By Jackie Damrau, Editor
Books Reviewed in This Issue
by Robert Freidin
by Hans Hansen
by Firmin DeBrabander
by Ahmed Al-Rawi
by Kathy R. Berenson
by RobRoy Walters
by Phil Simon
by David Dylan Thomas
by Sean Kleefeld
by Jo Owen
by Andrew Mara
by George F. Hayhoe and Pam Estes Brewer
by John Potvin and Marie-Ève Marchand, eds.
by Kate Farrell
by Jean E. Rhodes
by Catherine R. Barber, Janet K. McCollum, and Wendy L. Maboudian
by Michele Knobel, Judy Kalman, and Colin Lankshear, eds.
by Jay Friedenberg
by Katharina Kurz and Pia Jerger, eds.
by Els Dragt and Jeroen Timmer
by Martina Flor
by Sally McConnell-Ginet
by Scott A. Baldwin
by Jacqueline D. Lipton
by Robert Freidin. 2020. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-78179-4. 202 pages, including index. US$26 (digital).]
Adventures in English Syntax was written by a linguistics professor “for anyone who wants to become a more effective writer, a more perceptive reader, and a more precise thinker” (front matter) by understanding English sentence structure. Robert Freidin progresses from defining syntax and syntactic units to analyzing complex syntactic expressions. His plan in writing the book was “to start with the words in the Dr. Seuss title, which is at first sight deceptively simple, and proceed to . . . complex sentences, questions and finally to ellipsis” (p. xii).
Each chapter title in Adventures in English Syntax provides the phrase or sentence that serves as a springboard for Freidin’s analysis. In Chapter 1, he closely examines the title of Dr. Seuss’s One fish two fish red fish blue fish to uncover the source of its ambiguity. In Chapter 2, Freidin illustrates how conjunctions can add to ambiguity. In Chapter 3, he clarifies why the prepositional phrase in the title of his own course caused confusion. In Chapter 4, Freidin untangles prepositional phrase modifiers. Chapters 5 through 8 examine sentence structure: syntactic unit displacement in 5; analysis of Jane Austen’s writing in 6; ambiguity of syntax of questions in 7; and the phenomenon of ellipsis in 8. Each chapter ends with a summary.
The author draws on examples not only from Dr. Seuss and Jane Austen, but also from linguist Noam Chomsky, and grammarians such as Strunk and White, Henry Fowler, and Lynne Truss, among others. These authors provide both good examples of syntactic structure (Austen) and questionable examples of grammar rules not to be violated, such as avoiding passive voice. Freidin’s hierarchical sentence analyses refute the soundness of these rules.
This is not an easy read nor is it a grammar reference book to be consulted on the fly. Freidin states that the book “requires no prior knowledge of either linguistics or traditional grammar” (p. ix). He does go step-by-step through his thought process, extensively diagraming his examples while defining many terms. But his thought process can be somewhat convoluted, with the introduction of many unexplained terms, possibly leaving a novice reader confused. Although Freidin does not introduce Adventures in English Syntax as a text for course work, it does seem suited to that purpose. Indeed, in his concluding comments, Freidin states that incorporating what he has discussed in the book “into the curricula of high school English classes and college writing courses” (p. 191) would be beneficial.
Reading this book is good reinforcement for any technical writer. Freidin’s continued emphasis on avoiding ambiguity and redundancy in sentence structure combined with his focus on understanding how each word contributes to building that structure remind us to be more careful, precise writers.
A glossary, bibliography, and index are supplied at the end of Adventures in English Syntax.
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.
Hans Hansen. 2020. Columbia Business School Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-231-18442-7. 208 pages, including index. US$27.95 (hardcover).]
Narrative Change: How Changing the Story Can Transform Society, Business, and Ourselves concisely explains narratives and outlines the ways they influence decisions ranging from mundane go-to behaviors to life changing situations like putting someone to death. Hans Hansen’s book focuses on his success implementing a new death penalty narrative in Texas. By intertwining examples that range from his personal experience with addiction to corporate-sponsored comedy skits, he demonstrates several different examples of the narrative change model.
Narratives are the instruction manuals our brains write for unfamiliar situations. People glean behaviors from all sorts of situations including observing family, interacting in communities, and watching television. Hansen writes about a “dinner and a movie” first date narrative. People follow this example for first dates because they see their friends do it or they see similar scenarios on television.
Constructing a new narrative begins with thorough evaluation of the narratives you want to replace. “We rarely stop to think about why we think the way we do” (p. 53). Hansen’s team in Texas constructed several mini narratives to reduce the number of people put to death in Texas. Each one began by deciding on the new narrative and then deconstructing the narratives they wanted to replace: “We become hyperconscious of why we are doing things the way we do, and cease to accept ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done’ as a legitimate rationale” (p. 114). For example, the team entered more than 80 pretrial defensive motions knowing the judge would deny most of them; replacing the existing don’t annoy the judge narrative. Their new narrative was perfect the record (p. 96). Hansen described it as leaving breadcrumbs for the Supreme Court. He called the breadcrumbs lifelines for the defendant. If a future higher court ruled part of the death penalty unconstitutional in this case or any other, this defendant could appeal his or her ruling because a motion relating to the same issue was denied at the pretrial hearings. If the defense team had not entered a motion relating to the issue that was overturned, this defendant could not appeal.
Narrative Change captures your attention, provides a balance of heartbreaking and gory details, and makes you think. Hansen doesn’t ignore the crimes the men in his book are charged with; he doesn’t glorify them. He uses a life-and-death situation to explain how humans process information. This book is an easy read, but it may color the way you look at narratives in your own life and beyond for years to come.
