67.2 May 2020

Recent and Relevant

Sean C. Herring, Editor

The following articles on technical communication have appeared recently in other journals. The abstracts are prepared by volunteer journal monitors. If you would like to contribute, contact Sean Herring at SeanHerring@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.


Scaffolding feedback between cowriters with different levels of English-language proficiency

Feuer, M. P. (2020). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 34(2), 188–213. https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651919892306

“When students cowrite with others who have different levels of proficiency with the English language, they can experience unproductive conflict related to feedback avoidance. The author interviewed 20 professionals with experience cowriting across such different English proficiencies and found three strategies that can facilitate feedback and collaboration: calibrate genre and reader expectations, establish protocols for reviewing texts, and frame feedback as a learning opportunity. She suggests that these strategies can be a step toward helping students mitigate their anxieties about feedback and feel more empowered to engage with linguistically diverse peers.”

Sean C. Herring


Employee exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect in response to dissatisfying organizational situations: It depends on supervisory relationship quality

Lee, J., & Varon, A. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 30–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488416675839

“This study examined, via a field experiment, the extent to which the quality of leader-member exchange (LMX) and gender affect employees’ enactment of exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect (EVLN) strategies in response to the dissatisfying situation of injustice in the workplace. Findings showed that, when faced with a dissatisfying situation, employees in high-quality LMXs are less likely to engage in exit and neglect behaviors, but more likely to practice loyalty behaviors than their peers in low-quality LMXs. Voice behaviors, the most preferred response strategy, appear to have much more complex relationships with LMX quality than other strategic communication responses. No gender difference was detected. Furthermore, gender did not moderate the way that the quality of LMX influences the use of EVLN strategies.”

Katherine Wertz

Employers’ perspectives on workplace communication skills: The meaning of communication skills

Coffelt, T., Grauman, D., & Smith, F. L. M. (2019). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 82(4), 418–439. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329490619851119

Students may think their teachers lack credibility when they attempt to teach workplace communication skills. This article gives data on what employers need from our students. “Employers provide their interpretation of the meaning of communication skills in this qualitative study of 22 managers. Employers understand written communication to be types of documents, a way to write, and a mode of communication. Oral communication skills mean a style of interacting, presenting, and conducting meetings. Visual communication skills were understood to be data visualization or nonverbal communication. Electronic communication was interpreted as email. The findings contribute to closing-the-gap research by highlighting areas where meaning converges for employers and instructors. Faculty members in communication disciplines can incorporate these findings into the course design and learning outcome discussions.”

Diana Fox Bentele

Employee primacy and corporate slogans in Japanese and American firms’ communication in times of crisis

Lehmberg, D., & Tangpong, C. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 86–112. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488416675840

“Given the frequency and severity of crises faced by organizations, the question of how managers can best lead their organizations through times of crisis is important. Communication plays a particularly critical role in such situations. We perform a multistage content analysis study using letters to shareholders appearing in publicly traded Japanese and U.S. firms during the economic downturn following Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. In our initial exploratory study, we identify employee primacy and the existence of corporate slogans as relevant constructs. We then develop hypotheses and test them in a larger sample confirmatory study. We find that firms concurrently exhibiting both employee primacy and corporate slogans in their communication outperformed their peers. To aid in interpreting our results, we also provided three examples of qualitative descriptions of such firms. Our Japanese and U.S. sample increases the generalizability of our results.”

Katherine Wertz

Nuanced aggression in group decision making

Henningsen, D., & Henningsen, M. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 145–158. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488417704951

“Group decision making in organizations represents an opportunity for group members to seek to exert social influence. Whining and bullying are examined as nonrational influence tactics used by individuals in groups. Both tactics are envisioned as forms of aggression, differing across a dominance—submissiveness continuum. The impact of whining and bullying as compliance gaining tactics for organizational group decision making is examined using 234 individuals whose jobs include group decision making in organizations. The use of bullying and whining tactics are positively correlated indicating dominance complementarity, with increases in one tactic being associated with increases in the other. In addition, bullying and whining are found to have negative effects on cohesiveness and group decision-making effectiveness.”

