65.3, August 2018

Book Reviews

Jackie Damrau, Editor

Books Reviewed in This Issue

“Star Wars™ Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away”

by Tim Leong

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web: An Introduction to Designing with D3

by Scott Murray

The Chicago Manual of Style

by The University of Chicago Press

The Secret Life of the Pencil: Great Creatives and Their Pencils

by Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney

Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days

by David S. Stein and Constance E. Wanstreet

What is the History of the Book?

by James Raven

The Wonders of Language: Or, How to Make Noises and Influence People

by Ian Roberts

English Historical Linguistics: Approaches and Perspectives

by Laurel J. Brinton, ed.

Electronic Media, Then, Now, and Later

by Norman J. Medoff and Barbara K. Kaye

Confessions of a Book Reviewer: The Best of Carte Blanche

by Michael Cart

Mobile e-Health

by Hannah R. Marston, Shannon Freeman, and Charles Musselwhite, eds.

You’ve Got 00:00:08 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

by Paul Hellman

Digital Media & Society

by Simon Lindgren

How Writing Works: From the Invention of the Alphabet to the Rise of Social Media

by Dominic Wyse


by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris

Confident Digital Content: Master the Fundamentals of Online Video, Design, Writing and Social Media to Supercharge Your Career

by Adam Waters

Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters

by Harold Evans

Designing a UX Portfolio: A Practical Guide for Designers, Researchers, Content Strategists, and Developers

by Ian Fenn

Star Wars™ Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Tim Leong. 2017. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books LLC. [ISBN 978-1-4521-6120-4. 176 pages. USD$19.97 (softcover).]

Are you a Star Wars fan? While I am more into the Star Trek cosmos, I have the super-experts of the Star Wars universe right at home: my husband and our two daughters who are familiar with all the major characters and stories told in various movies, original and newly launched. When the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, opened in our home town, my husband and the girls were one of the first to see the film. We are talking big fans here.

Our home library already includes quite a few encyclopedias on Star Wars characters, locations, planets, and vehicles, but Tim Leong’s Star Wars Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away is something completely different and very special. This book is Tim Leong’s second in the Super Graphic row, following Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe. And it is a masterpiece of compelling infographics, presenting information that is always entertaining, often puzzling and sometimes useless in an intriguing way.

Leong, currently the Creative Director at Entertainment Weekly magazine, knows how to create stunning design. Clearly, a book like Star Wars™ Super Graphic is born out of extraordinary love for science fiction and pop culture mixed with an artistic drive and madness.

Star Wars™ Super Graphic is full of colorful bar graphs, timelines, pie charts—so many kinds of visual representations of Star Wars knowledge that I was amazed at the sheer variety. Each one of the infographics is elegantly designed and has a modern touch.

The data and knowledge that the infographics explain will warm the heart of every Star Wars fan. For example, several infographics focus on the lightsaber, such as “The Lightsaber List” (pp. O36-O37), showing which character used which lightsaber color, because, as you probably know, “The color of a Jedi’s lightsaber is based on its kyber crystal” (p. O37).

Rated the coolest infographic in the book by my daughters is “Dismembers Only” (p. O68). Here you find an overview of all the characters that lost an arm or a hand in the films, more than I remembered. My favorite illustration on the other hand (!) was definitely “Star Words” (p. 170), which explains “a hidden grammatical pattern between the film titles of the original and prequel trilogies.” It reveals among other things that only one title contains a verb (The Empire Strikes Back).

Star Wars fans and especially those among us on the hunt for all the subtle details will enjoy Star Wars™ Super Graphic, just as my family and I did, when we spent a few afternoons browsing the book, each time finding new details. The only thing I missed when turning to the book and looking for a certain infographic was a table of contents.

Karina Lehrner-Mayer

Karina Lehrner-Mayer is a Senior STC member, holds a degree in translation and has more than 20 years’ experience in Technical Communication. She works as a Documentation Specialist at the Austrian-based headquarters of ISIS Papyrus Europe AG, an international company offering solutions for inbound and outbound business communication and process management.

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web: An Introduction to Designing with D3

Scott Murray. 2017. 2nd ed. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-491-92128-9. 442 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]

If you’d like to learn programming basics for data visualization and thoroughly enjoy your experience, Interactive Data Visualization for the Web: An Introduction to Designing with D3 is the book to use. It is carefully planned, thoughtfully written, and tested for the benefit of a wide audience of nonprogrammers and programmers alike, with varied experiences in data handling, coding, and visual skills. Because of its underlying methodology, the book serves well as a course text, a reference manual, or a self-study guide.

Right from the start, Murray introduces the important concept of data visualization with D3 (Data-Driven Documents) and its advantages of communicating numerical information to others efficiently. He points out that dynamic data engages people by expertly telling the story about an issue at hand. In addition, interactive visualization lets different audiences explore data differently: either by presenting its more general overview or allowing them to dig deeper in search of specific information.

In the first few chapters, Murray builds learners’ general understanding of web technology fundamentals with the focus on the D3 concepts. Each subsequent chapter develops a specific data visualization skill/technique, by giving its clear description and purpose, code samples (in color!), and screenshots of desired outcome. Heightened sensitivity to learners’ needs is embedded throughout the text. Clever analogies and humorous bits come to your rescue when you encounter a difficult chunk of information, or simply need a chuckle when the going gets tough. More importantly, multiple checks, troubleshooting tips, suggestions, and alternative ways of rendering information are strategically placed in parts of the text where one might encounter a problem or question. These invaluable text features help create a more confident and eager learner who is supported throughout each step of this intense programming journey.

But what happens at the end of this journey? What do you do after you worked through code samples and mastered many of the concepts and techniques in the book? How do you organize those important programming bits and pieces together to create your own coherent data visualization project? Chapter 16 reassembles the puzzle by examining a single D3 project dealing with electric cars. It gives a concise six-step sequence describing how to think about the data, work with it, and mold it into a dynamic visualization that tells an engaging, informative story to your audience.

