63.4, November 2016

Recent & Relevant

Lyn Gattis

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.


Look before you lead: Seeing virtual teams through the lens of games

Robinson, J. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 178–190. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1185159

“This study investigated virtual teams playing World of Warcraft to better understand how traditional leadership theories applied to virtual worlds and to identify the most valuable leadership traits. Raid members completed surveys that assessed their leadership capability under the competing values framework. In keeping with previous scholarship, the findings indicate that successful virtual teams value roles from task-based leadership and a factor analysis revealed that the behavioral complexity leadership theory operates differently in virtual environments.”

Lyn Gattis


E-mail and face-to-face organizational dissent as a function of leader-member exchange status

Turnage, A., & Goodboy, A. (2016). International Journal of Business Communication, 53(3), 271–285. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525456

“The purpose of this study was to examine whether leader-member exchange status (in-group vs. out-group) of employees explains differences in organizational dissent (i.e., articulated, latent, displaced) via e-mail as opposed to face-to-face. Participants were 166 full-time employees working in a variety of organizations. Results indicated that out-group employees were more likely to express articulated dissent through e-mail, whereas in-group employees were more likely to express articulated dissent in person. The results of this study suggest that the quality of the supervisor-subordinate relationship is important in determining how contradictory opinions are communicated in an upward manner via e-mail. Communicating these subordinate opinions in person to a supervisor, instead of sending an e-mail, may be indicative of a better working relationship. Furthermore, e-mail may be a positive venue for out-group employees, previously unwilling to question management, to dissent.”

Katherine Wertz

Factors impacting the intention to use emergency notification services in campus emergencies: An empirical investigation

Ada, S., Sharman, R., Han, W., & Brennan, J. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 89–109. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2527248

“This study investigates the factors influencing students’ intentions to use emergency notification services to receive news about campus emergencies through short-message systems (SMS) and social network sites (SNS).” The authors had two “research questions: (1) What are the critical factors that influence students’ intention to use SMS to receive emergency notifications? (2) What are the critical factors that influence students’ intention to use SNS to receive emergency notifications?” The authors “conducted a quantitative, survey-based study that tested [their] model in five different scenarios, using logistic regression to test the research hypotheses with 574 students of a large research university in the northeastern US.” The implications of their findings are directed toward emergency managers and “suggest how to more effectively manage and market the service through both channels. The results also suggest using SNS as an additional means of providing emergency notifications at academic institutions.”

Rhonda Stanton

The impact of virtual customer community interactivity on organizational innovation: An absorptive capacity perspective

Roberts, N., & Dinger, M. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 110–125. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2561118

“Organizations are increasingly investing in virtual customer communities that reduce communication barriers between organizations and customers. However, little is known regarding how virtual customer communities might affect a firm’s learning and innovation activities.” Researchers investigated “the extent to which interactivity in virtual customer communities influences the relationship between a firm’s absorptive capacity (the ability to identify, assimilate, and apply external knowledge) and the extent to which a firm develops incremental and radical innovations.” The authors tested their “model with a quantitative survey-based research design that involves 102 firm-sponsored virtual customer communities.” The authors note a limitation of the study was the use of “data collected from a single respondent to measure both [the] independent and dependent variables.” The authors learned “absorptive capacity is positively related to incremental innovation and negatively related to radical innovation. Furthermore, virtual customer community interactivity moderates the relationship between absorptive capacity and incremental innovation.” They conclude that “virtual customer communities are transforming communication relationships between organizations and customers in ways that influence a firm’s learning and innovation activities.” They “recommend that future research examine how virtual customer communities affect organization-customer communication channels.”

