62.4, November 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.


Are we on the same page? Knowledge boundaries and transactive memory system development in cross-functional teams

Kotlarsky, J., van den Hooff, B., & Houtman, L. (2015). Communication Research, 42, 319344. doi: 10.1177/0093650212469402

“One of the key challenges that organizations face when trying to integrate knowledge across different functions is the need to overcome knowledge boundaries between team members. In cross-functional teams, these boundaries, associated with different knowledge backgrounds of people from various disciplines, create communication problems, necessitating team members to engage in complex cognitive processes when integrating knowledge toward a joint outcome. This research investigates the impact of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic knowledge boundaries on a team's ability to develop a transactive memory system (TMS)—a collective memory system for knowledge coordination in groups. Results from [the authors'] survey show that syntactic and pragmatic knowledge boundaries negatively affect TMS development. These findings extend TMS theory beyond the information-processing view, which treats knowledge as an object that can be stored and retrieved, to the interpretive and practice-based views of knowledge, which recognize that knowledge (in particular specialized knowledge) is localized, situated, and embedded in practice.”

Lyn Gattis


Developing a design brief for a virtual hospice using design tools and methods: A preliminary exploration

Taylor, A., French, T., Lennox, J., & Keen, J. (2015). Visible Language, 49(1, 2), 96–111. [doi: none]

“Providing equitable access to specialist palliative care, regardless of diagnosis or geographical location, with relatively limited resources and an ageing population, will become increasing difficult for all hospice services. This paper describes the development of a Design Brief for a Virtual Hospice using design tools and methods. The main aim of the Virtual Hospice in this case is to improve access to services provided by the Highland Hospice in Inverness, Scotland. The project began by observing Hospice staff and their interactions with patients. Three User Personas were then created based on data gathered through interviews with a small number of patients and professionals. Each Persona's progress through the Highland Hospice service was visualised on a User Journey Map in the form of insights and opportunities, with five key themes emerging. The final step involved producing a Design Brief that synthesised the research findings in the form of a plan for creating, prototyping and testing the Virtual Hospice.”

Lyn Gattis

Using icons to overcome communication barriers during emergencies: A case study of the Show Me interactive tools

Patton, A., Griffin, M., Tellez, A., Petti, M. A., & Scrimgeour, X. (2015). Visible Language, 49(1, 2), 80–95. [doi: none]

“This case study reviews the development of three icon-based tools designed to help workers and volunteers during an emergency communicate with people who have communication challenges, such as limited English proficiency, deafness or hearing impairments, and cognitive delays. Using the classic human figure icons designed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) as a basis, [the authors] developed over 250 new icons for the tools, a dry erase booklet and two mobile applications for Apple and Android devices. [The authors] outline the challenges [they] faced researching, testing, and developing the icons. [They] also explore interactivity, animation, and the grouping of icons and suggest ways to push icon design in new directions. . . .“

Lyn Gattis

Designing a visual tool to interview people with communication disabilities: A user-centered approach

Noël, G. (2015). Visible Language, 49(1, 2), 62–79. [doi: none]

“To design in collaboration with users, speaking and listening are essential. This article shows the process of interviewing people with a communication disability called aphasia. Aphasia is caused by brain damage and affects speaking, understanding speech, reading, and writing to some degree. The focus of the article is on the creation of visual tools to facilitate the understanding of questions and producing answers by people with aphasia. Everything has to be adapted to match their needs: the wording, the types of questions, the way a question is introduced, and the length of the interview, among other things. For every question, specific material was designed to facilitate communication between the person interviewing and the person with aphasia. The strategy was to combine verbal information (oral and written), pictorial information, and movement. The main goal of the interviews was to understand the feelings and opinions of people with aphasia regarding the diagnosis process. The interview results helped identify people's preferences regarding the context in which the assessment takes place, as well as their needs regarding the visual materials used. The project demonstrated that it is possible and valuable to apply a user-centred design approach to the design of the visual material used to assess aphasia.”

Lyn Gattis


Examining the relationship between technology and idea generation in the document design process

Lauer, C. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 367–402. doi: 10.1177/1050651915588146

“This article proposes a more complex consideration of the idea-generation stage of the document design process. Survey data collected from multiple sections of graphic design and technical communication classes show that design software and other technology can help students generate solutions to design problems by enabling them to realize design options that they may not have known exist and to adopt a bricolage approach to design that facilitates the process. The author makes several recommendations for how instructors can negotiate the sketching-software divide in their classrooms to ensure that the invention process is optimized for all students.”

