62.2, May 2015

Books Reviewed in This Issue

Why We Fail: Learning from Experience Design Failures

by Victor Lombardi

Social Media in Disaster Response: How Experience Architects Can Build for Participation

by Liza Potts

The Best American Infographics 2014

by Gareth Cook, ed.

From Corporate to Social Media: Critical Perspectives

by on Corporate Social Responsibility in Media and Communication Industries
by Marisol Sandoval

Sh@dy Charac†ers: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographic Marks

by Keith Houston

Computer Games and Technical Communication: Critical Methods & Applications at the Intersection

by Jennifer DeWinter and Ryan M. Moeller, eds.

UI is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User-Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication

by Everett N. McKay

True Alignment: Linking Company Culture with Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results

by Edgar Papke

Writing for Science Journals: Tips, Tricks, and a Learning Plan

by Geoffrey Hart

Refusals in Instructional Contexts and Beyond

by Otilia Marti-Arnándiz and Patricia Salazar-Campillo, eds.

Why We Fail: Learning from Experience Design Failures

Victor Lombardi. 2013. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-17-0. 234 pages, including index. US$39.00 (softcover).]

Lombardi_Why_2013Do you have one or more design books by Donald Norman? If so, Lombardi’s Why We Fail: Learning From Experience Design Failures is a perfect complement. If not, then Lombardi is a good place to begin. He argues that learning from our design successes is only part of the story. That approach works well for simple products. However, how do we go about learning from our failures? Lombardi answers by turning design on its head and begins with what he calls the customer experience model.

In 10 chapters, Lombardi describes his customer experience model and argues its importance. The chapters include an introductory chapter that explains the customer experience model, seven more chapters in which he presents examples from digital products and software of how the customer experience influenced a complete failure or a redesign, and ends with a summary and conclusion.

Chapter 1 defines the model and outlines the rest of Why We Fail. Lombardi shifts the definition of failure away from the product itself to the customer’s experience. Products may have excellent specification and design characteristics, yet fail in the marketplace when customers try it.

He examines Microsoft’s MP3 player, Zune; BMW’s iDrive; Apple’s Final Cut Pro X video editing software; Nokia’s Symbian S60 phone system; Plaxo; and OpenID. Lombardi presents many others, but these are the major ones. Discussing one and sometimes two products or software in a chapter focuses on what led to customer acceptance by following the product’s marketplace failure (such as Zune) or design modification (such as iDrive). This focus on customer experiences is the difference between Lombardi’s book and those by Norman and others.

How do you determine what aspects of the customer experience are the direct result of product or service design? To answer this, he proposes an experience design method that is predicated on the traditional scientific method: observation, hypothesis, test, and interpretation of the results.

Lombardi’s method includes five steps, each of which emphasizes that the design failure analysis should focus not on the product or service, but on the customer’s experience. A preparatory step, called Step 0, establishes the method including the people involved and expectations; the tests and how to run them; and the results. Step 1 is to understand the customer experience. Step 2 is to form a hypothesis that you can test. Step 3 is to run a simple experiment that can be reiterated when needed. Finally, Step 4 is to interpret the test results. He says that there’s little to interpret if the hypothesis is well stated, there’s a clear threshold established for failure, the test is appropriate, and the test is properly executed.

As mentioned before, Lombardi’s book takes the approach that failure is oftentimes the direct result of a poor customer experience. Why We Fail provides a method for approaching an experience that will lead to improvement and, perhaps, marketing success.

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.

Social Media in Disaster Response: How Experience Architects Can Build for Participation

Liza Potts. 2014. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-817424-0. 162 pages, including index. US$44.95 (softcover).]

Potts_Social_2013In Social Media in Disaster Response: How Experience Architects Can Build for Participation, Liza Potts studies how emerging social Web tools accumulate data, validate information, and curate knowledge to facilitate communication in high-pressure, high-stakes disaster cases, focusing on several recent natural and human-made disasters. The use of the social Web during times of disaster is a largely untapped subject area. Under the banner of experience architecture, this book initiates the conversation on how to model systems and tools to build participant-centered architectures for empowering and fostering participatory cultures on social Web during times of disaster and daily life.