Rhonda Stanton

A study of the employment of denial during a complex and unstable crisis involving multiple actors

Bamber, M., & Parry, S. (2016). International Journal of Business Communication, 53(3), 343–366. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525454

“The authors review the use of denial through a complex and unstable crisis: the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. Denial is typically viewed as a binary response—‘we did not do this’—with a binary intended outcome—‘and therefore we are not to blame.’ The authors argue that this interpretation is overly simplistic. They found that Transocean and Halliburton executed a strategy consisting of distancing and (counter)attack to shift blame, whereas BP pursued a strategy dominated by compassion and ingratiation intermixed with carefully used denial to share blame. This form of blame sharing is a hybrid of denial and acceptance. BP accepted responsibility but argued that others were responsible too. The authors’ analysis also shows that deny response options were restricted or relaxed dependent on situational and intertextual context. They find that the tone of the involved parties’ releases became significantly more aggressive as the situation developed toward its legal conclusion and as they responded to one another’s progressively more hostile releases.”

Katherine Wertz


Calculating line length: An arithmetic approach

Peña, E. (2016). Visible Language, 50(1). [online] [doi: none]

“This paper introduces an arithmetic formula for the calculation of text line length (also referred to as line width) for roman alphabet from 1) the length of the alphabet in lowercase, 2) a value for the desired character density and 3) a mathematical constant. A short-range study with this formula has shown a margin of error of less than 5% in common serifed text typefaces. The potential application of this formula in both print and digital editorial products could be diverse, from the approximate calculation of pages in a book to the establishment of control parameters in responsive web pages. Moreover, this formula would allow designers to make decisions about formal aspects on reading devices based on principles of readability and reading experience.”

Lyn Gattis

Exhibiting information: Developing the information age gallery at the science museum

Blyth, T. (2016). Information & Culture, 51(1), 1–28. doi: 10.1353/lac.2016.0001

“There is very little published literature on the display of computing technology in museums and galleries. This article reviews a variety of displays, from the early 1970s to the 1990s, to show how computing and communication technologies shifted from a taxonomic approach that inferred an element of progression to displays that take a more socially and culturally embedded approach. The article argues that by changing their focus away from computing per se to considering the history of sociocultural information networks, museum professionals can create more engaging experiences for visitors while reflecting the current concerns of the sociology of technology and historiography. Using insights drawn from the development of the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum in London, the article argues that while the shift toward information and communication networks is not without conceptual challenges, it brings to the fore the importance of infrastructure, the role of users in the coconstruction of networks, and the challenge of software in display.”

Edward A. Malone


Client-based pedagogy meets workplace simulation: Developing social processes in the Arisoph case study

Balzotti, J., & Rawlins, J. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 140–152. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2561082

“Immersive pedagogies—including real-world or client-based projects, case studies, and simulations—have long been used to encourage student problem-solving, analytical thinking, and teamwork in professional communication. Building a connection to the real world has real challenges, however, for both instructors and students.” This paper describes “an online client-based simulation course” in which engineering students worked for a full semester in a fictional technical communication consulting firm (Arisoph) to produce deliverables for a real-world engineering client. “Initial student reactions to the course show an increased understanding of workplace communication and a greater motivation to produce the best possible product for the client. [The authors] hope that long-term studies will show significant carryover of those attitudes into students’ careers.”

Rhonda Stanton

Students’ affective learning in a technologically mediated writing and speaking course: A situated learning perspective

Gaffney, A. L. H., & Kercsmar, S. E. (2016). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30(3), 322–351. doi: 10.1177/1050651916636371

“Situated learning theory postulates that the environment in which learning occurs is foundational to understanding the outcomes of that learning. Taking classes in a nontraditional classroom, therefore, might have a noticeable effect on learning outcomes. This study examines three structures of the same general education course to understand the potential impact of mediated learning on students’ public speaking and writing apprehension and self-efficacy. Although situated learning theory suggests that the three structures (face-to-face, partially face-to-face, and fully online) should demonstrate differences, the results of this study are mixed, suggesting a complicated picture for situated learning’s ability to speak to differences based on technology use while highlighting the differences in how such technology might affect oral skills versus written skills. The application of situated learning principles to technologically mediated courses demonstrates the need to consider the interplay between environment and content.”

