62.1, February 2015

Books Reviewed in This Issue

100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design

by Christian Brändle, Karin Gimmi, Barbara Junod, Christina Reble, Bettina Richter, and Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, eds.

Access to Information and Knowledge: 21st Century Challenges in Intellectual Property and Knowledge Governance

by Dana Beldiman, ed.

Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage

by Donald T. Hawkins, ed.

84 Tips: New Instructional Design for New Instructional Technology

by The eLearning Guild

Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python 3

by Paul Gries, Jennifer Campbell, and Jason Montojo

Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World

by Ulises Ali Mejias

Comic Art, Creativity and the Law

by Marc H. Greenberg

Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design

by Mark Baskinger and William Bardel

Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business

by Kit Seeborg and Andrea Meyer

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

The Flowering of a Tradition: Technical Writing in England, 1641–1700

by Elizabeth Tebeaux

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields

by Traci Nathans-Kelly and Christine G. Nicometo

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences

by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery

Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy

by Cindy Alvarez

Incidental Trainer: A Reference Guide for Training Design, Development, and Delivery

by Margaret Wan

The Handbook of Development Communication and Social Change

by Karin Gwinn Wilkins, Thomas Tufte, and Rafael Obregon, eds.

Computer Simulation, Rhetoric, and the Scientific Imagination: How Virtual Evidence Shapes Science in the Making and in the News

by Aimee Kendall Roundtree

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

by Ammon Shea

Legal Issues in Global Contexts: Perspectives on Technical Communication in an International Age

by Kirk St.Amant and Martine Courant Rife, eds.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

by Steven Pinker

Exploding Technical Communication: Workplace Literacy Hierarchies and Their Implications for Literary Sponsorship

by Dirk Remley

Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11

by Matt R. Sullivan and Sarah S. O’Keefe

100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design

Christian Brändle, Karin Gimmi, Barbara Junod, Christina Reble, Bettina Richter, and Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, eds. 2013. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers. [ISBN 978-3-03778-399-3. 352 pages, including index. US$70.00.]

Brandle_100_2013100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design, a new, comprehensive reference work presents a fresh perspective on a wide area of Swiss graphic design and typography over the past 100 years and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the renowned collections of graphic design of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. Switzerland’s leading design and visual communication museum, it boasts one of the most substantial poster collections in the world. The book traces the origins of Swiss graphic design and typography, while offering a wide range of contemporary Swiss visual communication examples. It is a rich source of familiar Swiss classics and unseen material, including sketches, handmade layouts, packaging, stamps, logbooks, maps, traffic signs, banknotes, visual information and design system manuals, photographs, and type specimens.

The book has eleven chapters that are sequenced thematically into important Swiss design developments and common uses of visual communication. Many chapters begin with a short essay that helps frame and place the topic in the historical conditions that existed in the specific time followed by explanatory case studies. Each case study adds new layers of depth by exploring the trends that brought new forms of design into existence. The dynamic tradition and evolution of Swiss graphic design and the exploration of aesthetic movements, patterns, and historical currents over the past century emerge by connecting the themes on a temporal structure.

The one criticism concerns the weight of emphasis on individual Swiss graphic designers. The selection process becomes more difficult taking into account Switzerland’s Modernist graphic design traditions and the abundance of outstanding designers spanning different eras. To point out a few examples, Ernst Keller, considered an instrumental Swiss design educator and key figure in the development of the Swiss design movement, is mentioned only sparingly. In addition, Siegfried Odermatt and Rosmarie Tissi have been given limited analysis in the text and only granted three images between them. Odermatt and Tissi played a chief role in applying the International Typographic Style to corporate and cultural visual communications and deserved more attention.

Overall, 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design is an engaging and comprehensive historical survey, accompanied by numerous examples of Switzerland’s vast body of design work. Highlighting visual design across a wide range of niche areas of expertise over a century, this invaluable book demonstrates how a majority of the Swiss designers’ modernist elements and constructivist ideals continue to exist as an all-important part of today’s graphic language. It is essential reading for design students or specialized professionals interested in Swiss typography. It is a salient contribution to the development of graphic design history as a scholarly discipline and comprehensive account of a period of significant artistic creativity.

Richard Doubleday

Richard B. Doubleday is an assistant professor in the Department of Graphic Design at Louisiana State University’s School of Art. He is a contributing author for Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design and Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Richard has been published in Baseline, IDEA, Print, NOVUM, Zhuangshi, and Australian Creative.

Access to Information and Knowledge: 21st Century Challenges in Intellectual Property and Knowledge Governance

Dana Beldiman, ed. 2013. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78347-047-1. 318 pages, including index. US$130.00.]

Beldiman_Access_2013Intellectual property (IP) rights legislation has been around for a long time. For objects, patent laws have been around since the early 14th century. For works of literary and artistic merit, initial legislation for copyright first appeared in 1790; then came international legislation such as the Bern Convention of 1886 and the Chace Act in the United States in 1891. That legislation was meant to stamp out pirated editions of British literary works. But what about scientific data, especially data that are produced as a result of public sector funding?

Significant problems arise in the current environment in which we find knowledge products to be a key economic resource. International handling of data in such an environment poses many legal problems. The Center for Transnational IP, Media and Technology Law and Policy was established in May of 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. Beldiman’s Access to Information and Knowledge: 21st Century Challenges in Intellectual Property and Knowledge Governance is the first publication from the Center. It collects 11 essays divided into four sections. Following an introduction, Part One assesses access to information in the public sector and in scientific research; Part Two addresses conceptual contours of international property laws; Part Three discusses new stakeholders; and Part Four looks at access in the international arena to intellectual property.

The value of these essays lies in their discussions of the international implications for those wishing to use intellectual property developed in the public sector. The introduction and first chapter point out a serious conflict between intellectual property laws and technology. Both argue for the need to revisit intellectual property laws to understand how they contribute to or prevent the free flow of information. The second and third chapters present different models used in scientific research that involve open access to data and the role of intellectual property protection.

Other chapters cover law and abstract inventions, the political implications of intellectual property issues, the problems that arise with agreements on trade-related aspects as they apply to intellectual property rights, the development of often secret treaties among developing nations to control the free flow of information and, finally, the failure to harmonize the various penalties involved with violating intellectual property rights.

The collection of essays becomes not only an explication of the issues but also a sourcebook for those whose products require the intellectual property.

Technical communicators wishing to understand the complexities of intellectual property laws across political boundaries will find this collection of essays valuable. But be aware that the essays are scholarly with all the scholarly apparatus as well as being meant for those with specific interest in international intellectual property law. Certainly, this collection deserves a place in the company library for those companies who use intellectual property, but also those interested in international IP law.

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.

Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage

Donald T. Hawkins, ed. 2013. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-57387-480-9. 300 pages, including index. US$49.50 (softcover).]

