63.3, August 2016

Book Reviews

Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience

by Tom Greever

Design Fundamentals: Notes on Type

by Rose Gonnella, Christopher J. Navetta, and Max Friedman

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, 2nd ed.

by Annette Simmons

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

by Jeff Sutherland

The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning

by Darlene Christopher

The Craft of Quoting: The Art of Writing it Like it’s Said

by Frank Harris III

Critical Theory and Social Media: Between Emancipation and Commodification

by Thomas Allmer

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris

Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change

by Wilma Koutstaal and Jonathan T. Binks

Success Strategies From Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor

by Peggy A. Pritchard and Christine S. Grant, eds.

The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t

by Carmine Gallo

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

by Sam Ladner

Stacking the Deck: How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds

by Davis S. Pottruck

The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World

by M.V. Lee Badgett

Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Student Feedback in Medical and Health Sciences

by Chenicheri Sid Nair and Patricie Mertova, eds.

Current Research on Information Technologies and Society: Papers from the 2013 Meetings of the American Sociological Association

by Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport, eds.

Digital Audiobooks: New Media, Users, and Experiences

by Iben Have and Birgitte Stougaard Pedersen

Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation

by David Crystal

Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices

by Deane Barker

Color for Designers: Ninety-five things you need to know when choosing and using colors for layouts and illustrations

by Jim Krause

Alan Kitching’s A–Z of Letterpress: Founts from The Typography Workshop

by Alan Kitching, ed.

Managing Scientific Information and Research Data

by Svetla Baykoucheva

Internet Research Methods, 2nd ed.

by Claire Hewson, Carl Vogel, and Dianna Laurent

Creating a Website: The Missing Manual

by Matthew MacDonald

The Future of Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts

by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind

Understanding Communication Theory: A Beginner’s Guide

by Stephen M. Croucher

Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience

Tom Greever. 2015. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. [ISBN 978-1-491-92156-2. 278 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Greever_Articulating_2014Articulating Design Decisions: Communicate with Stakeholders, Keep Your Sanity, and Deliver the Best User Experience focuses on educating the reader on how to properly understand stakeholders’ perspectives and how to respond to feedback given on design decisions. This book contains thirteen chapters that cover everything from industry information, communication, failure (design) recovery, and ways for nondesigners to understand the process. Greever states that his purpose in writing this book is to help designers become better communicators.

The author frames the book around the idea of design meetings and provides information on what to do before, during, and after these meetings. Greever’s concise writing style provides helpful examples and easy-to-understand steps for the reader to follow. He designed his tables with the aim of showing designers how to get “ideal responses” by articulating their design decisions to the stakeholders. Articulating Design Decisions provides how to’s of preparing and presenting design decisions, ways to understand stakeholders and what they need or want, tactics to present effective responses to stakeholders, and a helpful chapter on how to present to the stakeholders a better understanding of working with designers.

Nondesigners will especially find chapter 12 to be informative. However, experienced designers can also use this chapter to help others within the company better understand design. The book’s glossary gives readers a place to easily access new sources and terms. When working on a project, the tables, examples, and glossary allow designers to find better ways of connecting with their stakeholders. I enjoy how Greever provides readers with tips and checklists to understand more about the design process. He breaks the checklists down into design and technical requirements, information, workflow, communication, users, and management. Having access to information like this allows designers and stakeholders to understand more about and invest in the design process.

Kristi Wiley
Kristi Wiley is currently a PhD student in Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University. She focuses her research on UX, content strategy, technical writing and editing, usability, and information architecture.

Design Fundamentals: Notes on Type

Rose Gonnella, Christopher J. Navetta, and Max Friedman. 2016. Hoboken, NJ: Pearson education. [ISBN 978-0-13-396242-0. 204 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Gonnella_Design_2015Essentially, Design Fundamentals: Notes on Type is a textbook complete with a summary at the end of each chapter with exercises and activities. But that does not tell the whole story of this unusual book. It is also a workbook full of a presenter’s notes, doodles, and examples—all hand-drawn and colorful. Often, they will get in the way for someone who wants to understand the elements of type and how it fits into the design of a page or screen.

Gonnella and her co-authors divide the material into nine chapters. They begin with a history lesson about how type evolves and the type designers who are responsible. Then, chapters 2–5 present all aspects of type and especially the definitions of various terms associated with type. In chapter 6, they move into type and text with a beginning discussion on designing with type. They go through territory that would be familiar to anyone studying design, such as grids, and discuss and show how aspects of type fit into design.

For students, the heavy use of doodles and drawings to illustrate the points being made, as opposed to photographs found in other books on type, would be a pleasant relief and diversion. And that is where the danger comes for students: They may be too distracted by the art work to concentrate on the fundamentals. But the authors bring them back to reality through the summary, exercises, and activities.

Professional technical communicators may find the art work distracting. They would find the summaries useful even though most run for only one or two paragraphs.

As expected, the text discusses type as type rather than as the letter sound or meaning associated with it: “…naming the terms of type anatomy focuses attention on shape and form rather than the meaning or content of the words.” And this approach leads to a key point in their book: “Designing requires recognition of type as shape” (p. 67).

When discussing grids in design, the authors make clear that they did not use grids in the book. They rely on the reader to establish the unity of the various elements. Design Fundamentals is roughly a single column grid with scattered blocks of printed text surrounded by art. How it all hangs together is another matter and just how are you supposed to read the page is almost impossible to guess most of the time. Yet, it does succeed in conveying a great deal of information about type and its role when designing.

Finally, if you are a student, the difference between this approach and a traditional text has the advantage of the non-conventional. In Designing Fundamentals: Notes on Type, you never know what you will encounter when you turn the page. In traditional textbooks, what is on the next page is predictable. So, this book might work well in class. For professional technical communicators, such an eclectic approach may have too many drawbacks when the reader is searching for information on type to support designing a page or screen.

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 served as guest professor at the University of Paderborn, Germany.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact

Annette Simmons. 2015. 2nd ed. New York, NY: American Management Association. [ISBN 978-0-8144-4913-4. 234 pages, including index. US$24.95.]

Simmons_Whoever_2015Where does storytelling fit into the corporate arena? We are familiar with stories used by the advertising industry to create a brand, capture a company’s essence, or to promote a candidate. Simmons suggests that stories can also be used internally to persuade or motivate your staff/team, which is also suitable for training yourself. This works only if the story you tell is personal, puts emotion, and establishes connections first before company benefits.

Telling personal stories teaches storytelling from the “inside out.” It is more than just a plot and characters. A personal story shows a “beating heart” behind the message. The message sent by the storyteller should validate hearers without showing prejudice.

The book’s first part teaches how to gain confidence in storytelling. Simmons recommends that you learn from a mentor skilled in the use of this persuasive technique. She also suggests that you pay attention to stories being told around you. Finally, you must practice. Choose a willing listener who will offer encouragement rather than a critique. Hint: Technical writers are not always the kindliest of listeners, because we tend to admire thoroughly crafted works more than a newbie’s attempt.

The second part contains the “meat”—where to find stories to tell. Simmons lists six types of stories: Who-I-Am; Why-I-Am-Here; Teaching; Vision; Value-In-Action; and I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking. Unless you have previously taken a storytelling course, it’s unlikely you recognize what each type entails or the message it seeks to present. Fortunately, the author provides examples and explains what was taking place in the speaker’s or listeners’ minds. Exercises follow the short tutorial so you can practice each story type.

For example, honestly telling others up front “what is in it for me” is a form of the Why-I-Am-Here story type. No one likes to feel conned. So tell your listeners about a time that you did the right thing even when it was hard to do. Then you can proceed with giving the honest sales pitch you have planned.

Part three of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins teaches methods for perfecting the craft. Adding sensory details can make the listener step inside the story; try the mental exercise of cutting open and biting into a lemon. Using a short story instead of a “preachy litany of positive thinking” allows the listener to come up with his/her own solution to a problem. Creating collective stories unites people around an organization or candidate. Telling a story from a different point of view than most of your audience holds will produce surprises.

A few final hints. The good listener should be able to retell someone else’s story with its message intact. If you think your life story is boring, then you need to tell the truth; everyone has a really good story, which they hide from others.