The Appendix is my favorite section. It is rich in resources you need to become fluent in D3 basics. You might explore the excellent collection of interviews with established practitioners in the field of data visualization. The collection contains seven case studies illustrating D3’s appeal, such as election results in the Netherlands, workers compensation benefits for lost body parts (USA), making hard mathematical ideas easy, etc. Other parts of the Appendix contain valuable resources in: (1) advancing learners’ education in D3 through books, websites, and D3 interest groups; (2) code sharing to show off new projects or asking for help; and (3) referencing the most commonly used thematically organized D3 methods, and so on.

Nowadays, the need for data analysis and visualization is an increasingly sought-after skill in business, government, and education. Interactive Data Visualization for the Web provides a powerful tool for everyone interested in this crucial area of understanding data in today’s world.

Tetyana Darian

Tetyana Darian is an STC member and a graduate student in mathematics. Her interests are in graph theory and its applications. Tetyana also is a part-time lecturer, teaching introductory mathematics courses.

The Chicago Manual of Style

The University of Chicago Press. 2017. 17th ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-28705-8. 1,146 pages. US$70.00.]

With publication of its seventeenth edition, the venerable Chicago Manual of Style adapts to changes in technology and editorial preferences while retaining its long-established principles. (Note: I refer to the new edition and its predecessor as CMOS17 and CMOS16, respectively.) You can see a short list of major changes at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/help-tools/what-s-new.html.

The editors know a thing or two about their core audience: we are word workers in the U.S. publishing industry who respect clear writing, need information adapted to changing times, and expect to find answers quickly within the 1,000+ pages.

Although the manual contains 10% more pages, longtime users don’t need to learn a new overall structure. At the part and chapter level, CMOS17 faithfully holds to almost the same structure as CMOS16. Part I, “The Publishing Process,” describes the workflows for book and journal publishers and introduces us to manuscript preparation and editing, graphics, legalities, and more. “Style and Usage” opens with Bryan A. Garner’s always perceptive “Grammar and Usage” and follows with nitty-gritty chapters on punctuation, spelling, names, abbreviations, mathematics, quotations, and other topics. Part III, “Source Citations and Indexes,” is followed by the glossary, bibliography, and index.

But change is afoot! In dozens of places you read “in a departure from the recommendations in the previous editions.” Thus, the editors now recommend internet and email over Internet and e-mail. They document the increasing use of singular they and at last discourage the use of ibid., in part because “in electronic formats that link to one note at a time, ibid. risks confusing the reader” (p. 759).

We find much new detail on using various electronic services and formats at various stages of publishing. Details are particularly rich on social media (totally lacking in CMOS16), PDFs, and digital object identifiers. But if you edit on hardcopy, take comfort: CMOS17 retains the table of handwritten proofreaders’ marks.

CMOS16 contained a 30-page appendix on the history and uses of XML and other markup languages, publishing formats such as EPUB, and other technical developments. This appendix stood by itself, making the technology a separate, major topic. CMOS17 takes a far more integrative approach, so that technology is now melded into the flow of the whole book, as it should be. We still hear of XML, for example, where appropriate, but we no longer have the marginally relevant paragraphs on the history of XML.

The thoroughly revised index remains 10% of the total word count and provides excellent accessibility to the detailed content.

The manual has a strong online presence: You can get the full text through the redesigned CMOS Online, the CMOS Shop Talk blog updates you on changes, and you can follow the editors on Twitter and Facebook @ChicagoManual.

As always, you should view CMOS guidelines as recommendations to be adapted as your organization sees fit.

Avon J. Murphy

Avon J. Murphy is a technical editor in western Washington. A retired college professor and government writer, he is an STC Fellow, a contractor, and principal in Murphy Editing and Writing Services, specializing in computer and Web technologies. Avon served as book review editor for Technical Communication for 17 years.

The Secret Life of the Pencil: Great Creatives and Their Pencils

Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney. 2017. London, United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78627-083-2. 144 pages. US$15.99.]

The Secret Life of the Pencil: Great Creatives and Their Pencils is a marvelous “coffee-table book” of beautifully constructed images. This book contains 110 images of pencils and 30 pages of interviews of creatives that use pencils that is the result of Hammond’s and Tinney’s project of pencil portraits that tours internationally as an exhibition of their talented work and supports the charity Children in Crisis. Hammond is a designer that specializes in product and packaging, and Tinney is a still-life and documentary photographer. Together, they created a book that speaks to those that experience joy over blank notebooks and new writing supplies.

William Boyd’s foreword starts off with a tale of a boy, Vladimir Nabokov, who was given a four-foot pencil from his mother. The pencil was tall, correspondingly thick, and contained lead the length of the pencil. The boy grew up to become a novelist. As Boyd points out, “A giant four-foot pencil delivered to a future writer…It seems almost too neat, too aptly significant” (p. 6). However, this tale sets the tone for the rest of The Secret Life of the Pencil in which various creatives share the pencils they use and some share how the pencil contributes to their work.

The pencils pictured in this book range in size, shape, color, design, and perspective. My favorite image from the book is the mechanical pencils of Sir Norman Foster, an architect, in which the pencils are divided into pieces showing the mechanical parts, lead, and erasers (pp. 66–67). It’s a beautiful image that leaves me wondering if someone was able to make the pencils whole again—they had so much life left.

The interviews are from a wide range of creatives, from makeup artists to photographers. My favorite question, only asked of one creative, is “If you could swap pencils with one person from history, who would it be?” To this Peter Jensen answered, “Christina of Demark, Agatha Christie or Philip Larkin” (p. 128). Personally, I would relish the opportunity to swap pencils with Walt Whitman; what about you?

The Secret Life of the Pencil is for anyone that enjoys pencils and simplistic photography and design. In conclusion, this book has become a permanent fixture on my coffee table.