Hawkins_Personal_2013As technical communicators, we know the need for archiving documentation. As human beings, we also understand the value of archiving personal or family mementos for the next or future generations. But, have we considered the consequences of not actively managing our own email, social media posts, and digital photo albums that may hold future value? This is the highly relevant topic that Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage addresses. The book resulted from a collaboration of the 2011 and 2012 Personal Archiving Conferences attendees organized by Jeff Ubois (MacArthur Foundation).

Hawkins introduces the archiving dilemmas of why, how, what, who, and when. Chapters 1–3 cover personal archiving of digital files as considered by Jeff Ubois and two other employees of archival institutions: Cotton Gloves Research and Library of Congress. The bare basics suggested are locate, scan, store, and back up in a manner and location from which information is accessible. Technical writers know this, but how faithful is our personal practice?

In Chapters 4 and 11, Hawkins and Richard Banks (Microsoft Research) present overviews of technologies that attempt to address personal archiving, especially photos. What started with online libraries, loosely known as the cloud, is now becoming home software and hardware solutions. Grandma’s shoebox of photos is the metaphor used by www.1000memories.com, and tabletop digital slide viewers abound, one aptly named, Shoebox.

In Chapter 5, Evan Carrol tackles the legal and practical issues of digital inheritance when triggered by an event. He discusses an employee leaving (maintain important files) and after a relative is deceased (provide privacy while preserving memories). Copyright laws and legally binding contracts with social media are some obstacles to consider during one’s lifetime. Chuck Palahniuk challenges in his Diary: “The goal isn’t to live forever; the goal is to create something that will” (p. 83).

As a freelance research writer, you will appreciate the topic in Chapter 7, how to use narrative elements for digital research. Ben Shneiderman, author of Leonardo’s Laptop, allowed an archival team lead by Jason Zalinger (University of South Florida) to search his email from 1984–1998. Successful strategies they developed and documented for searching nearly 45,000 files may be worth the cost of Personal Archiving.

In Chapters 9, 10 and 12, Hawkins and collaborators from University of Texas and Internet Archive, examine the best of the present and predict new horizons. Trends include 1 Second Everyday of personal video (What would you pay for a video of your great-grandparents?) and MUSE for handling emails.

Clifford Lynch (Coalition for Networked Information) ends the book mentioning the need for uniform archival of personal medical information. Perhaps we weren’t considering that detail of our lives being archived, but someone is.

Reading Personal Archiving may just lead you to consider new career opportunities for archivists!

Donna Ford

Donna Ford has been a member of STC, joining in 1990 and serving on her local chapter’s board for many years. 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.

84 Tips: New Instructional Design for New Instructional Technology

The eLearning Guild. 2014. Santa Rosa, CA: The eLearning Guild. [34 pages. Free Download: http://www.elearningguild.com/publications/index.cfm?id=44&utm_campaign=ebookolf116&utm_medium=email&utm_source=elrnindli]

eLearning_84Tips_2014When designing learning solutions, do you ever feel internal or external pressure to turn to the hottest technology? In this free eBook produced by The eLearning Guild (www.elearningguild.com), 21 learning professionals offer their advice for integrating new instructional technologies with instructional design.

Overall, I appreciate how the tips are organized in the order by which they fall in the design development process. For instance, the first section covers placing learner goals before technology. The next couple of sections deal with the planning and management of new instructional technology, as well as developing with and blending different technologies. The last few chapters cover specific concepts including language learning, gamification, graphic novels, mobile learning, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). The final section unifies everything by covering the sharing of learning technology knowledge and expertise.

While almost all the tips in 84 Tips: New Instructional Design for New Instructional Technology proved beneficial, a few examples stand out. For instance, Carolyn Stoll and Dawn Clineman both use the analogy of a one-room schoolhouse in describing the concept of individualized learning and the instructor’s role in helping students take greater responsibility for their learning (p. 7). In the “Developing with and Blending Instructional Technologies” section, Joe Totherow gives excellent and detailed instructions in using “basic [Adobe] Captivate tools to make meaningful interactions” (p. 12) in which users can locate a function on their own or request additional help. Later, in the “Learning Games and Gamification” section, Totherow uses a timed game example in explaining how game mechanics should be part of the instructional objective and not just a fancy addition (pp. 23-24).

84 Tips contains a good variety of general and tool-specific tips. Even the tool-specific tips contain nuggets of wisdom applicable to other technologies.

This eBook contained two minor drawbacks. First, a few tips were formatted more as essays rather than as single tips. For example, Jason Fararooei’s tip discussing the use of filmic video in training and communications (pp. 15-16) could easily have been broken into separate tips covering such topics as the role of the producer/director and maximizing video investment. Although such tips contained a wealth of information, they could have benefitted from being separated into smaller nuggets to help readers retain more of the information.

Second, several sections in 84 Tips, including, but not limited to “Three Tips for Sharing Learning Technology,” contained entries from only one author. Although the tips themselves contained valuable information, having at least one additional contributor would have provided additional and different perspectives on the topic.

Despite these minor drawbacks, 84 Tips remains a valuable resource to learn more about integrating technology into instructional design. As Chris Benz states in the introduction, “we must use effective instructional design. Otherwise, the results of our work might be cool and awesome, but ineffective for meeting learning goals and needs” (p. 1).

Jamye Sagan

Jamye Sagan has over 10 years of technical communication experience. She is the pharmacy communications advisor for H-E-B Grocery Company in San Antonio, TX. A Senior member, Jamye is active with the Instructional Design & Learning SIG, where she has contributed several Summit session reviews for the SIG’s newsletter.

Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python 3

Paul Gries, Jennifer Campbell, and Jason Montojo. 2013. 2nd ed. Raleigh, NC: Pragmatic Bookshelf. [ISBN 978-1-93778-545-1. 382 pages, including index. US$38.00 (softcover).]

Gries_Practical_2013Practical Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science Using Python 3 introduces readers with little or no coding experience to basic programming principles. Overall, the book’s step-by-step structure and hands-on exercises make it a great starting point for a technical writer interested in learning to code. You may not write a complex program overnight, but you’ll understand the building blocks that underlie well-written code, which can help you work better with programmers or serve as a springboard for further study.

The book’s exercises include instructions and links for downloading the language. An early chapter, “Hello, Python,” demonstrates how a computer executes a program and explains some simple building blocks: types, operators, and variables. A lengthy chapter is dedicated to functions (commands that carry out a calculation on a variable and return a result) and includes a detailed example and basic formula for creating your own functions. Later chapters discuss working with text, lists, and dictionaries to store and retrieve data. In the final chapters, you learn about testing your code and designing user interfaces. Each chapter builds on the previous one, so skipping around is not recommended.