Katherine Wertz

Understanding each other: Strategies for accommodation in a virtual business team project based in China

Lockwood, J., & Song, Y. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 113–144. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488416675841

“The use of accommodation strategies between native and nonnative interlocutors of English in the rapidly increased virtual and global work contexts remains underresearched. Contextualized in a Chinese IT outsourcing company where English is used as a lingua franca, this study focuses on how accommodation strategies are used by both on- and offshore team project members in their virtual meeting exchanges. The article argues that the actual linguistic exchange appears to be scaffolded and facilitated by a series of what the authors call ‘extratextual accommodation strategies’ such as the use of detailed minutes of tasks set and completed, and an agreed meeting format. While ‘intratextual accommodation strategies,’ that is, those relating to specific linguistic behaviors in English in the exchanges are also used by interlocutors to accommodate to each other’s speech; the article argues, therefore, that both extra- and intratextual accommodation strategies appear to work in a symbiotic way to ensure successful exchange in business virtual meeting contexts.”

Katherine Wertz


One-size-fits-none: A heuristic for proactive value sensitive environmental design

Sackey, D. J. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1634767

“This article advocates for a contrasting Value Sensitive Design (VSD) framework based on principles of environmental justice, which encourages environmental-sensing wearable developers to make their values apparent to users in their designs in order to transform users into researchers rather than passive data collectors; make technological systems more transparent rather than opaque; and connect users to larger networks of individuals, who share common justice-oriented goals.”

Rhonda Stanton


Student perceptions of diversity in technical and professional communication academic programs

Dayley, C. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 49–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1635210

“This article reports the results of a survey of technical and professional communication (TPC) undergraduate and graduate students regarding their perceptions of diversity in TPC academic programs. The responses of the total group of respondents and a subset of respondents identifying as a person of color (POC) are compared. Results show that both the overall group and the group of students identifying as persons of color see their TPC programs as both diverse and supportive of diversity. Respondents identifying as a person of color also reported that they were not worried about fitting in when enrolling in their TPC programs. However, the survey also shows that TPC students who identify as persons of color note a lack of students and faculty of color in TPC academic programs and departments. Possible reasons for respondents’ perceptions of having diverse and supportive departments while also observing the lack of POC within the department are discussed.”

Rhonda Stanton

Visualizing Chinese immigrants in the U.S. statistical atlases: A case study in charting and mapping the Other(s)

Li, L. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 1–17.


“This study examines the visual representation of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. Statistical Atlases from 1874 to1925. Compilers of the Atlases used a variety of visual strategies to facilitate rhetorical inclusion and exclusion, and by creating particular visual emphasis, constructed Chinese immigrants as being alienated, racialized, and low in the ethnic hierarchy. The visual constructs of the Chinese population reflected and reshaped the state’s policy of immigration restriction in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Rhonda Stanton


Finding stories in the threads: Can technical communication students leverage user-generated content to gain subject-matter familiarity?

Lam, C., & Biggerstaff, E. (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 334–350. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946995

“Previous research on user-generated content in technical communication focused primarily on non-traditional forms of technical communication outside of traditional institutions and organizations. User-generated content from the forum StackOverflow provides rich knowledge and stories behind problems faced by web and software developers. This study explores how technical communicators engage in this knowledge-rich content specific to web and software developers. [The authors’] findings provide insights into how researchers, instructors, and practicing technical communicators might leverage user-generated forum content in their work. . . . StackOverflow threads, along with other user-generated forum content, also give instructors insight into technical audiences and can be leveraged to teach students how to use primary research to better understand audiences. Researchers can continue to study how novice users interact with user-generated content by investigating how confidence levels affect meaning-making.”

Lyn Gattis

Ethical issues

Ethical dimensions of quantification

Espeland, W., & Yung, V. (2019). Social Science Information, 58(2), 238–260. https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018419851045

“The ethical dimensions of quantification are seldom analysed. We examine three ethical features that are characteristic of quantification—its capacity to express or mediate power, focus attention, and shape opportunity structures. We do so in the context of three recent examples of new types of quantification: university rankings, the racial classification of Asians in the US, and facial recognition algorithms. Our examples highlight the importance of understanding the varied and complex ways that quantification creates and organizes social relations, and the effect of this on multiple forms of inequality.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

How organisations promoting vaccination respond to misinformation on social media: A qualitative investigation

Steffens, M. S., Dunn, A. G., Wiley, K. E., & Leask, J. (2019). BMC Public Health, 19(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7659-3

“Background: Vaccination misinformation is associated with serious public health consequences, such as a decrease in vaccination rates and a risk of disease outbreaks. Although social media offers organisations promoting vaccination unparalleled opportunities to promote evidence and counterbalance misinformation, we know relatively little about their internal workings. The aim of this paper is to explore the strategies, perspectives and experiences of communicators working within such organisations as they promote vaccination and respond to misinformation on social media.”

