63.2, May 2016

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.


Good times, bad times: A keyword analysis of letters to shareholders of two Fortune 500 banking institutions

Poole, R. (2016). International Journal of Business Communication, 53, 55–73. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525449

“This corpus-based keyword analysis investigates the letters to the shareholders from two commercial banks, Bank of America and Citigroup, over a 3-year period from 2008, 2009, and 2010. The letters were compiled to facilitate a diachronic analysis, an assessment of language change over a specific period, of profit/loss reporting from two prominent financial institutions over a time period in which the recession commenced, peaked, and concluded. To conduct the analysis on the node texts, two sets of reference corpora were compiled. One reference corpus set consists of the letters to shareholders from eight consistently high-performing corporations not within the commercial banking industry for each of the 3 years; the other reference corpus set consists of the letters from the 10 banking institutions that also appeared in the Fortune 500 listings for the 3-year period. The corpus-based analysis revealed that in years of low performance, companies create messages that assert a vision and forward a strategy for ensuring future success while also establishing distance between management and past failures. In contrast, when companies perform well, the keyword lists display a clear tendency of the company/author to accept praise and attribute success to actions of management.”

Katherine Wertz


The idea and image of historical time: Interactions between design and digital humanities

Boyd Davis, S., & Kräutli, F. (2015). Visible Language, 49(3). [online] [doi: none]

“The paper addresses the relationship between design and the digital humanities, asking what each can learn from the other and how they may make progress together. The focus is critical making in chronographics — the time-wise visualisation of history — based on the authors’ historic research and current practice in visualising collections of cultural objects and events. This is situated in historic and contemporary contexts, arguing that the eighteenth century origins of the modern timeline have useful insights to offer in terms of objectives and rationale. The authors advocate a critical approach to visualisation that requires both design and digital humanities to face up to the problems of uncertainty, imprecision, and curatorial process, including in relation to time itself.”

Lyn Gattis

If it’s hard to read, it changes how long you do it: Reading time as an explanation for perceptual fluency effects on judgment

Sanchez, C. A., & Jaeger, A. J. (2015). Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 22, 206–211. doi: 10.3758/s13423-014-0658-6

The research described in this article suggests that readers may perceive text set in a less legible typeface to be more difficult to understand than the identical text set in a more legible typeface. “Perceptual manipulations, such as changes in font type or figure-ground contrast, have been shown to increase judgments of difficulty or effort related to the presented material. Previous theory has suggested that this is the result of changes in online processing or perhaps the post-hoc influence of perceived difficulty recalled at the time of judgment. These two experiments seek to examine by which mechanism (or both) the fluency effect is produced. Results indicate that disfluency does in fact change in situ reading behavior, and this change significantly mediates judgments. Eye movement analyses corroborate this suggestion and observe a difference in how people read a disfluent presentation. These findings support the notion that readers are using perceptual cues in their reading experiences to change how they interact with the material, which in turn produces the observed biases.”

Lyn Gattis


Editing and proofreading your own work

Gastel, B. (2015). AMWA Journal, 30, 147–151. [doi: none]

Gastel, who has written extensively about science writing, provides insight about editing and proofreading in a professional context. While directed toward medical writers, much of the information is usable across genres. Included are numerous checklists, including ones for proofing and for editing for conciseness. Audience considerations and appropriateness of structure are also addressed.

Magdalena Berry


Are we “there” yet? The treatment of gender and feminism in technical, business, and workplace writing studies

White, K., Rumsey, S. K., & Amidon, S. (2016). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46, 27–58. doi: 10.1177/0047281615600637

“This article reexamines the treatment of gender and feminism in technical, business, and workplace writing studies—areas in which [the authors] teach. Surprisingly, the published discourse of [the authors’] field seems to implicitly minimize the gendered nature of business and technical writing workplaces and classrooms. To understand this apparent lack of focus, [the authors] review five technical and business communication academic journals and build on previous quantitative evaluations done by Isabelle Thompson in 1999 and by Isabelle Thompson and Elizabeth Overman Smith in 2006. [The authors] also review nine popular textbooks using a content analysis method based on Thompson’s work. Finally, [the authors] discuss current research in feminist pedagogies vis-à-vis these results and [their] own experiences in the professional writing classroom.”