Each chapter includes a basic introduction, a step-by-step scenario using the element under discussion (including errors you might encounter), a recap of the main points, and further exercises for practice (answers are on the book’s Web site). The authors encourage you to type each piece of code to see the results on your own monitor. This structure successfully illustrates how each code element works. However, errors are sometimes built into the steps so that you can see how they happen. It can be discouraging to see an error onscreen before you turn the page to realize you were “supposed” to get an error if you followed the directions.

Another drawback of the book’s organization is the lack of basic information about saving and accessing your program files early on. One chapter asked me to save a function in one file and then import that function into another open program file, but the instructions were not explicit enough. I encountered several errors until I asked a programmer for help. Afterwards, I discovered the directions I needed in Chapter 10.

Besides Python-specific information, the authors include principles for writing efficient code in any programming language. Specific recommendations include importing ready-made functions rather than writing your own, using loops to repeat instructions more efficiently, and using unit tests to isolate bugs.

I recommend Practical Programming to technical communicators who want to learn Python and its programming principles. The book’s structure lets you learn one element before moving on to the next, and the examples are easy to follow. The book is well written, despite its minor organizational issues, and allows for a hands-on learning experience to help you experience the world of programming.

Bonnie J. Shamp Winstel

Bonnie J. Shamp Winstel is a technical writer for a small software company in Huntsville, Alabama. She received her master’s degree in English and Technical Communication at the University of Alabama-Huntsville in May 2013 and is a new TC Professional member of STC.

Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World

Ulises Ali Mejias. 2013. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. [ISBN 978-0-8166-7900-3. 198 pages, including index. US$22.50 (softcover).]

Mejias_Off_2013Since the beginning of the 21st century, our world has become a digital world. In Off the Network, Mejias points out that it took over 70 years for the telephone to reach half the homes in the United States. However, it only took 10 years for the Internet to reach the same portion of households. Digital networks are used for profit, control, and even surveillance.

Using the digital network to connect with friends through Facebook, distinguishing between the real world and the virtual world becomes difficult. As participation in Facebook and networks has grown, so has the surveillance. There are new methods of data mining and monitoring.

Mejias explores the hidden aspects of the digital network and uncovers areas of network use that should worry us. For example, he explained that the college at the State University of New York (SUNY) where he works decided to accept Google’s offer to handle all of the school’s e-mail for free. Since SUNY was faced with a multi-million dollar budget cut from the state, they decided to accept the offer. Google promised them a full menu of applications, file storage, chat, and 2.5GB of storage. However, Mejias was concerned when he noticed some other universities were turning down a similar Google offer. He questioned whether Google would be obligated to hand over the SUNY e-mail if authorities in countries where the e-mail copies were stored would ask for them.

Mejias warns that with the digital world being so convenient with mobile applications, newspapers, and magazines that we can carry with us on our electronic devices, we are surrendering our privacy for the convenience. Our location can even be monitored if we carry a cell phone. Authorities can use one’s phone to track the person and report their location.

The networks are exposed to threats, such as identity theft and service disruption.

Some benefits exist despite the negative aspects of digital networks. For example, an employee in India can work with coworkers in New York. So, the geographic location is no longer a barrier. Also, one can use the network to learn what is going on in the local area and keep track of close connections. Staying connected to people locally helps one meet others that one would not meet otherwise without the digital network.

Mejias explores different areas where digital networks are changing the way we live. Although interesting and insightful, Mejias’ book is a difficult read (having sampled several segments and found an average Gunning Fog index of 19), but it contains interesting views regarding our digital networked society.

Rhonda Lunemann

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

Comic Art, Creativity and the Law

Marc H. Greenberg. 2014. North Hampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited. [ISBN 978 1 78195 492 8. 208 pages, including index. US$110.00.]

Greenberg_Comic_2014Mark Greenberg’s Comic Art, Creativity and the Law outlines the protective, and often restrictive, aspects of the relationship between the law and the comic book industry. Beginning with a brief history of the genre, Greenberg defines the comics medium and charts the comics industry’s history. Since the genre’s beginning as a newspaper feature, the comics industry has seen its share of legal conflict. Perhaps the earliest and most famous legal dispute over ownership of an artist’s work is the case of Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster, who were paid a grand total of $130 for their original Superman comic book. DC used the work-for-hire doctrine in its defense, a defense also used in disputes with other creators that Greenberg examines in his book.

Given the legal aspect of its subject matter, one might expect Comic Art, Creativity and the Law to be a rather dry tome on the history of case law and its regulation of comics. Greenberg’s text rather is a very accessible, even enjoyable read. The book offers a fair assessment of how the law affects the creative process. The background information of the book’s early chapters—wherein Greenberg establishes the parameters of his subject—might seem a bit tedious to readers already familiar with comics. However, establishing background information is necessary to create a context for Greenberg’s discussion. Despite its nerdy subject matter, Comic Art, Creativity and the Law explains the potential legal pitfalls that face all working artists regardless of genre.

Nevertheless, from a technical writing standpoint, the information this work contains is at best tangential. Greenberg dedicates space to the work-for-hire doctrine discussion that affected so many early writers working in the comics industry. This information is of interest to writers, particularly those creating comic book-style technical manuals. Comic book-style manuals differ from entertainment comics in scope and subject matter, and their writers are paid differently than the creators of entertainment comics. Additionally, Greenberg discusses obscenity law at some length. While this information is interesting, it is not usually a matter of concern for technical communicators. Furthermore, Greenberg addresses legal issues faced by consumers and comic book distributors. Given that technical communicators’ contact with their audience is almost non-existent, and their clients must approve the documents before release to the public, obscenity law does not affect them. While Comic Art, Creativity and the Law is fascinating, even compelling, its principle audience is entertainment comic book creators, attorneys, and fans.

Allen Berry

Allen Berry is a college English teacher, teaching business writing, composition, and literature, and an avid fan of comics. He has published both critical and creative works. He is a member of AWP and the author of a collection of poetry entitled Travel for Agoraphobics. He currently teaches business writing as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Drawing Ideas: A Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design

Mark Baskinger and William Bardel. 2013. New York, NY: Watson-Guptill Publications. [ISBN 978-0-385-34462-3. 304 pages, including index. US$40.00.]

Baskinger_Drawing_2013Drawing Ideas: a Hand-Drawn Approach for Better Design is a treasure. The primary audience is those who want to learn to draw or improve their drawing skills.

The second audience is those who specify drawings or content that’s presented visually. This audience will gain an understanding for the drawing process so specifications and expectations are clear and a project can run more smoothly. Although illustrators seem to draw effortlessly, Drawing Ideas shows why their work can be very time-consuming.

Baskinger and Bardel divide the book into five sections, from drawing by individuals through drawing to tell a story. For me, it worked to start at the beginning since it builds from parts to wholes and then for me to use it as a reference.

The first two chapters show how to draw and sketch. This includes basics like how to hold a pencil, ways to draw the human form, and technical ways to render.