Potts argues for the urgent need for both humanists and technologists across academia and industry to study participants’ experiences collectively, since these experiences involve not only technological use but also social use. Unfortunately, this kind of sociotechnical usability study on crisis communication with an emphasis on rhetorical problems (such as culture and participation) is missing from too many digital experiences studies. Focusing on rhetorical problems with an emphasis on technical and scientific complexity, Social Media in Disaster Response presents an emerging trend of technologists studying human experience and humanists analyzing information architecture. Potts’s research contributes to what Grabill identified, in 2009, as “moving the humanities, and especially the field of technical communication away from being the handmaiden to technology and science” (as cited in Grabill, p. 16).

This book is divided into four sections. The first section defines the concepts of experience architecture and social Web, and differentiates the term “participant” from “users.” Participants are actively involved, community-oriented users, and essential partners to co-create social Web tools. Potts expands the definition of participants to include any actor within a network: human, technology, organization, event, and so on. In the second section, Potts adopts a different method for architecting the social Web—a rhetorical approach to focus on participation (audience), events (exigency), and architecture (form and context). The third section further applies this rhetorical method to analyze communication exchange in social networking through three disaster cases: Hurricane Katrina, London Bombings, and Mumbai Attacks. Each case’s chapter highlights one stage of communication exchange: how participants locate data, how to validate data as accurate information, and how to redistribute that information as shared knowledge. Potts concludes the fourth section by examining accumulating challenges for experience architecture researchers and calls for scholars, practitioners, and teachers to delve into the architecture of sociotechnical systems under participant-centered frameworks.

Social Media in Disaster Response provides methods, tools, and examples for analyzing communication systems and experiences as well as architecting the social Web, which could interest a broad body of readers within academia and industry. While it is innovative in research methods, Potts’s book needs to solidify the discussion on the social use of technology and communication issues of participant experience. The frameworks of participant-centered architectures are macroscopical and thus require studying more recent disaster cases to test, improve, perfect, and make them practical. The brief closing discussion of curriculum on experience architecture implies a promising interdisciplinary research area, especially for the humanists.

Lin Dong

Lin Dong is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition in Georgia State University. She has broad research interests in cross-cultural and international rhetoric and communication, especially in technical and professional communication in the global contexts. Lin is currently preparing her PhD dissertation on international crisis communication from a sociotechnical aspect.

The Best American Infographics 2014

Gareth Cook, ed. 2014. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [ISBN 978-0-547-97451-4. 260 pages. US$20.00 (softcover)].

Cook_Best_2014The Best American Infographics 2014 is a book for those who have a freshly brewed pot of coffee and the time to be swept away by wonderment and humor. Who would not wonder at the interactive mass of colorful bubbles that instantly identifies the effective tax rates of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies? Who would not chuckle at the combination of a hand-drawn, cat-emotion map with several Google neighborhood maps that presents the attempt to chart the movements of a meandering house cat?

I couldn’t tear my attention away from Cook’s book. I wanted to complain because some of the infographics feature too many words for my taste. However, those examples are balanced by infographics that emphasize visuals or beautifully incorporate images with a modest number of words. Besides being overwhelmingly colorful, the infographics vary widely in style and shape, including maps, photos, hand drawings, charts, tables, computer drawings, and a noticeable number of circles, spirals, and serpentine lines.

The Best American Infographics 2014 is divided into four sections that present infographics pertinent to individuals, humanity as a whole, “the material world,” and “interactive” subject matter. As stated by Nate Silver, the author of the introduction, “Visual approaches to organizing information…have a number of advantages against purely verbal ones: approachability…transparency…[and] efficiency” (p . xii). The book itself exhibits these characteristics in the range of topics covered.

For instance, sports fans can view representations of the speed of fastballs and learn about the design of baseball parks. Followers of popular music can learn how long it takes a song to ascend the charts and the ways in which teen idol Justin Bieber has changed over time. Foodies can observe a simple chart that pairs wines with foods and can evaluate recipes that emphasize drawings over words.

Political, scientific, and economics topics, too, are well represented. The number of deaths caused by U.S. drones in Pakistan and the identity of the victims are presented in disturbing detail, as are drawings of the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The attacks of lions on humans in Africa are the topic of an infographic that depicts the influences on animal behavior of the moon, human activities at dusk, and farming practices. The momentous subject of the raising of the U.S. debt ceiling by U.S. presidents from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama is presented in a colorful chart. A startling, yet simple, map of the United States reveals that in 39 out of 50 states, the highest paid state employee is a football or basketball coach.

Only a chapter-by-chapter review of the 68 infographics would do justice to their variety, attractiveness, and importance. As a substitute for such thoroughness in this review, I recommend the purchase of this moderately priced book by all who are interested in visual design and the presentation of large sets of data in quickly graspable form.