Anita Ford

Improving technical communication group projects: An experimental study of media synchronicity theory training on communication outcomes

Lam, C. (2016). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30, 85–112. doi: 10.1177/1050651915602293

“This article reports the results of an experiment that was conducted to determine the impact of media synchronicity theory (MST) training on media-fit behavior, communication quantity, communication quality, and group effectiveness. MST training introduces students to a framework for assessing a media’s capabilities and matching those capabilities to a particular task. From three technical communication courses, 80 participants were randomly divided into two groups and compared using a between-subjects design. The MST training group reported significantly higher levels of media-fit behavior, communication quantity, and the communication-performance qualities of discussion quality, richness, and openness. The article discusses practical ways to implement MST training into technical communication group projects.”

Sean C. Herring

The pedagogy of usability: An analysis of technical communication textbooks, anthologies, and course syllabi and descriptions

Chong, F. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25, 12–28. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1113073

“Usability has been widely implemented in technical communication curricula and workplace practices, but little attention has focused specifically on how usability and its pedagogy are addressed in our literature. This study reviews selected technical communication textbooks, pedagogical and landmark texts, and online course syllabi and descriptions and argues that meager attention is given to usability, thus suggesting the need for more in-depth and productive discussions on usability practices, strategies, and challenges.”

Lyn Gattis

Silent partners: Developing a critical understanding of community partners in technical communication service-learning pedagogies

Kimme Hea, A. C., & Shah, R. W. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25, 48–66. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1113727

“Although many technical communication teachers and programs integrate some form of service-learning pedagogy, there is a dearth of technical communication research on the silent partners of these projects: the community partners. Drawing upon research data from 14 former community partners of professional writing service-learning courses, the authors suggest that understanding community partners’ own self-defined stakes in service-learning projects can challenge hyperpragmatist representations of community partners and aid us in the continued creation, management, and critical evaluation of service-learning pedagogies and curricula.”

Lyn Gattis

Information management

Content management systems, bittorrent trackers, and large-scale rhetorical genres: Analyzing collective activity in participatory digital spaces

Lewis, J. (2016). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46, 4–26. doi: 10.1177/0047281615600634

“ . . . [T]he study of meaning-making refuses one-to-one, transparent theories of communication, instead recognizing that there is more to rhetorical action than humans. [Lewis] follows the trail of Haas, Swarts, and others arguing that analyses of mediation uncover much about human motives, digital communities, and rhetorical action.” [The author] argues that “technologies often function as rhetorical genres” . . . and . . . “invisible rhetorical genres operating at macroscopic levels of scale are central to shaping individual and communal activity in sites of distributed social production.” [The author investigates] “two applications—a content management system called Gazelle and a bittorrent tracker called Ocelot—to demonstrate how largely invisible server-side software shapes rhetorical action, circumscribes individual agency, and cultivates community identity in sites of participatory archival curation. By articulating content management systems and other macroscopic software as rhetorical genres, [the author] hope[s] to extend nascent investigations into the medial capacities of digital tools that shape our collective digital experience.”

Anita Ford


Technical communication in assembly instructions: An empirical study to bridge the gap between theoretical gender differences and their practical influence

Rohrer-Vanzo, V., Stern, T., Ponocny-Seliger, E., & Schwarzbauer, P. (2016). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30, 29–58. doi: 10.1177/1050651915602292

“Women decide on about 80% of the goods that their household buys. But marketers often sell products, especially technical ones, that are designed by men and therefore are oriented largely toward their needs. Consequently, assembly instructions for these products are also oriented toward men’s needs. To illustrate the impact of gender orientation in assembly instructions, this study investigates whether theoretical cognitive or psychological gender differences have a practical influence on the usability of assembly instructions. This study has direct implications for technical writers who strive for a more universal design for such instructions.”

Sean C. Herring

Intercultural issues

Cross-cultural cinematic communication: Learning from the information design process for a Sino-American film competition

McDaniel, R., & Kuang, L. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 4, 49–60. doi: 10.1145/2875501.2875505

“This article examines the 2014 Sino-American University Student Digital Micro Film Competition, a collaboration developed and administered between the University of Central Florida in the United States and Shanghai University in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). By using qualitative text analysis and visual content analysis to review key materials and events from this case, the researchers studied information design and cross-cultural communication practices of various aspects of the partnership. The resulting analysis reveals unique information design challenges associated with cultural differences in communication practices, visual design, and administrative style. The summary of the case and the results of the related research presented here also provide readers with information design strategies that can facilitate design practices—and the associated coordination of event planning—across different cultural groups.”