Stephanie Saylor is a senior technical writer and CACI outreach coordinator. She received her master’s degree in digital communication from Johns Hopkins University.
Firmin DeBrabander. 2020. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-81191-0. 170 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]
Life After Privacy: Reclaiming Democracy in a Surveillance Society talks about how privacy in our personal lives is being intersected by a more democratic surveillance society. Privacy is “that purifying element that allows citizens to exercise consent, and be free in the state” (p. 117). While technical communicators may find this of interest, it does bring to one’s thoughts that we should be more aware of what privacy we choose to share. As writers, our words are powerful and not easily forgotten.
Firmin DeBrabander’s book covers privacy in eight chapters: the confessional culture (1); how to defend our privacy (2); where big data and its plans fit (3); what the surveillance economy is (4); a history lesson on privacy past and present (5); the borderless, vanishing self (6); and the final two chapters covering autonomy, political freedom, and the power that politics holds. While the book’s contents seem interesting, I found it to be more a treatise of DeBrabander’s position of the democratic society itself. Yet, I did find nuggets of information.
DeBrabander says that we “instinctively share the most intimate, sometimes embarrassing, or even offensive comments, images, and opinions” (p. viii) about ourselves, family, and others. Depending on your position, we should reconsider the “what” we choose to share with others. Some protection is needed when sharing about family, especially regarding our youth. Americans are quick to divulge our personal data regardless of media, while Europeans are more protective of what they share or will allow to be shared or collected about them. The Europeans have the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) law that protects their rights, while in the US only the state of California has their own CCPA (California Consumer Protection Act) law to provide its citizens specific rights to what can be shared or provide a way to opt-out of services.
DeBrabander says, “Digital communication is mediated communication . . . it is the computer or smartphone screen before me” (p. 17) that serves to remove one from thinking about what we share openly in public. Online does not protect but exposes as it often does not “go away.” Privacy within the digital media relies on our own initiative to “act and speak as if no one is watching, or . . . looking directly at us—or no one knows our identify” (p. 160). One cannot hide as identities are discoverable, so should we be aware of what is being shared and stand firm in our beliefs regardless when online or when speaking in-person. That’s a discussion that leads to how much privacy are you willing to sacrifice.
Overall, Life After Privacy was an interesting read if you want to explore the world of the Greeks (Socrates and Plato), get a history lesson of democracy through the ages, and learn some information to make you think about what you post before posting it. Finally, be aware of what you are sharing, know how it may impact you, and be careful when sharing about your family.
Jackie Damrau is an STC Fellow with more than 25 years of technical communication experience. She serves as the book review editor for the Technical Communication journal and is the 2020–2021 STC Education committee chair.
Ahmed Al-Rawi. 2020. Wiley Blackwell. [ISBN 978-1-119-56966-4. 210 pages, including index. US$44.95 (soft cover).]
News 2.0: Journalists, Audiences, and News on Social Media is an edited collection of previously published papers by Ahmed Al-Rawi. As such, there is some repetition of explanations for the social science/media studies concepts used. Each chapter is essentially a study report on an investigation by Al-Rawi about an aspect of the topic. The reports are grouped into four main sections: content, audiences, (news) producers, and mobile news (apps). Here news producers are not just mainstream media outlets, but also people (re)posting information on social media platforms, primarily on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Quite pertinent at the time I write this (September 2020), one chapter explores the impact celebrities and social media gatekeepers, such as influencers, have on the dissemination of false news. At the same time, trust in mainstream media seems to be eroding in the US, Al-Rawi notes. He cites a Gallup survey that found 53% of respondents trusting mainstream media in 1997 and 32% in 2016. While Al-Rawi only analyzes text, it would be interesting to study the impact on public opinion of the distribution of false images—manipulated charts, altered photos and the like—on social media.
Another theme that emerges in Al-Rawi’s research is the mismatch between the types of topics with which social media users engage and those prioritized by news organizations. He compares the types of stories that appear on news media’s home or front pages with those most frequently reposted or commented on. There are differences among the social media platforms, but generally readers engage more with “soft” news while front page stories tend to be “hard” news about specific events or trends.
The cultural context of social media interactions is also important. For example, in Arabic-speaking countries, religious words and phrases are common in everyday discourse. They do not necessarily denote that the speaker (or writer) is particularly religious. The same is true elsewhere. In Austria, where I grew up, the standard greeting is “Grüß Gott!”—literally, God’s greeting. It is used by everyone, even atheists. Awareness of such customs is important when parsing social media interactions for both overt content and subtext.
Unlike most research published in English, Al-Rawi also considers mainstream and social media published in Arabic and outside industrialized nations. He calls for additional research involving a greater variety of international media. Since most of his studies were conducted, new social media platforms, such as TikTok, have emerged. Investigating the news discourse in these forums could be another fruitful research avenue.
Barbara Jungwirth writes about medical topics (www.bjungwirth.com) and translates medical and technical documents from German into English (www.reliable-translations.com). She has written for print and online media since her high school days and majored in media studies. You can find her on Twitter at @bjungwirthNY.
Kathy R. Berenson. 2018. American Psychological Association. [ISBN 978-1-4338-2709-9. 108 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]
Modern research is increasingly complex, and generates copious, complex research data and associated support materials, such as database search results and the paperwork required to obtain institutional review board (IRB) approval. Organizing this data represents a formidable challenge, particularly for new researchers or research groups. In addition, it’s increasingly necessary to archive data in ways that let future researchers replicate or validate a study. Finally, errors must be eliminated during data collection and management because they have significant consequences for both human lives and future research. Kathy Berenson’s Managing Your Research Data and Documentation provides concise, logically structured, and invaluable advice on how to accomplish these goals.