Sara Buchanan

Sara Buchanan is an STC member that serves as the NEO STC community newsletter editor and is the membership manager for the IDL SIG. She is a Technical Writer at LCS is Cincinnati, OH for the software, Rent Manager.

Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days

David S. Stein and Constance E. Wanstreet. 2017. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-62036-581-6. 160 pages, including index. US$24.00 (softcover).]

Have you been tasked with conducting an online class and have no idea where to start? Or have you taught online courses before, but felt they were not effective? If so, then Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days offers plenty of practical advice and resources to help you build an effective virtual classroom environment.

Stein and Wanstreet define five challenges—“making the transition to online learning, building online spaces for learning, preparing students for online learning, managing and facilitat[ing] the online classroom, and assessing learner outcomes”—of online classroom development, and offer detailed plans for conquering each challenge (pp. x–xi).

The authors organized the book to effectively discuss these challenges. First, in the preface, they list each challenge and which chapters address that challenge. Then each chapter begins with insights from new online instructors about the specific topic and ends with a handy summary of points to remember and meaningful questions for reflection. Where appropriate, the authors provide links to online resources or refer to specific items in the appendix.

The appendix materials alone are worth the book’s price. They include questionnaires, templates, and checklists to help you set up your online classroom. For instance, the “Beginning Online Instructor Competencies Questionnaire” helps you identify what you already know about teaching online, and, more importantly, what you still need to know (p. 115). The appendix also includes exquisitely detailed sample message templates to help you welcome your students to the online class environment and spell out mutual expectations. The most valuable portion of the appendix is the tool kit for online instructors—a collection of best practices and tools curated by the authors from their protégés. The section on managing different behavioral issues (pp. 139–140) contains vital information that can also apply to synchronous learning situations.

Overall, this book could serve as a master class in establishing an online learning environment. Stein and Wanstreet offer web-based instructor resources such as rubrics to accomplish this. Even if you don’t plan to teach an entire course online, perhaps even just leading a one-time webinar, the lessons in Jump-Start Your Online Classroom still hold relevance. For example, Stein and Wanstreet discuss in Chapter 4 the teaching presence and its importance in student development where they say, “Perhaps the most important action for an online instructor is to be present online” (p. 38). Presence goes well beyond just posting or asking discussion questions and assignments. In fact, online instructors serve as knowledge facilitators to help students synthesize what they have learned.

Although Jump-Start Your Online Classroom is geared toward first-time online instructors, veteran instructors can still find value. For new instructors, I recommend reading this book in linear order to address all five challenges from start to finish. More-experienced instructors can skip to the section(s) pertinent to their challenge areas. After all, according to the authors, online learning “is best used when the learners and instructor come together to understand the content deeply and to produce new understandings rather than simply rework present understandings” (p. 11).

Jamye Sagan

Jamye Sagan is an STC Senior Member with more than 15 years of technical communication experience. She is the Pharmacy Communications Advisor for H-E-B Grocery Company in San Antonio, TX. Jamye is active with the Instructional Design & Learning SIG and has also written several Technical Communication journal book reviews.

What is the History of the Book?

James Raven. 2018. Medford, MA: Polity Press. [ISBN 978-0-7456-4162-1. 192 pages, including index. USD$19.95 (softcover).]

How do you define “book?” Do you reach up on your shelf, pull down, for example, a dictionary and call that a book? What about a CD? Is a 3-ring binder a book? What about material found in the cloud? Are they books?

Raven in What is the History of the Book? cautions that a book can be many different things. For example, the smooth side of a turtle shell was often used to inscribe material. The Chinese would paint characters on strips of silk and place them together without binding as would also the Arabs. Later, the Chinese developed woodblocks for character sets. Movable type was possible, but with over 50,000 characters, highly impractical. What, then, is a book? Where did it come from? What is its history? Does it only convey text?

Raven’s book begins with a definition and then, through six chapters, discusses the history of the book. Chapter 1 sets out the scope of his history. Raven then moves on to early history (2) and covers various studies of several type, including description, enumeration, and modeling such as catalogs, bibliometrics, and the like (3).

One approach Raven uses is that found in journalism: “who,” “what,” and “how” (4). He also lists some of the economic characteristics of the book. For example, in print, cost of material and labor (if known), and print runs. He also identifies some objects that could be called books: pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and so on (5). Finally, he discusses consequences (6).

Raven uses as examples mostly printed books, but with the caveat that several objects can be printed that may be called books like pamphlets, newspapers, and more. Historically, he draws on research from China that was producing what could be called books. In addition, he examines cuneiform tablets, among other such objects. It is interesting how the focus on the text comes before the book’s definition. Separating the two as Raven does makes defining the book easier.

How do technical communicators know how the readers read? Can they know exactly how the book will be read? Selectively? Randomly? Not at all? It is hard to determine if a reader actually reads the book. Also, books can become political, social, and religious objects. When, for example, missionaries or conquerors first appear in a land, they bring printed materials to convert the natives.

What is the History of the Book? is meant for students not only for the detail that Raven provides on the history of the book but also the numerous footnotes and bibliography for additional reading. As such, this book would serve well as a graduate course in bibliography. Technical communicators, on the other hand, would find value in the chapter on reading (5) and the influence of how readers read. This is a book that can find a place in the company library as well as in a seminar.

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.

The Wonders of Language: Or, How to Make Noises and Influence People

Ian Roberts. 2017. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-316-60441-0. 230 pages, including index. US$23.99 (softcover).]

When you examine language, you discover that the output is composed of units or building blocks. If you have a thought that you want to express, you produce words (semantics) that are combined to produce sentences (syntax) that takes place in the context (pragmatics). At least that is the way language and communication used to be thought of.