Sean C. Herring

Students’ perceptions of oral screencast responses to their writing: Exploring digitally mediated identities

Anson, C. M., Dannels, D. P., Laboy, J. I., & Carneiro, L. (2016). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30(3), 378–411. doi: 10.1177/1050651916636424

“This study explores the intersections between facework, feedback interventions, and digitally mediated modes of response to student writing. Specifically, the study explores one particular mode of feedback intervention—screencast response to written work—through students’ perceptions of its affordances and through dimensions of its role in the mediation of face and construction of identities. Students found screencast technologies to be helpful to their learning and their interpretation of positive affect from their teachers by facilitating personal connections, creating transparency about the teacher’s evaluative process and identity, revealing the teacher’s feelings, providing visual affirmation, and establishing a conversational tone. The screencast technologies seemed to create an evaluative space in which teachers and students could perform digitally mediated pedagogical identities that were relational, affective, and distinct, allowing students to perceive an individualized instructional process enabled by the response mode. These results suggest that exploring the concept of digitally mediated pedagogical identity, especially through alternative modes of response, can be a useful lens for theoretical and empirical exploration.”

Sean C. Herring

Toward a model of UX education: Training UX designers within the academy

Guiseppe, G., & Beecher, F. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 153–164. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2561139

“Increased demand for user experience (UX) designers requires new approaches to teaching and training the next generation of these professionals. [The authors] present a model for building educational programs within academia that train job-ready designers.” The model they suggest “necessitates a working knowledge of the UX process, the systematic use of sound principles during the design of digital products and services. The model also requires a pedagogical approach that puts learners in a position to solve real problems and that treats them as apprentices on their way to competency. . . . [The authors] provide tips for understanding core UX competencies, developing partnerships with UX practitioners, and deploying UX education courses and programs. . . . Though the barriers to producing sufficient numbers of well-trained UX designers are significant, the combined ingenuity of devoted professionals in both academia and industry can be leveraged to create sound educational opportunities for UX learners from all walks of life.”

Rhonda Stanton

Ethical issues

Ghostwriting prevalence among AMWA and EMWA members (2005 to 2014)

Hamilton, C. W., & Jacob, A. (2016). AMWA Journal, 31(1), 3–11. [doi: none]

“Ghostwriting, defined as undisclosed substantial contributions by medical writers, is considered to be unethical by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA), and other professional associations. To determine the prevalence of ghostwriting among medical writers coincident with educational campaigns, [the authors] initiated a Web-based, self-administered, confidential survey of AMWA and EMWA members in 2005 and repeated it in 2008, 2011, and 2014. [The authors] focused on manuscripts to which survey participants had made substantial contributions and now report final findings from all surveys. . . . [A] 44% decrease in the rate of manuscripts with undisclosed contributions between 2005 and 2014 is encouraging, but the 34% rate of ghostwriting among medical writers remains unacceptable. While these findings should not be generalized to the overall prevalence of ghostwriting in the literature (because survey participation was restricted to AMWA and EMWA members who made substantial contributions to manuscripts), [the authors’] findings suggest the need for further collaborative efforts to promote transparency and to conduct research about how to achieve best practices in medical publication.”

Magdalena Berry

“Good” grief: Subversion, praxis, and the unmasked ethics of griefing guides

Beale, M., McKittrick, M., & Richards, D. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 191-201. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1185160

“This article uses genre-field analysis (GFA) to examine Minecraft griefing guides: user-generated documentation that operationalizes destructive approaches to gameplay. Griefing guides promote subversive praxis while forwarding a utilitarian ethical system that values hedonistic schadenfreude, running counter to morals of cooperation championed by most Minecraft players. Published in online forums where debates over conflicting praxis continue, these guides explicitly address, rather than mask, the negotiation of ideological values and ethical systems within a community.”