Do tell, because whoever tells the best story wins!

Donna Ford
Donna Ford has been an STC member, joining in 1990 and serving on her local chapter’s board for many years. She has been a technical writer since 1987 in the hardware, software, and government healthcare industries. Donna holds a certificate in Information Design from Bentley College. She also reviews books online for the US Review of Books.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Jeff Sutherland. 2014. New York, NY: Random House Business Books. [ISBN 978-0-34645-0. 248 pages, including index. US$27.00 (softcover).]

Sutherland_Scrum_2014Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time educates readers about Scrum’s history, philosophy, and value. Sutherland invented Scrum with Ken Schwaber as a framework for improving team productivity. I recommend this book for anyone interested in Scrum or who uses Scrum it at work.

Scrum organizes work in Sprints: periods of 1–4 weeks where the team strives to produce something usable by a customer, whether it’s a complete product or only part. Scrum philosophy scraps hierarchies and managers replacing them with autonomous teams. Team members are cross-functional. Scrum is not only designed for increasing team productivity but also for increasing team happiness.

The book is part autobiography, part Scrum manual. Sutherland tells stories from his decades of experience in the military, academia, and business. The stories engage the reader and explore Scrum’s history. Sutherland backs up his stories with studies and statistics from the workplace to prove Scrum’s efficacy.

Scrum helps you quickly understand the big picture behind it. After framing the context in which Scrum arose and the purpose for Scrum, Sutherland focuses each of the remaining chapters on one aspect of Scrum: teams, time management, wasted work, planning, happiness, priorities, and applications in various industries. Even someone with Scrum experience might gain insight from the book’s depth.

Even if you read Scrum and decide not to use it, you can still learn a lot. You can learn how to stay focused on creating value for your customers or clients; how to reduce waste and inefficiency in the workplace; and how to make teams happier. And you’ll learn all that while reading engaging stories.

Alex Boren
Alex Boren writes proposals at Geonetric. He graduated from the University of Utah in May 2015 with a self-designed, interdisciplinary philosophy degree (BS).

The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning

Darlene Christopher. 2014. New York, NY: AMACOM. [ISBN 978-0-8144-3428-4. 226 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]

Christopher_Successful_2014What can someone say about virtual classrooms today besides reminding folks to avoid death by PowerPoint? Christopher has lots to say on the subject of virtual classrooms, basing conclusions on her experience and citing a number of case studies from groups such as Oracle, UPS, U.S. Army, World Bank, and The Nature Conservancy.

Bringing together groups from various global locations to create a great virtual classroom can be a challenge. Christopher suggests eight techniques to meet the challenge of maximizing participant learning.

  • Use the PREP model (Plan, Rehearse, Execute, Post-Session review)
  • Use tools, checklists, and worksheets
  • Use screen sharing, polls, and breakout rooms
  • Bring chat into the classroom
  • Monitor feedback
  • Use icebreakers
  • Encourage audience participation
  • Consider your audience’s cultural elements

The Successful Virtual Classroom: How to Design and Facilitate Interactive and Engaging Live Online Learning can be a resource for those starting out or those already conducting virtual learning sessions who want to learn more. Christopher also provides practical tips besides sharing the advantages and disadvantages of virtual classrooms. I did not know, for example, that I could get free images from the https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/ site.

The author says the ideal situation when setting up your virtual classroom is to think early about scheduling your support staff, such as the producer, facilitator, subject matter expert, instructional designer, administrators, IT support person, and participants.

Christopher includes a table on page 40 that provides questions to consider when learning to use a virtual classroom tool. A few questions from this table are:

  • What audio options are available?
  • Can I send both public and private chat messages?
  • How do I display slides?
  • How do I write on the screen or whiteboard?
  • What are the maximum number of participants?
  • What types of polls are available—multiple choice, multiple answer?
  • How do people move in and out of breakout rooms?
  • How do I launch the screen sharing feature?

The case studies and tips in The Successful Virtual Classroom come from the Christopher’s experience as a regional knowledge and learning officer at the World Bank.

Jeanette Evans
Associate Fellow Jeanette Evans is active in the NEO community, currently serving on the newsletter committee. Holding an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University, Jeanette has published in Intercom with articles such as “What We Can Learn from Project Managers” and presented at various STC events, most recently on the topic of emerging technologies in education.

The Craft of Quoting: The Art of Writing it Like it’s Said

Frank Harris III. 2015. San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-63189-337-7. 74 pages, including index. US$52.95 (softcover).]

Harris_Craft_2015True confession: This book is not what I thought it would be. I read many things, and when I speak, I often quote from what I have read, so I thought The Craft of Quoting: The Art of Writing it Like it’s Said would be about how to use quotes when speaking. But this is a book aimed at journalists about how to use quotes in a story.

That being said, I was not disappointed. On the contrary, I learned much about how journalists should use quotes, much of it applicable to technical writers, and some of it applicable to technical writing teachers.

Kudos to Frank Harris III for mentioning technical writers in his Preface, where he includes us among “those who communicate with the written word” (p. vii). His book is full of practical wisdom and is very well-written.

The importance of stories is that they are about people: “…all stories are about people,” Harris says, “and in writing, quotes breathe the air of life into your story” (p. 2). Please note that I did not begin that quote with “Harris says.” That’s something I learned from Harris. It is more effective to place the attribution in the middle of a quote than at the beginning. It improves the sound and the flow.

Technical writers might not think they are writing a story when they interview subject matter experts (SMEs), but they are, in a way. Let’s look at the advice that Harris gives on interviewing.

You cannot use “Please” and “Thank You” enough. Understand the power of gatekeepers and treat them with respect. If you have to leave a phone message, speak slowly, enunciate clearly, and repeat your contact information when you end the call. Be early for interviews—Harris says 15 minutes early, in case you can get in earlier with your SME. If you are recording your interview, make sure your smartphone is charged and you have the cord with you just in case.

“Interviewing really boils down to making the source comfortable . . . with the answers and information to your questions” (p. 8). You need to show energy and enthusiasm for your subject matter, and if you can “mirror” your source, it will build a connection with them. Be a good listener and ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.

Remember that the best interviews are face-to-face. Avoid email interviews, if possible, though Harris adds that celebrity interviews are heading in this direction.

In terms of teaching moments, Harris emphasizes the placement of periods and commas inside quotes and warns against the growing misuse of half-quotes. Both of these are problems for most students.

On the critical side, I’m concerned that the high cost of The Craft of Quoting will prohibit its use. And given that this is a book on quoting, I’m surprised that Harris does not attribute the source of the quotes he uses throughout the book as graphic design motifs. These things being said, I still appreciate the book very much.

Charles R. Crawley
Charles R. Crawley is a lead technical writer at Rockwell Collins and an adjunct professor at Mount Mercy University, both in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is not a journalist and could not play one on TV, but he does appreciate good journalism.

Critical Theory and Social Media: Between Emancipation and Commodification

Thomas Allmer. 2015. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-1-138-80876-8. 214 pages, including index. US$145.00.]

Allmer_Critical_2015Allmer’s Critical Theory and Social Media: Between Emancipation and Commodification is a pioneering study combining critical theoretical and empirical research in the context of digital and social media. This work’s overall aim is discovering the constraints and emancipatory potentials of new media, as well as assessing to what extent digital and social media can strengthen the idea of the “digital commons” and a common-based information society (p. 9). Grounded on Karl Marx’s critical theory and dialectics, this study approaches the main research questions through three parts: analyzing theoretical foundations, presenting a large-scale empirical case study, and suggesting techno-social revolution.

Allmer claims in the first part of his book that in capitalism, technology and media are the “objects of labor and direct forces of production” (p. 42); he also inveighs that capital subsumes the whole society into the production process. Instead of exhibiting the emancipatory potentials, social media and Web 2.0 are essentially “space of capital accumulation” (p. 45) under the control of private corporations to facilitate the commodification processes.

Digital capitalism involves a core question of Internet privacy and surveillance. Adopting the critical political economy approach, Allmer focuses the economic and political issues surrounding Internet privacy and surveillance, and suggests considering the larger societal context of class, ideology, commodity, and exploitation in public discourse. He further points out that the profit-oriented social media, which jeopardize the commons into the logic of capital, produce the antagonism between communicative opportunities and privacy and surveillance threats (p. 97).