“. . . .Conclusions: We recommend that communicators consider directly countering misinformation because of the potential influence on their silent audience, i.e. those observing but not openly commenting, liking or sharing posts. Refutations should be straightforward, succinct and avoid emphasizing misinformation. Communicators should consider pairing scientific evidence with stories that speak to audience beliefs and values. Finally, organisations could enhance vaccine promotion and their own credibility on social media by forming strong links with organisations sharing similar values and goals.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Health communication

Abbreviations: Expectations, permutations, revelations, reservations, and applications of shortened words and phrases

Lang, T. (2019). American Medical Writers Association Journal, 34(4), 152–157.

“Abbreviations—and their related shortenings, clippings, contractions, acronyms, backronyms, initialisms, blendings, and mnemonic devices—are far more interesting than they first appear. They are also a mixed blessing, saving writers time and effort but potentially confusing and frustrating readers. For more than 5,000 years, driven by changes in writing technologies and writing surfaces, we have always invented creative ways to write more quickly and easily. However, the gains in efficiency are often offset by reduced comprehension. Abbreviations have frustrated Roman emperors, medieval scholars, and journal editors. They have brought amusement to soldiers, confusion to enemies, and death to patients. They even have unexpected effects on the conduct and publication of clinical trials. Carefully crafted abbreviations can markedly improve communication, but unknown abbreviations can confuse and divide readers, and unintended abbreviations can have embarrassing consequences. In fact, abbreviations permeate our lives to the point that life without them is difficult to imagine. Here, [the author] present[s] some “revelations about abbreviations”—things you may not have known about them—and some related expectations, considerations, reservations, and applications associated with them. Although [the author] call[s] attention to some important aspects of abbreviations, such as capitalization and punctuation, [the author’s] focus is on their history, uses, and implications. Using an abbreviation depends on how likely the primary and secondary audiences are to know what it means, how often it is used, how many other abbreviations are used, how clustered the abbreviations are, and where they appear in the document. [The author] describe[s] 9 common problems with abbreviations, most of which argue for using them sparingly. Finally, [the author] summarize[s] the most common rules and recommendations for using abbreviations in scientific publications.”

Walter Orr

Pro-vaxxers get out: Anti-vaccination advocates influence undecided first-time, pregnant, and new mothers on Facebook

Bradshaw, A. S., Shelton, S. S., Wollney, E., Treise, D., & Auguste, K. (2020). Health Communication. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2020.1712037

“Social media has revolutionized health information-seeking behavior with crowd-based medical advice. Decreased vaccination uptake and subsequent disease outbreaks have generally occurred in localized clusters based on social norms; however, geographically unrestricted Facebook networks promote parental vaccination refusal congruent with digital identity formation. Interactions within the largest closed Facebook group for vaccination choice were analyzed through the lens of Social Influence Theory. Anti-vaccination advocates impacted first-time mothers’ expressed vaccination intentions through both informational and normative influence processes. Six overarching themes were identified as strategies used by these individuals to persuade fence sitting parents to delay or decline vaccinations, including: natural solutions, maternal empowerment, distrust of conventional medicine establishment, fear appeals, ‘Russian Roulette’ risk benefit analysis, and misinformation and misunderstandings.”

Walter Orr

Red-hot reactance: Color cues moderate the freedom threatening characteristics of health PSAs

Armstrong, K., Richards, A. S., & Boyd, K. J. (2019). Health Communication. https://doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2019.1700885

“This study investigated whether color cues in health PSAs affect people’s experience of psychological reactance to health recommendations. By integrating psychological reactance theory and color-in-context theory, we predicted that reactance would be greater after viewing a threatening health PSA conveyed in red compared to other colors. Using a 3 (color: gray, green, red) × 2 (freedom threatening language: low, high) experimental design in the context of oral health, we found that red exacerbated the degree to which freedom threatening language elicited perceived freedom threat and reactance, and this effect further decreased attitude and intention toward using a firm-bristled toothbrush. These findings show the importance of considering visual communication like color cues when developing successful health campaigns.”

