62.1, February 2015

Recent & Relevant

Lyn Gattis, Editor

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

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


Functional and nonfunctional quality in cloud-based collaborative writing: An empirical investigation

Kim, J., Mohan, K., & Ramesh, B. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 182–203. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2344331

“Collaborative writing has dramatically changed with the use of cloud-based tools, such as Google Docs. System quality—both functional (i.e., what services the system provides) and nonfunctional quality (i.e., how well the system provides the services)—influences user satisfaction with these tools. . . . [To explore the question of whether] functional and nonfunctional quality influence[s] user satisfaction in cloud-based systems that support collaborative writing. . . [the researchers] conducted a survey of 150 undergraduate students enrolled in an information systems course at a large urban university. . . . The results show that functional and nonfunctional quality play[s] a critical role in shaping user satisfaction with cloud computing and that nonfunctional quality has a stronger impact than functional quality. . . . To ensure satisfaction with cloud computing, organizations need to provide adequate development and maintenance resources to ensure both types of quality, and they need to recognize that nonfunctional quality plays a key role in shaping user satisfaction with cloud computing.”


The blurring boundaries between synchronicity and asynchronicity: New communicative situations in work-related instant messaging

Darics, E. (2014). International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 337–358. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525440

“Instant messaging is one of the most popular communication technologies in virtual teams, enabling interactions to intertwine whole working days, thus creating the sense of copresence for team members who are geographically dispersed. Through close linguistic analyses of naturally occurring data from a virtual team, this article discusses the implications of two novel communicative situations enabled by instant messaging: presence information and the persistence of transcript. The preliminary findings of this study indicate that these new communicative situations require the flouting or rethinking of previously existing interactional norms and that communicative practices employed by the team members are not yet conventionalized/normalized; the expectations and interpretations of interactional rituals and timing vary highly, even within the same virtual team.”

Katherine Wertz

Gauging openness to written communication change: The predictive power of metaphor

Suchan, J. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 447–476. doi: 10.1177/1050651914536187

Suchan informs that specific types of revisions in technically written documents may impact employees’ performance which, in turn, is one reason that technical and professional communicators must be intentional in writing precise words and using effective designs. “This study gauges workers’ degree of openness to significant changes in the organization, style, and design of a written report by analyzing metaphors that emerge from their talk about their report-reading and decision-making tasks. Workers at two work sites—in Maryland and in Washington, DC—responded to two typical work reports: one written in the style currently in use and another in a fundamentally different style exhibiting features that make documents easy to read and understand. The dominant metaphor that the Maryland workers used was ‘the whole-man’ approach, which represented the workers’ flexible approach toward work tasks that resulted in their willingness to accept the fundamentally different report. In contrast, Washington DC workers used the metaphors ‘paint by the numbers’ and ‘stay within the lines’ when describing their work. These metaphors suggest the workers’ adherence to organizational routines and uncomfortableness with change that caused them not only to reject the new reports but also to have strong emotional reactions toward them. These results indicate that assessing organizational talk, particularly the metaphors people use, is a useful tool in gauging workers’ perceptions about and degree of openness toward communication change.”

Sean C. Herring

Making the pitch: Examining dialogue and revisions in entrepreneurs’ pitch decks

Spinuzzi, C., Nelson, S., Thomson, K. S., Lorenzini, F., French, R. A., Pogue, G., Burback, S. D., & Momberger, J. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 158–181. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2342354

This study examined ways “Korean entrepreneurs in an entrepreneurship program revised their slide decks for their presentations (‘pitches’) in response to professional communication genres representing feedback from potential stakeholders in their target markets. . . . In this exploratory qualitative study, researchers textually analyzed 14 sets of five related document genres in the archives of an entrepreneurship program. These genres represented a full cycle of activity: application to the program, initial pitches, initial feedback from program personnel, detailed feedback from representative stakeholders in the target market, and revised pitches. Interviews and surveys of program personnel further contextualize the data. . . . [Results indicated that] [e]ntrepreneurs revised their claims and evidence based on their dialogue with their target market. Some of the entrepreneurs altered their slides to make more complex arguments rebutting stakeholders’ concerns. These findings suggest that entrepreneurs engage in dialogue with their target markets, but their engagement tends to be guided by tacit, situated experience rather than through an explicit, systematized approach.”