Roberts in The Wonders of Language: Or, How to Make Noises and Influence People takes us through the different language aspects from the sounds humans have been making for over 50,000 years to building new languages. He covers sounds (chapter 1), phonology (2), morphology (3), syntax (4), and semantics (5). Once he has explained these mechanical aspects of language, he addresses pragmatics (6), historical linguistics (7), and socio- and psycholinguistics (8, 9), and how to build a language (10). An epilogue looks at human language compared with the languages of animals, plants, and sea life. (The central character is a cat named Clover.)

He concludes that language really must be central to the ability for “generating, storing, transmitting knowledge.…So understanding language means understanding a very big part of what it is to be human, what it is to be you. And that is perhaps the greatest wonder of language of all” (p. 182).

In discussing the many aspects of language, Roberts uses the technical terminology of linguistics. But, he has used boldface type to indicate that the terms and concepts appear in an extensive glossary. Even so, using that glossary only gives you a brief definition. You must fit the meaning into the discussion, and that means that you will have to work your way through the discussion, which is not an easy task. However, because Roberts’ focus is on the wonders of language, the effort is well worth the time.

The Wonders of Language is not a textbook (no apparatus) because it presents an overview of how language works. It is intended for students wanting to go on and study more about the history of linguistics. He also accommodates others such as technical communicators through an informal, personal style that does not suggest scholarly dryness. There are no footnotes, but he does use shaded boxes to explain difficult concepts that the glossary does not cover.

Further, Roberts helps you understand the technicalities of language and its wonder by providing numerous examples and, most unusual for a textbook, suggests that the readers skip the section or even a chapter if bogged down in technical vocabulary and concepts, but return later after having read some of the later chapters.

If you are looking for an introduction to language taken from a linguistics perspective, then Roberts offers real value. He is careful to make the various elements clear and his examples are highly relevant. While he does not include exercises, he does ask you to perform various sounds to understand how the noise really isn’t noise at all, but rather requirements for producing language.

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.

English Historical Linguistics: Approaches and Perspectives

Laurel J. Brinton, ed. 2017. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-107-53421-6. 410 pages, including index. US$44.99 (softcover).]

When you mention linguistics, you might picture an academic counting words or syllables or sentence structures or developing an English chronology. Such views used to be an accurate picture. Now, however, academics and others recognize that there is more to linguistics than these surface items.

Brinton’s English Historical Linguistics: Approaches and Perspectives traces the rise of linguistics from its inception at the end of the 19th century by scholars in Leipzig, German to today. Along the way, linguistics has taken several approaches, blending with other discipline. For example, scholars have seen a connection between linguistics and psychology, and sociology among others. Brinton has selected 11 essays that show these different approaches and perspectives.

The book is a textbook for advanced students studying the historical linguistics with the apparatus normally associated with such: discussion of an approach or perspectives, case studies, exercises, references, a glossary, and an index. All that is missing is a concluding essay that ties the other essays together. Technical communicators and others can also learn how linguistics evolves.

Brinton’s anthology contains important essays (including one of her own on pragmatic linguistics) that demonstrate how far linguistics has come. For example, there are multiple approaches students and technical communicators will find useful as they learn more about language and specifically English.

Brinton’s opening essay provides a brief overview of the field and summarizes the essays to follow. She also provides a short history of English historical linguistics. Each essay, beginning with the second, follows a pattern where the authors discuss the chapter’s topic (an approach or perspective) followed by case studies and exercises.

Some of the key essays include historical linguistics (3), psycho-linguistics (4), grammar and lexicography (5) discourse-based linguistics (8), socio-historical linguistics (9), and geographical variation (12), among others.

Because technical communicators use language as their main tool and the more that they know and understand about it the more effective and efficient they can become, they should understand how that language evolves. English Historical Linguistics can provide that needed information.

Several of the essays can be useful for technical communicators. For example, essay 5 on how grammar and words interact suggests that words and usages evolve over time and eventually make their way into the grammar of a language community.

There are, however, several problems with the textbook if it is to be used by American students. For example, there is no conclusion. Likewise, there is no concluding essay tying all other essays together. What we have is a collection of individual essays built around two common themes with nothing to tie them together except Brinton’s essay (1). While head notes supplying the links would be nice to have, they are not required. Such omissions could be made up with some sort of concluding chapter. There is, in short, no “So what?”

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.

Electronic Media, Then, Now, and Later

Norman J. Medoff and Barbara K. Kaye. 2017. 3rd edition. New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN 978-1-138-90320-3. 330 pages, including index. US$59.95 (softcover).]

What effects does electronic media have on “your” habits, including reading habits (all forms of print)? Your social habits? Medoff and Kaye have cited studies throughout Electronic Media, Then, Now, and Later, designed to answer these questions.

“People born since 1990 were introduced to technology early in life…They expect change and innovation at a much faster pace than people who grew up with traditional analog media” (p. 15). Can you remember a day when you did not use some form of electronic media? How did you feel? Lonely? Relieved? Apprehensive? Electronic media peoples our minds; it inhabits our dreams. In a way, this book is an invitation to explore ourselves.

Radio. We began with face-to-face communication. Electronic media has taken us way beyond it. Radio ushered in the ability to communicate one-to-many. Over its 30 years of dominance (roughly 1920 to 1950), radio became “the storehouse of American culture” (p. 37) and a template for programming formats in later mediums (sports and adventure; interviews, quiz show and comedies).

TV. In 1936 the BBC began broadcasting the first TV programs. But the industry did not catch fire until after World War II, when the materials for manufacturing TV equipment finally became available. At first, it was a live medium, featuring many high-quality theatre-like productions. The audience changed when the price of TV sets dropped, and programs shifted more towards a mass audience. TV has been the centerpiece of media for almost 70 years and is finally being nudged aside by the Internet (p. 7).

Computers. In some ways, a computer is like having another person in your house. It has been one of the most disruptive technologies: eliminating the typewriter and changing how we compose, how we access information, and how people communicate with each other.

