62.3, August 2015

Recent & Relevant

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.


Building relationships through integrated online media: Global organizations’ use of brand Web sites, Facebook, and Twitter

Shin, W., Pang, A., & Hyo Jung, K. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 184–220. doi: 10.1177/1050651914560569

This article contains collaborative approaches in using social media that may be useful when teaching technical communication courses. “Many studies have examined organizations’ use of specific types of online media, but few studies have examined how organizations generate dialogues and develop relationships by using multiple online communication platforms. This study takes an integrated approach by examining how top global organizations incorporate brand Web sites, Facebook, and Twitter to cultivate relationships with stakeholders. Its findings suggest that those particular online media are used similarly, that is, more for information dissemination than user engagement and more for one-way than two-way communication. The findings also suggest that the types of products promoted can affect the way that organizations use different online media to develop relationships.”

Sean C. Herring

The hype and reality of social media use for work collaboration and team communication

Cardon, P., & Marshall, B. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 273–293. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525446

“This article describes the growing adoption of enterprise social networking platforms by organizations in an attempt to foster better team communication and collaboration. To examine current views of these social networking tools, survey results from 227 business professionals are presented that address three areas: frequency of use of social networking for team communication compared to other communication channels, perceived effectiveness of social networking tools for team communication compared to other communication channels, and attitudes toward social networking for team communication. Generally, the results show that traditional communication channels are used more frequently and considered more effective for team communication. However, the results also indicate that Gen X and Gen Y business professionals are quite likely to consider that social networking tools will be the primary tools for team communication in the future. The article concludes with recommendations for how business communication scholars can advance, define, and set apart the field by focusing on business communication via enterprise social networking platforms.”

Katherine Wertz

A preliminary examination of perceptions of social influence in group decision making in the workplace

Henningsen, D., & Henningsen, M. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 188–204. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525448

“Theory and research on social influence in groups indicate that normative influence can be detrimental to important group outcomes, whereas informational influence tends to have positive effects. However, much of the research providing these results consists of experimental studies conducted in laboratory settings. [The authors] examine how normative and informational influences are perceived in decision-making groups in the workplace. [The authors] find, in a survey of 197 individuals involved in group decision making in their workplaces, that the use of informational influence is viewed as enhancing group decision-making effectiveness and group cohesiveness. In contrast, normative influence has a negative effect on perceptions of decision-making effectiveness. Flirting as a form of idiosyncratic influence in the workplace is also considered and is found to have negative effects on perceptions of decision-making effectiveness and cohesiveness.”

Katherine Wertz

Professional writing pedagogy and university-workplace partnerships can shape the mentoring of workplace writing

Kohn, L. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 166–188. doi: 10.1177/0047281615569484

“This article analyzes literature on university-workplace partnerships and professional writing pedagogy to suggest best practices for workplace mentors to mentor new employees and their writing. The article suggests that new employees often experience cultural confusion due to (a) the transfer of education-based writing strategies and (b) the employees’ lack of cultural knowledge of the new workplace. The article then outlines implied mentoring strategies based upon this transfer and lack of cultural knowledge. The article also analyzes the literature on discourse community theory, activity theory, service learning, and internships, each of which also imply potential mentoring practices. These comprehensive best practices are also contextualized through social cognitive, community-cultural, and motivational-attitudinal components that writing mentors should consider when mentoring writing in the workplace.”

Anita Ford


An application of motivating language theory in Mexican organizations

Madlock, P., & Sexton, S. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 255–272. doi: 10.1177/2329488415572783

“The purpose of the current study was to extend organizational communication scholarship by examining the influence of culture on the use of motivating language by supervisors in Mexican organizations. Furthermore, the influence of motivating language on employees’ perceptions of their supervisors’ communication competence and their own job satisfaction and organizational commitment was examined. Participants included 158 full-time employees from a number of organizations located in Mexico. The current findings indicate that supervisors in organizations located in Mexico tend to use direction-giving language most frequently followed by meaning-making language and empathetic language. Direction-giving language was also indicated as the greatest predictor of communication and organizational outcomes. A discussion of the current findings highlighting expectancy violations theory was also offered.”

Katherine Wertz

Internal crisis communication strategies to protect trust relationships: A study of Italian companies

Mazzei, A., & Ravazzani, S. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 319–337. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525447

“Crisis communication has emerged as a hot topic after the global financial crisis that started in the second half of 2008. A survey of 61 Italian companies examined internal crisis communication strategies and the characteristics of that communication in order to understand the role of communication in safeguarding relationships of trust with employees. The main results show that companies have used poorly internal communication as a strategic lever to develop employee commitment and have adopted a broadly defensive approach that may undermine their intangible assets. The study offers implications for practice and suggestions for future research.”