These two chapters include formats that the next three chapters also use. Blue double-page spreads, “Demonstrations,” show various ways to create drawings and graphics. Another type of double-page spread in the chapters is “Top 10,” which includes tips for effective seeing and good sketching.

Chapter 3, “Drawing to Clarify Your Own Thinking,” covers different types of sketches to suit different situations for the illustrator.

Now that you’ve mastered, or at least recognized, the basics of drawing, Baskinger and Bardel switch to putting this to use in drawing for others in the final two chapters.

Chapter 4, “Drawing to Explain Your Ideas to Others,” emphasizes its importance by being the longest chapter and taking up nearly one-third of the book. The authors walk you through the steps of planning your sketches and choosing a graphic structure. These include diagrammatic maps and twenty-one other formats. They then show how to compose a visual layout, and then how to incorporate details. The Workshop at the end of Chapter 4 is on team drawing, useful in any business situation.

Chapter 5, “Drawing to Tell a Visual Story,” is what it says: How to plan and draw narratives and even gives a glimpse into comics.

Profusely illustrated with multiple, carefully chosen small examples for each spread, the reader can see a range of options for pencil drawing.

There are no end-of-chapter exercises, a good feature. Baskinger and Bardel respect your intelligence and assume that you’ll know when to assign work if you use this as a text. If Drawing Ideas is strictly for your edification and professional growth, you’re not distracted by exercises designed for textbooks.

The large book is almost coffee-table size while the weight and texture of the paper give it a feel of permanence as a reference book. The skimpy index is the only downside to this book.

Beth Lisberg Najberg

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

Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business

Kit Seeborg and Andrea Meyer. 2013. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. [ISBN 978-1-449-34236-4. 202 pages, including index. US$24.99 (softcover).]

Seeborg_Present_2013SlideShare (www.SlideShare.net) is an online content sharing platform that lets users upload their slide decks—PowerPoint or Keynote presentations. Once uploaded, these slide decks can be designated as private (only accessible to a select group of users), or public (viewable by anyone). You can also use the platform for other file formats, such as media files or PDFs.

The first two chapters of Kit Seeborg and Andrea Meyer’s Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business explain the basics of setting up a SlideShare account and the different account levels (from a free basic account through a Platinum company account). The rest of the book is dedicated to the various ways in which you can use the uploaded SlideShare presentation.

Much of that advice can be used more generally, but the authors also show how SlideShare fits into these marketing, research, and communication activities. The section on incorporating slides into agile development in the Research and Collaboration chapter, for example, not only explains the agile process, but also shows how using online slide decks to share visual representations of various ideas with a team may improve that process. The authors emphasize integration of SlideShare with other social media tools, such as LinkedIn or blogs, and provide ideas on how to best use your slideshow in that context.

A number of first-person accounts illustrate how SlideShare users actually implemented that platform in their company’s activities. The final chapter explores how different “special cases,” such as start-ups, non-profits or governmental bodies, might benefit from SlideShare.

If you are new to marketing, you may want to pick up this book instead of another marketing guide, since it also includes information on topics such as the different types of conferences at which you might speak or where to find inspiration for that content you are creating.

If you are a seasoned marketing professional, you probably want to read the portion about actually setting up SlideShare and the bulleted summaries at the end of each chapter for ideas on how to use your PowerPoint/Keynote presentations. This then lets you target only the sections that are relevant to your specific marketing plan.

Barbara Jungwirth

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

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. 2014. New York, NY: Norton. [ISBN 978-0-393-23935-5. 304 pages, including index. US$26.95.]

Brynjolfsson_Second_2014In the first machine age, the steam engine replaced the muscle power of humans and horses, and set off a cascade of technological development—railroads, internal combustion, electricity—that profoundly changed the arc of human progress.

In The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that we are in the midst of a similar change in the inflexion of that arc, and are rapidly being launched into a world like nothing we have seen before, a world with incredible benefits, but also with thorny challenges that must be confronted.

Extending on both authors’ earlier work in Race Against the Machine (2011), they argue that the key building blocks are now in place to transform our society in ways that would have been thought impossible only a few years ago.

For example, it was long held that computers were good at routine tasks like computation, but would never be able to handle complex tasks thought to be exclusively human like driving an automobile or processing language.

Then, in a very short time—largely through exponential increases in computing power and the confluence of hardware, software, networking, and pattern recognition technologies—computers became good at things that they were once laughingly bad at. The Google driverless car has now logged thousands of freeway driving miles, and computers routinely beat humans at games like chess and Jeopardy. More importantly, computers are now diagnosing disease, doing legal research, doing language translation, and even writing high-quality prose.

Much of The Second Machine Age is devoted to discussing two major trends that characterize the second machine age: bounty and spread.

Bounty covers the tendency for digital technologies to produce broad and unprecedented benefits: the world’s information becomes easily available, big data improves analysis, and we move into an economy where “abundance is the norm rather than scarcity” (p. 10).

Spread covers the growing gulf between the emerging economy’s winners and losers. Once highly valued skills become obsolete and economic models get disrupted, workers and whole professions get replaced by machines, and once thriving activities go out of business. Moreover, digital technologies favor winner-take-all situations where being second best is still not enough to ensure viability.

The authors argue that all this needs to be confronted and that we need to start a serious dialogue.

The last third of the book discusses suggestions for mitigating the effects of spread. These range from preparing people to compete in the new machine age through better teaching and massive online open courses (MOOCs), to supporting start-ups and peer and sharing economies, to revisiting such economic ideas as a guaranteed income and the negative income tax.

Full of meaty examples and cogent argument, The Second Machine Age is a must read for anyone serious about understanding a future already upon us.

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 Flowering of a Tradition: Technical Writing in England, 1641–1700

Elizabeth Tebeaux. 2014. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-89503-844-9. 275 pages, including index. US$59.95 (softcover).]

Tebeaux_Flowering_2014If you search the Internet for books on English literary history or American literature, you will find thousands or more citations. If you do a similar search on technical writing history, you may find 50 or fewer citations. Elizabeth Tebeaux’s The Flowering of a Tradition: Technical Writing in England, 1641–1700, stands as an important document in tracing the origins of technical writing. It is a follow-up to her The Emergence of a Tradition: Technical Writing in the English Renaissance, 1475–1640.

In nine chapters, Tebeaux develops the argument that in this period, forms and formats are all recognizable as similar to forms and formats that technical communicators produce today. So, both this book and the previous one “should fill a background deficiency of many current English and technical communication majors” (p. v).

