sample and how to correct it. This lack is especially noticeable when he talks about slide design. Pietrucha does show sample slides from a talk on HIV/AIDS (pp. 210-214). And, this leads to an oddity in the book. He talks about simplifying visuals containing large amounts of data, yet the two examples he gives are far from simplified. Granted, it is difficult to construct a visual that shows all the trans-Atlantic flights on a given day (p. 203), but there must be a better way to visualize it for the intended audience. The same is true for a visual comparing gross national product (GNP) and gold medals won at the 2004 Summer Olympics (p. 204).

Pietrucha does keep coming back to know your audience, yet the analysis approach he advocates is rather superficial and does not take into account, for example, the purpose the non-technical person brings to the communication.

While Pietrucha does increase the number of examples later in the book, he still looks at simplifying communication from a surface perspective. Adapting material to different audiences is more than changing the vocabulary. He needs to address such matters as, for example, sentence and paragraph structure.

For the price, Supercommunicator is worth recommending to technical people who want to communicate with people outside their field. You might caution potential readers that they will have to supply their own examples for the early part of the book, but that should not deter your recommending it nor their gaining from it.

Tom Warren
Tom Warren is an STC Fellow, Jay R. Gould Award for Excellence recipient, and professor emeritus of English (technical writing) at Oklahoma State University, where he established the BA, MA, and PhD technical writing programs. Past president of INTECOM, he serves as guest professor at the University of Paderborn, Germany.

The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson

Lewis Blackwell. 2012. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Laurence King Publishing. [ISBN 978-85669-216-8.180 pages. US$45.00 (softcover).]

reviews_book2Twenty years after publication of The End of Print, does David Carson’s iconoclastic, deconstructive, reconstructive, approach to graphic design still matter enough to support the publication of a revised edition?

In the early 1990s, Carson led a design revolution in the visual language of type and image with his unexpected editorial designs for publications such as Surfer, Beach Culture, Musician Magazine and RayGun Magazine where he broke all the then accepted rules of graphic design, typography, and page layout. Many saw his work as a bridge between the long tradition of conventional print and the coming revolution in digital technology though he long assembled his final designs in analog form.

Carson’s innovative, expressive designs often recall the pioneering typographic and photographic innovations of early Dadaists, Constructivists, and Futurists, the work of 1980s Dutch designers, Germans Gunter Rambow and Wolfgang Weingart, and Americans April Greiman, Jamie Odgers, Katherine McCoy, and Rudy VanderLans among many. Carson’s work though provided the spark that fueled the expressive design renaissance of the 1990s and cemented the computer’s use as the new tool in expanding the graphic design language.

Ken Wilson wrote in Blueprint magazine in 1995, “The End of Print was…to some degree a documentary record of a defining period for the profession as it moved abruptly and rather bewilderingly into the digital world.” Carson’s found imagery inspired design exploited visual puns, fragmentation, overlap, transparency, color shifts, and repetition. His designs were made with a disregard for conventional page grids, challenged conventional text reading, and pushed the legibility of messages to the edge. His treatment of the conventions of visual syntax was first opposed by many of the senior design establishment still committed to exhausted forms of modernism that would opt for more control or “…locked down rationalism…” in design as Tom Wyatt wrote in his own introduction to the second edition.

The second edition remains a traditional monograph with often insightful writing including new entries by contributors such as Jessica Helfand and Tom Wyatt. Carson’s editorial designs, more recent advertising and TV commercial work, is interspersed with guest contributor’s collages, and his own street photography that displays an iconic character and his cultural influences. Textures and rhythms in his photography of faded and peeling urban landscapes, billboards, and printing ephemera, as a major source of his visual language, reveal how seemingly random handling of type and white space stand out as image signs that shift attention to a profoundly visual way of reading messages.

Blackwell’s analytical introduction summed up why Carson’s work still matters today: “The duty of a graphic designer is to provide a visual experience that communicates the given content effectively.” Tom Wyatt wrote, “…the rule dissolving, highly fluid forms of his work were made for the new digital designer to pick up and explore.”

Carson’s uniquely expressive approach remains controversial and quite significant as a means of visual expression in print and in transition from print to small screen.

Stephen Goldstein
Stephen Goldstein is an associate professor in the Communication Media Department at Fitchburg State University, a practicing graphic designer, a contributing writer to Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, and an editorial committee member for the 5th ed. He is a guest lecturer and published author, writing in Baseline Magazine, Novum, IdN, and other publications.

Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication

Mariam F. Williams and Octavio Pimentel, Eds. 2014. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc. [ISBN: 978-0-89503-832-6. 184 pages, including index. US$54.95 (softcover).]

reviews_book3A vibrant mix of primary research and theoretical articles, Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication is a welcome collection that addresses critical issues in technical communication, especially for our globalized society.

The intercultural communication subject is not new to technical communication; however, one of this book’s best features is that the articles are fresh and innovative. The main areas covered include historical representations of race and nationality in health and science communication, social justice and activism, social networking, reporting at historically Black colleges and universities, users’ right to their own language, and communicating across borders and disciplines. The subject matter’s timeliness is also a highlight where authors address issues of race and ethnicity about contemporary technology, language, outsourced labor, and activism. Even historical representations of race and ethnicity have relevance to practicing technical communicators and graduate students. For instance, in the article “The Eugenics Agenda: Deliberative Rhetoric and Therapeutic Discourse of Hate,” Richardson discusses a historical moment in North Carolina where extremely poor, “feebleminded,” and “unfit” people were sterilized by the state. The deliberative rhetoric behind this movement is astounding and disturbing but not so far off from rhetoric associated with other social and political movements in contemporary society. Likewise, Pimentel and Gutierrez’s chapter discusses negative racial rhetoric where they argue that the degrading rhetoric used to marginalize Mexican Americans is no longer associated with geographical regions or local populations. Since many commercials are uploaded onto YouTube and viewed around the world, the negative conceptions of Mexican Americans are seen, thus proliferated, worldwide.

Additionally, issues of language and identity are important cultural considerations in today’s globalized workplace. In the chapter on Spanglish, Danuz presents clear arguments for the inclusion of Spanglish in technical communication as ways to achieve clarity and trust with increasing bilingual populations. Similarly, the chapter on Indian cultural identity as studied through Indian call centers is enlightening about how competence and trust are perceived through accents, as well as how new identities are constructed according to customer feedback and perceptions.

Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication has wide-reaching potential for readers and uses. Possible readers include scholars in technical communication and intercultural communication, practicing technical writers, and graduate students. Numerous possibilities exist for using this book in graduate courses, such as introduction to technical communication, intercultural rhetoric, proposal and grant writing, and courses that incorporate discussion about social justice.

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.

The Literary Theory Handbook

Gregory Castle. 2013. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. [ISBN 978-0-470-67195-5. 426 pages, including index. US$36.95 (softcover).]

reviews_book4True confession: I love literary theory. I began my journey into this esoteric field in graduate school at George Mason University. It was there that I was introduced to an amazing universe of thoughts and ideas that borrowed from so many disciplines that I was interested in from psychology to linguistics to philosophy and more. The first book I studied was Derrida’s Of Grammatology. As my professor at the time promised, my world would never be the same.

Gregory Castle’s The Literary Theory Handbook is an excellent guide to navigate students through what I.A. Richards called a “chaos of critical theories” (p. 3). The book is well organized beginning with key definitions, moving into historical oversight, delving in scope and key figures, and concluding with short examples of theory in practice. Also included is a requisite bibliography and glossary. The result is something that transcends a mere map of a challenging landscape; it is a tool to lift students from theory and safely position them to enter the world of practice.

The two sections I enjoyed most and that provide the most value are section 2, “The Scope of Literary Theory” and section 3, “Key Figures in Literary Theory.” I should also give a quick nod to the historical overview. While it is a fun read, it is inherently fraught with pitfalls. Quite simply, the history of literary theory is as chaotic as the field itself. Just setting it to pen welcomes debate.

To lay out the scope of literary theory, Castle neatly segments the field into six rubrics comprising major schools of thought and movements. He openly acknowledges that the rubrics are themselves theoretical as opposed to definitive and that with relative ease their borders could be redrawn. His point is to provide a framework by which to examine the chaos, knowing well it is just a snapshot of a fluid gestalt. Personally, it works for me.

The second framework Castle provides is by key players. This section’s outline reads like a literary theory hall of fame, ranging from the expected—Derrida, Barthes, Lacan—to the nuanced—Said, Baudrillard, hooks. Each entrant’s information includes a brief biography followed by a selected bibliography. A person could argue that the list misses some notable figures—perhaps Chaim Perelman or Barbara Johnson—but it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, only an overview. With that in mind, it succeeds.

Flaws? The theory in practice section seems thin, both in cumulative pages for the section as well as in word count for each entry. I expected each essay to be at least ten pages whereas they average three pages. The essays felt too abbreviated even for an introduction.

Altogether, The Literary Theory Handbook is an excellent introductory textbook. It is thorough enough to fully immerse students new to the subject and brief enough to serve as a “greatest hits” compilation for the more serious fan.