Ann Jennings

Ann Jennings is the 2009 winner of STC’s Jay R. Gould award for teaching. She is emeritus professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, where she teaches part-time in the BS and MS degree programs in professional writing and technical communication.

From Corporate to Social Media: Critical Perspectives on Corporate Social Responsibility in Media and Communication Industries

Marisol Sandoval. 2014. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-72256-8. 312 pages, including index. US$135.00.]

Sandoval_Corporate_2014The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is that corporations should be responsible to the communities, nations, and world that they inhabit.

Marisol Sandoval provides a critical look at the CSR programs for several multinational corporations and finds them lacking in this book. To really look at CSR “…requires looking beyond company statements at independent investigations in order to find out whether the corporate rhetoric of serving the common good corresponds to actual business practices” (p. 9).

So whom does Sandoval examine, how does she examine them, and what does she find out? Sandoval investigates these companies based on their represented business segments: (1) Media content—Walt Disney, Vivendi, and News Corp, (2) Hardware—Hewlett Packard and Apple, (3) Software—Microsoft, (4) Telecommunications—AT&T, and (5) Online Media—Google.

She investigates them not only by reading their CSR reports, but also by using reports from corporate watchdogs such as Greenpeace and China Labour Watch, and corporate media watchdogs such as Google Watch and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Other sources include more mainstream media such as Mother Jones, AlterNet, Democracy Now, the New York Times, the Guardian, BBC, and CNN.

What does Sandoval find out? She discovers that Walt Disney, despite being purveyors of happy times at its theme parks and movies, violates standard working conditions in third world countries that betray the themes they work so hard to convey.

News Corp, which most of the world knows through Fox News, actually saves money by being a green company, but that does not keep them from spreading misleading information about climate change, denying or questioning its reality.

Hewlett Packard, whom most of us use every day for printing, struggles with its own e-waste and responsible products disposal, which could be reduced with sustainable design and responsible recycling.

Apple is known for its innovative products, but less known for the labor rights violations in the suppliers that make those products, especially in China.

Microsoft has created a knowledge monopoly, with its patents growing from 1 in 1986 to 3,305 in 2010, while refusing to work with Open Source Software.

AT&T has made itself a major player against net neutrality, and attempts to make the Web a pay-for-service place instead of a utility.

Google has a motto to “not be evil,” but doesn’t think collecting information from its users and selling it to advertisers is wrong.

My only criticism is the expense of From Corporate to Social Media, which will keep it in the hands of librarians and CSR experts. Yet it is good to have ethical insight into the companies that many technical communicators work for, and that most of us use. After reading this book, you may want to join the voices of dissent, such as Sandoval, against these companies. And while it is difficult not to use Microsoft products, it is easy to turn off Fox News.

Charles Crawley

Charles Crawley teaches CSR at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and bemoans the ruination of Wrigley Field by its corporate owners.

Sh@dy Charac†ers: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographic Marks

Keith Houston. 2013. New York, NY: W.W. Norton. [ISBN 978-0-393-34972-6. 338 pages, including index. US$16.95 (softcover).]

Houston_Shady_2013Keith Houston’s Sh@dy Characers: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographic Marks deals with the origins and development of punctuation, and the other little marks and symbols on page and screen, that help us communicate meaning. Viewed this way, it’s a heavy burden for little squiggles such as , . ? ; : ( ) “ ”& • – — . ¢ ø ® ∆ © ÷ and co. It’s even more impressive if you consider that many alphabets—past and present—don’t even have punctuation (ancient Greek and Latin, Modern Hindi, Chinese and Japanese).

Origins are not of historical interest only. They sometimes help us understand why we do what we do. In addition, how we do some things better. As in the case, say, of indicating pauses—one of the most critical roles of punctuation.

Classical Greek had no punctuation. Try to imagine how much harder it was to read the language. Besides the spoken language being primary; silent reading was the exception. It was only in the 3rd century BC at the great library of Alexandria that the first punctuation marks appear to address such pressing matters as where to pause, so the reader could better understand what they were trying to read, a problem many untrained authors struggle with today.

So, with lowercase letters, that appear only in the 8th century– commissioned by Charlemagne, to help the small number of literate inhabitants of his empire, we begin to realize the effects of a resource like having CAPs and lowercase. Again, other alphabets lack this resource.