In The Flowering of a Tradition, Tebeaux covers the industry, trade, and technical writing in this period (Chapter 1); plain style (2); English paragraph (3); format and visual display (4); instructions (5); the evolution of text via orality (6); proposals (7); reports (8); and then she reflects on the emergence of technical writing (9). Her nine chapters may roughly be divided into three groups: First, Chapters 1, 2, and 3 set the scene by exploring Gresham College and the early Royal Society, how the plain style evolved, and the English paragraph. Second, Tebeaux looks at different forms and techniques of technical writing including visuals and writing instructions, proposals, and reports. Third, she concludes with reflections, perspectives, and research recommendations.

Tebeaux’s basic argument that the contemporary forms and formats have emerged from the Medieval petition is certainly interesting, and along with her examples, convincing. When most people think of the history of technical writing, they usually think it began before World War II when the weapons systems became much more complex than those found in World War I. Few think of written appeals to Medieval kings.

Tebeaux includes many examples: both photocopies and transcriptions. Both are useful in making points. However, several of the photocopies are quite difficult to read. For those, a transcription would be most useful.

A much more important issue is the many proofreading errors, especially in Chapter 1. Here a whole paragraph including the heading is repeated as well as it having numerous word and sentence problems. I am concerned because Baywood Publishing has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in the texts they publish in this series. Should they do a second printing or second edition, a more careful proofreading is required. In Chapters 2–9, occasional proofreading errors also occur, but they do not get in the way of smooth reading as is found in Chapter 1.

Despite the problems with proofreading and copy editing, The Flowering of a Tradition is a valuable addition to technical communication courses and to a technical communicator’s personal 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.

Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields

Traci Nathans-Kelly and Christine G. Nicometo. 2014. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [ISBN 978-1-118-00296-4. 220 pages, including index. US$49.9Nathans-Kelly_Slide_20145 (softcover).]

What do you do when a presenter displays a PowerPoint slide containing a paragraph of text? You likely start reading and don’t hear anything the presenter says. Although slide-based presentations have become the norm from board rooms to professional conferences, presenters often create unworkable slides that contain too much text, use poor design choices like clashing colors, or display unreadable graphs and figures.

To fix these problems, Slide Rules: Design, Build, and Archive Presentations in the Engineering and Technical Fields asks us to apply research from cognitive science to completely change the way we design slide-based presentations. First, the authors discuss the issues with “conventional poor practices,” such as the ubiquitous bullet slide that contains a rather vague and short title (think introduction, agenda, scope, benchmarks). They argue that these slides are often designed as teleprompters for the speaker, yet offer little audience benefit. One better approach they discuss is using “full, complete, and concise sentence headers” (p. 65). Based on research by Michael Alley (author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations, another good book), this technique uses an assertion (or claim) in sentence form as the slide title with visual information as evidence supporting the assertion. Alley’s research found that when student presenters followed the assertion–evidence model, they understood the information more than students who followed the typical topic–subtopic model. Moreover, when audiences heard the same talk, the group that saw assertion–evidence slides retained more information than those who saw the typical bullet-filled slides.

Using various research findings, Nathans-Kelly and Nicometo revise “bad” slides and show in full-color better ways to present the same information. They guide readers through building presentations that meet the demands of diverse audiences. The chapter on graphs, for example, deconstructs the data-overload graph and shows how to present complicated and detailed information in chunks that audiences can easily digest. The chapter on templates not only presents the best ways to organize slides (including how to do so when your slides will be translated), but also provides techniques for dealing with bad corporate templates.

While all presenters will benefit from the practices discussed in the first three parts of Slide Rules, the last two parts are written for more specific readers. Part 4, for example, has a chapter on archiving slides and another on presenting in multiple languages, while Part 5 contains information about studies that the authors hope readers will use to enact organizational change.

Slide Rules is useful to anyone creating slides (including Prezi) and to instructors who want to teach their students best practices. While the evidence–assertion method works best for presenting scientific information, this book covers a broad enough territory that even marketing and sales presenters could learn important skills.

Kelly A. Harrison

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

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences

Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery. 2014. New York, NY: Rosenfield Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-97-2. 270 pages, including index. US$39.00 (softcover).]

Horton_Web_2014.A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences discusses accessibility and explains how to make a Web site accessible. Although this book targets Web designers, it is also very useful for programmers, technical communicators, or anyone interested in learning about accessibility. It is very well organized and written in simple and accessible language, or as the authors would say, in “plain language.” Each chapter refers to a different and interesting topic about accessibility. A Web for Everyone starts by giving a broad overview of accessibility to later explain how Web developers should apply it. The book’s design, illustrations, and summaries, offered at the end of each chapter, trigger the readers’ interest in the topic and make the content easy to understand, even for those who don’t have any experience with accessibility.

What makes A Web for Everyone a great book is its user-centered approach. At the beginning, Horton and Quesenbery tell us that according to the UN and the World Bank, around 10% of everyone in the world has a disability of some kind and that by the age of retirement, over 30% of the workforce will have some disability. Then, the authors describe unique disabilities that differ from the conventional examples. The book approaches people with different levels and kinds of literacy, mild cognitive problems, and temporary disabilities, which are actions that temporarily reduce someone’s ability to perform a task, such as reading while multi-tasking or unfamiliarity with a topic. Horton and Quesenbery portray real-life data and create personas to help the readers understand why accessibility is crucial for many people in making their daily lives a lot easier. In each chapter, using these personas, the authors explain how accessibility changed each character’s life for the better. This helps to develop empathy and convince Web developers to think of actual people when making design decisions.

A Web for Everyone is not addressed to inexperienced Web developers. The book only provides broad design information and assumes you already know how to design a Web site. Unfortunately the title is not very clear and one might buy the book by mistake, thinking it is a manual on how to develop Web sites. However, this book is useful for anyone interested in making content more accessible because it teaches how to polish your writing and design your content to make it clear and concise.

Sarah Santos Bastos

Sarah Bastos holds a BA in English and has six years of experience with applied linguistics, foreign languages, and translation. She is currently pursuing an MA in English with a certificate in technical communication at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she teaches writing as a graduate teacher assistant.

Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy

Cindy Alvarez. 2014. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. [ISBN: 978-1-449-35635-4. 222 pages, including index. US$24.99.]

Alvarez_Lean_2014Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy is the fifth book in The Lean Series, edited by Eric Ries. The series was created in response to The Lean Startup, written by Ries. If you haven’t read The Lean Startup or any other books in The Lean Series, you can read and enjoy this book; there are no prerequisites.

When you read Lean Customer Development, give yourself a day to read it. Total immersion in the text is the best way to read this book. At 206 pages, it’s a day’s read and the argument is best understood if you read it in a consolidated period. After the initial reading, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself re-reading sections to ensure your memory is accurate, but you’ll know what is recommended and have time to think about how it applies to your work life.

The book is an argument for changing the way we work. You might work in an enlightened group that already practices customer development, but most of us don’t. We work in product development environments and, as Alvarez argues in chapter 1, we need to change this model.