Lyn Gattis

The impact of review environment on review credibility

Mackiewicz, J., Yeats, D., & Thornton, T. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 71–88. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2527249

This article investigates the influence of “online consumer reviews of products . . . [on] consumers’ purchasing decisions.” The authors conducted an online survey that “exposed respondents to the same review text with different star ratings (4-star and 2-star) in two types of sites: brand and retailer.” Participants were asked “to evaluate the review’s credibility, trustworthiness, and expertise. In half of the exposures, participants evaluated a review in the site of a high-credible company (Apple or Amazon), and in the other half of exposures, participants evaluated a review in the site of a midlevel-credibility company (Dell or Walmart).” Results indicated that “[c]redibility strongly correlated with both trustworthiness and expertise. Participants rated 4-star reviews as more credible than 2-star reviews on high-credibility sites, but star ratings had no impact on midlevel credibility sites.” The authors “found no difference between ratings of reviews displayed on brand and retailer sites for midlevel-credibility companies but a small difference between reviews displayed on brand and retailer sites for high-credibility companies.” The conclusion: “Professional communicators looking to identify credible reviews should attend to review valence, or the positivity or negativity of a review. When managing user-generated product reviews, they should try to make credible content more noticeable to review users.”

Rhonda Stanton

Health communication

Mobile health care applications: Authorship, regulatory challenges, and the role of medical writers

Trauth, E. (2016). AMWA Journal, 31(2), 51–54. [doi: none]

“Mobile medical and health applications (apps) have revolutionized health care; consumers, patients, and health care practitioners use these smart-phone and mobile communication device-enabled applications to manage their health in ways that can put health care, quite literally, in their own hands. From apps that can help track weight, caloric intake, and exercise to apps that provide important information about the effects of medications on breast milk, these programs have the potential to guide people to make improved health-based decisions in their lives. Other apps are designed for health care professionals to help them with . . . complex issues. . . . Because of the diversity of app types and audiences and the need for credible health care communication, the expanding app market is of potential importance to a wide range of medical writers and editors, including those who work on medical-device regulatory documents, patient education resources, or continuing education materials designed for researchers or practicing health care professionals. This article provides an overview of the mobile health market, the regulatory environment, standards of review within the industry, and opportunities to improve mobile health apps by the inclusion of medical writers and editors in app development.”

Magdalena Berry

Pictograms: Can they help patients recall medication safety instructions?

Del Re, L., Vaillancourt, R., Villarreal, G., & Pouliot, A. (2016). Visible Language, 50(1). [online] [doi: none]

The effectiveness of pictograms to enhance the recall of information through a review of the literature was evaluated. . . . A search was conducted using ‘Pictogram’ AND ‘Recall’ on PubMed, SCOPUS, and Web of Knowledge databases. Additional searches were conducted on the above-mentioned databases and on Google Scholar using various combinations of key words ‘pictorial’, ‘picture’, ‘aid’, ‘memory’ and ‘medication’. The main inclusion criterion was recall measurement. . . . Nineteen articles were analyzed. Ten studies measured immediate/short-term recall; five compared immediate/short-term to long-term recall; and four measured only long-term recall. Eight measured cued recall of pictograms and eleven measured free recall. Three studies failed to support pictograms as means to enhance recall for all subjects regardless of demographic characteristics. Recall abilities of elderly participants were lower than young individuals. Literacy level, education level, prior knowledge, and cultural familiarity are factors that may influence pictogram recall. . . . Pictograms enhance patients’ recall of information. Professionals using pictograms in healthcare settings should consider 1) educating patients about pictograms; 2) providing patients with pictorial cues; 3) measuring free recall with ‘true’ method; 4) assessing patient’s reading, education level, and prior knowledge of pictograms; 5) using text and pictograms; 6) and having special considerations for the elderly.”

Lyn Gattis

Provider documentation of patient education: A lean investigation

Shipman, J. P., Lake, E. W., Van Der Volgen, J., & Doman, D. (2016). Journal of the Medical Library Association, 104(2), 154–158. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.104.2.012

“The study evaluates how providers give patient education materials and identifies improvements to comply with Meaningful Use (MU) requirements. Thirty-eight patient-provider interactions in two health care outpatient clinics were observed. Providers do not uniformly know MU patient education requirements. Providers have individual preferences and find gaps in what is available. Accessing and documenting patient education varies among providers. Embedded electronic health record (EHR) materials, while available, have technical access barriers. Providers’ EHR skills and knowledge levels contribute to non-standardized patient education delivery.”