Part II of Critical Theory and Social Media introduces the empirical research to study users’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior towards surveillance and privacy of social media. Researchers conduct a survey among Austrian college students (N=3558), asking their perceived advantages and disadvantages of social networking sites. Research results show that economic surveillance (for example, personal profile data accessed by employers, commercial selling of personal data, and receiving spam) is a main social media threat, but only 4.9% of the participants are aware of its commodification.

The quantitative data analysis and research results support Allmer’s argument that corporate social media, the space of capital accumulation, serves as ideological platforms to facilitate commodification. He also points out that the leading public discourse that social media are new, open, and bring about more democracy is a pseudo-proposition and manipulated by social media owners to strengthen their ideological agenda. The new social media users, in contrast, are a spatially and socially fragmented class and are not able to challenge the asymmetrical and hierarchical client-server network. Allmer proposes the peer-to-peer computer network, which has information and communication commons, to be the substitute and the gateway to real social media and human liberation. Critical Theory and Social Media is a valuable model for scholars in media and communication studies, digital society studies, and beyond to reconsider the problem of emancipation and control.

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 global contexts. She is currently writing her PhD dissertation on international crisis communication from a sociotechnical aspect.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Mary Norris. 2015. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. [ISBN 978-0-393-35214-6. 228 pages, including index. US$15.95 (softcover).]

Norris_Between_2015Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is not like any grammar book I’ve ever read; and I enjoyed it more than any grammar book I’ve ever read. Norris has cleverly folded her advice into entertaining, and often very funny, stories of her experiences working at The New Yorker. As readers might surmise, “comma queen” is Norris’ cheeky version of her job title. “Query-proofread” is a more exact description of what she does in preparing pieces for the magazine. Despite her decades on the job, Norris claims that “everybody makes mistakes” (p. 12) and confesses she has a “need to visit the grammatical equivalent of a chiropractor” (p. 13) regularly. This book is “for all of you who want to feel better about your grammar” (p. 14).

It’s not just the humor that makes Between You & Me so enjoyable for me. Somehow Norris has managed to single out just those knotty problems that I, and probably many other readers, still grapple with sometimes: whether to use “who” or “whom,” how to decide if it’s between “you and me” or between “you and I,” when to hyphenate, or how to fix dangling participles. Drawing on examples from such diverse areas as literature, pop culture, the Internet, auto mechanics, plumbing, Brazilian soccer, and the history of dictionaries, Norris illustrates how she and her cohorts have worked through grammar questions to reach the conclusions she wants to pass on to readers.

Each chapter of Between You & Me delves into a different topic. Some are to be expected—spelling, punctuation, parts of speech. To brush up on these, you can pick out a chapter, but you won’t find bullet points. Norris embeds advice within the narrative. Two chapters cover subject matter outside the realm of many English language advice books. One addresses workarounds for the lack of a gender-neutral third-person-singular pronoun in the English language (he/she). The other tackles profanity in print.

Norris ends Between You & Me with a chapter about her love of pencils, which endeared the book to me even more, because of the tactile satisfaction writing with pencils provides me. Her description of the history, lore, and technology of pencils and pencil-making was a revelation.

At first glance, this book may seem to trivialize the study of grammar because of Norris’ irreverent attitude. But she is deeply serious, not only about the English language and its proper usage, but about her quest to help readers understand how the language works and use it more appropriately. To that end, Norris adds a bibliography of other helpful books.

If you’re an editor, a fan of The New Yorker, want to review some fine points of grammar, or just enjoy a good read and a good laugh, Between You & Me is the book for you. I recommend it.

Linda Davis
Linda M. Davis is an independent communications practitioner in the Los Angeles area. She holds an MA in Communication Management and has specialized in strategic communication planning, publication management, writing, and editing for more than 25 years.

Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change

Wilma Koutstaal and Jonathan T. Binks. 2015. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. [ISBN-978-0-19-931602-1. 342 pages, including index. US$34.95.]

Koutstaal_Innovating_2014People who are in awe of creativity often think great ideas spring full-blown from the minds of geniuses like Athena from the head of Zeus. Luckily, in the real world, it doesn’t work that way.

In Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change, Koutstaal and Binks show that creativity results from complex interactions between our minds and our environments (physical, social, and symbolic). Creativity thus follows a profoundly iterative process where ideas lead to actions and discoveries, which lead to further ideas in a “perception-action cycle” (p. 135) of “making, finding, and making once more” (p. xi).

The good news is that there are many things that we can do to foster what the authors call “innovating minds”—minds that continually creatively adapt themselves, flexibly build on what they’ve learned, help others do the same, and shape environments that sustain and spur innovation (p. ix).

Koutstaal and Binks organize their discussion around a number of major questions and themes, among them:

  • What are ideas and where do ideas come from?
  • The importance of working on problems from different levels of abstraction.
  • The importance of allowing for both spontaneity and deliberateness in the planning process.
  • Being aware of and receptive to the interplay of motivation, emotion, and perception, and how they affect your goals.
  • Being aware of how your physical, symbolic, and social thinking spaces (including your working tools) spur or hamper your creative insights.

Besides the main text and extensive reference list, Innovating Minds includes many breakout sections designed to aid understanding.

  • A Concepts Guide at the back of the book briefly defines and discusses key concepts from the text, and helps the reader with terms of art such as “affordances” or “associative cuing” (p. 252).
  • Thought Boxes describe examples of thinking through a problem, such as the solution to a math problem, or the steps taken by a detective solving a mystery.
  • Research Highlights provide summaries of important research on creativity. Many of the findings are very interesting, among them: pairing subjects from diverse multi-cultural backgrounds increases the quality and quantity of ideas generated (pp. 193–194), people who more actively explored their environment at 5 months old showed higher academic performance as 14-year-old teenagers (p. 154), and that when a contest seeking innovative solutions to a difficult genetic sequencing problem was broadly defined and opened to non-expert members of the public, it vastly increased the number and quality of the responses received (pp. 203–205).
  • Creativity Cross Checks and Queries provide questions designed to help you connect with the material, think with it, and apply it to your work and practice.

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 in technical communication and co-chairs the Northern California technical communication competition.

Success Strategies From Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor

Peggy A. Pritchard and Christine S. Grant, eds. 2015. 2nd edition. London, UK: Elsevier. [ISBN 978-0-12-397181-4. 460 pages, including index. US44.95 (softcover).]

Pritchard_Success_2015For technical or science communicators seeking an updated, comprehensive, and highly detailed set of guidelines and strategies for women in STEM, they need look no further. Pritchard and Grant’s compendium addresses the major concerns women have in entering STEM fields, some applicable to men as well, but most specific to gender-related issues. Success Strategies From Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor is presented in a “self-help” format and is eminently readable, with a noticeable and appreciated lack of jargon and business speak.

The articles typically integrate anecdote, quantitative research, case studies, and the writers’ personal experience in developing practical techniques for a panoply of career concerns—networking, mentoring, mental toughness, time management, personal style, surviving and thriving in larger organizations, and communication guidelines, such as specific requirements for communicating science, and using social media effectively.

This latter group of articles is of most interest to technical communicators and science writers. Some material in these sections is universal in application—know and write to your audience; always answer the “So what?” question—the reason your material matters to anyone else; present arguments as narratives, especially when presenting orally; use analogies to explain more arcane scientific concepts; work from the familiar to the unfamiliar; and other established technical communication principles.

Particularly useful, however, is the material about how women communicate and the issues that may arise with it. Success Strategies From Women in STEM advises women to avoid apologizing or undermining their position by starting with self-effacing phrases like, “I just wonder if,” “I haven’t researched this much, but,” or “You’ve clearly been studying this longer than I have.” Other self-effacing instances include asking an audience to “just take a minute” to consider their ideas rather than just making a point or recommending an action; asking a question (“What about increasing the budget?”) when the speaker is actually making a statement; and speaking in an unpunctuated flow that ends up exhausting the audience.