Gary Hernandez
Gary Hernandez is a communications director for an international oil company. 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.

The Influential Project Manager: Winning Over Team Members and Stakeholders

Alfonso Bucero. 2014. Boca Raton, FL: Auerbach Publications. [ISBN 978-1-4665-9633-3. 220 pages, including index. US$41.09 (softcover).]

reviews_book5It’s so much about trust. So says Alfonso Bucero in The Influential Project Manager: Winning Over Team Members and Stakeholders when it comes to being an effective project manager. As a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Project Management Institute (PMI) Fellow, Bucero speaks from experience with a career spanning more than three decades including work at Hewlett-Packard Spain and International Institute of Learning (IIL) Spain. He graduated from PMI’s Leadership Institute Master Class 2007 Atlanta and received the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award in 2010. Bucero has been a keynote speaker for several congresses worldwide and teacher at several schools.

You should ask the right questions to achieve success in project management. Will I have the right team and right budget, plus have achievable goals and a supportive boss? Do I have the right skills? With a “Yes” answer to these questions, your chance of achieving success increases.

To be a successful project manager, you must also be a person of influence. In The Influential Project Manager, Bucero explains how to set and meet goals and fulfill the ambitions of your team, your stakeholders, and yourself. These are key parts to success.

Active listening and building partnerships loom as key components. Each chapter includes forms and tips on these topics involving how to influence others to support you and your ideas.

Getting back to the matter of trust and its importance to becoming an influential, effective project manager, a trust assessment appears in The Influential Project Manager to determine your level of influence. It also evaluates if others see you as trustworthy. “Without trust it becomes very hard to build alliances, commitment, and support from the firm. There is much more to being an effective influencer than trust, but lack of trust is a killer” (p. 165).

Informal alliances and integrity also appear as important components to the project manager’s success. Concerning integrity, Bucero asks a few good questions (p. 174): “How well do I treat people from whom I gain nothing? Am I transparent with others?”

Optimism appears throughout The Influential Project Manager and especially at the end. “Get your ego out of the way and move on. You are a leader who needs to serve your people” (p. 179). That is fitting advice for the project manager.

Jeanette Evans
Jeanette Evans is an STC Associate Fellow and active in the NEO community, currently serving on the newsletter committee. She holds an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University. Jeanette has published in Intercom with articles (“What We Can Learn from Project Managers”) and presented at various STC events.

Legal Aspects of Digital Preservation

Thomas Hoeren, Barbara Kolany-Raiser, Silviya Yankova, Martin Hecheltjen, and Konstantin Hobel. 2013. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. [ISBN 978-1-78254-665-8. 218 pages, including index. US$120.00.]

reviews_book6 With increasing obligations to retain data, companies now rely more heavily on digital preservation. Comprehensive digital preservation systems protect data and ensure future accessibility. Along with this data retention, these systems must address the rights afforded various parties within the digital preservation chain to prevent infringing on protected rights. To create awareness of the complexity of legal issues in digital preservation within the European Union (EU), Hoeren, Kolany-Raiser, Yankova, Hecheltjen, and Hobel review primary EU and some Member State laws and regulations affecting digital data retention. Legal Aspects of Digital Preservation provides insightful guidance on possible legal implications related to transferring data (migration) and imitating systems (emulation). Technical communicators, whether assisting in the development of these systems or working with existing systems, should identify and document the rights and right holders at each stage of the digital preservation process.

Digital preservation systems must account for individual privacy rights. Because the EU Data Protection Directive protects sensitive data of identified or identifiable natural persons, companies cannot digitally preserve an individual’s personal data without a statutory exception or the person’s “clear and unambiguous” consent (p. 69). Because of the difficulty in obtaining consent and differing interpretations of consent between Member States, the authors advise businesses to anonymize personal data to protect individual identities. After locating personal information, technical communicators should remove identifying markers to ensure privacy.

Digital preservation systems must also address intellectual property rights. Under the EU Computer Program Directive and national copyright laws, copyright holders possess exclusive rights to reproduce and alter or adapt their protected material. Thus, any data migration or porting may infringe on these rights. Because most EU Member States prohibit assignment or waiver of intellectual property rights, copyright holders license the use of their copyrighted material. Technical communicators should document both the scope and the duration of these license agreements. Although the EU Computer Program Directive provides some mandatory licensee rights, particularly the licensee’s right to “use the computer program ‘in accordance with its intended purpose'” (p. 129), some Member States prohibit porting and emulating data without a license. By identifying and documenting these intellectual property rights, technical communicators can assist in ensuring legal compliance by noting situations requiring additional authorization.