Gone are the days of developing products that we hope people will want to buy. We cannot rely on hope and once-a-year shipments to pay the bills. We need to change to a model that is built on continuous customer input to build something (let’s say software) that is needed. As we understand the customer’s needs, we can create the minimal viable product (MVP), deliver it, learn from how the customer uses this delivery, and iterate to improve for future deliveries.

While I love the subject matter, Alvarez makes Lean Customer Development easy to read for people who might not find themselves naturally inclined to read about development processes. Her writing style is practical with many examples. To get started in the customer development process, she gives us three exercises to complete.

These exercises are followed by an explanation of how to identify customers, how to reach out to these target customers, and how to interact with people when you have scheduled engagements. Alvarez explains the process of identifying the MVP. The book ends with an excellent explanation of why and how to close the communication loop (p. 190).

I finished this book motivated to change. I find myself wanting to make the development process more customer-centric because I agree that product development is a thing of the past. Attempts to change to a more customer development process are well received.

Change happens slowly. It might be that your organization doesn’t make the drastic changes outlined in the book Lean Customer Development but, over time, the development process changes because the employees start to change the organization. Change has to start somewhere, and you can be an agent by reading this book and using it to make yourself a better employee.

Angela Robertson

Angela Robertson works for IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC. Angela has an MS in technical communication from North Carolina State University.

Incidental Trainer: A Reference Guide for Training Design, Development, and Delivery

Margaret Wan. 2014. Boca Raton: FL: CRC Press. [ISBN: 978-1-4398-5790-8. 217 pages, including index. US $79.95.]

Wan_Incidental_2013All too often I have found myself in a training session with a respected colleague who fails miserably at delivering an effective presentation. The training not only is a waste of my time, but I also lose respect for the person giving it. This scenario is all too common in the workplace, and it is unfair to those who are required to take the training as well as the poor soul who was talked into giving it. As Wan points out, being a subject matter expert (SME) does not automatically make one an effective trainer. She wrote Incidental Trainer: A Reference Guide for Training Design, Development, and Delivery for SMEs who find themselves in the situation where they are asked to give “incidental” training simply because they are good at their jobs.

This book is an easy, quick read. The first half covers the “Fundamentals of Training,” which includes important information that an incidental trainer should know before delivering a training session, such as conducting a needs assessment, developing a training plan, writing learning objectives, training for different learning styles, creating effective presentations, and much more. If more trainers used this information, participants would deem the training sessions more beneficial instead of a waste of time. The one reaction I can see an incidental trainer having is that such careful planning takes a considerable amount of time that is not built into their regular work schedule; thus, the appendices offer helpful templates that may alleviate these time-consuming tasks.

The second half of the book—”Training, Like the Pros”—provides incidental trainers with detailed information about the more complex training aspects, such as developing valid and reliable tests, conducting meaningful surveys, and teaching to four different generations of learners. This section has two chapters that one should read before launching into the fundamentals of training in Part 1. “Training a Multicultural Workforce” is one such chapter. The workplace “is” multicultural, and cultural considerations should be at the forefront of a training plan. Likewise, the last chapter on virtual training and distance learning should follow as online training is more likely the “go-to” type of training although it is not always the most effective, especially when it is not well designed. While this chapter mentions that face-to-face training cannot simply be “moved” online, more information about online pedagogy is warranted, especially due to the popularity—and yet the often dismal delivery—of online training in the workplace. Furthermore, Wan mentions accessibility a few times; however, more attention to the specifics of accommodating learners with disabilities should be a primary consideration of all trainers.

This is a valuable book that incidental trainers, full-time trainers, instructors, and all college students would benefit greatly from by having it in their desktop arsenal of resources for the workplace.

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 Handbook of Development Communication and Social Change

Karin Gwinn Wilkins, Thomas Tufte, and Rafael Obregon, eds. 2014. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. [ISBN 978-1-118-50531-1. 512 pages, including index. US$195.00.]

Wilkins_Handbook_2014The strength of The Handbook of Development Communication and Social Change comes from the breadth of its selections and authors. It bridges the gaps between theory and practice, besides challenging long-held assumptions about development communication. The book also addresses topics as varied as public health, the environment, and economics, making it a particularly well-rounded collection that accounts for the complexity of the situations in which such communication takes place. Each section concludes with a chapter that synthesizes the work of the authors in the section to discover emerging issues in the field.

The first third of the book focuses on theories and histories of development and social change. In this section, Toby Miller’s “Globalization & Development” is a standout, critiquing the tendency to portray communication technology (including social media) as a savior for the Global South. Another is Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron’s “Indigenous Communication: From Multiculturalism to Interculturality,” in which the author argues that mainstream media exclude indigenous cultures from fair coverage. This exclusion heightens the importance of community and alternative media as a method of communication between those cultures and the national cultures within which they reside.

The next section examines the numerous methods by which development information has and can be communicated. “Storytelling for Social Change,” by Kate Winskell and Daniel Enger, argues that narrative’s overwhelming presence in cultural life makes it a natural fit for communicating social change practices.

Other chapters address the use of community theater and the increasingly popular entertainment-education frameworks for initiating social change.

The final section of the handbook shifts its focus to activism and social change. This is perhaps the most intriguing section, as it highlights the practical applications of communicating for social change; however, each of these chapters has a firm theoretical basis. In this section, chapters engage with the range of media opportunities now available to citizens, including watchdog groups, citizens’ journalism, and activist video. Norbert Wildermuth’s “Transparency and Social Accountability” is an excellent addition here, addressing how organizations can clearly communicate their work toward social change and explaining why its stakeholders might wish them to do so.

As a whole, this collection provides an international perspective on development communication and social change, making it a strong addition to courses on activist rhetoric, development communication, and international communication.

Ashley Patriarca

Ashley Patriarca is an assistant professor in English at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in technical and business writing. Her research interests include risk and crisis communication, grant writing, and technical editing. She is a member of the Philadelphia Metro chapter of STC.

Computer Simulation, Rhetoric, and the Scientific Imagination: How Virtual Evidence Shapes Science in the Making and in the News

Aimee Kendall Roundtree. 2014. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. [ISBN 978-0-7391-7556-9. 130 pages, including index. US$75.00 (softcover).]

Roundtree_Computer_2014In her stimulating book, Computer Simulation, Rhetoric, and the Scientific Imagination: How Virtual Evidence Shapes Science in the Making and in the News, Aimee Kendall Roundtree shows how computer simulations provide an alternate way of conducting science. Unlike traditional scientific methods derived from deduction and induction, which can only model reality through fixed, symbolic snapshots of dynamic situations (such as equations, graphs, or mathematical models), computer simulations are dynamic representations that “put models into motion” and “capture a model’s behaviors” as they occur (p. 3).