Quotation marks got their legs from the common Christian practice of quoting lines from Scripture.

A great value of Houston’s book is to help us understand not just where punctuation came from, but where it is going. In 2007, for example, the Oxford English Dictionary dropped the hyphen from over 15,000 compound words, while it pops up more often in the New York Times & the New York Review of Books, that use hyphens in very creative, and sometimes, over-the-top combinations.

Here’s a sample from an article on what the NY Times reviewer calls man films: “I suspect those last-hurrah movies are self-perpetuating clichés with no basis in reality…I know men who enjoy…boys-only time with buddies they’ve known for decades…I’ve heard reminiscences from men…who are grateful they’ve escaped long-ago romantic disasters.”

Likewise, the dash (–) seems to go in and out of vogue. The story’s moral: Creativity is important, in words and in typographics. After all, every word was a new word when first uttered. It all balances on those undefinable qualities…of taste and proportion.

Steven Darian

Steven Darian is an STC Fellow, having retired from teaching business and technical writing at Rutgers for 33 years and in eight countries. He was a manager for Raytheon in Saudi Arabia. Steven’s next book is Tools of the Trade: 83 Steps on the Road to Great Writing, which is due out in spring 2015.

Computer Games and Technical Communication: Critical Methods & Applications at the Intersection

Jennifer DeWinter and Ryan M. Moeller, eds. 2014. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. [ISBN 978-1-4724-2640-6. 314 pages, including index. US$119.95.]

DeWinter_Computer_2014Playing games has become big business, with gaming sales (candy) crushing music and movie sales in the U.S. Unlike the passive entertainment forms it outsells, gaming requires continued engagement with and understanding of technology, making technical communicators ideal teammates in this billion-dollar industry. Yet, as Jeff Greene and Laura Palmer note in the opening chapter of Computer Games and Technical Communication: Critical Methods & Applications at the Intersection, “this ideal match… receives little attention in the professional and scholarly publications” and represents a “partnership still unrealized in the computer game industry” (p. 17). Recognizing this dearth in scholarship, Jennifer DeWinter and Ryan Moeller offer this edited collection of essays to address the technical and symbolic intersections of these fields.

The anthology includes articles written by and for technical communication scholars, students, and practitioners and focuses on four primary areas: the relationship between technical communication and game studies, the documentation of gaming, the user’s involvement in games, and the use of games in technical communication courses. The book demonstrates the gaming industry’s reliance upon technical communication for the development, promotion, and use of its games and the need to include professional technical communicators in this work to provide greater industry consistency and quality. The bulk of the collection focuses on industry technical communication practices and includes essays that frame a genealogy of gaming documentation from coin-op technical manuals designed to alleviate industry anxiety to in-game tutorials created to “mediate the complexities between hardware, game mechanics, player desire, and designer vision” (p. 83).

Computer Games and Technical Communication also explores ethical and social issues affecting technical communication in the gaming industry, including an essay investigating the rhetorical consequences of online documentation that provides user help for games with unethical, immoral content. While the book only touches on the connection between technical communication and game studies, providing a single essay on the topic, the featured essay indicates a continuing concern over negative representation over nonhetereosexual orientations in games and suggests that technical communicators intervene in the game development stage to mitigate these negative portrayals. The book concludes by moving from technical communication’s role in the gaming industry to gaming’s function in the technical communication classroom with compelling theoretical and primary research articles addressing the use of computer games as pedagogical tools to foster layered literacies and to promote professional writing practices.

Although the section headings do not necessarily reflect the essay topics within them and the final essay employs a less-than-scholarly tone, these lapses do not deter from the overall quality of information provided in the anthology. Internal references to other included articles tie the essays into a cohesive collection. Computer Games and Technical Communication: Critical Methods & Applications at the Intersection successfully fills the gap in the academic scholarship while also offering practitioners suggestions to tap into this booming market.

Valerie Mullaley

Valerie Mullaley is a practicing attorney in Huntsville, AL. She formerly worked as a technical writer and contracts manager with a local defense contractor. Valerie holds a BS in mathematics and a JD cum laude. She is pursuing a master’s degree in English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

UI is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User-Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication

Everett N. McKay. 2013. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann. [ISBN 978-0-12-396980-4. 364 pages, including index. US$44.95 (softcover).]