Katherine Wertz


Brainy type: A look at how the brain processes typographic information

Thiessen, M., Kohler, M., Churches, O., Coussens, S., & Keage, H. (2015). Visible Language, 49, 174-189. [doi: none]

“Despite a growing body of knowledge around how readers interact with texts, our understanding of how the brain processes that information is relatively limited. This multidisciplinary (typography and cognitive neuroscience) study examines how the brain processes typographic information using EEG technology and shows the value of neuroscience methodologies to legibility research. By measuring the brain’s response to a range of typographic stimuli, [the authors] have shown that it is more difficult for the brain to process single letter information presented in harder to read compared to easier to read typefaces. This effect was evident at both the most basic levels of letter identification (0–300 milliseconds from stimuli onset) and also during sustained activity involving the working memory (after 300 ms). This has implications for our understanding of legibility and how legibility research is further explored with the aim of developing a body of knowledge that has a wider application to how typographic design is practiced.”

Lyn Gattis

The use of visualization in the communication of business strategies: An experimental evaluation

Kernbach, S., Eppler, M., & Bresciani, S. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 164–187. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525444

“An experiment was conducted to gather empirical evidence regarding whether the use of visualization is better than text in the communication of a business strategy. A total of 76 managers saw a presentation of the strategy of the financial services branch of an international car manufacturer. The visual representation of the strategy was chosen as the independent variable, and the effects on the audience were measured. Three types of visual support were chosen as conditions: bulleted list, visual metaphor, and temporal diagram. Each subject saw one representation format only. Subjects who were exposed to a graphic representation of the strategy paid significantly more attention to, agreed more with, and better recalled the strategy than did subjects who saw a (textually identical) bulleted list version. However, no significant difference was found regarding the understanding of the strategy. Subjects who were exposed to a graphic representation of the strategy perceived the presentation and the presenter significantly more positively than did those who received the presentation through a bulleted list.”

Katherine Wertz


Learning beyond the classroom and textbook: Client projects’ role in helping students transition from school to work

Kramer-Simpson, E., Newmark, J., & Dyke Ford, J. (2015). IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication, 58, 106–122. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2015.2423352

“To prepare students for careers postgraduation, many academic programs have added components, such as service-learning projects (civic oriented, real-audience tasks) and client projects (real-audience corporate or nonprofit tasks), which aim to acclimate students to the expectations of ‘real world’ clients while they are still in the relatively ‘safe’ domain of the classroom. The two studies reported in this paper examine whether participating in client projects as part of regular technical communication classes aids students in internships and later on the job. . . . To evaluate experiences on a particular client project, study one surveyed six students with open-ended questions about their experiences on it. To explore how the client project prepared them for internships, study two used semistructured interviews with interns and supervisors, observations of interns at work, and documents that interns created. Through recursive analysis, client projects emerged as being important in students’ internship experiences. Students participate in client projects in ways that support their learning and development as members of a community of practice in internships and on the job. This learning is gradual and varied. One particular finding for teachers is that rather than shield students from client interactions, it may be helpful to promote frequent, structured interactions with clients to better prepare students for the workplace.”

Lyn Gattis

Teaching students to focus on the data in data visualization

Wolfe, J. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 344–359. doi:10.1177/1050651915573944

“Although most technical communication pedagogy provides students with solid advice on how to visualize particular numerical representations, it underproblematizes the rhetorical decisions we make in choosing which numbers to display in the first place. This pedagogical reflection uses Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s concept of interpretative level to foreground the rhetorical choices that underlie our decisions on how to summarize, aggregate, and synthesize the data we visualize. It then describes two informal classroom activities that emphasize the importance of interpretative level and help students see the recursive nature of data visualization and invention.”