Lyn Gattis


Increasing accessibility with a visual sign system: A case study

Winn, W. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 451–473. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.4.f

“Visual sign systems have become an essential means of communication in places where large numbers of people of different nationalities gather, such as at international airports and the Olympic Games. That they can effectively increase accessibility among users not necessarily sharing a common language speaks to their potential usefulness in other situations. A homeless shelter in a western North Carolina community received funding to build a new facility. With the clientele’s widely diverse communication abilities, including those who are illiterate or have limited reading skills, those who are non-native speakers knowing little to no English, and those who are coming from different cultural contexts, a visual sign system was designed to facilitate navigation for all visitors. Using Peirce’s theory of signs, Neurath’s ISOTYPE, and the least action principle borrowed from physics as a framework, this case study shows how the signs were designed and usability tested to ensure increased accessibility.”

Nick Carrington

Map design for complex architecture: A user study of maps & wayfinding

Cheng, K., & Pérez-Kriz, S. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 5–33. [doi: none]

The research described in this article “seeks to determine if a printed, paper map can aid visitors in navigating through complex architectural environments. Specifically, [the authors] report on the design and testing of two different paper maps intended to help patients find dental clinics and related offices within a large medical and health sciences center. As part of an iterative design process, [the authors] first identified a variety of design factors that influence the cognitive aspects of using maps during wayfinding, and redesigned an existing map of the environment based on those principles. [The authors] then conducted user testing to further determine what information should be included or excluded on the map and to see if changes in format enhanced or detracted from communication goals. The results show that maps can indeed assist visitors in finding their way through complex buildings, but that there are limitations to their ability to overcome architectural barriers.”

Lyn Gattis

Typographic features of text: Outcomes from research and practice

dos Santos Lonsdale, M. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 29–67. [doi: none]

“This paper presents a comprehensive review of literature on the legibility of printed text in order to provide informed guidance on the design and preparation of typographic materials. To this end, experimental findings are taken into account, as well as the perspective of typographers, graphic designers, and authors. First, the typographic features of text are reviewed and illustrated individually to identify all the features that specifically characterise text layouts. It is emphasized, however, that the various typographic features should be selected in relation to each other, and that it is the combination and manipulation of all these typographic features as a group that makes the text legible. Studies are then reviewed and illustrated on the typographic structure of text as a whole. This information will prove useful to anyone involved in the development of typographic materials, including typographic and graphic designers, teachers and students.”

Lyn Gattis

Typographic layout and first impressions: Testing how changes in text layout influence readers’ judgments of documents

Moys, J.-L. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 40–67. [doi: none]

“This study explores how the typographic layout of information influences readers’ impressions of magazine contents pages. Thirteen descriptors were used in a paired comparison procedure that assessed whether participants’ rhetorical impressions of a set of six controlled documents change in relation to variations in layout. The combinations of layout attributes tested were derived from the structural attributes associated with three patterns of typographic differentiation (high, moderate, and low) described in a previous study. . . . The content and the range of stylistic attributes applied to the test material were controlled in order to focus on layout attributes. Triangulation of the quantitative and qualitative data indicates that, even within the experimental confines of limited stylistic differentiation, the layout attributes associated with patterns of high, moderate, and low typographic differentiation do influence readers’ rhetorical judgments. In addition, the findings emphasize the importance of considering interrelationships between clusters of typographic attributes rather than testing isolated variables.”

Lyn Gattis


Academic territorial borders: A look at the writing ethos in business courses in an environment in which English is a foreign language

Annous, S., & Nicolas, M. O. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 93–111. doi: 10.1177/1050651914548457

This article focuses on a consideration of writing principles in an academic environment in which English is a foreign language. While the instructors did not nurture student communication in English, the information and guidance provided are applicable when English is the second language in technical writing classrooms. “With the globalization of higher education, English has become the lingua franca of universities operating in non–English-speaking countries seeking internationalization. The communication needs of students studying in such foreign-language contexts have not been fully explored. In this study, the authors interviewed a purposeful sample of professors teaching a variety of specialties in the School of Business in an environment in which English is a foreign language in order to ascertain their perceptions of students’ ability to communicate in English, and these teachers’ ability to focus on their students’ writing skills. The findings reveal that although these teachers asserted the importance of communication skill, particularly in written English, they did not feel that nurturing that skill was part of their academic responsibilities. They felt that they had neither the time nor the expertise to nurture students’ ability to communicate in English.”