Lyn Gattis

Cultural considerations for communication design: Integrating ideas of culture, communication, and context into user experience design [introduction to special issue]

St.Amant, K. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 4, 6–22. doi: 10.1145/2875501.2875502

“Culture can be difficult to define, yet it is central to almost everything humans do. Culture shapes how individuals view the world—what they consider right and wrong or appropriate and inappropriate—and often provides the lens through which they perceive communication and create messages (Sardi & Flammia, 2011; Varner & Beamer, 2015). As such, culture can be one of the most important aspects communication designers need to consider when developing materials for an audience—any audience. When extended to broader intercultural or international contexts, the need to understand how culture affects expectations and perceptions becomes even more acute. For this reason, the more communication designers know about researching, considering, and addressing cultural communication expectations, the more effectively they can develop materials that meet the information seeking and usage needs of a greater global audience.”

Lyn Gattis

Designing with HDR data: What the Human Development Report can tell us about international users

Sarat-St. Peter, H. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 4, 60–74. doi: 10.1145/2875501.2875506

“Intercultural professional communication (IPC) requires a nuanced understanding of international users’ interactions with technology and information. This requirement poses a distinct challenge to international communication and information designers who must overcome geographic, linguistic, and cultural barriers to understanding users as complex agents. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) annually publishes a Human Development Report (HDR) that contains high-quality international statistics on the regional, national, and transnational contexts in which individuals use technology and information. Thus, the HDR can serve as a resource for communication designers working in international contexts. This article presents strategies for how communication designers might use the HDR when designing materials for users in other cultures as well as use when teaching international aspects of professional writing/communication.”

Lyn Gattis

The digital divide at the margins: Co-designing information solutions to address the needs of indigenous populations of rural India

Dutta, U., & Das, S. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 4, 36–48. doi: 10.1145/2875501.2875504

“This paper presents the results of a case study focusing on information and communication design in indigenous villages of rural India. The villages examined for this study were geographically remote and socio-economically underdeveloped, and their populations represented individuals who possessed low levels of literacy, limited language proficiency in English and mainstream Indic languages (e.g., Hindi and Bengali), and limited familiarity with computer use and computing practices. The authors sought to examine this context by conducting ethnographic field research involving a variety of methods. Through these approaches, the authors found a range of cultural and contextual factors are instrumental in shaping and co-creating communication design solutions for underserved international audiences. (Such factors include . . . long-term research engagements, in-situ design development, and embracing dialogic and reflexive praxis when designing for local audiences.)”

Lyn Gattis

Professional issues

Freelance forum

Bass, B., Bogen, M. L., Bowen, S., De Milto, L., Evans, C. D., & Vakil, R. (2015). AMWA Journal, 30, 180–183. [doi: none]

This article is part of an ongoing series in the AMWA Journal, in which numerous members, in a question and answer format, address issues of interest to freelancers. Examples of topics discussed: “Do you use social media to market your freelance medical writing business? Do you always use a written contract when you are working with clients? Is an email message sufficient? Do you have a lawyer review your contract?”

Magdalena Berry


Contemporary research methodologies in technical communication [introduction to special issue]

McNely, B., Spinuzzi, C., & Teston, C. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 1–13. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.975958

“The 1998 special issue of TCQ on research methodologies established new directions in how technical communication researchers, teachers, and practitioners would understand and explore the field’s objects of study, research ethics, and metrics . . . . In this 2015 special issue, each contribution reflects how technical communication’s methods and methodologies have developed further—and along various paths—to better address many new objects of study, new aspects of research ethics, new metrics that have emerged alongside developments in theory, new research opportunities and modes, and new technologies.” Methodologies explored in this special issue include conducting “a principled network analysis,” developing and enacting “research ethics in community-based, translingual fieldwork,” and piloting “a big data approach to genre analysis.”

Lyn Gattis

Food fights: Cookbook rhetorics, monolithic constructions of womanhood, and field narratives in technical communication

Moeller, M. E., & Frost, E. A. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25, 1–11. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1113025

“Field narratives that (re)classify technical genres as liberating for women risk supporting the notion that feminism is a completed project in technical communication scholarship. This article suggests that technical communicators reexamine the impact of past approaches to critical engagement at the intersections of gender studies and technical communication; cookbooks provide a material example. The authors illustrate how a feminist approach to cookbooks as technical/cultural artifacts can productively revise field narratives in technical communication.”