Berenson summarizes her goals as teaching you how to manage project files, manage your data (safeguarding original data, detecting and correcting data-entry errors), document your research and analysis methods (including your data-processing algorithms), and prepare replication instructions to guide future researchers (data descriptions, such as metadata; instructions for how to handle missing data). She devotes a chapter to explaining the key aspects of each subject with appendices that provide additional details. Though most examples focus on the widely used SPSS software, they should be easy to translate into other software.
The writing is clear, concise, and practical. It includes essential advice, such as how to develop a hierarchical structure for storing and managing all of a project’s information, protecting original data against inadvertent modification, standardizing variable names and analytical methods, clearly documenting everything you do (especially protocols for compiling and processing data), and dealing with the inevitable problems that arise as you process a collection of data. Berenson repeatedly emphasizes the importance of protecting the privacy of study participants, copyright considerations, and (implicitly) protecting proprietary information.
One thing that would benefit from more detail is how to characterize a study population sufficiently well that future researchers who try to repeat your study can choose a comparable population. Differences between populations are a major source of the replicability crisis that affects most research, but particularly in the social sciences. Although this is, in fairness, better suited to a research design book, it’s sufficiently important for replication that it should have been handled explicitly, with examples of how researchers inadvertently fail to control their selection of research participants. A more serious omission is detailed instructions on how to back up one’s data; relying solely on an employer’s overworked computer staff is unwise. A good backup strategy should include near-line (on a flash drive), offline (on DVD), and cloud-based backups. I would also have liked to see a section on documenting “lessons learned”, so future researchers can avoid repeating your mistakes. As in previous books I’ve reviewed in this series, the index is primitive.
Whether you’re just getting started in research or are finding that you need help managing your research, Managing Your Research Data and Documentation is well worth your time.
Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 30 years of writing, editing, translation, and information design experience. He is the author of two popular books, Effective Onscreen Editing and Writing for Science Journals.
RobRoy Walters. 2020. Clovercroft Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-950892-15-0. 188 pages. US$14.99 (softcover).]
Whether you are in industry as a project manager or in academics as a department chair, any manager knows that the only constant is change. This rule is as true in technical communication as it is in banking. For example, just as academics thought they had a firm handle on what students wanted out of online courses, the COVID-19 pandemic began, forcing even the most stalwart opponents of virtual learning in front of the camera and computer for video lectures. Fortunately, RobRoy Walters has useful advice for us in his newest book, change to LIVE better & LEAD differently.
This is Walters’s third book in a series about management, transformation, and change. In this installment, he focuses on the power of change and its opportunities for leaders. In Walter’s opinion, there are two main cultures of dealing with change: the culture of “Do,” or the traditionalists and the culture of “Why,” which represents the more creative thinkers. Each culture has its advantages and disadvantages, but a buffer must be found between the two or sweeping change will cause a major upheaval, which Walters likens to a tsunami (p. 51). Many in academics as well as in industry have seen these types of rapid changes in action, often accompanied by a rapid staff turnover.
Although change to LIVE better & LEAD differently is set in the banking world, its lessons are meant to be applied anywhere leaders can be found. I found myself nodding my head and chuckling at several passages and scenarios that reminded me of experiences I have had in academics, where the same problems with leadership can occur and the same tension between new ideas and traditionalism exist. As an academic, the advice I most appreciated from the book was the tips on working smarter. Too often in technical communication we measure devotion to our job by the hours we put in instead of our productivity, especially in academics. It is refreshing to see a successful management expert tell us to work in ways that make us “better” rather than simply more present in the office.
One of the greatest strengths of Walters’s book is his conversational tone and dry sense of humor. He illustrates his advice with scenarios from his life in banking, taking the reader along with him in board meetings and private conferences that makes you feel like a confidante rather than a client in a lecture. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading his anecdotes and advice for being a better leader, influencing people, and obtaining a better work/life balance.
change to LIVE better & LEAD differently is the ideal book for anyone starting a leadership or management position, as well as new graduates embarking on their careers. The beauty of Walters’s text is that it is simple to understand, enjoyable, and can apply to virtually any field. If a management book for “everyone” exists, this is the one.
Nicole St. Germaine
Nicole St. Germaine is a Professor in the Technical and Business Writing Program at Angelo State University, as well as a freelance writer and consultant. Her research interests include technical communication for a Mexican American audience and technical communication in the health fields.
Phil Simon. 2020. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-119-74214-2. 382 pages, including index. US$ 26.99 (softcover).]
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force as of this writing, the virtual meeting software Zoom has become a vital tool for workplace and personal communication. So, the publication of Phil Simon’s book is good news.
The author is fully aware that the application is rapidly changing: “Zoom adds new features on a regular basis” (p. 3). His details about features are good as of June 2020; the details I see on my screens are good as of September 2000. Thus, the book doesn’t allude to features introduced in the past three months, such as Zoom for Home, skin smoothing, much more effective lighting adjustment, noise cancellation, new ways to customize background pictures, methods for combatting “Zoom-bombing,” and the ability to overlay video on PowerPoint or Keynote slides, not to mention dozens of behind-the-scenes improvements for developers. (For updates on new features, follow https://zoom.us/whatsnew.)
Does this mean that the book is essentially useless? I don’t think so. If you’re new to Zoom, you have the details necessary to get started. Simon explains in detail the philosophy of Zoom, setting up Zoom Rooms, hosting meetings, using mobile devices, recording and replaying videos, sharing your screen, and much else.