Walter Orr

Standardizing, simplifying, and scaling medical writing in life sciences: Intelligent content creation and reuse

Anand, K. (2019). American Medical Writers Association Journal, 34(4), 147–150.

“The demand for medical writing has been steadily growing in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries. The global health care industry has been witnessing patent expirations, rapid changes in regulatory norms, and a consistent rise in research and development spend. As a result, the need to continually adapt, create, maintain, and update medical content has intensified in the recent years. The medical writing function accesses content/data from multiple sources, often deriving, reusing, and repurposing content to generate new documents or update existing ones. This involves scanning large volumes of data from varied, often siloed, sources to extract relevant information. The entire process is not only time-consuming and effort-intensive but also prone to iterations. While there are several technologies and models that leverage structured content authoring for ease in content extraction and generation, intelligent content solutions provide an artificial intelligence-powered approach to streamline content management and content generation-related processes. Intelligent content solutions use modern technologies contextualized by medical expertise to harmonize content pieces and establish content relationships across documents generated in the course of a drug’s life cycle. Intelligent content solutions provide auto-identification of verbatim and non-verbatim content across source and derivative documents to understand medical content reuse patterns and lineages. In combination with content management, the solution provides event-driven, workflow-based, end-to-end document management to drive efficiencies and productivity for documents across regulatory, clinical, safety, and medical domains. As a result, the entire medical writing function is further simplified, standardized, and scaled seamlessly in a robust and efficient manner, substantially reducing the time to submission of documents.”

Walter Orr

Writing for patients on the participatory web: Heuristics for purpose-driven personas

Bakke, A. (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 318–333. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946999

“The participatory web complicates professional communicators’ goals of providing accurate, usable, and trustworthy content, especially for health and medical topics. Professionals can better reach their audiences by understanding individuals’ purposes for using e-health.

. . . [In this study] [i]n-depth interviews were conducted with seven community members who self-identified as e-health users. They [reported using] e-health among other sources including medical professionals. They use an array of e-health sites, including professional and user-generated sites, and have diverse purposes in using that array of sites. . . . The results suggest that professional communicators deepen their audience analysis to account for informational context, emotional context, and the diverse and shifting purposes of their users. Heuristics for professionals are provided to develop purpose-driven personas.”

Lyn Gattis

Information Management

The activist syllabus as technical communication and the technical communicator as curator of public intellectualism

Bivens, K., Cole, K., & Heilig, L. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 70–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1635211

“Recently, educators have created crowdsourced syllabi using social media. Activist syllabi are digitally circulated public collections of knowledge and knowledge-making about events and social movements. As technical communicators, we can function as curators of public intellectualism by providing accessibility and usability guidance for these activist syllabi in collaboration with activist syllabi creators. In turn, technical communicators can work with syllabi creators as a coalitional social justice strategy to enhance the circulation of these activist syllabi.”

Rhonda Stanton

US decennial census return rates: The role of social capital

Hotchkiss, J. L. (2019). International Journal of Social Economics, 46(5), 648–668. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSE-07-2018-0377

“Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to assess whether additional information about a community’s level of social capital can help to better predict a return rate from that area, in order to better target resources to improve mail-in responses. Design/methodology/approach: Two-sample two-stage least squares is used to apply determinants of six different measures of social capital from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey to observations in the Decennial Census (DC) which are then aggregated to the census tract level. The probability of a census tract having a high level of each social capital measure is estimated. Multivariate regression is used to identify the importance of high community social capital for predicting census mail-in return rates. Findings: The analysis reveals that a higher level of trust contributes the most to increasing return rates and a high level of political activism decreases return rates. Additionally, higher levels of sociability contribute negatively to DC return rates, which is consistent with sociability being linked to a more insular (i.e. family and friends) focus. Practical implications: While contributing statistically significantly to the predictability of census tract response rates, the cost of acquiring measures of social capital for each census tract may not to be viewed worth the gain in predictive power. Social implications: Higher levels of trust contribute positively to survey participation, suggesting that any social, economic or political environment that diminishes trust will undercut civic engagement. Political activism and (insular) sociability decrease participation. Originality/value: This paper combines non-public and public data to obtain measures of social capital along more dimensions than are typically studied, and finds that not all types of social capital are related to feelings of social integration in the same way.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