Sean C. Herring

Slide presentations, seriously

Mollerup, P. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 4–21. [doi: none]

“This article addresses the informative quality of slide presentations in university lectures. The arguments also apply to slide presentations in other situations. The article presents a number of principles to improve the graphic quality and use of slide presentations. These principles build on a review of relevant literature and on the author’s experience and reflection. Research in this area is limited in quantity and depth.”

Lyn Gattis

Ethical and legal issues

Avoiding litigation for product instructions and warnings

Todd, J. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 401–421. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.4.d

“The plaintiff suing for injuries arising from a product with allegedly defective instructions or warnings has the burden of proving each of the elements for every cause of action asserted, while the defendant prevails by defeating just one element for each cause of action. Technical communicators can increase their legal literacy by learning the elements that are most easily defeated and thereby avoid subjecting their product instructions and warnings to litigation. This article surveys the existing scholarship to show the need for more attention to legal terms, theory, and practice before explaining how lawyers approach litigation. The article then turns to each of the main causes of action—the functional approach of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability, negligence, and breach of express warranty and misrepresentation—with an emphasis upon the elements that are most within the control of the technical communicator.”

Nick Carrington

Mining engineers and fraud in the U.S.–Mexico borderlands, 1860–1910

Grossman, S. E. M. (2014). Technology and Culture, 55, 821–849. doi: 10.1353/tech.2014.0122

“In the U.S.–Mexico borderlands during the late nineteenth century, concern about the existence of mining fraud—be it stock manipulation, salting, or straight-up false advertising—was prevalent in the mining community. The belief that fraud was endemic in the region forced the small community of mining engineers working there to tailor their presentation of themselves as technical professionals in relation to these pervasive concerns about fraud. The ways in which mining engineers in this time and place addressed the problem of fraud illustrates how technical-knowledge claims are mediated through the local concerns of professional engineers.”

Edward A. Malone

Information management

Automating DITA builds: Lightweight continuous integration for documentation projects

Fienhold Sheen, R. W. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 77, 81–87. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

“Expensive solutions are not necessary to automatically publish XML content. There are many ways to automate the process, and a range of open source tools and scripting solutions can be used. Using a software development technique known as ‘continuous integration’ (CI), documentation teams can publish even minor changes regularly without manual intervention. By building the entire publication with each revision, authors can easily verify the impact of their changes on the final document and find errors more quickly. This approach reduces the need for repetitive manual tasks, allowing authors to focus on content and improve document quality. This article introduces several approaches to automated XML publishing and provides examples for lightweight continuous integration from scheduled builds to watched folders and commit hooks to hosted systems.”

Lyn Gattis

A statistical approach for visualizing the quality of multi-hospital data

Connolly, B., Faist, R., West, C., Holland, K. D., Matykiewicz, P., Glauser, T. A., & Pestian, J. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 69–85. [doi: none]

“The age of Big Data and the associated proliferation of large data sets have necessitated the development of methods that allow for an easy interpretation of data analysis results. Such methods are usually the product of a symbiotic relationship between the [fields] of data visualization, infographics, and statistics. In this work [the authors] explore the interplay between data visualization and the mathematical framework used to analyze inter-hospital differences in database queries. Such differences can reflect disparities in the quality of care or more fundamental disparities in data quality. As the volume of queries is large and increasing, it is important to develop an incisive way of visualizing these differences. Specifically, [the authors] demonstrate the importance of choosing a mathematical framework that calculates the statistics necessary to visualize the results in a maximally concise and intuitive way. [The authors] derive symbolic statistical representations of inter-hospital query differences using a Bayesian probabilistic formalism to indicate statistically significant discrepancies. These statistical representations serve the need for visual representation of differences and their meaning apart from statistical expertise. The calculations were performed with a publicly-available package, DQM, available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/databasequalitymanagement.”

Lyn Gattis


The trouble with networks: Implications for the practice of help documentation 

Swarts, J. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 253–275. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.3.c

“This article considers why users of popular software packages choose to find answers to their task problems on user forums rather than in official documentation. The author concludes that traditional documentation is developed around an antiquated notion of ‘task,’ which leads to restrictive ways of thinking about problems that users encounter and the solutions that might be appropriate. The author argues, instead, that tasks and problems arise from networked rhetorical situations and networked contexts for rhetorical action. The influence of networks requires a redefinition of rhetorical situation and context, from which we derive a networked picture of tasks and problems as emergent and uncertain phenomenon, best addressed in the uncertain and sometimes-chaotic setting of user forums. Forum threads are studied using discourse analytic techniques to determine what they can reveal about qualities making tasks and problems uncertain.”