The most useful chapter for STC readers may be the one on creating webinars, which includes details on registering and removing attendees, handling questions and polls, assigning alternative hosts and co-hosts, and sharing and annotating your screen. Liberal use of tables and screenshots makes the information easy to grasp.
Zoom For Dummies is good, but not perfect. If you just want to begin Zooming because someone has emailed you an invitation to a Zoom meeting, you must get past 40 pages of introductory material. Clearly, the book needs an easy-to-find quick start section. And the proliferation of features alluded to earlier means that you must go beyond its pages to realize many usability and security benefits.
The major problem is that Zoom is fully documented online by Zoom staff, various institutions, and users. Simon refers in passing to “Zoom’s robust help center” (p. 350), which in fact is a deep, masterfully organized system offering hundreds of pages of quick start guides, video tutorials, and detailed discussions of specific topics at all levels of expertise.
So, do you need a book like Zoom For Dummies? That depends. If you want a book that hits major points, this is a reasonably good choice. For most of us, unfortunately, the Zoom help center serves us better.
Avon J. Murphy
Avon J. Murphy is an STC Fellow and technical editor in western Washington. A retired college professor and government writer, he is 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.
David Dylan Thomas. 2020. A Book Apart. [ISBN 978-1-937557-97-3. 108 pages, including index. US$24.00 (softcover).]
Bias is something that affects everyone, whether they realize it or not. Maybe an employer seems to hire people of a specific gender or ethnicity more often. Or maybe people purchase products which have an advertisement image that uses certain lighting or arrangement. Perhaps you even have a preconceived notion of what bias is. In Design for Cognitive Bias, David Dylan Thomas explores how your mind works and guides you towards making decisions without your realizing it.
In his book, Thomas breaks down how cognitive bias works. The first chapter discusses user bias and how people make decisions in an often-irrational way, even if they do not realize it. He writes in an engaging style that pulls in the reader and uses pop culture references in the headings to both add levity and convey concepts. After exploring the inherent biases in your mind, Thomas delves into designing content to meet those biases. To demonstrate such biases, he displays two advertisements for the same lamp, with the only difference being the alignment of the lamp in the photo. Images with the lamp on the left were perceived as “classic-looking,” while the images with the lamp on the right were viewed as “modern-looking,” despite the lamp being identical in both images. Retailers have done studies on such concepts and create their commercial images accordingly. Further into the book you learn how not only do the customers have biases, but the producers do as well. When crafting a survey, the phrasing of a question may lead the customers to a response. For example, the survey asking, “Should this person be driving a car?” may push the survey taker towards a certain response. Last, now that the book has examined both user and stakeholder bias, it encourages the reader to reflect inward to learn about their own biases.
Included throughout the book are examples and illustrations which ably assist in conveying the concepts being presented. While some are charts or graphs, many demonstrate real life examples, such as a comparison between a train timetable and the more modern phone app. Combined with rich, storied examples, and congenial but professional dialogue, Design for Cognitive Bias is an enjoyable read. Keep in mind, though, that opinion is certainly biased.
Timothy Esposito is an STC Fellow, the STC Secretary, and a past president of the STC Philadelphia Metro chapter with more than 20 years of technical communication experience. He has served in his chapter as chapter vice president, treasurer, webmaster, and scholarship manager.
Sean Kleefeld. 2020. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. [ISBN 978-1-350-02817-3. 254 pages, including index. US$32.95 (softcover).]
Historically, comics have been a form of print media appearing in newspapers and comic books. Many people have fond memories of reading Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes from their Sunday newspaper, or perhaps picking up the latest Spider-Man or Superman comic book from a shop. While those forms of media still exist, the Internet boom has given comic artists many more options than were available to their pen and paper predecessors. Webcomics is a study in the history and growth of comic, an examination of the cultural impact of webcomics, as well as several case studies on popular webcomics.
Kleefeld begins with a history of the comics industry for the reader to understand how webcomics exist in today’s culture. He moves from business models for traditional print comics, to a study of how different comic artists developed profitable systems for producing content only on the web. Many well-known comics, such as Penny Arcade, are discussed either in passing or as a direct focus. Penny Arcade is an impressive example of how a webcomic influences pop culture. It grew from a small webcomic to running a series of game-themed conventions (Penny Arcade Exposition, or PAX) across the country. Not all webcomics share in that success, and many are passion projects from their creators. While some are one off gag strips, many are serialized stories, or a balance between the two styles. Several webcomics, such as Questionable Content and Girl Genius, are discussed, examined, and analyzed. Such a discussion may peak the reader’s interest to try other webcomics that are new to them. The book wraps up with a discussion of webcomics as a genre, defining success for a webcomic, and how more creative control affects the comic’s creator.
While the concept of comics may be considered a juvenile topic by some, Kleefeld takes the matter seriously. Webcomics is not a light, casual read as you might expect, but a serious academic study into the online comic industry. Sample images are scattered throughout the book, and numerous comics are mentioned. A thorough index lets you find all those references, no matter how obscure they were in the text. If you would enjoy learning how the comics business evolved and modernized with the internet, then Webcomics may be the print book which inspires you to read online.
Timothy Esposito is an STC Fellow, the STC Secretary, and a past president of the STC Philadelphia Metro chapter with more than 20 years of technical communication experience. He has served in his chapter as chapter vice president, treasurer, webmaster, and scholarship manager.
Jo Owen. 2020. Pearson Education Limited. [ISBN 978-1-292-28226-8. 274 pages, including index. US$16.99 (softcover).]