Sean C. Herring

Filter. Remix. Make. Cultivating adaptability through multimodality

Dusenberry, L., Hutter, L., & Robinson, J. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 299–322. doi: 10.1177/0047281615578851

“This article establishes traits of adaptable communicators in the 21st century, explains why adaptability should be a goal of technical communication educators, and shows how multimodal pedagogy supports adaptability. Three examples of scalable, multimodal assignments (infographics, research interviews, and software demonstrations) that evidence this philosophy are discussed in detail. Asking students to communicate multimodally drives them to effectively filter information, remix modes, and remake practices that are core characteristics of adaptable communicators. Beyond teaching students how to teach themselves as an essential part of living in an information society, contending with new and unfamiliar tools also prepares students for their roles as empathic mediators in the workplace.”

Anita Ford

Teaching professional communication in a global context: Using a three-phase approach of theory exploration, self-assessment, and virtual simulation

Grant, K. A., Lainema, T., Tuleja, E., & Younger, J. (2015). Rhetoric, Professional Communication and Globalization, 8, 4–21. [doi: none]

The authors of this article assert that students do not fully grasp “the realities of international communication, multicultural collaboration, and dispersed global work” through standard teaching methods and case studies. Instead, the authors “believe that hands-on experiential, collaborative exercises—combined with the metacognitive exercise of reflective practice—offer greater learning potential. . . . This paper discusses a recent teaching endeavor across three universities in the USA, Finland, and Austria. The authors of this paper collaborated on a project to link business students via a virtual team simulation, called Virtual Teams in International Business (VIBu – http://www.vibu.fi).” The article discusses “behavioral assessment of the intercultural communication skills needed for effective global interaction . . . the global simulation used in this VIBu project . . . [and] implications and the potential of future pedagogical models, which hold much promise for teaching professional communication in global contexts.”

Lyn Gattis


Open culture and innovation: Integrating knowledge across boundaries

Powell, A. B. (2015). Media Culture & Society, 37, 376–393. doi: 10.1177/0163443714567169

“What does open source mean for culture? For knowledge? As cultural production has come to be characterized by contribution as well as consumption and as alternative modes of intellectual property transfer challenge the ‘dominant paradigm' that knowledge and information should be protected and monetized, the logic of ‘open sourcing' has extended into many cultural spheres. This article positions ‘openness' as a value that intermediates between re-usable software code, institutional transparency, and expanded opportunities for participation in knowledge production cultures. By observing and analyzing the expansion of ‘openness' from computer software to electronics hardware, we can develop a framework that identifies the tensions between socio-cultural visions of knowledge commons and the realities of governing those commons. This research focuses in particular on the knowledge related to electronics hardware and other material objects governed by open hardware licenses. The insights in this article are valuable for anyone studying open source and peer production processes and the knowledge claims surrounding them.”

Lyn Gattis

Health communication

Designing and evaluating a health program in Africa: Hygiene Matters

Zender, M., & Plate, D. K. (2015). Visible Language, 49(1, 2), 40–61. [doi: none]

“Parasitic intestinal worms are a leading cause of poor school performance of children in Africa and a leading predictor of low quality of life for a lifetime. Deworming medication is effective and inexpensive yet experience shows that unless measures to improve hygiene are taken those who are rid of worms through medication are often re-infected within months. Responding to this, Hope Educational Foundation in partnership with a student/faculty design team from the University of Cincinnati designed, developed, and tested a hygiene educational program as part of a comprehensive de-worming program in Africa. Hygiene Matters was designed with African-user participation, employed visual-story for communication, and was tested in the Central African Republic in 2012 with a larger pilot study in Togo in 2013-14. While hygiene knowledge increased significantly with the curriculum, practices did not increase significantly, and testing revealed flaws in the study protocol that need to be corrected in future evaluations. This project suggests that designers need to improve their ability to conduct research establishing program effectiveness in health outcome terms as designers move from creating individual artifacts aimed to meet client specifications to creating programs that aim to change health outcomes.”