Yvonne Sanchez

Information management

A framework for understanding information ecosystems in firms and industries

Cortada, J. W. (2016). Information & Culture, 51(2), 133–163. doi: 10.7560/IC51201

“Information is the glue that holds together organizations and their industries. Thus understanding the information ecosystems and their infrastructures is essential if we are to appreciate how companies, government agencies, and entire industries function. Yet the role of information in companies and industries remains understudied. This article defines concepts historians should understand, discusses challenges faced in the study of business information, and suggests approaches.”

Edward A. Malone


Performative rituals for conception and childbirth in England, 900–1500

Jones, P. M., & Olsan, L. T. (2015). Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 89(3), 406–433. doi: 10.1353/bhm.2015.0064

“This study proposes that performative rituals—that is, verbal and physical acts that reiterate prior uses—enabled medieval women and men to negotiate the dangers and difficulties of conception and childbirth. It analyzes the rituals implicated in charms, prayers, amulets, and prayer rolls and traces the circulation of such rituals within medieval English society. Manuscript records from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late Middle Ages offer evidence of the interaction of oral and written means of communicating these rituals. Certain rituals were long-lived, though variants were introduced over time that reflected changing religious attitudes and the involvement of various interested parties, including local healers, doctors, and medical practitioners, as well as monks, friars, and users of vernacular remedy books. Although many of those who recommended or provided assistance through performative rituals were males, the practices often devolved upon women themselves, and their female companions or attendants.”

Edward A. Malone


Learning how to speak like a “native”: Speech and culture in an online communication training program

Hart, T. (2016). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 30(3), 285–321. doi: 10.1177/1050651916636359

Communicating effectively with English as a Second Language (ESL) students is an integral part of teaching in both online and on-campus environments. “This article examines the oral communication training that took place in Eloqi, a virtual language-learning community. Eloqi (a pseudonym) was a for-profit start-up that built and operated a proprietary Web-based, voice-enabled platform connecting English-language learners in China with trainers in the United States. While it existed, Eloqi’s unique platform was used to deliver short, one-on-one lessons designed to improve students’ oral English communication skills. Using the ethnography of communication and speech codes theory, a theoretical-methodological approach, the author presents an analysis of the speech code, or code of communicative conduct, employed at Eloqi. This code of English logic, which Eloqi’s community members associated with native English speech, comprised six locally defined rules for oral English speech; namely, speech had to be organized, succinct, spontaneously composed rather than rehearsed, original and honest, proactively improved, and positive. This article discusses the significance of this code, particularly as it pertains to cultural communication, and concludes with some implications for researchers and practitioners in business and technical communication.”

Sean C. Herring

Professional issues

Community of practice and professionalization perspectives on technical communication in Ireland

Cleary, Y. (2016). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 59(2), 126–139. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2016.2561138

“Research on the field [of technical communication] in Ireland is limited.” [Using] “a theoretical framework that combines symbolic interactionism and communities of practice theories,” the author investigated the extent to which “technical communicators in Ireland operate as a community of practice” and the “steps . . . Irish technical communicators are taking toward professionalization.” Findings from a survey, focus groups, and interviews “indicate that Irish technical communicators exhibit traits of communities of practice (such as joint enterprise and shared repertoires). They also identify with their job title and practice. A key finding is that some Irish technical communicators have a keen appetite for community involvement. This enthusiasm notwithstanding, barriers to professionalization include low visibility of the role in Ireland, limited evidence of professionalizing activity, and the potential for career stagnation.”

Rhonda Stanton

Developer discourse: Exploring technical communication practices within video game development

McDaniel, R., & Daer, A. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 155–166, doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1180430

“This study examines the discourse style of managers, developers, engineers, and artists working for an independent game development studio. Fourteen employees were interviewed and then the results were coded and analyzed using an exploratory, single-case case study methodology. The authors argue that the texts, tactics, and technologies used by these professionals reveal insights into both the practical, outcome-oriented dimensions of technical communication within the games industry as well as deeper cultural characteristics of this community.”