The Internet. And, of course, the Internet, that started up in the 1960s and combines the elements of all the other media: print and broadcast. Since the first web browser appeared, in 1992, the Internet has become “the most quickly adopted new medium in history” (p. 128). Electronic Media, Then, Now, and Later then leads us into mobile devices and some of the stars of the show: smartphones, ebooks, and tablets; Facebook, apps, and YouTube; and into the future, with the Grid and the Internet of Things (IoT); leaving us gasping, and sometimes chuckling, at amazing shards of data along the way.

A few quibbles with the mechanicals: The book is abundantly illustrated, yet the images are in black and white, are not of the highest quality and have a matte finish. A few embarrassing mistakes: an image of a South African cave painting as well as the image of a petroglyph both dated to 1,500 years ago instead of 15,000 (pp. 2f). In addition, the inside margin is too narrow making it hard to read the end of a line. And finally, the body type is a little small for easy reading. Yet, Electronic Media, Then, Now, and Later contains an incredible picture of media and communication across the world, in the last hundred years.

Steven Darian

Steven Darian’s previous book was Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools ofThe Trade (2017). Branching out a bit, his latest is The Wanderer: Travels and Adventures Beyond the Pale (late 2018).

Confessions of a Book Reviewer: The Best of Carte Blanche

Michael Cart. 2018. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. [ISBN 978-0-8389-1645-2. 192 pages, including index. US$45.00 (softcover).]

When you talk about books, you can discuss at least two things: the book and its content or the reaction to the book or content or both. Scholars, for example, frequently develop varieties of bibliographies, but offer confusion when asking about book/content, selection method, and purpose.

Cart’s Confessions of a Book Reviewer: The Best of Carte Blanche makes clear that you will be reading his reaction to the books that he has reviewed in his weekly column for Booklist, a weekly newsletter read mainly by all level librarians. These “Confessions” tell us his biases as well as some limited history of Young Adult Literature (YAL).

In eight chapters, we get a lot of biographical detail about Cart. For example, he started writing reviews and his once-a-month column when he was in his 50s. We also learn that he was born in Logansport, Indiana and, as an adult, moved at least 10 times, hauling his estimated 15,000 books.

His monthly columns focus on what Booklist spotlights, but with the understanding that he is a champion of YAL. He has written several YAL books, conducted seminars on it, given countless talks, writes a blog, and has a TV show: In Print.

After chapters on reading and writing (Chapters 1, 2), Cart addresses book collections and collecting (2); YAL (3); historical fiction and romance (4); fantasy and science fiction (5); humor (6); biography (7); and memories and memorials (8). He concludes with a short piece on the columns.

Over the years, Cart has written, he claims, 253 columns about books. For Confessions of a Book Reviewer, he has selected 50 columns, starting with his first column and carrying through to 2018.

Cart argues for recognition of YAL as well as their authors. They seem to be forgotten when talking about the books.

I was curious that he does not write about “Frank W. Dixon” and “Carolyn Keene” pseudo names for several authors who wrote The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. They are still an extremely popular series. Also, this book’s price may put you off, even if you are a member of the American Library Association (ALA). Other books in the series, however, are similarly priced. But all that aside, what do you get from Cart’s Confessions.

First, you learn a great deal about how book columns are written (the “Confession”)—book columns and not book reviews that appear in Booklist each week. If you want to learn about writing reviews, ALA has other books that explain the process. Second, he is clear about his prejudice. You will learn a lot about YAL, and that is especially important if you have young adults at home or are involved with the school librarian. Third, and finally, Cart is a good writer. You can learn a lot about style and especially sentence construction by reading and studying his chapters.

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.

Mobile e-Health

Hannah R. Marston, Shannon Freeman, and Charles Musselwhite, eds. 2017. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Press. [ISBN 978-3-319-60671-2. 292 pages. US$159.99 (ebook).]

The healthcare industry is undergoing a revolution. As medicine continues to specialize and grow more complex, healthcare providers endeavor to find ways to serve their patients more effectively. Since specialists tend to congregate in larger cities, allowances are needed for patients with disabilities, elderly patients, and patients who may not have the financial means to travel long distances for care. Mobile eHealth addresses the ways in which we can use technology to improve health outcomes, as well as “drawing on expertise in the field to pause and reflect on the social, philosophical and human issues surrounding the accelerated development of mobile eHealth, telehealth and abundance of health and well-being apps” (p. 11).

Chapter 1 begins exactly where it should: by defining key terms in eHealth, which has a wide range of definitions depending on whom you ask. Musselwhite et al. clarify these meanings, “Put simply, eHealth is the use of computing and associated technologies serving and promoting health and well-being needs” (p. 4). In contrast, “Mobile health (mHealth) is the use of mobile, wireless technologies to connect, communicate and promote this computing with the aim of supporting individual’s health and well-being” (p. 4).

Unlike many texts covering mobile technologies for health, Mobile eHealth presents a balanced view of these technologies. Chapter 3 in particular examines the ways in which mobile technologies can cause more problems for the patient than it alleviates. For example, barriers to the use of mHealth include security and privacy concerns, lack of compatibility with other medical records, accessibility issues with some disabilities, and an increased cost of care, among other problems.

Mobile eHealth offers a very comprehensive discussion of health technologies and their effectiveness, usability, and best design practices. The information is very detailed and meticulously written. For instance, Chapter 2: Universal Design Mobile Interface Guidelines (UDMIG) for an Aging Population covers all four principles of design guidance in detail: universal design (UD), Design for Aging (DfA), Universal Usability (UU), and guidelines for handheld mobile device interface design (MID) (p. 18).

Expert audiences will be delighted by the depth of information presented by Mobile eHealth. Each chapter offers a topical snapshot that could be, and often has been, a book in its own right. This comprehensive collection on the issues surrounding healthcare technologies is a treasure trove of information that experts will continue to revisit. Other, less well-versed audiences with a general knowledge of technical communication and information design will also benefit from reading Mobile eHealth, as it will teach them many new concepts and educate them on the best practices for using and designing mobile technologies used for healthcare. However, less knowledgeable audiences, such as beginning graduate students, may become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of terms, definitions, and acronyms to remember, as well as the paucity of practical examples or graphics in some chapters, which would help illustrate unfamiliar concepts.