Lyn Gattis

Statistical genre analysis: Toward big data methodologies in technical communication

Graham, S. S., Kim, S-Y., DeVasto, D. M., & Keith, W. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 70–104. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.975955

“This article pilots a study in statistical genre analysis, a mixed-method approach for (a) identifying conventional responses as a statistical distribution within a big data set and (b) assessing which deviations from the conventional might be more effective for changes in audience, purpose, or context. The study assesses pharmaceutical sponsor presentations at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug advisory committee meetings. Preliminary findings indicate the need for changes to FDA conflict-of-interest policies.”

Lyn Gattis

Values and validity: Navigating messiness in a community-based research project in Rwanda

Walton, R., Zraly, M., & Mugengana, J. P. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 45–69. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.975962

“Community-based research in technical communication is well suited to supporting empowerment and developing contextualized understandings, but this research is messy. Presenting fieldwork examples from an interdisciplinary technical communication/medical anthropology study in Rwanda, this article conveys challenges that the authors encountered during fieldwork and their efforts to turn the messy constraints of community-based research into openings. Explicitly considering values and validity provided a strategy for our efforts to democratically share power, maximize rigor, and navigate uncertainty.”

Lyn Gattis

Visualizing and tracing: Research methodologies for the study of networked, sociotechnical activity, otherwise known as knowledge work

Read, S., & Swarts, J. (2015). Technical Communication Quarterly, 24, 14–44. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2015.975961

“This article demonstrates, by example, 2 approaches to the analysis of knowledge work. Both methods draw on network as a framework: a Latourian actor–network theory analysis and a network analysis. The shared object of analysis is a digital humanities and digital media research lab that is the outcome of the collective and coordinated efforts of researchers and other stakeholders at North Carolina State University. The authors show how the two methods are drawn to different objects of study, different data sources, and different assumptions about how data can be reduced and made understandable. The authors conclude by arguing that although these methods yield different outlooks on the same object, their findings are mutually informing.”

Lyn Gattis


The communication design of WeChat: Ideological as well as technical aspects of social media

Wang, X., & Gu, B. (2015). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 4, 23–35. doi: 10.1145/2875501.2875503

“In this paper, the authors discuss how the technical and ideological design of WeChat, a social media platform, enables the free flow of information within the context of heavy Internet policing and surveillance in the People’s Republic of China. Through a case study of two instances of grassroots and social activism, the authors highlight how three unique features of WeChat—Moments, Friends’ Circle, and Share to—enhance privacy and security issues related to information dissemination. In both cases examined here, the unique design of certain WeChat features enhanced privacy and security in ways that allowed for the free dissemination of information and public involvement through social media. In examining these cases, this study represents one of the first attempts to use a Chinese social media app to examine technology design within a particular political and social context. The authors hope the results of this study will further our understanding of the reciprocal relationship between technology, design, and the social context in which technologies are used.”

Lyn Gattis


Evaluation of a game used to teach usability to undergraduate students in computer science

Benitti, F., & Sommariva, L. (2015). Journal of Usability Studies, 11, 21–39. [doi: none]

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of teaching usability, which has been discussed in various forms in undergraduate courses in areas related to Information Technology. Usability is an essential concept that professionals need to learn as they produce artifacts for different types of users and contexts. After a systematic mapping of the literature in this field, the authors found that the techniques currently used to teach concepts related to usability mostly involve the development of projects and case studies or the application of heuristic evaluations. Although the use of serious games has been used in different areas, [the authors’] research exposed that serious games are not used to teach usability. Therefore, [the authors] propose in this paper the development of a simulator game that exposes the player to a corporate environment by simulating real situations in the projects of a fictitious company. The objective of the game, called the UsabilityGame, is to support the teaching of usability by addressing the usability engineering life cycle, requirements analysis, and prototyping and heuristic evaluation. [The authors] conducted four experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of using the UsabilityGame as a tool to teach usability concepts to students. [The authors] concluded that the game promotes the learning of usability in general, and heuristic evaluation and requirements analysis in particular.”

Ginnifer Mastarone


Passive voice and expletive constructions

Thomas, L. E. (2015). AMWA Journal, 30, 188–189. [doi: none]

Thomas, in this article, which is part of an ongoing series entitled “In the Service of Good Writing,” provides definitions and examples of passive voice and expletives, differentiating them from each other and using passages from George Orwell as illustration.

Magdalena Berry