The path intended and the path taken: A rejoinder to Dr. O’Connell

Kessler, M. M., & Graham, S. S. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 93–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1692910

“With the goal of increasing interdisciplinary dialogue, the authors engage Dr. O’Connell’s response to ‘Terminal node problems: ANT 2.0 and prescription drug labels.’ Specifically, the authors aim to address the questions and concerns raised by Dr. O’Connell as well as offer suggestions for future research that builds on the insights that emerge from this interdisciplinary dialectic.”

Rhonda Stanton

Reconsidering an essential premise in Kessler, M. M., & Graham, S. S. (2018). Terminal node problems: ANT 2.0 and prescription drug labels

O’Connell, C. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(2), 121–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1692909

“I appreciate that this paper was applauded for its thoughtful approach to assessing ‘prescription drug labels (PDLs)’ using rhetorical principles. However, I believe the authors’ invention of the composite artifact ‘PDL’ and their subsequent assessment based on this flawed concept is problematic and may weaken the validity of their conclusions.”

Rhonda Stanton

Intercultural Issues

Addressing the “bias gap”: A research-driven argument for critical support of plurilingual scientists’ research writing

Corcoran, J. (2019). Written Communication, 36(4), 538–577.


As “scientific journal gatekeepers,” we editors profess a desire toward inclusion and respect for other cultures, but how do we merge our professional publication standards with inclusion? “This article outlines findings from a case study investigating attitudes toward English as the dominant language of scientific research writing. Survey and interview data were collected from 55 Latin American health and life scientists and 7 North American scientific journal editors connected to an intensive scholarly writing for publication course. Study findings point to competing perceptions (scientists vs. editors) of fairness in the adjudication of Latin American scientists’ research at international scientific journals. Adopting a critical, plurilingual lens, I argue that these findings demand a space for more equity-driven pedagogies, policies, and reflective practices aimed at supporting the robust participation of plurilingual scientists who use English as an additional language (EAL). In particular, if equity is indeed a shared goal, there is a clear need for commitment to ongoing critical self-reflection on the part of scientific journal gatekeepers and research writing support specialists.”

Diana Fox Bentele


Measuring the readability of sustainability reports: A corpus-based analysis through standard formulae and NLP

Smeuninx, N., De Clerck, B., & Aerts, W. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 52–85. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488416675456

“This study characterises and problematises the language of corporate reporting along region, industry, genre, and content lines by applying readability formulae and more advanced natural language processing (NLP)–based analysis to a manually assembled 2.75-million-word corpus. Readability formulae reveal that, despite its wider readership, sustainability reporting remains a very difficult to read genre, sometimes more difficult than financial reporting. Although we find little industry impact on readability, region does prove an important variable, with NLP-based variables more strongly affected than formulae. These results not only highlight the impact of legislative contexts but also language variety itself as an underexplored variable. Finally, the study reveals some of the weaknesses of default readability formulae, which are largely unable to register syntactic variation between the varieties of English in the reports and demonstrates the merits of NLP in report readability analysis as well as the need for more accessible sustainability reporting.

Katherine Wertz


E-leadership or “how to be boss in instant messaging?” The role of nonverbal communication

Darics, E. (2020). International Journal of Business Communication, 57(1), 3–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488416685068

“Doing leadership in the virtual realm has now become a routine part of many leaders’ daily work, yet our understanding of how leadership is enacted in mediated contexts—especially in text-only channels—is very limited. By applying micro-level analysis to naturally occurring instant message conversations, this article exposes the strategies leaders employ to achieve a range of complex communication goals: to get the work done while fostering informality and collegiality and creating the sense of a real—and not virtual—collaboration between team members. The findings further our understanding in two domains: They provide empirical grounding for e-leadership theories by exposing practices from real-life interactions, and they contribute to discursive leadership literature by addressing nonverbal communication practices. The findings of the article could form the basis for management and leadership training by drawing attention to the linguistic and semiotic resources digital leaders have at their disposal in virtual work environments.