Nicole St. Germaine-Dilts

Nicole St. Germaine-Dilts is an Associate Professor Associate Professor of English in the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University. Her research interests include technical communication for international and intercultural audiences and technical communication in the health fields.

You’ve Got 00:00:08 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World

Paul Hellman. 2017. New York, NY: AMACOM. [978-0-8144-3830-5. 170 pages, including index. US$17.95 (softcover).]

“You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish…eight seconds” (opening page). That’s according to a 2015 Microsoft study on attention spans. What has caused this short attention span? According to scientists, it is a result of smartphones.

In You’ve Got 00:00:08 Seconds”, Hellman states that others make split-second decisions about us. “[People decide] whether or not to listen to you, or read your emails, or, in general, give you the time of day” (p. xvii). Whether you are calling into a meeting from home or you are present in the meeting room, you have only seconds before you’re judged. People judge not only by your body language, but also by your voice. For example, do you speak softly, or do you end your statements sounding like questions? You can easily change how you project to others even when dialing into a meeting. For example, standing when you speak makes you project better. In addition, you can move around to sound more dynamic. Lastly, you can smile, and you’ll sound friendlier.

Hellman has developed three strategies for improved communication: focus, variety, and presence. As he explains these, he suggests tactics. When communicating, he uses his Fast-Focus Method™. Variety, whether physical, visual, or vocal, captures the attention of others. Presence, for example, eye contact, projects confidence.

I especially liked Hellman’s Fast-Focus Method™. He states that every audience, whether it’s a group of people at work or someone in your household, wants answers to three questions (p. 12):

  • Why should I listen (or read this)?
  • What exactly are you saying?
  • What should I do with this info?

These questions are especially helpful if you are planning to present to a customer. What happens, though, if you are scheduled to give a 20-minute presentation, but you are told you only have five minutes in which to present? Hellman advises to start with your conclusion. Then, you can tell how you reached the conclusion. Lastly, close with your conclusion.

Besides tips for preparing customer presentations, he also explains how you can talk about your achievements in a job interview; Hellman uses the acronym SOAR. Describe the Situation. Explain the Obstacle. Identify the Action taken. Lastly, describe the Result.

Hellman also devotes an entire chapter to tips for sharpening your emails. For example, he suggests capturing attention using the subject line. However, he notes that there are times when it is better to place a phone call instead of an email. When you receive an email that requires a response, it is important to respond quickly.

You’ve Got 00:00:08 Seconds contains helpful advice for many communication situations. Hellman supports his advice by including stories, which make his advice memorable.

Rhonda Lunemann

Rhonda Lunemann is a technical writer with Siemens PLM Software and is a senior member of STC’s Twin Cities Chapter. She assists in arranging programs for the Twin Cities Chapter.

Digital Media & Society

Simon Lindgren. 2017. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc. [ISBN 978-1-4739-2501-4. 320 pages, including index. US$36.00 (softcover).]

The adage holds true: don’t judge a book by its cover, especially in the case of Digital Media & Society. While the book’s cover contains a whimsical photograph of a squirrel wielding a flamethrower, do not be fooled into thinking that the contents are equally whimsical. What lies within is a complex and detailed analysis of modern society and how digital information impacts it.

Lindgren presents an intense examination of society in the digital age. He breaks the book into four main sections: theories, topics, tools, and a conclusion. Each section is further divided into topics ranging from social media, to digital activism, to digital ethnography. Chapters begin with a callout highlighting key concepts and questions to be addressed by the chapter. For example, “How does the evolution of digital society relate to visual culture?” appears at the start of Chapter 6, Digital Visuality and Visibility (p. 109). Embedded within each chapter are exercises, such as, “Try to speculate about different things that might motivate people to take and share [selfies].…In a sociological sense: What does a selfie ‘say’?” (p. 114). Concluding each chapter are lists of suggested further reading materials. The chapter’s structure contains those elements but tied into a careful presentation and study of a given concept. Sources are cited, and examples given to provide context and to illustrate the concept Lindgren is examining. In this manner, he introduces you to a concept, provides the history of that concept, dissects it from a sociological viewpoint, while engaging you to think critically about the issue.

Overall, Digital Media & Society provides an insightful, in-depth investigation of modern society and how different forms of media affect it. Contemporary electronic media and their predecessors are well represented, ranging from an old school bulletin board system (BBS), to Snapchat, to Eric Snowden. If you are interested in learning about electronic media and why it affects your life and impacts the world today, then Digital Media & Society is a resource for you, even if you get it as a paperback and not digitally on your Kindle.

Timothy Esposito

Timothy Esposito is an STC Associate Fellow with over 15 years of technical communication experience. He is currently president of the STC Philadelphia Metro Chapter and chair of the Distinguished Community Service Award Committee. Before becoming president, Timothy was chapter vice president, treasurer, webmaster, and scholarship manager.

How Writing Works: From the Invention of the Alphabet to the Rise of Social Media

Dominic Wyse. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-316-63606-0. 240 pages, including index. US$32.99 (softcover).]

In How Writing Works: From the Invention of the Alphabet to the Rise of Social Media, Wyse embarks on a “multidisciplinary pragmatist exploration” of the elusive process of writing (p. 53). He is not interested in proscribing a system of effective writing; rather, Wyse wants to discover how writing works by analyzing it through different lenses. This book is not a quick run-through—it is a dogged academic study of writing that delves into the history, psychology, philosophy, pedagogy, and mystery of writing and how the writing process works.