Lyn Gattis

Game design as technical communication: Articulating game design through textbooks

DeAnda, M. A., & Kocurek, C. A. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 202–210. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1185161

“This article examines the framing of the designer’s role in game development in textbooks published and circulated over the past decade. The authors investigate the discursive ways coding is downplayed within game design texts as a means of promoting design as a form of creative expression. This speaks to ongoing tension in the games industry of coding and technology versus art. The authors argue that, in their presentation of game design, leading textbooks attempt to frame the field as one of artistry and technical practice, presenting game design as a type of technical communication. The authors ultimately consider the potential and pitfalls of considering game design as a technical communication field and suggest that this framing presents lens for considering the recently professionalized field.”

Lyn Gattis

Introduction: Games in technical communication [special issue]

deWinter, J., & Vie, S. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 151–154. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1183411

“Recently, research into the intersection of computer games and technical writing has been increasing, with more conference presentations and publications interrogating communication within the computer game complex. . . . The call for more research is clear, and technical communication is well positioned to interrogate these systems and create new texts because the field already works at the intersection of the technical and the symbolic—and games are both. . . . Games provide frameworks for interaction. They are rule systems that are teleological in nature. However, games themselves exist within complex cultural and economic structures, which require scholars to interrogate the actors and discourses that influence game creation, consumption, and deployment in game- and non-game-like arenas. And in this, technical communication methods—actor-network theory, humanistic approaches to technical communication, genre ecologies, to name a few—illuminate games as a form of technically mediated communication and also technical systems with human actors. What [the editors] hope to explore in this special issue is the broad range of technical communication that occurs in games, from game production practices to game play itself and the multiple ways that players interact within these systems. . . .”

Lyn Gattis

Reconsidering power and legitimacy in technical communication: A case for enlarging the definition of technical communicator

Henning, T., & Bemer, A. (2016). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 46(3), 311–341. doi: 10.1177/0047281616639484

“This article considers how issues of power and legitimacy in technical communication are connected to clearly defining what a technical communicator does. An articulation of what technical communicators do can grant the field power in presenting a united front to employers with respect to the value technical communicators bring to the workplace. So as to leverage the power and legitimacy associated with articulating what technical communicators do, this article reviews and revises the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH)’s definition of technical communicator. To effectively revise the OOH’s definition, this article reviews academic and practitioner scholarship in technical communication and the administration of technical and professional writing programs. It demonstrates that concerns about practical skills, conceptual skills, and flexibility are related to legitimacy and power. These concerns can be used as criteria to evaluate and revise the OOH’s definition of technical communicator. In closing, the article discusses the benefits associated with the revised definition and how these benefits are related to issues of power and legitimacy in the field.”

Anita Ford


“A scientifical view of the whole”: Adam Smith, indexing, and technologies of abstraction

Binder, J. M., & Jennings, C. (2016). English Literary History, 83(1), 157–180. doi: 10.1353/elh.2016.0001

“This essay compares methods of mapping the contents of texts from different historical periods by examining Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) from two perspectives: that of its 1784 index and that of a topic model generated from the text. [The authors] contend that this sort of comparative interpretation of models demonstrates a new way to consider computational methods not as heralding a break from print genres like the index but, instead, as participating in a longer tradition of practices that have sought to make massive amounts of text accessible for readers, whether they are human or machine.”

Edward A. Malone

Scientific writing

In science communication, why does the idea of the public deficit always return? Exploring key influences

Suldovsky, B. (2016). Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 415–426. doi: 10.1177/0963662516629750

“Despite mounting criticism, the deficit model remains an integral part of science communication research and practice. In this article, [the author] advance[s] three key factors that contribute to the idea of the public deficit in science communication, including the purpose of science communication, how communication processes and outcomes are conceptualized, and how science and scientific knowledge are defined. Affording science absolute epistemic privilege, [the author] argue[s], is the most compelling factor contributing to the continued use of the deficit model. In addition, [the author] contend[s] that the deficit model plays a necessary, though not sufficient, role in science communication research and practice. Areas for future research are discussed.”

Yvonne Sanchez

The lure of rationality: Why does the deficit model persist in science communication?