Sean C. Herring


Corporate social responsibility communication through corporate websites: A comparison of leading corporations in the United States and China

Tang, L., Gallagher, C., & Bie, B. (2015). International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 205–227. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525443

“Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a discourse constructed through the constant dialogue and negotiation between corporations and their different stakeholders. This article examines how leading corporations in the United States and China discuss the rationales, themes, and practices of CSR on their corporate websites through a quantitative content analysis. The results, based on data collected in 2008, indicate that leading U.S. companies demonstrate a higher level of comprehensiveness and standardization in their CSR communication, while Chinese companies in different industries take distinctive approaches to CSR. However, the differences between the CSR discourses of leading Chinese and U.S. companies have greatly diminished since 2008. Updated data collected in 2012 show that the Chinese companies have adopted an all-inclusive and homogeneous approach in CSR communication, which is very similar to the approach taken by their U.S. counterparts. Such convergence is attributed to the process of institutionalization, especially to the forces of coercive and mimetic isomorphism.”

Katherine Wertz

Monkeywrenching plain language: Ecodefense, ethics, and the technical communication of ecotage

Ross, D. G. (2015). IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication, 58, 154–175. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2015.2425135

“Subversive environmental texts, those that strive against hegemonic discourse, such as the book Ecodefense, have a long history of use by radical environmentalists as a means for recruitment and distribution of best practices. This study aims to investigate the role of plain language in the subversive text Ecodefense, and consider some ethical implications of plain language by conducting a close textual analysis . . . using the Center for Plain Language’s (CPL) Plain Language checklist and Writemark’s criteria for documents, which includes consideration of the audience, structure, language content, and design of a text, as well as usability testing. Analysis shows that Ecodefense is partially representative of plain language use and practice under the CPL’s standards, and appears somewhat more fully representative under Writemark’s standards, which are designed for use by a trained assessor. Analysis further suggests that adherence to checklist-driven language practices may unwittingly enable an ethic of exigence; thus, research is needed into the ethical implications for list-driven, or standards-based, rhetoric in order to ensure that plain language practices consider long-term implications for users and for organizations that employ these practices.”

Lyn Gattis

Health communication

Co-designing for healthcare: Visual designers as researchers and facilitators

Napier, P., & Wada, T. (2015). Visible Language, 49, 128–143. [doi: none]

“This article describes the process, methods, and outcomes of a project that included multiple stakeholders in a participatory design process to re-design an indispensable service in the healthcare sector. The project explores how visual designers are taking on new roles as design researchers and design facilitators and what a human-centered design approach might look like within the healthcare sector of emergency management. Design methods included collaboratively visualizing the complexity of an existing context, including content development, production processes, distribution processes, issues, and perceptions; using generative tools to examine and discuss content, use, form, and function; prototyping toolkits to visually model processes, themes, devices, and technological capabilities; and evaluative surveying to collect and assess user feedback. The outcome of this project includes a completely redesigned product and service that has increased user subscription and satisfaction, as well as suggestions for future implications and improvements.”

Lyn Gattis

Design to improve the health education experience: Using participatory design methods in hospitals with clinicians and patients

Paulovich, B. (2015). Visible Language, 49, 144–159. [doi: none]

“Poor communication in health is a persistent problem. Transient conversations, extreme time constraints, stress, trauma, clinical factors and the restrictive environment make effective communication between health professionals and patients difficult to achieve. Children, especially, are often positioned as passive participants in the healthcare paradigm. It is hypothesized that providing children with visual health information (well-designed, accurate, age appropriate, and presented in a way that they can understand) can empower them to take charge of their health and well-being. For visual health education materials to be effective, accurate, and engaging, they need to be designed with input from design practitioners, health experts, and the target audience. However, constraints within the health field, such as restricted access to patients, make this difficult. Furthermore, when children are involved, ethical and practical obstacles can hinder the process. The research presented in this paper navigates the complexities of the health field and presents a realistic participatory design model that responds to the specific challenges associated with designing in a health-care environment. The efficacy of the approach is demonstrated through successful designs and positive health professional feedback.”

Lyn Gattis

Information management

Title guidelines for technical documentation: Legacy vs. topic-based multi-channel delivery

Devere, M. (2015). Best Practices, 17, 44–50. [Center for Information-Development Management] [doi: none]

Topic-based documentation is strengthened by effective titles, which “can convey not only content, but also structure and relationship. Consistency in titles improves the user’s experience, and, from the point of view of the information developer, consistent, well-drafted titles support content reuse.” This article offers nine guidelines for developing topic titles, such as beginning titles with key words, supporting the user’s mental models, and relating titles to user goals. The guidelines for titles can be applied to figure and table captions as well. The author illustrates the guidelines with several legacy and rewritten titles and also offers ideas for spreadsheets to organize and document decisions about title styles.