This book is ambitious in its scope—perhaps too ambitious. Wyse covers an incredible cross-section of information from different disciplines. Chapter 1: Thinking about Writing and Language orients the reader to different philosophical viewpoints regarding writing, from the Ancient Greeks to Wittgenstein’s theory of language-games. Chapter 2: A History of Writing describes the development of writing in detail, from the developments of cave paintings and hieroglyphs to the rise of computer languages and social media (p.53). Chapter 3: Writing Guidance discusses the effectiveness of different types of writing guides, from “Media and Journalism” and “The Dissertation and Its Thesis” to “Fiction Writing Perspectives.” In Chapter 4: Expert Writers, Wyse delves into writer interviews in the Paris Review to gain insight on how professional creative writers produce work. Chapter 5: Creativity and Writing looks at new methods for enhancing creativity in children through experimental afterschool programs started by famous writers like Dave Eggers and Nick Hornby. Chapter 6: Novice Writers and Education examines the complications of creating effective writing curricula for children in Britain and Africa. Chapter 7: The Process of Writing details Wyse’s journey of writing this book through the analysis of his writing diary. Each chapter feels like it could be the introduction to a distinct book, though Wyse does his best to tie them together with transitions and the tenuous thread of relating writing and music—a connection both over-used and under-explained.

How Writing Works provides brain food for any writer who wants a better understanding of writing and the process of writing. However, it is not as useful for technical communicators looking for tips and inspiration. This is a heady book full of complicated philosophy and thought on writing more than it is a guide for how writing works. The book is by no means bedside reading material, though there is a lot of fascinating material in it.

Dylan Schrader

Dylan Schrader is a graduate student in the MA in Professional Communication program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he also works as a grant researcher in the Office for Proposal Development.


Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris. 2nd ed. 2017. London, UK: Bloomsbury Visual Arts. [ISBN 978-1-4742-2528-1. 200 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]

Geared toward students, Typography is part of Bloomsbury’s Basics Design series and provides a bird’s-eye-view of topics surrounding typography such as setting type, type production, and methods of creating a final solution. This revised 2nd edition now includes a brief history offering context and understanding about the evolution of typography. Although design and content sets this up to be more of a lookbook with bite-sized readable content, rather than a textbook, the glossary and index supports this to be an informational reference.

While this is truly a “basics” book, offering a limited overview of each topic, the design of that content on slick pages creates an experience within itself. Large typographic treatments act as more than readable text, becoming graphic elements creating a familiar system throughout and full-page imagery on every spread gives real-life examples that visually illustrate the subject at hand.

Navigation is organized by sections hosting a list of relevant topics that present short explanations, visual references, and examples of professional work reflecting that topic. While some of the organization appears odd, all major content concerning the fundamentals of typography is covered. At first glance the table of contents seems logical, but the first section claims to look at the most commonly used terms in typography. Several typography terms aren’t mentioned here, but instead receive their own sections later on in the book.

Ending each section is an “Industry View” featuring one of the studios that have contributed project examples to this book. These mini-interviews provide insight into studio work and their thought processes with questions about constraints, philosophies and creativity. The last section focuses on execution and final solutions, or Type Realization. This section offers quick insights to techniques—what they are, what they look like and the benefit of using them. These methods result in tangible answers, because despite an ever-increasing demand for digital solutions there is still a need to be fluent in tangible design and awareness of how effective those details can be in achieving something special and unique.

The book ends with case studies highlighting student work, which ultimately reinforces who this book is geared toward by showing what their peers are doing. Overall, the content provides a breadth of information of typography-related issues, but one could argue that although the “why” explanations are there, they are sometimes stated in an implied manner that lacks directive clarity necessary to an audience that needs these “basics”, which ultimately makes it perfect for a beginner’s typography course.

Lanie Gabbard

Delana (Lanie) Gabbard is an associate professor of graphic design with a specialty in typography at the University of Central Oklahoma after several years of working professionally as a graphic designer. She is an award-winning designer and has been published academically and online.

Confident Digital Content: Master the Fundamentals of Online Video, Design, Writing and Social Media to Supercharge Your Career

Adam Waters. 2018. London, England: Kogan Page. [ISBN 978-0-7494-8094-3. 184 pages, including index. $19.95 (softcover).]

Adams, a British journalist working in digital content for over 10 years, explains that digital content includes writing, audio, still images (including still photography), and video. Demand is across nearly all industries and types of organizations.

Digital content became popular just before the turn of the century and was designed mostly for desktops. Anyone communicating with the public (newspapers, TV stations, public relations firms) built websites to share their content.

Early digital was the same as their real-world material. Two innovations that shaped the modern digital world were social media and the iPhone. Together, they turned things upside down. “People could broadcast to the world from wherever they were” (p. 3). iPhone cameras were as powerful as dedicated equipment costing a fortune ten years earlier. Smartphones have become revolutionary.

Another major impact of social media is on promotion and advertising.

Smartphones allow for incredibly accurate data and analytics by fine targeting of the audience. It tells you how many times a piece of content has been viewed. To put it bluntly, almost everything is measurable.

The majority of Internet usage is now on mobile devices, that overtook desktops in 2016, which has forced publishers to reconsider how they share content with their audience. For example, widescreen video versus a smaller tall screen on iPhones: TV channels must take existing footage and make it more concise or vertical.

Confident Digital Content contains separate chapters on social media; building a digital community; the four building blocks of the field (writing, video, stills, and audio); plus, how to evaluate your content.

Waters stresses that when social media first came out, it was used for broadcasting things––one-way. Today it’s where people talk to each other: it’s two-way. The best digital content is conversational, not broadcasting and hoping people will listen. The difference is “quantum.” Before, most organizations hired companies to communicate with their audience or market. Now, it’s rare for organization “not” to be on social media.

Some chapter comments are a bit diffuse; others seem right on target. But Waters counsels us in advance, that this is not a textbook, but rather a field overview, plus some of his special insights. About 85% of digital video is watched on smartphones, with the sound turned off. This tells us that the story line must be clearly presented by the visual imagery alone.