These linguistic markers, generally more common among women, can be self-disempowering for the woman uttering them. Similarly, speakers should guard against “uptalk,” the primarily female habit of ending declarative sentences with a rise in inflection, which makes a statement sound like a question, as though the speaker lacks confidence in what she is saying and is seeking approval from the listener.

Pritchard and Grant also discuss how STEM professionals, generally suspicious and distrustful of social media, can actually use it effectively as a complement, not a replacement, for more traditional ways of sharing research.

Such information is useful both for women already in the STEM professions and for college women entering the field. Much of it can be used directly in technical communication or career management classes. Overall, a very complete, useful book for all women in STEM professions, loaded with practical, up-to-date career advice and counsel.

Donald R. Riccomini
Donald R. Riccomini is an STC member and a senior lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specializes in teaching engineering and technical communications. He previously spent twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.

The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t

Carmine Gallo. 2016. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. [ISBN 978-1-250-07155-2. 268 pages, including index. US$27.99.]

Gallo_Storytellers_2016Do you enjoy a great cup of coffee? Think of Starbucks. Do you realize that a driving force behind the success of Starbucks began in 1961 when a young father, Fred Schultz, broke his ankle while working as a diaper service deliveryman? His seven-year-old son, Howard, still remembers the accident. With his father out of work, the family had no income and no health insurance. That incident became the story behind today’s CEO and president of Starbucks, Howard Schultz.

As I read this story of Howard Schultz while thumbing through The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t at the local bookstore, I found I was unable to put the book back on the display shelf. I wanted to read more to learn the secret of people like Howard Schultz.

I became aware of some of Schultz’ details only recently when we visited Northern Michigan University, Schultz’ alma mater, where our son will attend college this year. But, I didn’t know the greatness of Starbucks was linked to a young boy’s memory of his father.

Stories are what catapult ordinary people into greatness in the world. However, the greatness comes when the story can be told well. Gallo, one of the great teachers of storytelling, has compiled this book of the stories behind the greats. He examines the stories and mines the secret behind each.

Gallo reveals in the Preface that, “Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In the information age, the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas” (pp. xv–xvi). Later, he adds, “But an idea can only catch on if the person with the idea can persuade others to take action” (p. 11).

Steve Jobs, whose story is also included, is known as the greatest business storyteller of our time. Jobs stated Apple’s core value is “that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better” (p. 14). Jobs further adds, “Your story begins with your passion. You cannot inspire unless you’re inspired yourself” (p. 13).

Great stories introduce three components: villains, heroes, and struggle. As a technical writer, I write stories to include in our documentation and training about how users can use our product to solve their problem situations.

Gallo’s The Storyteller’s Secret is an excellent source of inspiration. He closes the book with The Storyteller’s Toolkit, which contains such tools as Secrets at a Glance and The Storyteller’s Checklist. It includes such tips as “see the big picture before you dive into the details” (p. 238) and “short words have long-lasting impact” (p. 241).

After reading The Storyteller’s Secret, you can see how these people’s lives have impacted our lives today through not only your Starbucks coffee, but the iPhone, iPad, and Pixar’s Toy Story.

Rhonda Lunemann
Rhonda Lunemann is a technical writer with Siemens PLM Software and a senior member of STC’s Twin Cities Chapter.

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

Sam Ladner. 2014. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. [ISBN 978-1-61132-390-0. 212 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]

Ladner_Practical_2015In the 1998 book, User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, JoAnn Hackos and I included a short piece on how the field research we were describing draws on ethnographic philosophy and methods. But we stopped short of calling it ethnography because it differs from academic ethnography: We usually spend a day or less with each person. We don’t just describe; we use what we learn to help change corporate cultures and build products that may change people’s lives.

Ladner does not hesitate to label that type of field research as ethnography. To Ladner, what makes this ethnography is the interaction with people in their own context; the openness of that interaction (a friendly conversation, not a survey or a tightly structured interview); the observations that accompany the conversation; and most importantly seeing the world from the participant’s point of view. In the private sector, ethnography requires going beyond description to analysis and interpretation.

“The ethnographic enterprise is to understand people, their beliefs, attitudes, norms, and behaviors” (p. 141).

“The ‘so what’ question is the most important aspect to ethnography. It is what differentiates ethnography from journalism” (p. 156).

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector is a very practical book. After an introductory chapter and a chapter on the importance of a having a theoretical underpinning to your work (and a description of relevant theories), Ladner gets down to specifics about doing ethnography in the type of contexts that we as technical communicators and usability researchers are used to.

Ladner walks us through each stage of a practical ethnography project from planning and budgeting to selecting the team, the tools to use, the people to recruit (and how to find them), doing the actual fieldwork, and then dealing with the masses of data—analysis and reporting. She has useful suggestions, great tips, and current information for each part of the process. Ladner also shares important insights about managing practical ethnography projects as well as dealing with clients and ethical issues involved in this type of fieldwork.

She contrasts ethnographic philosophy and methods with the often schedule-driven, budget-driven, search-for-“truth”-driven culture of many project managers and market researchers. Ladner describes the dissonance this can cause on both sides and offers practical suggestions for both helping others understand and accept ethnography and adapting ethnographic methods to the constraints of the private sector’s needs.

Practical Ethnography is a useful “how-to” guide for those new to ethnographic fieldwork. It is a useful book for those who have met resistance when trying to do this type of research. And it would also be an excellent textbook for technical communication or user experience instructors in a course on fieldwork (especially with the other cited works and the resulting 10 pages of references).

Janice (Ginny) Redish
Janice (Ginny) Redish is President of Redish & Associates in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Ginny’s “how-to” book, Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works, (Morgan Kaufmann / Elsevier, 2nd edition, 2012) will help you and your colleagues communicate successfully through your websites and social media. Ginny is an STC Fellow and a former member of the STC Board of Directors.

Stacking the Deck: How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds

Davis S. Pottruck. 2014. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN 978-1-118-96688-4. 234 pages, including index. US$28.00.]

Pottruck_Stacking_2015The deck is already stacked against an executive initiating breakthrough change in an organization. Not only are employees resistant to change, but market forces and lack of forward thinking and planning have added challenges at the beginning that can seem insurmountable. Fortunately, Pottruck provides a nine-step process to help leaders think through the change process and stack the deck in their favor.

He does not sugarcoat the intense amount of work that goes into these steps. Pottruck opens with a harsh dose of reality: “Overcoming emotion (your own and others’), convincing people to follow you, maintaining an extraordinary level of tenacity and resilience, conceptualizing change, and realizing it successfully: these are all tremendously difficult” (p. 10). These steps will make your leadership of breakthrough change more effective. Pottruck provides an action item list at each step to ensure that you have addressed the emotional and social issues tied to change (Steps 1–3) before moving to the actual change plan (Steps 4–9).

Pottruck encourages you not to do this intense work alone, but to do this as a team effort with you and a mentor. He recommends involving people external to the organization—facilitation consultants, speechwriters, customers—to augment your explanation for the change and to help communicate its purpose to your employees. Pottruck also recommends finding employees who embrace change. These pioneers, as he calls them, will help champion your efforts.

Pottruck highlights organizational pitfalls that go beyond helping employees overcome the fear of change. In Step 5, Pottruck notes that corporate resources (budgeting and performance appraisal systems) are not traditionally set up to handle large-scale change efforts. If your performance appraisal system cannot be changed to assess employees in alignment with breakthrough change, the framework starts to erode and trust in the process may start to wane. Thinking through how corporate systems support the change is one step that should come early in the planning process.

Another pitfall is immediately tying change results to organizational profits as the only success measurement. Pottruck cautions that you cannot always measure change through financial results. Because breakthrough change can take time in an organization, focusing on immediate financial results that may not be seen until much later is dangerous. He recommends instead that leaders of breakthrough change communicate interim successes. Showing interim successes helps overcome resistance to the change. It also helps teams maintain stamina throughout the change initiative.

Your perception of a small organizational change can be huge in the mind of your customers, your employees, and your Board of Directors. Stack the deck in your favor by reading Pottruck’s Stacking the Deck: How to Lead Breakthrough Change Against Any Odds and following his practical guidance.

Liz Herman
Liz Herman, PhD, is a knowledge management practitioner who is certified in project management and technical communication. 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 Consumer Solutions business unit.