Lyn Gattis

Intercultural issues

Connotative localization of an HIV prevention image to promote safer sex practices in Ghana

Bennet, A. (2015). Visible Language, 49, 24–39. [doi: none]

“When designers localize an image’s denotative elements according to the users’ cultural preferences, research shows that it improves user experience and cross-cultural usability. However, this paper reports that, even when localized denotatively, culturally-based disparities—dissonance between how the designer communicates and how the user interprets from a cultural perspective—can still impede or entirely obstruct the image’s connotative performance. Localization needs to facilitate adaptation of the image on a connotative level particularly when the goal is to bring about behavioral change hyper-locally, on a transnational and transcultural scale, with a community of users.” Based on data collected over a period of two years during which the author “interviewed lay people in Kumasi [Ghana] about the denotative and connotative performance of an HIV prevention image called the Red Card,” this paper describes “the existence of cultural dissonance between [the researcher’s] Westernized esthetic sensibilities and Ghanaian interpretive capacities. [The] data also corroborates that the use of connotative localization through an interactive communication design process (CLIC) can reveal semiotic noise hindering the image’s connotative performance prior to its final production.”

Lyn Gattis


Online employment screening and digital career capital: Exploring employers’ use of online information for personnel selection

Berkelaar, B. L., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2015). Management Communication Quarterly, 29, 84–113. doi: 10.1177/0893318914554657

“This study explores how employers report using online information to evaluate job candidates during personnel selection. Qualitative analysis of 45 in-depth employer interviews emphasizes how new and different information visibility afforded by the Internet simultaneously replicates and shifts how employers evaluate reconstructed information about candidates during personnel selection. Data revealed that employers evaluate the relative presence or absence of certain types of visual, textual, relational, and technological information in patterned and idiosyncratic ways. [The authors] discuss the likely consequences for theory and practices of personnel selection and careers, emphasizing the increasing expectations for workers to curate ‘digital career capital’ to manage the expanding contexts within which employers construct and evaluate professional and/or workplace identities. “

Lyn Gattis

Work-related communication technology use outside of regular work hours and work life conflict: The influence of communication technologies on perceived work life conflict, burnout, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions

Wright, K. B., Abendschein, B., Wombacher, K., O’Connor, M., Hoffman, M., Dempsey, M., Krull, C., Dewes, A., & Shelton, A. (2015). Management Communication Quarterly, 28, 507-530. doi: 10.1177/0893318914533332

“The purpose of this study was to investigate employee perceptions of the influence of communication technology use outside of regular work hours on perceptions of work life conflict, burnout, turnover intentions, and job satisfaction. An online survey of 168 employees from more than 30 companies in a Midwestern city was conducted to assess relationships among these variables. The results indicated that hours of work-related communication technology use outside of regular work hours contributed to perceptions of work life conflict. However, positive attitudes toward communication technologies predicted decreased work life conflict. Controlling for worker age, perceived life stress, and attitudes toward communication technologies, work life conflict was found to predict job burnout and job satisfaction, but not turnover intentions. The authors discuss implications of the study findings for management practices, limitations of the study, and directions for future research.”

Lyn Gattis

Professional issues

Medical writing up close and professional: Establishing our identity

Lang, T. (2015) AMWA Journal, 30, 10–17. [doi: none]

“Medical writing is not easily defined, not widely known, not well understood, and thus not always appreciated. Each of these issues is a challenge we need to overcome if we are to advance the profession. Here, [the author] suggest[s] some reasons for our low profile. [The author] propose[s] a definition of medical writing that identifies some key skills and suggest[s] that these skills are not necessarily learned in school but require additional training. [The author] describe[s] some common misconceptions acquired about writing in school and assert[s] that they need to be dispelled before medical writing can be fully appreciated. That is, if we are to develop the profession, we need to educate employers and clients about the nature and potential of medical writing. In fact, changing the way people think about medical writing is essential, not only to defining the profession but to having one. People need to know that we are not just professionals who like to write but that our knowledge, skills, and experience make us expert writers and allow us to communicate more effectively than can writers without advanced training. They need to know that scientific-technical-medical writing is distinct from literary or creative writing and from journalistic or popular writing. Finally, [the author] identif[ies] areas we can develop to make medical writing more professional—more visible, more distinct, more credible, and more valued.”