Lyn Gattis

Information management

Managing metadata for responsive web sites with subject schemes

Katajisto, L. (2015). Best Practices, 17, 77, 81–82. [Center for Information-Development Management]

This article discusses a web team's testing of subject schemes in fluid, responsive web sites as a way of defining and maintaining metadata outside DITA topics. “Subject schemes are specialized DITA maps that define a collection of controlled values instead of a collection of topics. Subject schemes also allow the creation of relationships between those values. In other words, subject schemes provide a way to create simple and not-so-simple taxonomies.” During development, the team found that subject schemes were less efficient with flat metadata, such as defined categories. They were most effective with “multifaceted and hierarchical metadata, [which] needed relationship information.” Successful examples include using subject schemes “as the metadata source for XML editor drop-downs and also for faceted search and search UI.”

Lyn Gattis


Get ready for augmented reality in the workplace

Babb, G. (2015). Best Practices, 17, 53, 56–58. [Center for Information-Development Management]

The author of this article defines augmented reality (AR) as “a blend of VR [virtual reality] with physical reality. AR creates an illusion that digital information exists in the real world but it is not complete immersion into a virtual world.” AR can include mobile devices, computer-based displays, or projections that “efficiently guide us in complex tasks, whether those involve assembling wiring in satellite panels, replacing components in an operational radar, inspecting thermal data and other diagnostics of a heating system, or learning truck engine maintenance under the live guidance of a remote expert.” The author suggests that “AR can be seen as another facet of technical communication, with new skills and design paradigms required for shifting instructions from paper- and screen-based help into the user's field of view.” Best practices for AR design and content are still developing, but necessary skills are likely to include “knowledge of usability, graphic design, and of technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript,” along with wireframes, instructional design, experience with modular content, and “interaction design practices such as progressive disclosure.”

Lyn Gattis

Intercultural issues

The guide to Kuan Hua: Language and literacy in the 19th-century Chinese business environment

Sinclair, P., & Blachford, D. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 403–427. doi: 10.1177/1050651915588144

“This article examines the Guide to Kuan Hua, arguably the world's first business Chinese textbook series, exploring how a group of business communication experts in late 19th-century China created instructional materials that allowed foreigners to function efficiently in China's business and bureaucratic environment. Rather than simply focusing on the mechanics of language, editors of the series fostered in students a set of literacies that would help them cope with the tumultuous change in 19th-century China. This study suggests that the experience of 19th-century textbook editors may inform our approach to complex intercultural communication challenges in today's globalized world.”

Sean C. Herring

Professional issues

What is meant by user experience? Analyzing usability/user experience professionals' dynamic representations of self

Zantjer, R., & Gonzales, L. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 215–227. [doi: none]

“This research investigates the ways usability/user experience professionals describe themselves for different audiences and across multiple digital platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, portfolio websites, and business websites. By analyzing the digital identities of over 40 usability/user experience professionals, this article presents quantitative and qualitative pictures of how usability and user experience is being described in digital spaces. This article highlights broad patterns and specific tactics being implemented by four types of usability/user experience professionals and gives recommendations for how these tactics can be modified and applied for other usability/user experience professionals attempting to create professional identities in digital spaces.”

Ginnifer Mastarone


Building identity and community through research

Rude, C. D. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 366–380. doi: 10.1177/0047281615585753

“A field's identity and sustainability depend on its research as well as on programs, practice, and infrastructure. Research and practice have a reciprocal relationship, with practice identifying research questions and researchers answering those questions to improve practice. Technical communication research also has an exploratory purpose, using the knowledge and methods of the field to explain how texts work in a variety of contexts. A gap between research and practice developed in the 1990s. Defining explicitly how the parts of our research and our practice connect to form a whole will give the field a stronger identity.”

Anita Ford

An experience in requirements prototyping with young deaf children

Korte, J., Potter, L. E., & Nielsen, S. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 195-214. [doi: none]

“Deaf children are an underrepresented group in technology development, despite the potential technology available to aid them in language acquisition. Requirements elicitation prototyping allows Deaf children to act in an informant role in the creation of key technologies. This paper presents a case study of requirements elicitation prototyping conducted with young Deaf children in order to identify issues within the process. Potential solutions to each issue are provided so that designers working with young Deaf children as informants can adjust their design process to obtain relevant information.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

Mapping a space for a rhetorical-cultural analysis: A case of a scientific proposal

Dorpenyo, I. K. (2015). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 45, 226–242. doi: 10.1177/0047281615578845

A rhetorical-cultural analysis of the text of a funding proposal argues that “scientific writing is rooted in a cultural practice that valorizes certain kinds of thought, practices, rituals, and symbols; that a scientist's work is grounded and shaped by an ideological paradigm; hence, scientific texts have material existence. [The author finds] that science writing is kairotic, selective, and persuasive. The results . . . provide enough insights for technical communicators to think about the role that institutions and disciplines play in knowledge production. . . . Technical communicators will not only think about rhetorical moves when they are composing, they will also think about the articulations between contexts and ideological practices and how they shape the identity of writers and communicators.”