Simis, M. J., Madden, H., Cacciatore, M. A., & Yeo, S. K. (2016). Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 400–414. doi: 10.1177/0963662516629749

“Science communication has been historically predicated on the knowledge deficit model. Yet, empirical research has shown that public communication of science is more complex than what the knowledge deficit model suggests. In this essay, [the authors] pose four lines of reasoning and present empirical data for why [they] believe the deficit model still persists in public communication of science. First, [they] posit that scientists’ training results in the belief that public audiences can and do process information in a rational manner. Second, the persistence of this model may be a product of current institutional structures. Many graduate education programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields generally lack formal training in public communication. [The authors] offer empirical evidence that demonstrates that scientists who have less positive attitudes toward the social sciences are more likely to adhere to the knowledge deficit model of science communication. Third, [the authors] present empirical evidence of how scientists conceptualize ‘the public’ and link this to attitudes toward the deficit model. [The authors] find that perceiving a knowledge deficit in the public is closely tied to scientists’ perceptions of the individuals who comprise the public. Finally, [they] argue that the knowledge deficit model is perpetuated because it can easily influence public policy for science issues. [They] propose some ways to uproot the deficit model and move toward more effective science communication efforts, which include training scientists in communication methods grounded in social science research and using approaches that engage community members around scientific issues.”

Yvonne Sanchez

The whiteboard revolution: Illuminating science communication in the digital age

Mar, F. A., Ordovas-Montanes, J., Oksenberg, N., & Olson, A. M. (2016). Trends in Immunology, 37(4), 250–253. doi: 10.1016/j.it.2016.02.004

“Journal-based science communication is not accessible or comprehensible to a general public curious about science and eager for the next wave of scientific innovation. [The authors] propose an alternative medium for scientists to communicate their work to the general public in an engaging and digestible way through the use of whiteboard videos. [The authors] describe the process of producing science whiteboard videos and the benefits and challenges therein.”

Yvonne Sanchez


Do users’ perceptions of password security match reality?

Ur, B., Bees, J., Segreti, S. M., Bauer, L., Christin, N., & Cranor, L. F. (2016). In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2016 (pp. 3748–3760). New York: Association for Computing Machinery. doi: 10.1145/2858036.2858546

“Although many users create predictable passwords, the extent to which users realize these passwords are predictable is not well understood. [The authors] investigate the relationship between users’ perceptions of the strength of specific passwords and their actual strength. In this 165-participant online study, [the authors] ask participants to rate the comparative security of carefully juxtaposed pairs of passwords, as well as the security and memorability of both existing passwords and common password-creation strategies. Participants had serious misconceptions about the impact of basing passwords on common phrases and including digits and keyboard patterns in passwords. However, in most other cases, participants’ perceptions of what characteristics make a password secure were consistent with the performance of current password-cracking tools. [The authors] find large variance in participants’ understanding of how passwords may be attacked, potentially explaining why users nonetheless make predictable passwords. [They] conclude with design directions for helping users make better passwords.”

Yvonne Sanchez


Developing SMASH: A set of SMArtphone’s uSability Heuristics

Inostroza, R., Rusu, C., Roncagliolo, S., Rusu, V., & Collazos, C. A. (2016). Computer Standards & Interfaces, 43, 40–52. doi:10.1016/j.csi.2015.08.007

“The smartphone market is nowadays highly competitive. When buying a new device, users focus on visual esthetics, ergonomics, performance, and user experience, among others. Assessing usability issues allows improving these aspects. One popular method for detecting usability problems is heuristic evaluation, in which evaluators employ a set of usability heuristics as guide. Using proper heuristics is highly relevant. In this paper [the authors] present SMASH, a set of 12 usability heuristics [including help and documentation] for smartphones and mobile applications, developed iteratively. SMASH (previously named TMD: Usability heuristics for Touchscreen-based Mobile Devices) was experimentally validated. The results support its utility and effectiveness.”