Looking back on 2020, how have you reacted to the COVID-19 situation? The news media has mentioned the increasing numbers of suicides and rates of depression during this time. Is there a way to thrive in our current situation?
In his book, Resilience: 10 habits to thrive in life and work, Jo Owen includes 45 exercises to enhance our resilience. Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to ‘misfortune’ or change.” The 10 habits include: “Think well, live well,” “See the light in the darkness,” and “Recharge your batteries.” Owen suggests these habits can be used in a planned and unplanned crisis and can also be applied if you are in a situation of sustained pressure.
Chapter 6, “Recharge your batteries: the power of recovery,” was my favorite group of exercises. Owen suggests taking frequent rest breaks even if you do not feel tired. It is important to break your tasks into mini tasks and take a five-minute break every hour. He also suggests reducing your working day by delivering five stellar hours of work each day. Then, you can use the rest of your day for networking and creative thinking. Owen supports these ideas with facts showing that walking outside, for example, generates better creativity than sitting indoors or even walking on a treadmill. That supported what I have recently heard that if you want to memorize something, you will more easily memorize the content if you move your hands and your feet. Another tip is to avoid multi-tasking. Your brain can only effectively focus on a single task at a time. Owen states that your productivity falls by up to 40 percent when you try to multi-task (p. 139).
I found Exercise 30, “Manage your energy flows,” to be a concept that is rarely mentioned. Owen suggests using a four-zone grid to monitor and manage your energy over the short and long terms. After completing the grid, he suggests you focus on the Recovery zone. Owen notes that even professional sports players take time to recover. Perhaps you have found yourself in the Survival zone during this COVID-19 crisis. If so, it is important to take time to recover and increase your resilience.
To live well, Owen suggests the power of optimism is a matter of life and death (p. 3). One exercise he suggests doing is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. At the end of each day, think over your day and recall the good things that happened. Then, write down three things for which you are grateful. Owen says you will see changes happen. You will first discover you are sleeping better. Over time, you will find you are cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Resilience: 10 habits to thrive in life and work is a book that can help you make a difference in your life.
Rhonda Lunemann is a technical writer with Siemens Digital Industry Software, a senior member and serves on the Program Committee of STC’s Twin Cities Chapter, and a member of the MN (Minnesota) Bot Makers.
Andrew Mara. 2021. Routledge. [ISBN 987-0-367-22862-0. 224 pages, including index. US$42.95 (softcover).]
UX on the Go: A Flexible Guide to User Experience Design is a comprehensive book that emphasizes an agile approach to incorporating usability throughout a product, website, or application’s development cycle. Sprints emphasize planning and commitment and stand up meetings facilitate a team approach to usability. Andrew Mara’s prescriptive method stresses the importance of putting users first at every step of the process. He neatly walks user experience (UX) practitioners and students through the tasks of assembling a team, recruiting participants, collecting user experience data, and creating sketches, wireframes, and prototypes.
The book is broken into 16 chapters, which provide step-by-step information about everything from assembling UX team members, running effective meetings, and implementing usability development, evaluation, and test methodologies. For example, in a chapter about organizing qualitative data gathered through contextual observation, Mara explains how to conduct an Affinity Wall Sprint (which breaks down steps users take to achieve their goals) by listing the number of participants needed, the time the sprint will take, the necessary materials, the group roles, and the steps needed to conduct the activity. This organizational method is used throughout UX on the Go and provides readers with concrete strategies that emphasize team success.
Each chapter includes at least one challenge where readers/practitioners can apply the concepts discussed. Challenge #7, for instance, encourages the use of a trivia contest to help the team better understand the users by creating questions that include “surprising or quirky insights” about them (p. 120). This activity turns what could be a mundane activity into one that is fun and interactive.
One of the many strengths of UX on the Go is the use of case studies to demonstrate usability practices in action in both industry and academia. One student team partnered with seven public high schools in Puget Sound, Washington, where they took a participatory approach to developing a social robot for teens. Through their UX research, they were able to develop prototypes that informed the robot’s features. In another case study, the Client Experience Team at the Mayo Clinic used personas to improve the usability of a specimen processor by examining the user’s procedures for logging specimens and the constraints and challenges of the user’s position at the Clinic.
Although reviewers of the UX on the Go have referred to it as a textbook, it is more of a handbook for both students and practitioners. References are provided at the end of each chapter for those who want to delve deeper into the subject matter. A comprehensive index and detailed table of contents makes it easy to dive into the book, allowing readers to access information for whatever stage in the usability process they may be. This book fills a gap in the current usability literature and will make a fine addition to your UX library.
Lynne Cooke is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Arizona State University where she teaches courses on usability, digital media, and portfolio development. She is also a member of the Arizona Chapter of STC and the Internship Coordinator at ASU.
George F. Hayhoe and Pam Estes Brewer. 2021. 2nd ed. Routledge. [ISBN 978-0-367-53148-5. 316 pages, including index. US$ 62.95 (softcover).]
At a time when technical communicators are extending research efforts into new topics, it’s heartening to see a new edition of A Research Primer for Technical Communication: Methods, Exemplars, and Analyses. George Hayhoe and new co-author Pam Brewer have increased the text’s usefulness through judicious rewriting and valuable additions.
The basic structure of sections remains unchanged: (1) “Methods” contains two chapters defining research and research phases, followed by separate chapters describing several types of research; and (2) “Exemplars and Analyses” illustrates those types by reprinting journal research articles and analyzing them.
Thus, Chapters 3 through 7 show, respectively, how to prepare and read a literature review, a quantitative research report, a qualitative research report, a survey, and a usability study. Chapters 8 through 12 run parallel to the five earlier chapters, each assessing its sample illustrative article in close detail.