Waters cites a 2016 Pew Foundation study that people spent twice as long reading in-depth articles on their cell phones than short-form articles; the opposite of what we’d expect. Things that attract the viewer include eye-catching headlines and short, interesting sentences. The best content, he suggests, combines photography, writing, and audio.

Waters emphasizes that if you’re looking for a career in digital content, the key is to develop an expertise in one area and acquire a working knowledge of the other three.

Steven Darian

Steven Darian’s previous book was Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools of The Trade (2017). Branching out a bit, his latest is The Wanderer: Travels and Adventures Beyond the Pale (late 2018).

Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters

Harold Evans. 2017. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company. [ISBN 978-0-316-27717-4. 408 pages. US$27.00.]

Harold Evans, in Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, provides readers practical advice on writing clearly. His many years of experience editing (The Sunday Times and The Times of London, and now editor at large for Reuters) have rendered Evans an expert on “how words confuse and mislead” (p. 4), and he hopes this book “can…help you to say…what you want to say concisely, without ambiguity” (pp. 28–29).

The tone of Do I Make Myself Clear? is humorous, often sarcastic, making it fun to read, and each chapter begins with a witty cartoon from The New Yorker. But Evans’ book is serious business. He wants to teach readers how to clarify unclear writing. To get his points across, he divides the book into three sections.

The first section, Tools of the Trade, concentrates on basic techniques for creating prose that is easy to read and understand. Evans uses examples of unclear writing, ranging from newspaper captions to corporate reports to travel guides, to teach writers how they can improve their own work. Employing his editing prowess to ferret out, among other writing no-no’s, passive voice, zombies (nouns that become verbs), adverbs, flesh eaters (unnecessary words), and negatives, Evans offers his suggested edits with the original text to illustrate the improvements. In addition, he includes lists of zombies, flesh eaters, and unclear words to avoid.

Section two, Finishing the Job, moves on to polishing and unifying the finished product. Evans urges writers to scrutinize the meanings of the words they have chosen. Weak, imprecise, or misused words can dilute the effectiveness, and clarity, of their writing. A list in this section helps writers distinguish between further and farther, and appraise and apprise, and understand the true meaning of words such as livid and virtually. The author also gives advice on narrative techniques.

The final section, Consequences, examines the kinds of consequences that result from unclear writing. Writers may not write clearly simply because they lack the knowledge to do so. Or they may intentionally confuse readers. “Slipshod writers…visit cruel and unusual punishment on our language. They know no better. Worse…are the competent writers who set out with intent to deceive” (p. 346). Evans has no trouble finding examples in government documents, insurance policies, car rental paperwork, and technology company annual reports in which the language is so dense and hard to understand that it can lead not only to confusion but sometimes to deadly outcomes.

Do I Make Myself Clear? is a helpful guide to writing clearly and correctly. I enjoyed Evans’ humor, although I sometimes thought his amusing chitchat distracted from his points. However, his editing examples made perfectly clear what he was trying to get across. I recommend the book for writers who want to brush up on basic skills and practice editing their own work.

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.

Designing a UX Portfolio: A Practical Guide for Designers, Researchers, Content Strategists, and Developers

Ian Fenn. 2018 (Early Release). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly. [ISBN 978-1-4919-2345-0. 160 pages. US$29.99 (softcover).]

In Designing a UX Portfolio: A Practical Guide for Designers, Researchers, Content Strategists, and Developers, Fenn tries to solve a big problem in the burgeoning user experience (UX) field: given the diverse job responsibilities of UX careers, combined with differing interpretations of UX careers by recruiters and employers, how does a prospective applicant create a professional, coherent UX portfolio that is effective for all intended audiences? This proves to be a difficult problem to address, but Fenn addresses it well.

Rather than giving tips on cobbling together a passable UX portfolio, Fenn describes an effective, on-going process for developing and maintaining a UX portfolio throughout one’s career that is beneficial for all technical communicators. He warns against assembling a portfolio of documents, sitemaps, and wireframes in the rushed, final moments before an application or a job interview. Rather, Fenn suggests helpful long-term solutions, such as keeping a detailed logbook of completed projects, using narrative to show how projects were accomplished, and using the most appropriate projects for each application.

In Chapter 1, Fenn defines what a UX portfolio is and, just as importantly, what it should not be. In Chapter 2, he explains the benefits of having a UX portfolio beyond filling in the job application requirement. In Chapter 3, “Know Your Users,” Fenn outlines the constraints on recruiters and hiring managers, as well as the effect job roles and UX maturity level in a company have on what kind of portfolio needs to be created. Chapter 4 deals with “Preparing Your UX portfolio,” which details the effective tactics for creating and maintaining a UX portfolio throughout one’s career. Chapter 5 outlines the basics of creating a UX portfolio, such as effective writing practices, typography, and image choices, as well as whether to use an online portfolio or a PDF portfolio. Chapter 6 focuses on “Nailing the Introduction,” and Chapter 7 provides a detailed look at case studies. Chapter 8 outlines effective categories one can use to fortify a UX portfolio, such as training and education, awards and honors, speaking engagements, and writing and podcasting. Chapter 9 deals with “Common Constraints in UX Portfolio Design,” such as limited work history, changing careers, and working around non-disclosure agreements. Chapter 10 illustrates how to evaluate and review a UX portfolio.

While UX professionals looking for a quick, easy-to-use template for how to assemble a UX portfolio may be disappointed, Designing a UX Portfolio provides UX and technical communication professionals with a career-long method for developing and maintaining an original, well-conceived, and audience-centered portfolio that can be restructured for every job application. Also, UX and technical communication professionals will gain a better understanding of what they have done in their careers, as well as what they want to do in the future.

Dylan Schrader

Dylan Schrader is a graduate student in the MA in Professional Communication program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he also works as a grant researcher in the Office for Proposal Development.