Yvonne Sanchez

Metacognition and system usability: Incorporating metacognitive research paradigm into usability testing

Ackerman, R., Parush, A., Nassar, F., & Shtub, A. (2016). Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 101–113. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.041

“There is an agreement that perceived usability is important beyond actual effectiveness of software systems. Perceived usability is often obtained by self-reports provided after system use. Aiming to improve summative usability testing, [the authors] propose a methodology to enhance in-depth testing of users’ performance and perceived usability at the task level. The metacognitive research approach allows detailed analysis of cognitive processes. Adapting its methodologies, [the authors] propose the Metacognitive Usability Profile (MUP) which includes a comprehensive set of measures based on collecting confidence in the success of each particular task and triangulating it with objective measures. [They] demonstrate using the MUP by comparing two versions of a project management system. Based on a task analysis [they] allocated tasks that differ between the versions and let participants (N = 100) use both versions. Although no difference was found between the versions in system-level perceived usability, the detailed task-level analysis exposed many differences. In particular, overconfidence was associated with low performance, which suggests that user interfaces better avoid illusions of knowing. Overall, the study demonstrates how the MUP exposes challenges users face. This, in turn, allows choosing the better task implementation among the examined options and to focus attempts for usability improvement.”

Yvonne Sanchez

Usability evaluation of a new text input method for smart TVs

Choi, Y. M., & Li, J. (2016). Journal of Usability Studies, 11(3), 110–123. [doi: none]

“Smart TVs are becoming an increasingly important multimedia device for home entertainment. A smart TV is a platform that provides access to many types of media and services such as games, the Internet, social networking sites, and TV programs. One of the most important interactions between users and these platforms is the ability to effectively enter and edit text. The purpose of this study was to test a new approach for smart TV text entry that combines a touch pad and virtual keyboard interaction. A prototype was created and tested against existing methods (a simple remote control, a touch pad, and a physical keyboard). Twenty college students were recruited to perform a usability test with each of the four different input methods. Participants performed a text entry task and a text edit task on each device. The results indicate that combining a virtual keyboard with touch pad type functionality for text entry and editing can lead to faster text entry and faster text editing.”

Ginnifer Mastarone

A usability score for mobile phone applications based on heuristics

Von Wangenheim, C. G., Witt, T. A., Borgatto, A. F., Nunes, J. V., Lacerda, T. C., Krone, C., & de Oliveira Souza, L. (2016). International Journal of Mobile Human Computer Interaction, 8(1), 23–58. doi: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2016010102

“Mobile phones are becoming the most widespread personal consumer device. Yet, offering mobile access anywhere, anytime for anybody poses new challenges to usability. So far there is little research on how to customize usability heuristics to the specific characteristics of mobile phone applications. Therefore, this article presents a set of tailored usability heuristics [including help and documentation as one of the measurement heuristics] based on a systematic literature review. In order to facilitate the usage of these heuristics, the authors design and validate a measurement instrument (checklist) and scale. The checklist has been validated through an empirical study in which the results of 247 heuristic evaluations have been statistically analyzed using Item Response Theory. Based on the results, the measurement items have been calibrated and a standardized measurement scale has been constructed. The results can be used to measure usability of mobile phone applications from early on in the design process, and, thus, facilitate evaluations in a cost-effective way.”

Yvonne Sanchez

Usability testing: Too early? Too much talking? Too many problems?

Hertzum, M. (2016). Journal of Usability Studies, 11(3), 83–88. [doi: none]

“Usability testing has evolved in response to a search for tests that are cheap, early, easy, and fast. In addition, it accords with a situational definition of usability, such as the one propounded by ISO. By approaching usability from an organizational perspective, this author argues that usability should (also) be evaluated late when the system is ready for field use, that usability professionals should be wary of using the thinking-aloud protocol, and that they should focus more on the achievement of effects than on problem detection.”

Ginnifer Mastarone


10/10 would review again: Variation in the player game review genre

Thominet, L. (2016). Technical Communication Quarterly, 25(3), 167–177. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2016.1185158

“Using a move-strategy genre analysis of 180 video game user reviews posted to six websites, this article describes typical characteristics of the genre as well as significant variations in genre construction. By creating new audiences and purposes for the genre, emerging genre variants have opened critical debates within the user community about genre change. Ultimately, the author argues that tracing genre variations could have implications for how technical communication scholars and practitioners support the needs and goals of user-generated genres.”

Lyn Gattis