The studies analyzed in the first edition all came from Technical Communication. The studies now come from IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Technical Communication Quarterly, and Journal of Usability Studies as well as Technical Communication.
The authors’ treatment of survey research exemplifies how they work. In the chapter “Conducting Surveys,” they introduce the overall structure of an effective survey, strategies in writing several kinds of questions, and proper reporting of results, with many tips—“Provide a neutral or opt-out choice in any closed question” (p. 118). Then, in the chapter assessing a survey report, they provide dozens of organized comments on structure and intended audience, question types used, and various strategies followed in reporting results. Both chapters contain challenging exercises.
Although the authors have retained many paragraphs as originally written, they have made many excellent changes and additions. For example, ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) receives only half a page of discussion in the first edition but now gets 10 pages of strong detail. I’m especially happy to see the addition of the timely chapters on usability studies, which are reason enough to replace your old copy.
The index is shorter than in 2008 but still totally adequate. The discussion of citation styles has been moved from the opening chapter to an appendix. I applaud this decision but would go further myself and remove these pages altogether, because they are at best tangential to the core information that gives the book its special value.
I recommend A Research Primer for Technical Communication as perhaps the best available resource of its kind. It’s a good fit for teachers and students in research-based technical communication courses as well as for professional technical communicators who must conduct research. The book is also a solid resource for professionals in any field who must work with literature reviews, quantitative or qualitative studies, surveys, or usability projects.
Avon J. Murphy
Avon J. Murphy is an STC Fellow and technical editor in western Washington. A retired college professor and government writer, he is 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.
John Potvin and Marie-Ève Marchand, eds. 2020. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. [ISBN 978-1-350-06379-2. 304 pages, including index. US$115.00 (hardcover).]
Design and Agency: Critical Perspectives on Identities, Histories, and Practices is a collection of 20 essays, edited by John Potvin and Marie-Ève Marchand, that examines the role of agency on design and designed objects. This book brings together authors from a range of backgrounds, both professionally and geographically. The content was initiated by a symposium held at Concordia University in Montreal in 2018, though the editors indicate that the book itself has grown beyond its origin. Historically design has been examined as an expression of the “haves” rather than the “have nots” but Design and Agency explores topics in design from history, to theory and practice from the perspective of a variety of identities.
In the introduction, Potvin states, “Agency is not monolithic, unidimensional, or unidirectional, making it a rather tricky, slippery, and wide-ranging field for analysis” (p. 2). He is not wrong, as the essays collected for Design and Agency are extremely varied in their approach. Historically most topics in design have been examined strictly through the lens of the white, European male perspective limiting the perspectives of minorities, both in terms of race and sexuality, who negotiate designed objects and spaces differently. The role of examining design through the lens of agency adds depth as this unique approach includes analysis, through a variety of identities, “formed through gender, sexuality, race, and class” (p. 2).
The collection is broken into two sections; in the first section, Designing Identities, there is a variety of design and craft practices presented in the essays, including interior design, furniture, murals, embroidery, and architecture, among others. But perhaps the one essay that doesn’t seem to fit with others in this section is “Desperately Seeking Sunlight: Le Corbusier’s Casa Curutchet and The Man Next Door” in which the author ostensibly uses Casa Curutchet to examine the agency of the house in the film. However, it seems to be more an examination of spaces and their symbolism in film than any specific examination of the agency of Casa Curutchet. The second section, Systems and Institutions of Design, transitions to essays that explore the hegemony of institutions and their role in academic practices of design. Topics include the impenetrable jargon used for academic publications in “Textual Agency: Pitfalls and Potentials” and the expectations for academics and rigorous practices and the difficulties this can create for the differently abled in “Design History and Dyslexia”.
In Design and Agency, by examining design through the lens of various identities, the authors and editors are providing a potential new framework approaching how design history, theory, and practice is researched and taught. This book will be an excellent resource for instructors and academics who are looking for new approaches to these design topics. The analysis of agency expands the breadth of the field and offers a new approach that has the potential to overturn the canon of design and to begin disrupting existing paradigms, which seems timely given the current rise in social movements to address inequality.
Amanda Horton holds an MFA in Design and currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in the areas of design history, theory, and criticism. She is also the director of the Design History Minor at UCO.
Kate Farrell. 2020. Mango Publishing Group. [ISBN 978-1-64250-197-1. 272 pages, US$18.95 (softcover).]
Kate Farrell was encouraged to update a book she wrote in 1979—Word Weaving: A Storytelling Workbook—with new storytelling content and purpose. The result is Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories where she addresses five topics to help us connect and stay connected with people around us: Childhood and coming-of-age stories; stuff we are made of; family stories (folklore, secrets, shadows, and legacy); technique and delivery (seven steps to storytelling); and heritage of folklore.
Within the book’s chapters and sections, there are tips and insight for creating, crafting, and telling stories, plus exercises and prompts to help you find stories that fit your style and purpose. Farrell uses stories and snippets from more than 20 authors to provide examples of writing styles and to help explain the elements of creating, crafting, and telling stories.
For those of you interested in “telling” a story instead of writing it, you might want to jump right to Chapter 4. Here you will learn seven proven steps for storytelling, which includes essential features that make a personal narrative effective and memorable. Farrell also addresses delivery techniques for conversational storytelling and professional storytelling.
As Susan Wittig Albert says in the book’s Foreword, “As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. . . . Our stories are not the experiences themselves” (p. 13). Whether you are simply journaling as a way to sort through life’s ups and downs, searching for ways to heal emotional wounds, or you endeavor to incorporate storytelling into your personal or professional life, you might find inspiration in Story Power.