Magdalena Berry

Topoi and the reconciliation of expertise: A model for the development of rhetorical commonplaces in public policy

Harlow, R. M. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 57–75. doi: 10.2190/TW.45.1.d

“In a society in which expertise becomes increasingly specialized, [the author seeks to] understand how to manage gaps in knowledge between experts in various fields and between experts and the public in general. That need is especially great in the public sphere, where technical understanding and lived experience do not always align. This study attempts to model the process by which discipline-specific topoi filter into common knowledge and general topoi are acknowledged by experts. . . .”

Anita Ford


Design and language impact on study volunteerism in medical research: Learnings from a controlled study of recruitment letters

Sanematsu, H., Hudson, B., Nyhuis, A., Hui, S., & Dexter, P. (2015). Visible Language, 49, 160–171. [doi: none]

“Research on human subjects in health and medicine is a necessary part of studies ranging from taking online surveys (less invasive) to taking blood draws (more invasive). Without them, our ability to learn about and improve health is limited. However, recruitment for such studies is difficult. Patient registries aim to speed up scientific advancement by reducing the time and effort spent to recruit participants by maintaining a cadre of ready volunteers. Invitation by mail is an effective route to approach a large number of potential registry volunteers at relatively low cost. [The authors’] research question was whether the letter recipients’ response (by signing up on the patient registry) to the invitation could be increased by ‘perking up’ the letter content using 1) more motivational language, and 2) enhancing the graphic design of the invitation. [The researchers] tested four models and sent them out to 10,000 recipients. [Their] results showed that in this application, a conventionally worded and typeset letter is more effective in recruiting altruistic volunteers than one that uses motivational language or modernist design principles. This has implications for how designers apply their skills in this context.”

Lyn Gattis

Usability studies

Complex systems, cooperative work, and usability

Pan, Y., Komandur, S., & Finken, S. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 100–112. [doi: none]

“Modern operating systems are increasingly complex and require a large number of individual subsystems and procedures; operators also must cooperate to make them function. In this paper the authors consider usability from a broad perspective based on this understanding, recognizing the challenges a team of operators, complex subsystems, and other technical aspects pose as they work together. It seeks to expand usability by adding insights from Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)-based fieldwork in offshore operations. To contribute to the current usability literature, [the authors] investigated and analyzed through a network-based approach how operators, ship bridge hardware and software, and other physical environments work together. [The authors] propose a process for evaluating the usability of complex systems: field observation and interviews to determine how work is organized and executed by human and nonhuman actors and to identify whether additional artifacts are being used to supplement the nonhuman components. The use of those artifacts often identifies usability issues in complex systems.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

Evaluating the utility and communicative effectiveness of an interactive sea-level rise viewer through stakeholder engagement

Stephens, S. H., DeLorme, D. E., & Hagen, S. C. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 314–343. doi: 10.1177/1050651915573963

“The design of interactive applications for online communication is an ongoing area of research within technical communication. This study reports on the development of an interactive sea-level rise (SLR) viewer, a data visualization tool that communicates about the potential effects of SLR along coastlines. It describes the formative evaluation of a location-specific SLR viewer created via integral stakeholder engagement. Participants performed a series of tasks, answered questions about the tool’s usability and communicative effectiveness, and made suggestions for ways to improve its application to desired tasks. The authors discuss the implications of this study for visual risk communication and make recommendations for others developing similar interactive data visualization tools with audience input.”

Sean C. Herring

Personas in heuristic evaluation: An exploratory study

Friess, E. (2015). IEEE Transactions in Professional Communication, 58, 176–191. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2015.2429971

“No study has explored how incorporating personas into heuristic evaluation of products, namely websites, affects the kinds of findings reported and the recommendations presented by usability evaluators. . . . In this exploratory study involving three sections of an advanced technical writing course, groups of evaluators conducted a heuristic evaluation of a website. Each section was randomly assigned a different condition with which they would conduct the heuristic evaluation: (a) a traditional heuristic evaluation, (b) a persona-led heuristic evaluation in which the personas were given to the evaluators, or (c) a persona-led heuristic evaluation in which the evaluators themselves created their own personas. Each group wrote a report identifying the major problems with the website and provided recommendations to solve the identified problems. The evaluators completed pretesting demographic surveys and posttesting confidence surveys. This exploratory study found few detectable differences in the findings reported by groups that used personas in heuristic evaluation and groups that did not use personas. The groups that used personas were more likely to report findings related to navigation than the groups that did not use personas, while the groups that did not use personas were more likely to report findings related to design than the groups that used personas. The groups that created their own personas were more likely than the other groups to include complex issues in their reports and include language that directly references users and user needs. All groups were confident in their findings.”

Lyn Gattis