The virtual evidence created through simulation is produced through a third form of logic, abductive reasoning, “whereby premises and conclusions share a degree of uncertainty” (p. 72). Abduction lets scientists introduce ad hoc variations in the model derived from their experience and intuition, rather than purely from strict reasoning or empirical evidence, and to create “‘what if’ possibilities” (p. 72) that comport more precisely with what they think the process, in their judgment, should be like.

Roundtree shows how these variations are actually rhetorical devices, such as “negatio,” “prolepsis,” and “concessio,” that scientists employ “in creating the virtual representation of actual phenomena” (p. 61, pp. 71-72). The devices enact static equations visually, in real time, and with abductively derived evidence that represents the complexity of the process much more precisely and dynamically, and less reductively, than traditional models.

Simulations cannot abandon traditional reason and evidence altogether. They must maintain enough verisimilitude, both logical and experiential, to be persuasive. Virtual evidence “can retain truth value even when missing components vital to the actual object” (p. 36). It preserves the core values of deduction and induction while accommodating ad hoc insight and personal judgment. Here Roundtree’s notion of virtual evidence converges with Walter R. Fisher’s theory of “narrative rationality,” the inclusion of elements to reinforce an argument’s fidelity to both rational and non-rational aspects of human experience.

Simulations can be understood as computer-aided examples of Aristotle’s “energeia,” or the rhetorical creation of meaning “as it is being carried out or as it is being fully worked out” (p. 37). Although it “approaches, but never achieves, actual status” (p.34), a simulation, as “energeia,” “can have explanatory and persuasive power while or before it is being proven—in the middle of action”—and thereby can enhance the accuracy of classical scientific models by fitting them more realistically into a simulacrum of fluid reality (p.38).

Roundtree’s account of scientists simulating bumblebee flight, the explosion of supernovae, climate change, and her analysis of how the media reports on science, amply demonstrates that rhetoric both influences scientific debate and serves “as a foundational tool in the production of scientific knowledge itself” (p. 43).

Roundtree’s thought-provoking analysis is recommended as a sourcebook for technical communicators seeking to understand how rhetoric works in scientific documentation, especially that involving computer simulations of procedures, usability interfaces, and other dynamic online content.

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.

Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

Ammon Shea. 2014. New York, NY: Penguin Group. [ISBN 978-0-399-16557-3. 256 pages, including index. US$24.00.]

Shea_Bad_2014Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation offers informative etymological insight into dozens of commonly debated, irksome words and phrases and serves as a significant guide for writers and editors. Technical communicators will find this book to be a helpful guide for writing as well as a thought-provoking read.

Shea provides clear, concise evidence to support his claim that English language users should accept the inevitable shift in the language instead of imposing antiquated, nonsensical “rules” upon it. He prefers describing how the English language is used, instead of stating how it should be used.

Bad English begins with a discussion on semantic shifts—when a word’s meaning alters over time—spotlighting words such as “literally” and “decimate.” Shea first introduces us to the explanation of a word’s etymology and its historical discussions and debates, which continue throughout the book.

The second chapter, “Words That Are Not Words,” introduces words such as “stupider” and “irregardless,” and reminds readers that they might not always agree with the author (Shea asserts both words are perfectly acceptable). While he presents a convincing argument for “stupider,” Shea carelessly handles the supporting evidence for “irregardless.”

The following chapter tackles splitting infinitives, beginning sentences with “but” or “and,” choosing “that” or “which,” and ending sentences with a preposition. Shea offers interesting historical background information about these issues—their first use and misuse, their evolution, ensuing arguments from their use/misuse, and the major players in those arguments. The witty author even provides his own opinions, which are valuable considering his knowledge about the subject. The overall conclusion is that if committing these “sins of grammar” makes the sentence sound better, then do it, because that is more important than violating an old, illogical rule.

The last chapter is a dictionary-styled list of “221 Words That Were Once Frowned Upon,” and seems to be a last-minute authorial decision made for the sole purpose of including extra words that he could not incorporate into the main corpus.

Shea’s overall message is that the English language is changing—it has been for centuries—and is always evolving, which is how we know that it is thriving. He suggests that English speakers embrace this change and realize its beauty.

Bad English is chunked into seven chapters, most of them practical. Although the chapters lack a sense of flow throughout the book and within themselves, it works here. This was the perfect read for an employed graduate student. The book is not only an easy, enjoyable read, but it is also an informative, useful tool for writers and editors in any field.

Kala Burson

Kala Burson is currently earning a master’s degree in English with a technical communication certificate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her focus is in linguistics with an interest in editing.

Legal Issues in Global Contexts: Perspectives on Technical Communication in an International Age

Kirk St.Amant and Martine Courant Rife, eds. 2014. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-89503-836-4. 238 pages, including index. US$50.95 (softcover).]

St.Amant_Legal_2014Technical communication analysis used to be a simple matter: what must be done to make this machine or process work? Then, the user’s knowledge and abilities appeared: what can the user do to make this machine or process work? Further complicating matters, the information used in the document frequently had to cross international boundaries where the communicator faced a myriad of laws governing that material and laws governing digital rights. We are beginning to see research and even institutes devoted to international laws as they apply to intellectual property, the concept of common knowledge, and other issues.

St.Amant and Rife’s anthology, Legal Issues in Global Contexts: Perspectives on Technical Communication in an International Age, offers technical communicators a fast way to learn about international law as it affects their work. In the 10 essays plus a foreword, introduction, and afterward, technical communication and legal scholars offer “a framework for understanding the central issues involved in [international law]” so that communicators can make “informed and effective decisions for actions in global contexts” (p. x).

Laws, according to the editors, codify the cultures that make them so that a clash of laws becomes a clash of cultures. Technical communicators preparing documents add not only the culture of the reader to the analytical process, but also the various laws reflecting international cultures.

Although my example is straightforward, it does represent the essence of the problems now facing technical communicators—both those who work for an organization and independent contractors. Knowing how to create and design content is no longer enough. Students and practitioners must be familiar with different legal aspects of the information they use, and that is this collection’s focus.

In Part I (containing 4 essays), the authors address the new situation brought about by the expanding legal complexities in global settings. These include privacy and international situations in online education, net neutrality, online virtual worlds, and legal implications of the metric system. Part II (3 essays) moves the discussion into language and access in such legal issues as the European Union’s mandate that the language used must be the document user’s, translation, and usability. Part III (3 essays) tries to make sense of the laws in global contexts, including communication theory and practice, software patent law, and orphan works.

Combining this anthology with Beldiman’s, Access to Information and Knowledge: 21st Century Challenges in Intellectual Property and Knowledge Governance (reviewed in this same issue) gives the technical communicator a good overview of cross-cultural communication and international laws. The current anthology, however, has the advantage of being focused on the specific problems faced by technical communicators. If your work involves international communication, then I recommend the anthology. Academics can also use it for their advanced classes to help future technical communicators understand communications that cross international borders and cultures.