Nick Carrington

Intercultural communication

(mis)understanding: icon comprehension in different cultural contexts

Zender, M., & Cassedy, A. (2014). Visible Language, 48, 68–95. [doi: none]

“Icons are frequently used in contexts where comprehension needs to be consistent across cultural and linguistic barriers. This paper reports on a study comparing the comprehension of 54 universal medical icons in rural Tanzania and the United States of America. It finds that most of the icons were not understood cross-culturally. The premise of the study was that this misunderstanding might have two causes: cultural distinctions and lack of knowledge. To test the premise [the authors] studied icon comprehension by those in two different cultures with two levels of medical knowledge: ‘standard’ and ‘advanced’. The results show that most (33 of 47) poorly comprehended icons failed due to lack of medical knowledge or unfamiliarity with technology, while few (5 of 47) poorly comprehended icons failed due to cultural differences. Analysis of icons that failed due to cultural differences suggests that the primary drivers of cultural misunderstanding were the use of culturally sensitive metaphor and the incorporation of learned signs (nonrepresentational symbols such as words) in icon design. Awareness of these causes of poor comprehension across cultures might help designers design effective universal icons by incorporating into the design process research methods that identify disparities of specific knowledge in the target people group and by avoiding use of metaphor and learned signs. These findings empower calls for cultural sensitivity in visual communication with guidance for implementation.”

Lyn Gattis

Translating time: Habits of western-style timekeeping in late Edo Japan

Frumer, Y. (2014). Technology and Culture, 55, 785–820. doi: 10.1353/tech.2014.0116

“The act of glancing at a clock to learn the time might seem quick and effortless. Yet for the early-nineteenth-century Japanese, there was nothing obvious about how to read the dial of a European clock. This article explores the ways that Japanese users learned to decipher a technological interface that not only looked significantly different from the ones with which they were familiar, but often contradicted their conventional common sense. The way late-Edo-period (1600–1868) Japanese accessed elements of a foreign technology was through their existing habits of timekeeping—habits of measuring, calculating, and depicting time, as well as handling and looking at timepieces. Understanding how existing practical, material, and visual habits enabled interpretation of foreign technology offers insight into the process of knowledge and technology transfer, which happened prior to the social and structural changes associated with Meiji-period (1868–1912) Westernization.”

Edward A. Malone

Unwriting food labels: Discursive challenges in the regulation of package claims

Jones, R. H. (2014). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, 477–508. doi: 10.1177/1050651914536186

Jones provides insight into cross-cultural issues that may be informative to technical writing instructors as part of preparing their students for transformations into global markets. “This article examines the challenges resulting from the regulation of written discourse on food packages. It uses as a case study Hong Kong’s strict new food-labeling law that requires distributers and retailers to remove certain nutritional claims from packages of imported food before they sell them. This practice of redacting unlawful text on packages requires that distributers and retailers engage in complex processes of discursive reasoning, and it sometimes results in packages that are difficult for customers to interpret. The case study highlights important issues in the regulation of commercial texts concerning collaboration, intertextuality, and the conflicts that can arise when the principals, authors, and animators of such texts have different agendas.”

Sean C. Herring


We is more than you plus I: The interpretation of the we-forms in internal business communications

Dieltjens, S. M., & Heynderickx, P. C. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 229–251. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.3.b

“The we-form has been analyzed in different theoretical frameworks and domains. Researchers point to the complexity of first person plural pronouns: not only can they refer to different participants in a communicative situation, but they can also be used to avoid other referential forms. In organizational discourse, however, transparency is of the utmost importance to ensure efficient communication. Based on the minute analysis of 3700 we-forms in a corpus of internal communications documents, [the authors] developed a framework for the interpretation of the we-form. Thirteen (con)textual and situational identifiers of different kinds are discussed and illustrated. In some cases the interpretation of the we-form is indicated by a single identifying element, in other cases a combination of identifying elements strengthens the interpretation.”