Although the material may be off-putting for the non-attorney, Legal Aspects of Digital Preservation demonstrates the importance of tracking rights in light of both EU regulations and applicable Member State laws. The authors make the text accessible to those outside the legal field by presenting complicated legal concepts in an understandable fashion. Clear definitions of legal terms and thorough explanations of existing laws and regulations assist the reader in comprehending a complex subject. Not only does this guide alert technical communicators to the information they should identify and document through the digital preservation process, the book makes a great desk reference for these legal concepts.

Valerie Mullaley
Valerie Mullaley is a contracts manager in Huntsville, AL. She holds a BS in Mathematics from the University of Alabama and a JD, cum laude, from Cumberland School of Law, Samford University. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The Next Digital Scholar: A Fresh Approach to the Common Core State Standards in Research and Writing

James P. Purdy and Randall McClure, Eds. 2014. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-57387-495-3. 544 pages, including index. US$59.50 (hardcover).]

reviews_book7A current topic generating discussion among states, especially conservative states, is a government initiative on educational standards. Developed by a committee that, ironically, includes governors who now oppose such government standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS—2010; http//www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/) set educational standards from K–12 that should lead to success not only in K–12, but also college and, later, a career.

The Next Digital Scholar: A Fresh Approach to the Common Core State Standards in Research and Writing, edited by James P. Purdy and Randall McClure, offers essays related to understanding the Standards, assignments that teachers can use to fulfill the Standards, and training needed by teachers in digital research and writing.

The perhaps unintended emphasis in the essays is on the tools that students can use to meet the CCSS. Yet, what is overlooked in these discussions is that students in 2014 are digitally literate and that traditional approaches are ineffective and boring. An example of the recognition of this digital literacy is that a new Navy ship uses game controllers and screens to run it. Other military branches recognize the digital capabilities of its members and are beginning to incorporate digital approaches to aspects such as weapons systems. The digital revolution (as aided and abated by parents providing the latest electronic gadgets) lets students play games, maintain social connections, find answers to questions, etc.

This brings us then to the question of how do you use digital technology to enhance and drive education? The current collection focuses on one issue: How can digital technologies enhance digital literacy? The consensus of the essays’ authors is that the students’ abilities to “read, research, and write digital text” (p. 26) needs additional enhancement to meet the CCSS standards.

These 17 essays followed by a Conclusion and Afterword are divided into five parts. In part one, two essays describe trends in technology use for writing, research, and reading. The second part, containing five essays, looks at CCSS as well as other academic standards and compares the CCSS with, for example, the standards developed in 1945 by The Association of School Librarians and The American Association of School Librarians. Another essay in this part discusses standards developed by the Writing Program Administrators organization. One essay describes a set of standards called Framework developed by the Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project as a response to CCSS. Part three focuses on assignments that teachers can use in connection with their schools’ adopting CCSS and, through four essays, looks at such assignments as blogging, using Facebook and other social media, and budgeting for technology. Part four presents three essays that address curricular matters for teachers and administrators. The final and fifth part focuses on different approaches to teacher training, an important consideration so that the teachers are as well trained in digital literacy as the students. The Conclusion pulls together the key points that the collection makes, and the Afterword offers three challenges and three principles that are relevant to producing students who are digitally literate in their writing, reading, and research skills.

These essays provide information for teachers, administrators, and, I believe, citizens on what needs to be done and what digital skills students need for success in school and career. Each essay provides teachers with vital information on integrating digital research and writing into the classroom. But because the essays describe tools and their use, little if anything is said about analysis of the material students gather. For example, do students learn to evaluate whatever Wikipedia offers? Do the tools help students read critically?

A recent issue of Time magazine discusses the digital focus in the classroom. Some parents in some states, according to the article, object to CCSS on grounds that they, for example, can no longer help their children with homework. Other issues discussed include teacher preparation, high costs especially for maintenance, loss of some skills (cursive writing is the example given), and others.

Another problem, and perhaps a major one, is that books that deal with current issues are frequently months behind what the current situation is. Are these problems described in Time the problems that were current when the essays were written almost a year before publication?

So, what does this collection have to do with technical communication? First, technical communicators could become involved in developing the software documentation that helps students write and research digitally. Second, it is a valuable collection for those interested and involved in the debate over standards—and whose standards will apply—which would include technical communicators as parents. Third, the essays will help those teaching technical communication at the high school and college levels. Therefore, I think this book is a welcome addition to a personal bookshelf, or at least a company or school library.

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.