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 Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

Steven Pinker. 2014. New York, NY: Viking Adult. [ISBN 978-0-670-02585-5. 360 pages, including index. US$27.95 (hardcover).]

Pinker_Sense_2014With dozens of books offering writing advice out there, do we really need another?

After examining the strengths and weaknesses of existing guides, Pinker argues that the considerable progress made in cognitive science in recent years cries out for a fresh approach. We now have “an understanding of grammatical phenomena which goes well beyond the traditional taxonomies based on crude analogies with Latin,” “a body of research on the mental dynamics of reading,” and “a body of history and criticism which can distinguish the rules that enhance clarity, grace, and emotional resonance from those that are based on myths and misunderstandings” (p. 6).

Pinker translates these new understandings into practical advice for the working writer in this delightful, informative guide. He is a cognitive scientist, linguist, Harvard psychology professor, and Chair of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. Pinker is also a best-selling author of more than a dozen books on language and other topics.

To make his points, Pinker disassembles passages of exemplary prose to show how they work, and discusses various writing styles in terms of their effect on the reader. For most purposes, he recommends a classic style—a style modeled on a conversation among equals. Classic style offers a window on the world and uses clear explanations and concrete examples. Classic style “makes the reader feel like a genius. Bad writing makes the reader feel like a dunce” (p. 36).

Besides poor style choice, much incomprehensible writing stems from what Pinker calls “the curse of knowledge” (p. 57), the writer’s failure to comprehend or appreciate that the reader doesn’t know what the writer knows. This can lead to poorly chosen focus, excessive abstraction, using incomprehensible jargon, omitting concrete details the reader needs, and a host of other faults.

Drawing on new understandings of grammar and syntax, Pinker provides fresh explanations that are clear, lucid, and likely to be remembered and applied. Along the way, he shows that the rules are not a series of traps, but valuable tools that make sharing ideas possible by helping you avoid convoluted and misleading prose. Pinker also shows how to gracefully link sentences into larger units of what he calls “arcs of coherence” that help readers “grasp the topic, get the point, keep track of the players, and see how one idea follows from another” (p. 139).

Pinker finishes by addressing dozens of thorny issues of correctness and usage. With clarity and wit, he separates truths from half-truths, myths, peeves, and ham-fisted advice, and gives careful writers the information they need to push back against usage scolds and overzealous copyeditors.

Whether you’re a working writer who wants to improve your craft or someone who just wants to better understand how language works at its best, get The Sense of Style. Both wise and practical, this superb guide is as good as they come.

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.

Exploding Technical Communication: Workplace Literacy Hierarchies and Their Implications for Literary Sponsorship

Dirk Remley. 2014. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Co. [ISBN 978-0-89503-890-6. 196 pages, including index. US$46.95 (softcover).]

Remley_Exploding_2014Exploding Technical Communication: Workplace Literacy Hierarchies and Their Implications for Literary Sponsorship is a well-researched historical case study of how technical and professional communication practices at a World War II arsenal sponsored literacy within the community in which it operated from 1940 to 1960. The Training within Industry (TWI) methods developed by the U.S. government and industry at that time included multimodal literate practices, particularly combinations of visual, oral, experiential, and print-linguistic text. Remley’s analyses reveal a hierarchy in which print-linguistic literacies were esteemed at the workplace and in the community. This literacy hierarchy contributed to a catastrophic accident that killed 11 people, prompting changes in the approach to designing training documents.

Grounded well within the framework of new literary studies and Deborah Brandt’s notion of literacy sponsorship, Remley uses one workplace incident to show how technical communication practices illustrate the value of using multiple modes of representation to communicate. By focusing on a “particular temporal and geographic ecology of literacy practices and sponsorship” (p. 14), he links technical communication with professional communication, and the responsibility institutions have in sponsoring literacy for their employees, even outside workplaces, and in encouraging multiliteracies.

The book’s primary research question is: “As a major employer…, how did the government and operators of the … Arsenal sponsor literacy for its employees and for the community …, and what ecological factors influenced this sponsorship?” (p. 14). In answer, Exploding Technical Communication contributes to an understanding of the social and material consequences of institutional sponsorship associated with workplace communication. The book contributes to the fields of technical communication, managerial communication, and literacy studies by 1) offering insights into what contributes to effective multimodal rhetoric in technical communication; 2) considering potential implications of the balancing act associated with multiple modes of literacy and sponsorship; and 3) making literacy sponsorship and multimodality relevant to today’s economy, educational philosophies, and culture.

The TWI methods used in training and system improvement during World War II are currently applied in business and industry as part of the lean operating and continuous improvement philosophies. These methods have also become part of the experiential learning philosophy favored in academia. Remley includes examples of current applications of multimodal forms of technical communication similar to those used at the WWII arsenal as well as new media applications related to training and instruction. He demonstrates their implications for literacy sponsorship and the interrelationships of workplace, home, school, and community—what he calls a complex ecology of literacy practices.

Exploding Technical Communication thoughtfully provides a historical basis for technical and business communicators and literacy scholars and educators, as well as practical case studies for business leaders, managers and supervisors, consultants and practitioners, and even history buffs. An academic book at its core, scholars and practitioners alike will find a thorough advancement of Brandt’s theory of sponsors of literacy that “recognizes the intersections that affect a given ecology of literacy and ways that institutions that act as literacy sponsors affect that ecology” (p. 17).

Liz Pohland

Liz Pohland is an STC Senior Member, Editor of Intercom magazine, and the director of communications for STC. She is pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University’s Technical Communication and Rhetoric program. Her research interests include museum studies, new media, and digital humanities.

Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11

Matt R. Sullivan and Sarah S. O’Keefe. 2013. Research Triangle Park, NC: Scriptorium Press. [ISBN 978-0-9828118-5-3. 640 pages, including index. US$49.95 (softcover).]

Sullivan_Publishing_2013Coming in at 640 pages, Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11 has a hefty “thud” factor.

Once you get past the introductory front matter, the authors divide the book into 7 sections: Getting Started with FrameMaker, Creating and Manipulating Text, Controlling Page Layout, Building Books, Creating Output, Advanced Techniques, and Appendixes.

If you’re new to using FrameMaker, you do not want to skip around the chapters and sections, as the sections build upon the previous information. Advanced users can skip the first five chapters, but should pay close attention to the latter half of chapters 6–10 before delving into chapters 21–29 and the appendices.

Publishing Fundamentals: Unstructured FrameMaker 11 is a great resource, and deserves to be on the reference shelf for both new and advanced users.

Rachel Houghton

Rachel Houghton is an information developer with more than 17 years of technical communication experience. She is a former secretary for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), past program chair of the STC Technical Communication Summit, actively involved in the STC Phoenix community, and reviews books for the STC journal, Technical Communication.