Nick Carrington


Enacting criticality in corporate disclosure communication: The genre of the fund manager commentary

Bruce, I. (2014). International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 315–336. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525441

“This study examines the genre of the monthly or quarterly commentary document in which managers of investment funds report on their funds to investors. The study aims to provide insights about this disclosure genre for business communication practitioners by examining its conventionalized features and the expression of critical thinking in the evaluative judgments of fund managers. A nonpurposive sample of 30 commentaries from investment funds in North America, the United Kingdom, Australasia and South Africa is rater-analyzed in relation to the social genre/cognitive genre model of Bruce [2008], which is used as a framework to identify the principal characteristics of the genre. The findings suggest that the fund manager commentary is a relatively formulaic genre with a four-move structure that reports the current performance of the fund and presents its investment strategies and their underlying rationale, based on a critical evaluation of the current state of financial or equity markets.”

Katherine Wertz

Planning for the shaping force of cultural dynamics in a component content-management system implementation

Andersen, R. (2014). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 57, 216–234. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2014.2342336

“This tutorial explains how technical communication organizations can improve their chances for a successful component content-management system (CCMS) implementation if they plan for the shaping force of cultural dynamics in the technology diffusion process. Many component content-management (CCM) thought leaders . . . recognize the necessity of gaining buy-in from all stakeholders and persuading CCMS users to change their habits of practice, follow new processes, and learn new authoring tools and methodologies. This tutorial complements existing discussions of people factors by offering a more complex understanding of what these factors really mean and how to negotiate them. . . . This understanding is articulated through three situated views of CCMSs and their diffusion in organizations: (1) CCMSs are social constructs; (2) CCMS diffusion is a multistage, perception-driven communication process; and (3) CCMS diffusion is mediated by different components of organizational culture. . . . Given these views, CCM initiative leaders should consider the following recommendations for carrying out a CCMS diffusion project: (1) assess cultural dynamics in the organization and (2) implement diffusion enablers to facilitate shared understanding and learning and to guide actions toward common goals. Key lessons offer a comprehensive set of sample research questions that can be used to assess cultural dynamics as well as three kinds of diffusion enablers that can be implemented: interactive communication channels, training programs, and collaboratively developed guides. . . . CCM initiative leaders who understand and plan for the shaping force of cultural dynamics in the CCMS diffusion process and who follow best practices for transitioning to CCM will improve their chances for a successful CCMS implementation. . . .”

Lyn Gattis

Professional issues

Redefining the workplace: The professionalization of motherhood through blogging

Petersen, E. J. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 277–296. doi:10.2190/TW.44.3.d

“Professional identity is oft explored in the field, but such identities usually reside institutionally and may exclude women who engage in professional communication from the workplace of the home. One instantiation of this extra-institutional professionalism is mom blogs, the authors of which create content, find sponsors, and address issues important to mothers. Yet the women lack legitimacy as professionals because of the title ‘mommy blogger’ and because of the notion that blogging is a hobby. [This] qualitative study explores how mom bloggers claim a professional space in communication. [The author] interviewed 22 mom bloggers, using Faber’s . . . theory of professionalism and Durack’s . . . ideas of redefining terms, such as ‘workplace’, to include women. [The author’s] findings show that mom bloggers engage in the characteristics of professional communicators, model egalitarian professionalism, employ an ethic of care that combats elitism, and challenge the field to include their work, from the home and through new media, as professional.”

Nick Carrington


Decolonial methodologies: Social justice perspectives in intercultural technical communication research

Agboka, G. Y. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 297–327. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.3.e

“This article argues that many methodological approaches used in intercultural technical communication research are limited in addressing emerging social justice challenges in many post-colonial, developing, and unenfranchised/disenfranchised cultural sites, where professional communicators have begun conducting research. It offers decolonial approaches as an alternative by highlighting how these approaches are used in an intercultural research that investigates attempts to localize communication that accompanies sexuopharmaceuticals from one cultural context to another. The article also discusses some the challenges and benefits of such approaches. The ways in which scientific research is implicated in the worst excesses of colonialism remain a powerfully remembered history for many of the world’s colonized peoples. It is a history that still offends the deepest sense of our humanity. . . . Global research raises many methodological and ethical challenges for technical communicators . . . because of the cross-cultural, international, and transnational nature of the work.”