Katherine Wertz

Professional Issues

Humanistic communication in information centric workplaces

Ranade, N., & Swarts, J. (2019). Communication Design Quarterly, 7(4), 17–31. http://sigdoc.acm.org/cdq/humanistic-communication-in-information-centric-workplaces/

“Professional writers adapt their skills to suit expanded professional roles that involve production and management of information, but preparation through mere skill-based training is problematic because that communication work is messy in ways that are not addressable through simple skills training. We must understand how skills ‘influence and shape the discursive activities surrounding their use’ (Selber, 1994). This paper reports the results of a study of people trained in humanities disciplines like communication, English, writing studies, technical communication, etc., on how they have found means to employ their training in their workplace and keep what is humanistic about writing and communicating at the foreground of their interactions with information technologies. Instead of focusing on technology alone, this research encourages a unified approach to preparing students for the workplace.”

Lyn Gattis

Public Relations

Is bad news difficult to read? A readability analysis of differently connoted passages in the annual reports of the 30 DAX companies

Thomas, C., Degenhart, A., & Wohlgemuth, K. (2020). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 34(2), 157–187. https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651919892312

“This study examines the strategic use of readability to obfuscate negative news in a German financial communication context. Combining a manual and an automated content analysis, the authors assess the tone and readability of three parts (chairman’s address, share-price development, and development in the fiscal year) of the 2014 annual reports of the 30 companies listed in the German stock index DAX. The results indicate that positively connoted passages in annual reports are not necessarily easier to read than negatively connoted passages. Furthermore, the readability of the annual report varies depending on the part and its function within the report.”

Sean C. Herring


A fieldwide metasynthesis of pedagogical research in technical and professional communication

Melonçon, L., Rosselot-Merritt, J., & St.Amant, K. (2019). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 50(1), 91–118. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047281619853258

“Pedagogical and programmatic research remains important in technical and professional communication. For such approaches to be effective, meaningful, and successful, they must represent effective scholarship that can be used within and address the needs of the greater field. The authors performed a metasynthesis of pedagogical and programmatic scholarship published in five central technical and professional communication journals between 2011 and 2015 (n = 82). The authors report the results of this research and what it means for the field to approach pedagogical and programmatic scholarship in the future.”

Anita Ford

Scientific Writing

The effects of uncertainty frames in three science communication topics

Gustafson, A., & Rice, R. E. (2019). Science Communication, 41(6), 679–706. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547019870811

“While uncertainty is central to science, many fear negative effects of communicating scientific uncertainties to the public, though research results about such effects are inconsistent. Therefore, we test the effects of four distinct uncertainty frame types (deficient, technical, scientific, consensus) on three outcomes (belief, credibility, behavioral intentions) across three science issues (climate change, GMO food labeling, machinery hazards) with an experiment using a national sample (N = 2,247) approximating U.S. census levels of age, education, and gender. We find portraying scientific findings using uncertainty frames usually does not have significant effects, with an occasional exception being small negative effects of consensus uncertainty.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


Shifting out of neutral: Centering difference, bias, and social justice in a business writing course

Shelton, C. (2020). Technical Communication Quarterly, 29(1), 18–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/10572252.2019.1640287

“Through an auto-ethnographic reflection, this article describes an attempt to enact a Black Feminist pedagogy in an undergraduate business writing course. Discussing both benefits and challenges to this pedagogical approach, I advocate for an increase in decolonial methodologies and pedagogies in teaching technical and professional communication and argue for their potential to intervene for equity and justice in both the classroom and the workplace.”

Rhonda Stanton


mHealth apps for older adults: A method for development and user experience design evaluation

Kirkscey, R. (2020). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047281620907939

This study details a method for mHealth app development and user experience design (UX) evaluation, which generates a comprehensive list of stakeholder-users, acknowledges UX barriers, advocates multiple methods, and argues that developers should address the UX needs of each stakeholder-user in a complex health care system. A case study of a research project on an mHealth app for women who are considering prevention of or treatment for osteoporosis assists to elaborate and define the method. To find any measure of success, a fully functional app for older users should be integrated into the entire health care system.