The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World

M.V. Lee Badgett. 2015. New York, NY: New York University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4798-6139-2. 228 pages, including index. $24.00 (softcover).]

Badgett_Public_2015Reading The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World brought to mind a quote from negotiating specialist Chester Carras: “The purpose of thought is action.” How does this relate to Professor Badgett’s book? The author is speaking chiefly to the academic audience: those with that deep reservoir of learning that manifests itself chiefly as scholarly books and articles on every topic under the sun, including the most pressing problems of today—and tomorrow.

Badgett’s thesis is simple: Scholars whose fields deal with those problems—crime and racism, poverty and sexism, inequality and the environment—can make a difference in the world; a “big” difference. But not just by writing about them to fellow-academics; they need to be involved; and that’s what this book is about. The subtitle sums it up perfectly: “How to Use Your Research to Change the World.” A bit Hollywood, perhaps. But in this case, true as well. The question is “how?”

There are three ways into this thicket that are outside most scholars’ comfort zone: (1) seeing the big picture; (2) building the network; and (3) communicating ideas to a different audience.

  • Seeing the Big Picture. The big picture means understanding what Badgett calls “the terms of the debate and the rules of the game” (p. 1). Most public issues involve some disagreement: pros and cons, vested interests; many with financial or ideological undertones. As a scholar, you need to understand “all” sides of the argument—the whole debate. Not just the aspect of the argument that your research deals with. And see how your expertise relates to it. You also need to learn how knowledge is packaged and presented in different venues such as courts and legislatures, and among other “influentials” in the public debate.
  • Building a Network. You need to build a network of relationships outside academia to journalists and community organizations, non-government organizations and unions, policymakers and their staff—all those people, as Badgett puts it, who can “take your ideas into important places that you can’t go” (p. 13).
  • Communicating Ideas to Those Outside Your Field. Two big challenges occur here. The first challenge is developing the spoken and written language skills to make your ideas not just intelligible, but even interesting and appealing, to the layman. Crucial in any field, but especially in natural sciences or fields using quantitative studies. Think science writing. The second challenge is crossing the generational and digital divides, and embracing media old “and” new: radio and newspapers, blogs and tweets.

Not that hard, really. All it involves is a change of mind and a change of habits. As John Maynard Keynes put it: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do ‘you’ do, sir?”

Steven Darian
Steven Darian is an STC Fellow and retired college professor. He also worked as a manager for Raytheon Corporation in Saudi Arabia. Steven’s most recent book is “Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools of the Trade” (2016).

Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Student Feedback in Medical and Health Sciences

Chenicheri Sid Nair and Patricie Mertova, eds. 2014. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing [ISBN 978-1-84334-752-1. 134 pages, including index. US$80.00 (softcover).]

Sid_Nair_Enhancing_2014Editors Nair and Mertova examine the uses and effectiveness of student feedback in medical classrooms around the world. Their book, Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Student Feedback in Medical and Health Sciences, is the third in a series of edited collections covering student feedback in various educational settings.

In much of the Western world, student feedback is used to assess an instructor’s effectiveness. Assessment can help determine an academic’s fate in everything from tenure decisions to pay raises. As such, “student feedback” has become a loaded term in many academic environments. However, Nair and Mertova argue that open, honest student feedback is essential for improving the quality of academic programs, and that it should become a key part of every medical and health science program. Many areas of the world do not have what Nair and Mertova define as “‘safe’ learning environments,” in which students feel free to leave honest feedback (p. xii). By highlighting the use of student feedback and the cultural constraints under which these academic programs operate, the editors hope to create an environment more friendly to student evaluation.

This book offers a snapshot of the novel ways in which instructors worldwide have solicited and addressed student feedback in a variety of classroom settings. The “Using Student Feedback to Enhance Teaching and Learning in an Undergraduate Medical Curriculum” chapter offers an in-depth look at ways that instructors can assess student understanding of material in large classrooms, such as using the iClass application to let students text in real-time feedback to lectures as well as to measure their understanding by soliciting anonymous answers to questions over the lecture. Other chapters cover ways in offering constructive commentary to students, gathering student feedback in a clinical classroom, and developing a system for educational quality management (SEQM).

Perhaps the greatest value of Nair and Mertova’s collection lies in the global context in which they discuss student feedback. The authors make several important points about how students from different backgrounds view the role of student feedback. For example, students from Southeast Asia may tend to put the instructor on a pedestal, and therefore be hesitant to offer constructive feedback about the course. These insights are valuable for professors and instructors in technical communication classrooms, many of which have a significant number of pre-medical and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) students from these cultures.

Readers should not be put off by the highly specific nature of Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Student Feedback in Medical and Health Sciences. Much of the discussion is relevant to instructors in all technical fields, including scientific and technical communication. The classroom and our methods of introducing technical communication concepts are rapidly evolving. To make the most of the changing nature of the type of communication we teach, our methods of gathering and using feedback should evolve as well.

Nicole St. Germaine-Dilts
Nicole St. Germaine is an assistant professor in the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance writer and consultant. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican-American audience and technical communication in the health fields.

Current Research on Information Technologies and Society: Papers from the 2013 Meetings of the American Sociological Association

Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport, eds. 2015. London, UK: Routledge. [ISBN 978-1-138-80661-0. 136 pages, including index. US$160.00.]

Earl_Current_2014Digital media have become a significant part of forming and maintaining social groups as well as the exchange of information. This reality has implications for technical communicators, especially in their understanding of their users and the way the design enhances access to the information.

These 8 papers, plus an introductory overview by the editors, examine the social aspects of digital media’s use, making them useful as technical communicators formulate the information they want to convey. Each academic paper adds to the understanding of how to make digital media, especially social media, relevant. But be aware that the papers are stylistically academic aimed at sociologists and complete with the usual multitude of references and notes, and are meant to explain social media’s role in forming and maintaining social groups. All are, as the subtitle says, from a conference of sociologists sponsored by the American Sociological Association and were originally published in a special issue of Information, Communication, & Society.

A key concept found in the papers either directly or indirectly stated, is “social capital.” The first paper defines this as “the sum of the resources embedded in the social structure.” So, the use of digital media in society becomes part of that capital and aids in bonding as well as bridging social capital. By “bonding,” the authors refer to “the resources accessible from one’s closest, most homogeneous social relationship” and by “bridging,” “those resources most likely accessible from heterogeneous relationships” (p. 9).

Most of the papers focus on users and how they use digital media. These papers are on Internet use in the U.K. (number 3); on Twitter and election results (4); on use of media by emergency agencies (6); on the results of Internet use on personal context (7); on reactions to social media (8); and on Internet use in Canada (9).

The other papers address the collection’s overall subject in the introduction; the contributions made to Wikipedia and the rewards offered to contributors. Do they cause an increase in contributions (5)?

Unlike many anthologies of papers from conferences, these first appeared in a journal before being published in book form. This approach means that the editors took time to edit the papers for typos, etc.; so, such problems do not distract the reader. However, the reader must get past the sociology vocabulary and academics, footnotes, and notes to the key points that will be helpful. Another issue for technical communicators is that the papers that report empirical research often use subjects that are not in the demographic group needing technical information. If these research methods will be useful, then this collection has value in spite of its cost.

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 served as guest professor at the University of Paderborn, Germany.

Digital Audiobooks: New Media, Users, and Experiences

Iben Have and Birgitte Stougaard Pedersen. 2016. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978–1-138-82183-5. 164 pages, including index. $45.00.]

Have_DIgital_2015Digital Audiobooks: New Media, Users, and Experiences is a joy to read. It intersects daily life, listening to audio books, with academic interests and research—technology and educational technology—with research I knew little about: sound studies. The authors accomplish all this while linking their work on audiobooks to rhetoric, literacy, and communications. As such, this book should interest scholars, graduate students, and researchers working in those areas. Additionally, professionals who work with development collections in public or research libraries will likely find Digital Audiobooks informative and helpful.