Anita Ford

Science communication

Communicating scientific uncertainty: Media effects on public engagement with science

Retzbach, A., & Maier, M. (2015). Communication Research, 42, 429456. doi: 10.1177/0093650214534967

“Scientific results are always afflicted with some uncertainty, especially where emerging technologies are concerned. While there are normative and practical reasons to call for an open admission of scientific uncertainties, concerns about detrimental effects of such communication on public engagement with science have been raised in the literature. The present study was conducted to investigate how the communication of scientific uncertainty in nanotechnology influences laypeople's interest in science and new technologies, beliefs about the nature of science, and trust in scientists. In a longitudinal field experiment, 945 participants were exposed to six real-world media reports (TV features and newspaper articles) on nanotechnology. Contrary to [the authors'] expectations, the communication of scientific uncertainties was unable to change general beliefs about the nature of science. However, it had no detrimental effect on the trust in scientists, and with respect to interest in science and new technologies, slightly positive effects were observed.”

Lyn Gattis

Usability studies

How hard can it be to place a ballot into a ballot box? Usability of ballot boxes in tamper resistant voting systems

Belton, M. G., Kortum, P., & Acemyan, C. Z. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 129139. [doi: none]

“End-to-end verifiable voting methods are an emerging type of voting system, and a number of new designs are being actively developed. Many of these systems try to mirror current paper voting methods and use a paper ballot that can be scanned and then placed into a ballot box. Previous research has shown that having separate scanner and ballot box components lead to failures, as many users fail to either scan or place their ballot in the box, both of which are required to cast a vote that will be counted. In [this] study, [the authors] examined the usability of two different ballot box configurations designed to eliminate these kinds of errors. Results showed that both configurations were equally usable, but that specific design aspects of the scanner itself significantly affected the ability of voters to cast their votes, with only 37.5% of the voters able to do so. Based on the results of this research, implications for usable ballot box design are discussed.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

Investigating the usability of e-textbooks using the technique for human error assessment

Jardina, J. R., & Chaparro, B. S. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 140159. [doi: none]

“Many schools and universities are starting to offer e-textbooks as an alternative to traditional paper textbooks; however, limited research has been done in this area to examine their usability. This study aimed to investigate the usability of eight e-textbook reading applications on a tablet computer using the Technique for Human Error Assessment (THEA). The tasks investigated are typical of those used by college students when reading a textbook (bookmarking, searching for a word, making a note, and locating a note). Recommendations for improvement of the user experience of e-textbook applications are discussed along with tips for usability practitioners for applying THEA.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

Learning to use, useful for learning: A usability study of Google Apps for education

Brown, M. E., & Hocutt, D. L. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 10, 160181. [doi: none]

“Using results from an original survey instrument, this study examined student perceptions of how useful Google Apps for Education (GAFE) was in students' learning of core concepts in a first-year college composition course, how difficult or easy it was for students to interact with GAFE, and how students ranked specific affordances of the technology in terms of its usability and usefulness. Students found GAFE relatively easy to use and appreciated its collaborative affordances. The researchers concluded that GAFE is a useful tool to meet learning objectives in the college composition classroom.”

Ginnifer Mastarone


Writing entrepreneurs: A survey of attitudes, habits, skills, and genres

Spartz, J. M., & Weber, R. P. (2015). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 29, 428−455. doi: 10.1177/1050651915588145

“This article presents data from an electronic survey asking 101 entrepreneurs in Wisconsin and North Alabama about the documents they write before opening and while operating their businesses, the writing skills they value, and the audiences they consider when writing. The results demonstrate that entrepreneurs highly value writing and rhetorical skills, produce a huge range of documents, and require distinctive genres at different stages of their ventures. The results can help professional communication instructors, entrepreneurship and small-business consultants, and aspiring entrepreneurs to more effectively anticipate and meet the rhetorical challenges of opening and operating a business.”

Sean C. Herring