McKay_UI_2013The main strength of UI is Communication: How to design intuitive, user-centered interfaces by focusing on effective communication is its assertion that “a user interface is essentially a conversation between users and a product to perform tasks that achieve users’ goals” (p. 3). Everett McKay expands this claim into 10 “top principles” for designing user interfaces (pp. 8–9), principles that fall under the rubric of what he calls “communication-driven design” (p. 243). Throughout the book, McKay presents these principles as a framework for all elements of the design process, from visual design to writing and communication to the shape of the design process itself.

Reading this book not only gives you a working knowledge of the importance of user interfaces in communication, but also how to design truly effective UIs. As McKay emphasizes, the main impetus for a book that focuses on both design and communication is that design processes neglect communication. He describes UIs as having their own “language,” complete with their own conventions, internal logic, and forms of emotional appeals (pp. 13–21). The best UIs respond to users like a conversational partner by providing clear, intuitive, understandable feedback.

Drawing on a variety of examples, which range from visual elements of word processors to gesture-driven interactions on mobile devices, McKay explores the common UI design pitfalls and how to avoid them. “Users rarely perform complex tasks perfectly on the first try,” he explains, “yet complex tasks are usually designed with that ideal task flow” (p. 198). Rather than design interfaces that expect users to behave like robots, McKay advocates designing for the “emotional, impatient, error-prone human at the other end of the interaction” (p. 197). To help readers make this cognitive shift, McKay also provides a variety of exercises, making this an ideal book for use with students.

Overall, McKay has broken the interfaces we engage with on a daily basis into basic, understandable elements that apply to a broad array of contexts. Each element represents both a discrete aspect of UI, as well as an aspect of human communication. In this way, UI is Communication transcends its specific topic by providing implications for any professional who wants to understand better how to communicate effectively with other human beings. With clarity, levity, and a kind, educational tone, McKay instructs readers in the most important considerations for designing great UIs. Perhaps more importantly, however, he also contributes to the ongoing conversation on what constitutes effective professional communication.

Guiseppe Getto

Guiseppe Getto is a college professor based in North Carolina who does freelance writing, UX consulting, digital marketing, and custom WordPress websites. Visit him online at http://guiseppegetto.com.

True Alignment: Linking Company Culture with Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results

Edgar Papke. 2014. New York, NY: Amacom. [ISBN 978- 0-8144-3336-7. 224 pages, including index. US$29.95.]

Papke_True_2013Read this book if you want to find out why bacon and eggs is America’s breakfast and why that matters. True Alignment: Linking Company Culture with Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results is the result of Papke translating his business consulting and coaching practice into a written guide that includes a systematic approach to leveraging organizational culture for successful customer engagement. You will find plenty of examples from both small and large companies with whom Papke has worked and a model to apply within your own organization.

Influenced by seminal authors in the field of organizational culture such as Edgar Schein, Warren Bennis, Peter Drucker, and Peter Senge, Papke builds upon that deep knowledge base through use of a model he calls The Business Code™. Papke thoroughly discusses elements contained within the Code—customer, culture, intention, and leadership—while linking them to organizational culture. According to Papke, it is alignment of an organization’s culture to these elements that fosters a high level of customer success.

Using a recipe analogy to explain the key linkages between culture and customer success, Papke guides the reader through his model. What seems to be lacking, however, is the order in which the ingredients are put together to ensure success. While he provides many examples about other accomplished organizations, the reader may still be unclear about how to apply the book’s principles to his or her own organization. How ingredients are put together depends on you and your company. Gleaning additional information from the visual content of True Alignment will be a non-starter as the graphics are basic and elementary. They belie the work’s complexity that must be done to truly align the customer and culture elements that comprise Papke’s Code.

Read the book, but then plan to hire Papke to help you apply the model to your organization.

Liz Herman

Liz Herman, PhD, PMP, is a communications leader with demonstrated achievements delivering superior knowledge management solutions. She is a senior member of STC and is active in STC’s Washington DC Chapter. She currently works for Battelle in its Health and Analytics business unit.

Writing for Science Journals: Tips, Tricks, and a Learning Plan

Geoffrey Hart. 2014. Point-Clare, Canada: Diaskeuasis Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-927972-01-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927972-02-1 (epub), ISBN 978-1-927972-03-08 (PDF). US$32.00 (softcover), US$26.00 (epub with PDF).]

Hart_Writing_2014Your career as a working scientist depends on publication in peer-reviewed journals. Doing so shares your knowledge, establishes your reputation, and creates employment and networking opportunities.