Nick Carrington


How astronomers digitized the sky

McCray, W. P. (2014). Technology and Culture, 55, 908–944. doi: 10.1353/tech.2014.0102

“Starting in the 1960s, astronomers’ analog view of the universe gradually transformed as scientists and engineers introduced digital computers, electronic detectors, and magnetic recording media into observatory domes and laboratories. The advantages of this were considerable: once the underlying technical architecture and social practices were in place, digital data can be more easily analyzed, manipulated, transported, and communicated. As they replaced and supplemented older technologies, astronomers’ basic research practices changed accordingly. This helped reshape norms and behaviors in the research community, altering astronomy’s moral economy. The importance of collecting, processing, and sharing digital data transcended specific institutions, individual research questions, and national boundaries. This article explores this process, using representative examples and the metaphor of data friction, focusing on both the development of hardware and data standards. For astronomers, the transition from analog to digital was, in both senses of the phrase, a universal concern.”

Edward A. Malone

Not the Eads Bridge: An exploration of counterfactual history of technology

Brown, J. K. (2014). Technology and Culture, 55, 521–559. doi: 10.1353/tech.2014.0094

“General readers enjoy counterfactual histories, ‘what if’ scenarios that rewrite history. Academic historians seldom write explicit counterfactuals, despite their value in isolating the causes and contingencies that shaped events. Surprisingly, historians of technology have ignored this analytic tool, even though firms and engineers commonly considered alternative designs and actions while developing a product or technology. This article provides a ‘constrained counterfactual,’ comparing two designs for bridges across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, both proposed in 1867: the Eads Bridge, and the Boomer/Post bridge. It covers three topics: exploring the conventional narratives on the Eads Bridge (completed in 1874); comparing the Eads design to that of the Boomer/Post alternative; and offering a counterfactual service life for that proposed crossing. The article seeks to isolate why James Eads’s design and his company succeeded, and to show the analytic value of counterfactuals for historians of technology.”

Edward A. Malone

Technology and learning: Automating odd-lot trading at the New York Stock Exchange, 1958–1976

Bradford, P. G. (2014). Technology and Culture, 55, 850–879. doi: 10.1353/tech.2014.0128

“This study analyzes how embedded beliefs about the proper ordering of financial market activities shaped the automation of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the period, 1958 to 1976. Specifically, it focuses on how technological innovation led to the unanticipated eclipse of its odd-lot dealer function, a unique niche for handling nonstandard trades of less than 100 shares. The decision to automate through computerization initially responded to a powerful cluster of managerial, governmental, and market imperatives. In automating, a high priority was given to the preservation of the NYSE’s traditional trading model—the open outcry auction system—whose defining features dated back to the late nineteenth century. This experience illustrates how unforeseen economic consequences relating to technological adoption may adversely affect significant constituencies within a business network.”

Edward A. Malone


The scientist, philosopher, and rhetorician: The three dimensions of technical communication and technology

Garrison, K. (2014). Journal of Technical Writing & Communication, 44, 359–380. doi: 10.2190/TW.44.4.b

“Technical communication’s attempt to prioritize theories of scholarship and pedagogy has resulted in several authors contributing a three-dimensional framework to approach technology: the instrumental perspective, the critical humanist perspective, and the user-centered perspective. . . . This article traces connections between this framework for technical communication and the philosophies of Michel de Certeau . . . and Andrew Feenberg . . . , suggesting that the primary connection is a turn toward ‘rhetoric’ as a mediator between scientific and philosophical communication. The article concludes that the current paradigm for understanding technology can be best understood by exploring three conjoined, yet competing, mentalities between a scientific, philosophical, and rhetorical worldview. While this three-dimensional approach provides a strong foundation for technical communication pedagogy and scholarship, it should continue to be re-examined for potential anomalies as the field continues to develop an identity.”

Nick Carrington

Usability and user experience

Adopt a UTA approach to improve customer experiences

He, H. H. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 101, 104–106. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

This article describes one company’s experience with a User and Task Analysis (UTA) approach to determining customers’ information needs. To connect with customers effectively, the company now uses a support Web site with print and online options for five customer roles; a support app for mobile customers, which includes video content; and social media for new releases and discussion. The company also offers a traditional print booklet and poster to introduce new product features. Each platform was developed with customer input, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Lyn Gattis

Experiencing visual usability and aesthetics in two mobile application contexts

Silvennoinen, J., Vogel, M., & Kujala, S. (2014). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 46–62. [doi: none]