Sean C. Herring

Usability Studies

The effect of age and font on reading ability

Beier, S., & Oderkerk, C. A. T. (2019). Visible Language, 53(3), 51–69.

Technical writers consider audience and readability. This article helps us choose font to best reach our audience. “To inform our knowledge of the typographical variables of stroke weight, letter width, and letter spacing, and their effects on different age groups and reading scenarios, we used Radner Reading Chart, where we measured reading speed at different sizes, to compare the fonts KBH Text, KBH Display, and Gill Sans Light. The experiment showed that for older participants, reading Gill Sans resulted in faster reading speed compared to KBH Text. However, Gill Sans could not be recognized at small sized by either the younger or older participants. For critical print size (BPS), older participants were better at reading small print sizes at a regular reading speed when the text was set in KBH Text than when it was set in Bill Sans. The findings indicate that older readers are more sensitive to font legibility differences than younger readers. We discuss the implications of different reading scenarios putting different demands on the fonts as well as the perspective of older readers benefiting from certain visual quality fonts.”

Diana Fox Bentele

Eportfolios on the job: The use of assessment eportfolios in the business and technical communication job market

Clayson, A. (2019). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 82(4), 458–474. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329490619867457

“Instructors and administrators in business and technical communication (BTC) programs argue that assessment eportfolios can play a vital role in the success of BTC graduates on the job market. This study explores the use of assessment eportfolios by students, alumni, and employers in BTC. Nineteen interviews were conducted and analyzed for common themes and issues in participants’ experiences. The author found that, while the participants did use assessment eportfolios in the job market, their experiences varied widely. These and other findings are discussed, as well as implications of this study for eportfolio pedagogy.”

Diana Fox Bentele

Letterform legibility and visual perception: A speculation

Zender, M. K. (2019). Visible Language, 53(3), 70–91.

Technical writers who specialize in the study of fonts and letterforms will appreciate this piece. “This short paper explores a straightforward insight: that the basic features of visual perception map instructively onto the letterform skeletons of the Latin alphabet. Linking findings from visual perception with knowledge about typography and reading might advance our knowledge of how letterforms function visually. This knowledge could be used to develop a formal measure of letterform legibility, to provide means to distinguish between a text and a display typeface, and to provide guidance for typeface design.”

Diana Fox Bentele

User Experience

Boycotting the knowledge makers: How Reddit demonstrates the rise of media blacklists and source rejection in online communities

Potts, L., Small, R., & Trice, M. (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 351–363. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946942

The authors of this study “address the use of metatags as a form of community knowledge formation and gatekeeping within digital platforms.” Specifically, they examine the subReddit KotakuInAction, “a well-known hub of the GamerGate community on Reddit, but one that has avoided the bans common to other aggressive subReddits and GamerGate communities on platforms such as 4chan and GitHub. [The authors] contextualize the aggressive nature of the subReddit and the reasons why participants’ uses of metatags are meaningful for understanding subReddit culture and moderation practices.” The authors first “coded for the frequency of certain behaviors, such as linking and tagging, as well as the shift in certain keywords and vocabularies between the front facing or predetermined tags and the user-customized or admin-altered tags” on KiA. They “also examined how tags shifted over time and whether certain users dominated particular tags.” Their results indicated “a hybrid culture on KiA that applied Chan culture values and flaming, but increasingly localized the behavior to KiA rather than direct readers out of the site. . . . [along with] key shifts in topics away from gaming and activism toward broader complaints about social justice. In addition, [the authors] found that a tiny core group of nine influencers (out of tens of thousands of users) accounted for 20% of the top conversations. . . . [The authors] suggest a closer examination of how communities self-organize around meta naming structures. Knowledge of this activity can help with predicting and engaging with aggressive and hostile communities by describing how topics shift over time, how they adapt to platform moderation, and who the influencers within a community might be.”