Unfortunately, planning, writing, and shepherding a manuscript through peer review to successful publication is a complex process that requires specialized knowledge and skills, not just writing and mechanics, but social. Most journals receive more manuscripts than they can possibly publish, and many things besides the quality of your research—submission and formatting errors, infelicitous communication with editors and reviewers—can trip you up. In addition, with the advent of open- and online-publication and the globalization of science, the entire field of scientific publishing is rapidly changing.

Just as you could use guidance for your research, you could use guidance for negotiating the submission process. In Writing for Science Journals: Tips, Tricks, and a Learning Plan, Geoffrey Hart has produced a guide packed with good advice and insider knowledge on every aspect of the process from initial planning to final review, revision, and acceptance.

To do so, he draws on more than 25 years’ experience both as a science editor and as a research submitter. He has worked with thousands of manuscripts, and has served on the editorial board of STC’s Technical Communication journal.

He reveals what you need to know, including many tricks and unspoken secrets that “everyone takes for granted and therefore forgets to pass on to their younger colleagues or graduate students” (p. 3).

Hart leads off with preliminary material on research design, ethics, and journal selection. He thoroughly discusses the structure of journal manuscripts, gives detailed advice on the handling of each section, discusses the choices to be made, and warns of the many pitfalls that could lead to rejection.

With an eye toward the needs of a global audience, he discusses writing style, unusual aspects of English, and provides a glossary of terms that are likely to cause problems for translators and non-native speakers of English.

Moving beyond writing, Hart tells what to expect during the peer review process, gives advice on how to respond to comments, and provides a valuable inside look at the complex etiquette involved in the relationships between submitters, peer reviewers, and editors.

Because few manuscripts have space to fully explore the research, Hart discusses augmenting your report with online supplemental material.

Writing for Science Journals contains a list of useful software, a bibliography, is extensively indexed, and provides links to all mentioned software and Web pages and to updates and errata available on the author’s Web site.

Whether you are an old hand or a new researcher contemplating your first submission, here’s a chance to benefit from a wealth of Hart’s hard-won experience. Give it a look. Your career may depend on it.

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.

Refusals in Instructional Contexts and Beyond

Otilia Marti-Arnándiz and Patricia Salazar-Campillo, eds. 2013. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi B.V. [ISBN 978-90-420-3715-1. 256 pages. US$74.25 (softcover).]

Marti-Arnandiz_Refusals_2014When theorists analyze communication, they look for patterns that explain why the communication fails or succeeds. Speech act is one popular theory. It looks at that part of the communication by a speaker or writer that requires a reaction from the intended receiver. When that receiver does not respond positively to the request, the communication is essentially over unless the originator modifies it and tries again. The crux of the matter is, “Refusals are inherently face-threatening acts and require a high level of pragmatic competence so as not to risk the interlocutor’s face” (p. 1).

The manner in which the refuser replies is especially significant in cross-cultural communication. How do non-native speakers refuse the request politely and in such a manner so as to “save the [requester’s] face”? Marti-Arnándiz and Salazar-Campillo’s edited collection of essays, Refusals in Instructional Contexts and Beyond, examines how non-native English speakers are taught to respond appropriately.

The 10 essays are divided into three parts. In Part I (4 essays) the authors describe refusals in television episodes and a virtual world as they apply to non-native speaking students. They analyze these situations, then model other situations. Part II (3) looks at refusals in second language situations, especially in second language Spanish. Part III (3) focuses on how refusals are produced and the effect of researching on students’ refusals.

The students involved in the research projects are all Spanish-speaking and have varying levels of proficiency in English from classroom studying to study-abroad.

The essays describe how teachers can help students understand refusals in English. They address how foreign language teachers help their students to understand how to refuse a request without seeming rude or impolite. One approach is to use TV episodes where there are refusals and analyze them based on speech–act theory. Another approach is through virtual world games.

Each essay reports on an empirical experiment run to test hypotheses related to the best methods for teaching refusals, so each essay is full of statistical tables and graphs. For someone who is teaching English as a foreign language, these essays should prove helpful in planning that part of the instruction.

The collection could be of little or no interest to professional technical communicators unless they are involved in some form of cross-cultural communication. For example, when analyzing why a particular communication fails, knowing how non-native speakers are trained could lead to effective revisions.

Therefore, the value of this collection lies in user analysis for professional technical communicators. Those who use user responses in cross-cultural communication can begin to understand the source and method of user refusals (treating the communication as a speech act). They can then adjust the communication to gain acceptance.

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.