Michelle Gardner, CPTC, is an STC member and the marketing content writer for USDM Life Sciences. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism: Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach, and a master’s degree in Computer Resources and Information Management from Webster University.
Jean E. Rhodes. 2020. Harvard University Press. [ISBN 978-0-674-24807-6. 212 pages, including index. US$35.00 (hardcover).]
Jean E. Rhodes is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She also co-founded the European Centre for Evidence-Based Mentoring and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She has studied and written about youth mentoring for decades.
In Older and Wiser: New Ideas for Youth Mentoring in the 21st Century, Rhodes discusses mentoring research and relays something of value to a wide audience to include teachers, parents, and students. She provides information about how to help young people including disadvantaged young people in need. Rhodes also provides ideas about what does not work when it comes to mentoring today. Let’s also note that Rhodes mentions mentors can be “natural” as a teacher or counselor or part of a program such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
So, what does good mentoring today mean to Rhodes? Part of the answer Rhodes provides is to consider technology-driven interventions as well as an accountability model. She notes that there are many technology-driven interventions that can help, which can include apps that help with mental health issues. These approaches, however, should include “check-ins, monitoring, troubleshooting, and other interactions” (p.106) to be effective. While these can be great tools, what is really needed is a human being who encourages use of the tools and follows up on use of the tools. Even simple reminders dramatically increased the effects of app-based interventions “(0.15 versus 0.39 for anxiety; 0.18 and 0.32 for depression)” (p. 107).
While Rhodes has a focus in Older and Wiser on data, she also mentions engaging personal stories. One of these is about someone who helped her as a mentor. George Albee was the mentor who taught an introductory psychology class and later taught other classes Rhodes attended, ultimately causing Rhodes to conclude: “Albee saw potential in me, and, over time, that changed me. My sense of self shifted from a Jersey girl with an uncertain identity and modest ambition to someone who could and should try to make a difference in the world” (p. xi).
Jeanette Evans is an STC Associate Fellow; active in the Ohio STC community, currently serving on the newsletter committee; and co-author of an Intercom column on emerging technologies in education. She holds an MS in technical communication management from Mercer University.
Catherine R. Barber, Janet K. McCollum, and Wendy L. Maboudian. 2020. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-72031-1. 229 pages, including index. US$29.99 (softcover).]
The New Roadmap for Creating Online Courses: An Interactive Workbook is a guide for developing post-secondary level online courses. With the demand for online instruction increasing, this book is a valuable resource for instructors and instructional designers who are either moving their face-to-face courses online or creating new courses to be delivered online.
This is an instructional and interactive workbook, with space for course developers to answer questions and record your ideas. Course development is represented as a journey, and the terms and ideas introduced follow this theme. Course assessments are milestones, and course creation tips are “Travel Advisories.” Besides filling out the workbook, following along on the journey involves creating a course log, where you create learning activities and collect and develop course resources, which the workbook helps you transform into a successful online course. The book provides ample examples of learning activities, course modules, and rubrics.
The workbook focuses on creating meaningful learning opportunities for adult learners, defined as students over 17. Adult learners value collaborative, practical projects, and the workbook encourages you to create learning activities that are “realistic, relevant, and meaningful” (p. 149). In the “Exploring the Terrain” sections, the authors explain how their guidelines are rooted in pedagogical research, from John Dewey’s 1916 book Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s 2018 research into how people learn.
Instructors know that changes must be made after each course iteration. Catherine Barber, Janet McCollum, and Wendy Maboudian recognize the importance of revision, and incorporate this step into their Change-adept Course Creation Process. This is a non-linear process composed of three major stages: preparation, creation, and revision. The workbook encourages adaptability and flexibility. While major revisions or changes that would affect the syllabus should be reserved for post-course revision, the authors’ process encourages you to be flexible and be open to minor revisions to the course, even mid-course, if it helps student learning. The process also involves mindful self-reflection. On this journey, you will reflect on your course, your students, and yourself often.
I like that the course development process encourages you to tailor your course to your students, prompting you to survey students about their knowledge and interest in the subject being taught and their other commitments. Many opportunities for collaboration with colleagues are also built into the process. The “Call a Colleague” sections in each chapter prompt you to seek feedback from your peers on your course development.
The course creation journey in The New Roadmap for Creating Online Courses is thorough, yet easy to follow and backed by sound pedagogical research. After working through the workbook, you can have a well-designed, engaging online course ready to load into your institution’s learning management system.
Elizabeth Hardin is an STC Member and a lecturer in the English department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she teaches technical and business writing. She has a master’s degree in English and a bachelor’s in Computer Science.
Michele Knobel, Judy Kalman, and Colin Lankshear, eds. 2020. Stylus. [ISBN 978-1-97550-212-6. 275 pages, including index. US$34.95 (hardcover).]
Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Theory in Literacy Studies Research: A How-to Guide is an engaging collection of writings from multiple researchers that takes an in-depth look into the nuances of qualitative literacy studies in lay terms, making it easy to understand. Sounds like a snooze-fest, right? Well, what if I told you there is research involving Xbox, Harry Potter, and even memes? Although literacy based, this book offers valuable information that is applicable to the world of technical communication through a scholarly, yet down-to-earth manner.
The editors use chapter 1 to provide an overview of the following chapters, each one containing a different project. This is a perfect solution to finding which sections contain useful information.