Lyn Gattis

Caveat emptor: How lay technical and professional communicators sell technical products in C2C e-commerce

Robles, V. D. (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 364–384. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946940

“Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce involves consumers re-selling products to other consumers using online platforms. Research identifies trust as a major factor in this exchange. It concludes that seller-generated product descriptions can mitigate mistrust. Further, technical and professional communication research can reveal what content sellers tend to provide and can reveal how platform design may encourage that content. . . . [In this study] [f]our platforms were chosen using specific criteria. Product descriptions were collected once per week for six weeks, generating 1900 product descriptions. These descriptions were unitized and given reliable content categories, a methodology called quantitative content analysis. Further, the documentation and processes for posting items were explored to determine how they may encourage content types. . . . [Results indicated that] [s]ellers mostly provide product information and sales procedures, and they rarely give benefits and goodwill to the buyer. The platform design seems to encourage this content because of the content-entry process, the content-entry options, and the required and unrequired content entry. . . . This study invites technical and professional communicators to provide more guidelines for users about the kinds of content they may include, and designers to explore the content entry process using usability and user-experience research.”

Lyn Gattis

User-generated content and its effect on technical communication [special issue]

Walwema, J., Sarat-St. Peter, H., & Chong, F. (Eds). (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 315–317. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946982

“This special issue on User-Generated Content and Its Effect on the Profession asks, ‘What might professional technical communicators do with user-produced documentation?’ The question is both descriptive—what can technical communicators do with UGC?—and normative—what should technical communicators do with UGC? Answering it requires taking stock of the multiple roles that technical writers play within and outside organizations.” Contributors to this special issue examine UGC as “a path to career development”; a means by which e-health designers can understand why patients are drawn to “nonhealth expert websites”; a component of consumer-to-consumer e-commerce; and an environment in which content can be generated and moderated within an organization.

Lyn Gattis

“Hey, such-and-such on the internet has suggested . . .” How to create content models that invite user participation

Getto, G., & Labriola, J. T. (2019). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 62(4), 385–397. https://doi.org/10.1109/TPC.2019.2946996

“Few frameworks exist for building content strategies around user-generated content. [The authors] present a framework for building content strategies that enable user participation in the development and delivery of content. . . . For this framework to be successfully implemented, this implementation team needs a working knowledge of user-generated content strategy, or the development of strategies for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content that encourage user participation. The framework also requires an understanding of the relationship between content models and technologies. Finally, practitioners utilizing the framework must also understand the role of content moderation in facilitating development of user-generated content. . . . [The] framework for user-generated content strategy specifies three main practices: 1. Developing a content strategy that enables interactions among administrators, moderators, users, types of content, and technologies within a given network; 2. building content models within technologies so that all interactions flow seamlessly; and 3. using content moderation to ensure that users are empowered to contribute content while respecting quality guidelines. . . . Though there are challenges to facilitating user-generated content that unites organizational goals and user goals, the use of a framework like [this one] can benefit organizations that want to make user-generated content a core part of what they do.”

Lyn Gattis

Web design

WCAG 2.1 and the current state of web accessibility in libraries

Spina, C. (2019). Weave, 2(2). https://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/weave/12535642.0002.202?view=text;rgn=main

Many Web designers are familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which were updated in 2018 (WCAG 2.1). WCAG 2.1 guidelines are not required, not even under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article focuses on how libraries can meet the needs of all users, but it encourages all designers to move toward more complete considerations of users with disabilities. “Ensuring the accessibility of web content is key to ensuring that users with disabilities have equal access to online information and services. However, . . . accessibility problems persist across the web, including in the online content created and shared by libraries. This article examines the new success criteria in the recently released WCAG 2.1, considers the opportunity they present for libraries to improve the user experience for users with a broad range of disabilities, and proposes steps to improve compliance with WCAG and online accessibility more broadly.” Of particular use for all Web developers is the author’s advice to “involve individuals with disabilities” and “who regularly use assistive technologies” in user experience testing.

Diana Fox Bentele


Recreating the scene: An investigation of police report writing

Yu, H., & Monas, N. (2019). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 50(1), 35–55. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047281618812441

“Police officers do a significant amount of high-stake writing in police reports, but report writing is given little attention in policy academies, and prevailing guidelines treat the task as a mechanical process of recording facts. As a result, officers are ill-prepared for this essential and inherently complex task. In this study, [the authors] interviewed officers to study what makes for a good police report. [The] findings reveal that police reports are goal-directed genre actions. This understanding peers through the positivist emphasis on factual details to emphasize the social function of police reports in the criminal justice system.”

Anita Ford