“Visual attractiveness is increasingly seen as an essential factor in perceived usability, interaction, and overall appraisal of user interfaces. Visual elements in technological products are capable of evoking emotions and affective responses in users. In this paper, [the authors] focus on the role of visual usability and visual aesthetics in an experimental research setup. This study examined user experiences and preferences in relation to the visual elements of color and perceived dimensionality of two different mobile application contexts. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected using two online questionnaires in order to gain insights to user preferences of visual elements in the two different mobile applications. The results imply that colors highly improve hedonic and pragmatic qualities of an application with a task-oriented functionality, as well as an application for entertainment purposes. [The authors] found that two-dimensionality (2-D) was generally preferred by the participants. The impression of three-dimensionality (3-D) was seen as a confusing and unnecessary element in the task-oriented mobile application context. The results of this study enhance understanding of the role and the influence of visual elements on user experience. Visual elements contribute to pragmatic user experience component in terms of visual usability and to hedonic user experience component in terms of subjective preferences of visual aesthetics. In addition, the methodological approach can be utilized to study the role of visual elements in pragmatic and hedonic user experience components with different visual elements and regarding different types of user interfaces.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

Network analysis as a communication audit instrument: Uncovering communicative strengths and weaknesses within organizations

Zwijze-Koning, K. H., & de Jong, M. D. T. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 36–60. doi: 10.1177/1050651914535931

Although research for this article was conducted at a secondary school system, the data are applicable to technical and professional instructors in other educational systems that use surveys and formal methods to evaluate communication. “Network analysis is one of the instruments in the communication audit toolbox to diagnose communication problems within organizations. To explore its contribution to a communication audit, the authors conducted a network analysis within three secondary schools, comparing its results with those of two other instruments: interviews focusing on critical incidents and a communication satisfaction questionnaire. The results show that network analysis may complement interview and survey data in several ways, by uncovering unique problems or by explaining or corroborating problems that were uncovered by the critical incidents or the survey. The results also show that additional data are sometimes needed to make sense of network characteristics.”

Sean C. Herring

The relationship between problem frequency and problem severity in usability evaluations

Sauro, J. (2014). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 17–25. [doi: none]

“The relationship between problem frequency and severity has been the subject of an ongoing discussion in the usability literature. There is conflicting evidence as to whether more severe problems affect more users or whether problem severity and frequency are independent, especially in the cases where problem severity is based on the judgment of the evaluator. In this paper, multiple evaluators rated the severity of usability problems across nine usability studies independently using their judgment, as opposed to data driven assessments. The average correlation across all nine studies was not significantly different than zero. Only one study showed a positive correlation between problem frequency and severity. This analysis suggests that researchers should treat problem severity and problem frequency as independent factors.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

The role of technical communication in user-centered design: Ten years later

Grimes, R. (2014). Best Practices, 16, 101, 104–106. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

“This article explains why it still makes sense to manage technical communication and UX [user experience] design together in pursuit of user-centered design.” The author describes the “vision of a unified team dedicated to user-centered design” in her own organization and offers some ideas for developing user-centered design in other organizations. For example, the author recommends “a single overarching vision for the entire team” and an appropriate “ratio of interaction designers to content designers . . . so no one is overwhelmed with too much work or tries to fill too many roles simultaneously.” The author also suggests working “peer-to-peer with everyone from individual contributors to vice presidents” to build support for user-centered design. “Organizing technical communication and UX design into a single team can strengthen relationships and reinforce the message” that everyone is working toward the same user-centered goal.

Lyn Gattis

Usability evaluation of an accessible collaborative writing prototype for blind users

Schoeberlein, J., & Wang, Y. (2014). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 26–45. [doi: none]

“Collaborative writing technology is utilized in the workplace to co-author documents. Unfortunately, this technology is not accessible or usable for persons who are blind. As a result, persons who are blind cannot participate in collaborative writing that is critical in business and in collegiate environments. In order to improve the accessibility and usability of collaborative writing technology, a Microsoft Word add-in prototype was designed, developed, and tested using an iterative design approach involving two rounds of one usability study. Eleven participants, who are blind with no residual vision, participated in the usability studies and provided feedback and suggested improvements based on their experience while interacting with the Word add-in prototype. The prototype was modified based on the suggested improvements from the participants after each round of the usability study. Before the second round of the usability study, the dependence on the Word ribbon menu was replaced by the utilization of Windows message boxes for presenting, accepting, and rejecting document revisions and comments. The participants of both rounds of the usability study ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that the Word add-in prototype interface was clear and understandable, easy to use, improved their performance, and enabled the tasks to be completed without any problems. Also, the participants were satisfied with the time that it took to complete the study tasks, and they would utilize the Word add-in interface in the future on a regular basis.”

Ginnifer Mastarone