Between the opening and closing chapters that frame the work are the book’s three themes: Aesthetics, Sound, Senses; Affordance and Voice; and Usage and Mediatization. Each section is comprised of two chapters with most chapters having less than twenty pages. This makes for a book composed of digestable, engaging chunks that focus on different aspects of audio books. Throughout these three sections, the authors explore the book’s two main themes from multiple perspectives. Have and Pedersen ask: can an audiobook be called a book, and is listening to an audiobook reading.

The authors rapidly move past surface information and into substantive explorations with well-referenced citations and understandable definitions for those new to topics like mediatization and the field of sound studies. The writing is concise, accessible, and scholarly. Not surprisingly, Have and Pedersen engage with Ong and McLuhan throughout the book. This provides access and connections for scholars working more generally with media, composition, and rhetoric. Have and Pedersen’s presentation and discussion of intersensorial situations in Chapter 2 is fascinating.

As a reader and researcher, as well as an educator working with graduate students, Digital Audiobooks offers a great model. First, the authors employ multiple approaches to research, including evaluating audio book readership based on commercial surveys as well as small, intimate interviews with individual audio book users. Second, Have and Pederson explore the topic of audio books through multiple lenses, including post-phenomenology and sound studies. Third, they engage with the multiplicities of texts and question definitions of reading, listening, and what makes for a book. The writing is collegial. Academic references and scholarship that assumes understanding without cliquish reliance on specialist vocabulary or moves to exclude non-specialists. Finally is Have and Pedersen’s clear enthusiasm for the subject. It’s infectious.

For educators, Digital Audiobooks is not only an engaging read—the accessible and portable chapters easily connect to multiple courses regarding communications, rhetoric, accessibility, sound studies, interpreting, and caption studies. Have and Pederson provide an excellent model for graduate students learning to research, write, and publish.

Gregory Zobel
Gregory Zobel is an assistant professor of Educational Technology at Western Oregon University.

Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation

David Crystal. 2015. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. [ISBN 978-1-250-06041-9. 378 pages, including index. US$24.99.]

Crystal_Making_2015I once wrote a blog for my STC chapter in which I asked myself the question, Why do I care so much about punctuation? Is it because I see it as the main problem of the students where I teach? Is it because the Internet is changing it so much, as well as texting and messaging? David Crystal suggests this: “Perhaps that is why we care so much about punctuation: we are aware that its character is shifting and unpredictable, that it doesn’t offer the same level of order and correctness that is seen in spelling and grammar, and it disturbs us” (p. 344).

Crystal, the author of several popular but scholarly books on English, gives us the kind of book that we as technical communicators so desperately need to guide us in our everyday writing and reading. He provides several chapters on the history of punctuation in an entertaining way, complete with “interludes” that literally illustrate what he is talking about. And he does so using examples from writers such as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain. I think this is the strongest, most enjoyable part of his book.

Following his chapters on the development of punctuation in English, Crystal goes into the usage of each punctuation mark, including the period, the ellipsis, exclamation points, questions marks, the semicolon (my favorite), colons, commas, hyphens, apostrophes, and brackets.

Crystal starts by examining how punctuation developed along phonetic versus grammatical points of view. Punctuation first came about to help people read better (elocution and rhetoric), and then came the grammatical position, which was to help people understand what they were reading (meaning and grammar).

From there Crystal goes on to elaborate his particular position on punctuation, which is combination of semantics and pragmatics. “Meaning is the subject-matter of ‘semantics,’ which is why a ‘semantic’ approach to punctuation is important” (p. 87). “Pragmatics is a particularly important perspective because it focuses on ‘explaining’ rather than simply describing usage” (p. 88). Semantics makes arguments based on legibility (“It’s easier to read”) and clarity (“It reinforces the link between the heading and what follows”), while pragmatics focuses on aesthetics (“It looks nicer”) and tradition (“It’s always been done that way”). When semantics and pragmatics are at loggerheads, Crystal always prefers pragmatism.

Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation was originally published in Great Britain, and Crystal is English, so the punctuation system he uses is the British style. This means that he uses single quotes instead of double quotes and that his punctuation marks go inside periods instead of outside them. This annoyed me at first, but Crystal explains this usage and shows us where the differences between the English and American systems come from: Horace Hart’s Rules for Oxford University Press, published in 1893.

Charles R. Crawley
Charles R. Crawley is a technical writer at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who also teaches at Mount Mercy University. Punctuation is one of his passions.

Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices

Deane Barker. 2016. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media. [ISBN 978-1-491-90812-9. 352 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]

Barker_Web_2016Are you in the market for a Web content management system (WCMS)? Or maybe you use one to manage a website and want to learn more about features in other systems or the concepts underpinning Web content management. If so, Deane Barker’s book, Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices, contains an accessible, in-depth introduction to the WCMS landscape. You’ll find tips for choosing the WCMS that fits your needs. The book’s depth also benefits those who already know the basics.

While the book helps you choose a WCMS, it does not list popular WCMSs and their features. Barker mentions common WCMS features and recommends what to consider and compare when selecting a WCMS, but doesn’t tell you why (or if) you should choose SiteCore over Drupal. Instead, his discussion is more general: the reasons for choosing a proprietary WCMS versus open source, and vice versa.

That said, Barker gives you all the information you need to make an informed decision. He splits the book into three parts: “The Basics,” “The Components of Content Management Systems,” and “Implementations.” In “The Basics,” Barker defines content management, lists points of comparison between WCMSs, points out what to consider when acquiring a WCMS, and discusses the roles in a typical content management team. This part is for you if you’re new to Web content management.

In the second part, Barker gets technical. The initial chapter includes practical recommendations of what to consider when evaluating various WCMSs. The next four chapters discuss core functionality: content modeling, content aggregation, editorial tools and workflow, and output and publication management. The remaining chapters talk about other features of WCMSs and the role of application program interfaces (APIs). While this part might feel too technical for a reader seeking quick tips, the diligent readers will be rewarded. Barker discusses the concepts of Web content management with clarity and precision. You’ll gain a solid understanding of the problems WCMSs solve and the various ways they solve them.

Once you choose a WCMS, you’ll use it to build and implement a website. In the book’s last part, Barker explains the types of implementations and advises you on what qualities to seek (and avoid) in an implementation partner. His depth of experience shines through in this part. Barker ends the book with predictions of where the WCMS market is headed.

Throughout the book, Barker includes short “Perspectives”—one-page opinions written by experts in Web content management. I found their insights useful and interesting. Pay close attention to these Perspectives if you’re trying to select a WCMS.

If you’re looking for an accessible, in-depth introduction to Web content management, look no further. Web Content Management will improve your understanding of the field and sharpen your ability to choose the right WCMS.

Alex Boren
Alex Boren writes proposals at Geonetric. He graduated from the University of Utah in May 2015 with a self-designed, interdisciplinary philosophy degree (BS).

Color for Designers: Ninety-five things you need to know when choosing and using colors for layouts and illustrations

Jim Krause. 2015. Upper Saddle River, NJ: New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-321-96814-2. 240 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]

Krause_Color_2015Color for Designers describes everything you need to know about color. I find the subject of coloration overwhelming, but Krause groups content into manageable topics that technical writers can find easy to read.

The author divides the 95 topics into 13 chapters. Chapter 1 describes the basics of color, including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Chapter 2 adds depth to our color knowledge by explaining hue, saturation, and value. Detail about color relationships, palettes, and neutrals follow in subsequent topics and chapters.

By the time I read half of the book, I felt immersed in knowledge, but not overwhelmed. I started to understand how I, someone who lacks visual skill, can use color to give depth and meaning to projects. This lesson came to life in topic 27, “There Are No Bad Colors” (p. 70.) Krause shows how colors that do not work well in one situation work quite well in another scenario. The lesson is great: Make adjustments until you get the colors working for you and your project.

My favorite series of topics (topics 58–62) comes in Chapter 8, “Conveyances.” These topics are the best example of how text and illustration, with the correct coloration, can explain a lot in a few pages. I left this section feeling very confident that while I am not naturally inclined to communicate with visual elements, I can strength my skill in this area by practicing with color. Practice, as Krause explains, aids intellectual understand and fuels our intuition.

Another great topic that you’ll enjoy is topic 64, “Evaluating Competition.” I make a habit of completing a competitive analysis when starting a new technical writing project. Completing a competitive analysis for a visual design project is essential too. This topic explains what to do to ensure you do not miss a step.

If you are going to skip a section and have experience with printing professional materials, you can skip chapter 12, “Color and Printing.” Any decent printing company should walk you through these steps. If you’re not sure if you’re working with a decent printing company, this chapter describes the type of topics you should have with your printer, including paper quality and quality checks.

The last chapter, chapter 13, “Paint? Paint!”, is great if you want to paint, but if you’re not interested in this topic, skip these seven topics. One possible exception is topic 91, “Brushes and Paper.” I found the information about brushes and paper of interest although I am not planning to buy brushes or paper.

The glossary and index are both useful. My only suggestion is to add more glossary terms. If you’re looking to add a book about visual design to your shelf, this book is a strong choice to consider.

Angela Robertson
Angela Robertson has worked in a variety of technical writing roles with companies like IBM and Red Hat.

Alan Kitching’s A–Z of Letterpress: Founts from The Typography Workshop

Alan Kitching, ed. 2015. London, United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78067-481-0. 272 pages. US$24.95.]

Kitching_Alan_2015Alan Kitching’s A–Z of Letterpress: Founts from The Typography Workshop showcases the comprehensive, extraordinary wood-letter fount collection of Alan Kitching’s Typography Workshop based in Clerkenwell. Founded in 1989, The Typography Workshop houses the biggest collection of Printers’ Wooden type in Europe. The book comprises 39 hand-printed letterpress alphabets displayed letter by letter, from A to Z, using founts, many from his own type-specimen books, collected by Kitching with his late partner Celia Stothard, from the 1950s to the present-time. Kitching worked closely with Angus Hyland, a graphic designer and partner in Pentagram’s London offices, on the book’s execution to use hand-setting letterpress alphabets to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Typography Workshop. “All the founts shown are at the actual size to the real type size. That was a natural element in the design of the book. So the types shown had to be in the smaller sizes to fit the book format.” Kitching says, “The main benefit of having this book in one’s library, as apposed to other type books, is that you get the whole alphabet of letters of all these founts in the actual type size. From A – Z.”

The book’s interior pages contain a rich source of typographic images independently printed by hand on a Vandercook no. 3 proof press and a letterpress printed dust jacket showcasing colorful hand-set letterforms inked into the printing surface. Kitching divided the book by full alphabets and numbered from 01–39 according to its fount family name. Typographic jewels of unusual quality—Spartan Solid and Outline, Chatsworth Condensed, and Oriental Solid and Inline—provide the reader with a distinctive collection of uncommon founts. A series of double-page spreads composed of full alphabets from A to Z, such as Latin Old Style, Modern Bold, Windsor Bold Condensed, and Egyptian Bold Extended, separate the individual letter collection. Each chapter letter has been identified in one of four color highlights: Red, Magenta, Royal Blue, and Gold, referring to the master index of its fount family name. John L. Waters, managing editor and co-owner of Eye magazine notes in the introduction, “Each impression, whether you regard it as art, design or living history, is unique” (p. 7).

Alan Kitching’s A–Z of Letterpress is a fascinating cultural and historical examination of wood-lettering through the letterpress typographer’s lens. The book provides insight and inspiration for everyone who is interested or concerned with typography and graphic communications. This must-have book unveils Kitching’s inventive style through imaginative and unusual use of wood letterforms for modern visual communication forms. From beginning to end, Kitching and Hyland have laid out a beautiful design system that flows in a free, harmonious manner revealing lettering styles and constructing a rare jewel of typographic art.

Richard Doubleday
Richard B. Doubleday is an associate professor in the Department of Graphic Design at Louisiana State University’s School of Art. He is a contributing author of Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design and Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Richard has been published in Baseline, IDEA, Print, NOVUM, Zhuangshi, and Australian Creative.

Managing Scientific Information and Research Data

Svetla Baykoucheva. 2015. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Chandos Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-08-100195-0. 150 pages, including index. US$78.95 (softcover).]

Baykoucheva_Managing_2015Even though the title and contents of Managing Scientific Information and Research Data specify that this book will cover issues associated with “scientific” information and data, students and professionals from many disciplines would benefit from reading this book as information and data management are concerns for all professionals.

In a conversational, but highly-researched and academic, style of writing, Baykoucheva discusses contemporary information and data concerns for scientists, such as problems with traditional publishing models, open access, peer review, electronic publishing, ethics and biases in publishing, advanced search techniques, big data, measuring academic impact, and social media and altmetrics. Each chapter is a stand-alone publication that accurately problematizes issues in these areas and defines new solutions. For example, challenges of traditional publishing models include biased and faulty peer reviews and movements toward open access; thus, Baykoucheva provides readers with a well-researched and current descriptive list of new publishing models that reduce or eliminate competition and make scientific research more efficient and accessible to more people. Every chapter is well researched and includes timely citations along with easy-to-read, interesting graphics that clearly illustrate wieldy statistics.

The interview chapters are the gems in Managing Scientific Information and Research Data. Interspersed throughout the book are five intriguing interviews with scientists and academics who clearly and directly answer questions from Baykoucheva about topics related to the book chapters. For instance, John Fourkas, editor of The Journal of Physical Chemistry, gives straight-forward answers about what editors look for in manuscripts, how reviewers are selected, and the consequences for unethical behavior in publishing. The interviews provide breaks between sets of chapters and give the book a more personal, readable feel to it.

This book is intended for scientists, librarians, and “vendors of scientific databases” (p. 5); however, I would extend the readership to both undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences and technical communication programs, along with academics in any field. Baykoucheva is right when she stated that “we should really feel lucky that we are living at a time when so much scientific information is available and so many sophisticated tools allow us to retrieve, refine, and manage it” (p. 7); but all professionals have to be aware of and know how to use those tools, which is exactly what this book offers readers.

Diane Martinez
Diane Martinez is an assistant professor of professional and technical communication at Western Carolina University. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist. She has been with STC since 2005.

Internet Research Methods

Claire Hewson, Carl Vogel, and Dianna Laurent. 2016. 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications Ltd. [ISBN 978–1–4462–0856-4. 222 pages, including index. US$48.00 (softcover).]

Hewson_Internet_2016The second edition of Internet Research Methods provides seven chapters. Chapter 1 updates Internet developments since the 2002 edition. Chapter 2 explains secondary research methods of Internet information sources, such as databases, archives, electronic texts, online newspapers, Google Scholar, and social media. Chapter 3 reviews and evaluates Internet-mediated research (IMR) methods developed over the last decade. Chapter 4 explores sampling challenges and acknowledges potential biases when conducting IMR. Chapter 5 focuses on IMR ethical issues. Chapter 6 identifies selected IMR technologies and tools. Chapter 7 elaborates on pitfalls and challenges, such as topics associated with equipment, methodologies, netiquette, data scraping (Web data extraction), hackers, and data protection.

The authors bring diverse experience and expertise on Internet-based research. They based Internet Research Methods on their Internet research expertise and experience as well as a literature review of more than 350 international academic journal articles, books, and publications focusing on IMR and related topics. Most references have a 2000 or later publication date and reflect diverse academic disciplines.

Not only does Internet Research Methods aptly identify tools, techniques, and resources unique to Internet research, the authors refer readers to selected resources needed to enhance readers’ empirical social science research expertise.

That said, to fully appreciate and understand selected topics, readers inexperienced in social science research methodologies will benefit from further studying empirical social science concepts and methodologies in other sources. For example, one key concept focuses on obtaining generalizable data—obtaining a valid database of the population to investigate, drawing a random sample (in the statistical sense) from it, and then generalizing back to the total population. The authors aptly discuss strategies that cannot provide generalizable findings, but provide useful, but limited, insights into the population or topic being studied.

In Chapter 5, the book discusses challenging ethical issues, such as obtaining consent, confidentiality, participant anonymity, data security, navigating public–private distinction information gathered. Readers should always check with their respective institutional review boards or ethical research committees. Rules, policies, and guidelines vary across countries. What may be allowable in one country may not be allowable in another country.

Chapter 6 provides tables summarizing general principles. For example, Table 6.6 provides guidelines for Web-based surveys including sampling, response rates and drop outs, maximizing data validity, maximizing reliability, and ethical issues. Chapter 7 aptly explores potential problems and pitfalls, such as the more technically complex studies that require greater technological research skills.

Overall, researchers with solid empirical social science research expertise will find Internet Research Methods helpful in adding IMR skills to their methodologies and alerting them to unique IMR challenges and pitfalls.

Don Zimmerman
Don Zimmerman is an STC Fellow and Jay R. Gould Award recipient. He taught technical communication classes and conducted research at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Don’s research includes website and interface design; usability testing; health, environmental, science, and technical communication; and technology transfer.

Creating a Website: The Missing Manual

Matthew MacDonald. 2015. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media Inc. [ISBN 978-1-4919-1807-4. 604 pages, including index. US $29.99 (softcover).]

MacDonald_Creating_2015Creating a Website: The Missing Manual is indeed the missing manual. Besides covering website design from soup-to-nuts in sixteen chapters, MacDonald loads his book with nuggets of wisdom sprinkled in boxed hints with titles such as “Gem in the Rough,” “Up to Speed,” “Design Time,” and “Word to the Wise.” Being generally familiar with the book’s content, I found myself focused on reading the boxed items…something I seldom do. I must confess to learning a thing or two that more-savvy technical writers already know. Even then, a few surprising tidbits around HTML5 likely await you.

Chapters 1 through 5 cover the basics to creating pages in HTML. “Webifying Your Text” is the title of one box providing solid hints on Web page design for those new to Web output. And don’t we all wish that early on someone provided us with a table listing Special Characters, especially nbsp?

Chapters 6 through 9 assist in moving HTML online to an actual website. I read through the section about Google Web Fonts in case I want to use a copyright-free typeface for marketing my books online. Another section explains how to redirect good links that go bad on an older website. In the chapter on using style sheets, MacDonald promises that with help from his book “you won’t break a sweat when it comes time to change something” (p. 203) But should a problem arise, every modern browser provides a CSS inspection tool.

Chapters 10 through 13 cover topics on connecting with the website’s proposed audience. Having attended numerous online seminars over the past year on exactly this topic, I was delighted to find hands-on, low-cost tips that could make my website memorable. Never having bookmarked my Internet home page, I hadn’t considered customizing an icon for the bookmark listing. Of course I knew about search engine optimization (SEO), but had not taken the time to figure out how to add keywords in WordPress. Implementing just these two suggestions made MacDonald’s book worthwhile reading.

Chapters 14 through 16 make interactive websites, rich with media, seem like a piece of cake. Of course, that isn’t fact. However, this guidebook will keep you calm while trying your hand at advanced JavaScript coding or snippets. At the very least, you can troubleshoot like a pro if the video doesn’t play as planned.

The Appendix includes a detailed HTML quick reference and an index.

As one expects from any technical book published by O’Reilly, Creating a Website is chock full of well-written and useful content. Certain books that I review are passed along to others, but I plan to keep this one for personal reference.

Donna Ford
Donna Ford has been an STC member, joining in 1990 and serving on her local chapter’s board for many years. She has been a technical writer since 1987 in the hardware, software, and government healthcare industries. Donna holds a certificate in Information Design from Bentley College. She is the author of three independently published books.

The Future of Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts

Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind. 2015. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [ISBN 978-0-19-871339-5. 346 pages, including index. US$29.95.]

Susskind_Future_2015“What does the future hold in store for my profession? What kinds of changes do I need to know about? What new skills will I need if I want to be competitive 5 or 10 years from now?”

These are the kinds of questions that The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts spends the next 300 pages wrestling with. The book is a definitive, well-balanced, and meticulously researched study of technologies that are currently shaping our professions; and next-generation systems and people that will be slowly supplanting and profoundly changing the traditional ways professionals work and how expertise is shared in the future society. Throughout, the authors stress that “the overall trajectory of technological advance is clear and of great importance for the professions—more and more tasks that once required human beings are being performed more productively, cheaply, easily, quickly, and to a higher standard by a range of systems” (p.159). Three major sections of the book address such counterclaims head-on.

Part I reviews the theoretical and historic background underlying the emergence of professions, as well as “the grand bargain” between practitioners and users of professional services. It discusses the common biases toward new technology, explains how these technologies impact the lives of both consumer and provider, and how the systems surreptitiously introduce changes across the professions. The discussion then moves to emerging skills and competencies needed in the future, and new labor models to support different professional fields.

Part II provides a succinct overview of “pre-print,” “print,” and “technology-based societies;” correlating how we store professional expertise and how we share that knowledge in a larger society. The authors focus on technological developments such as information growth; capable machines; ever more pervasive devices; and increasingly connected humans. Additionally, Part II outlines six alternative models of producing and distributing professional expertise that promote greater sharing in society.

Part III is probably the most anticipated and unsettling. The authors address common objections and anxieties that come with new technology. They constantly refocus our attention on the importance of such drastic change. The upside: immediate inexpensive access to expert knowledge, replacing often crippling doctors’ and lawyers’ bills, etc. Part III also makes bold predictions on the growing trend of replacing human specialists with non-thinking machines, and the likelihood of technological unemployment. It also examines “emerging models of sharing expertise” (p.5).

The book’s conclusion provides a certain reassurance: “increasingly capable machines will transform the work of the professional, giving rise to new ways of sharing practical expertise in society” (p. 303). But it is up to us to decide how to “use” that technology. The authors urge us, as professionals, policymakers, and consumers, to grasp the issues and get involved in the decisions before those issues are decided for us.

Tetyana Darian
Tetyana Darian is an STC member and graduate student in mathematical computer science. Her interests are in scientific computing, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.

Understanding Communication Theory: A Beginner’s Guide

Stephen M. Croucher. 2016. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-415-74804-9. 366 pages, including index. US$64.95 (softcover).]

Croucher_Understanding_2016Many years ago, academic technical writing education consisted mainly of training in language and document formats. Little, if any, attention was paid to who would read the material mainly because the reader and writer had similar backgrounds and the variety of technical documents was limited. As recognition of the importance of the user increased, so, too, did academic training broaden to include understanding who would use the materials. As a consequence, courses began involving understanding how communication happens. Such understanding is valuable to technical communicators when analyzing why communications fail or succeed. Now, we find stand-alone courses in communication theory directed specifically to technical communicators or other disciplines. Croucher’s Understanding Communication Theory: A Beginner’s Guide is a textbook for general courses. And it, along with many other similar textbooks will need adapting to technical communication situations because so far, no pure technical communication survey of communication theory is available. Croucher’s textbook contains all the trappings of a textbook: Chapter explanations of a theory or group of theories, plenty of descriptive statements directly addressed to the student about the chapter, chapter outlines and conclusions, exercises, discussion questions, etc. Other textbook features include case studies and sample student papers.

The author divides the book into two major sections: Part I discusses approaches to theory (chapters 1–4), and Part II discusses theoretical contexts (chapters 5–13).

In Part I, Croucher identifies three theoretical paradigms: Social Scientific, Interpretative that includes rationalism and subjectivity, and Critical including Marxism and post-modernism. The theoretical contexts include Interpersonal, Organizational, Inter-Cultural, and Small groups, among others and of most interest to technical communicators. Other contexts include health communication, mass communication, persuasion, rhetorical theory, and critical cultural theory.

One item Croucher discusses that might give pause to a reader is that he lists communication organizations (pp. 12–13), but does not list any technical communication organizations such as STC, IEEE-PCS, ATTW, CPTSC, etc. So, it is unlikely that he knows about technical communication and the role communication theory plays in it. Further, Croucher selects a limited approach to communication—the paradigm—and wants to fit the theories discussed into it. Seen from a more general perspective, there are many ways to organize the theories of communication—see Littlejohn’s Theories of Human Communication. Croucher is not especially clear on why he selected the approaches he did.

Technical communicators can gain from Understanding Communication Theory by reading selectively in the theoretical contexts. Teachers who include communication theory in their technical communication classes will find this text valuable and worthy of consideration. But, they need to match carefully the level of presentation to not only their students but also their class goals.

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 served as guest professor at the University of Paderborn, Germany.