Chapter 3 is a humorous study centered on conversations between gamers on Xbox Live. It takes an interesting perspective that considers what cues we miss during virtual conversations that only use audio. Large groups can have one conversation split into multiple, similar conversations through “resources such as gaze, posture, and proximity” that allow us “to focus attention on one conversation over the other” (p. 40). The chats lack these cues, so participants took turns talking in short dialogues and would state who they were directly talking to or use context clues to imply the recipient.
Chapter 9 discovered Harry Potter fan-fiction writers on the autism spectrum disorder used their stories to challenge stereotypes. Some stories displayed characters that were aggravated upon hearing sensitive language about autism when autism was not referred to as a strength. One character combatted the frustration by noting his academic excellence. Researchers note “how we talk about something . . . reveals our values and biases, conscious or not” (p. 174).
The book concludes in Chapter 11 with a captivating examination of memes. The researchers found that “the texts and images we produce or find and pass on…are generated out of networks of shared experiences, worldviews and values” that draw on text and images to progress the movement of “cultural artifacts” (p. 216). They noted that language itself contains no meaning, but the context and culture it is in produces a unique tone that fits into a larger context.
Data Analysis, Interpretation, and Theory in Literacy Studies Research provides strong insight into how communication and group work function from which introductory technical communicators can benefit. In an easy-to-digest manner you can learn how to better communicate with subject matter experts, appropriately discuss sensitive manners, and understand written tone. Consider reading this book if you want an engaging learning experience that provides some humor along the way through its use of modern research and pop-culture references.
Jessica Comer is a graduate student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She has only performed book reviews for collegiate level classes.
Jay Friedenberg. 2020. University of California Press. [ISBN 978-0-520-29848-4. 330 pages, including index. US$39.95 (softcover).]
How is technology changing the self? In The Future of the Self: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Personhood and Identity in the Digital Age, the answer takes three basic forms: 1) we gradually change ourselves through our online behavior, creating idealized avatars or inventing different personas in Second Life; 2) we create increasingly complex physical systems like robots, artificial intelligence (AI) networks, and androids that seem to develop their own consciousness; and 3) we physically repair or enhance our bodies through prostheses that alter our physical and psychological selves, converting us into cyborgs.
In all three cases, the fundamental question is how consciousness, or the self, arises from the material body or from objectively discernible physical operations of the brain. Because “Consciousness is the subjective awareness of one’s experience” (p. 234), and science cannot fully comprehend subjective consciousness through objective methods, the result is an “explanatory gap” (p. 234). Although science can analyze “neural correlates of consciousness” by “mapping objective patterns of activity in the brain with subjective reports of qualia” (p. 234), it cannot establish precisely how and when consciousness arises.
The “explanatory gap” may be insuperable. Theoretically, any underlying physical system, whether biological, mechanical, or electronic, if complex enough, should produce an emergent property greater than the sum of its parts, such as the self or consciousness. The philosopher John Searle’s famous Chinese room thought experiment argues otherwise. If a Chinese speaker slips messages in Chinese to a respondent on the other side of a wall and receives satisfactory answers, it appears that the respondent—whether human or computer—knows Chinese. But the respondent speaks only English, and merely consults a dictionary and follows English instructions telling him how to answer in Chinese, essentially obeying an algorithm but without understanding the language. Even as complex a system as language does not generate emergent properties: “semantics (meaning) cannot come from the execution of syntax (grammar)” (p. 240). Despite “extensive counterarguments” (p. 240) against Searle’s position, no one has yet explained exactly how consciousness emerges from physical processes alone, however complex.
Even if we could create an immortal self in cyberspace—the goal of many AI theorists and engineers—should we do so? A truly immortal self would devolve into nihilism because, lacking finitude, it would lack purpose and meaning: “Endings give meaning to life” (p.288). Artificial selves, therefore, “cannot be indestructible robots” (p. 236): they must have finite lives—be embodied in some way—or their existence is meaningless. So, the question remains: how extensively should we integrate technology and the self?
The Future of the Self presents a comprehensive, authoritative, and detailed survey of scholarship on this question, covering philosophical and psychological concepts of the self; how machines can evolve into artificial persons; the varieties of conceivable software selves; how the brain maps different affective states; transhumanist possibilities and pitfalls; and the legal and ethical issues of human-machine interaction. Thanks to its critical, balanced perspective and its thoroughness, this accessible yet scholarly volume on the future of the self is valuable to specialist and generalist alike.
Donald R. Riccomini
Donald R. Riccomini is an STC member and Emeritus Senior Lecturer in English at Santa Clara University, where he specialized in engineering and technical communications. He previously spent 23 years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.
Katharina Kurz and Pia Jerger, eds. 2020. HfG-Archiv Museum Ulm. [ISBN 978-3-89986-327-7. 212 pages. US$39.00 (softcover).]
Unless you are a design student or artist by trade, the story of how design for gender developed in Germany has likely been unknown to you. After reading this bi-lingual book of demonstrations, theses, and work of gifted design students archived over a period of years, you’ll no longer be able to claim ignorance of the topic covered in Not My Thing—Gender in Design.
The authors have arranged vivid presentations by categories, such as home furnishings, education, and medicine. These were extracted from the HfG school’s archival materials to demonstrate the varied and diverse needs of the worlds’ population. Typically, men, women, and children have learned to adapt to available designs or accept a generic model. If you prefer to dress your children by gender, you can buy pink or blue clothes and games in that same color scheme. Two full-color photos show how prevalent these choices are, thereby indicating how difficult it might be to find other color options. Personal care items, seating, and medical equipment address needs and preferences that also affect the under-served LGBTQ community. One picture in this book demonstrates a unique design for a prostrate exam table.
Why should this rather controversial subject be of interest to technical communicators? Consider whether your company manufactures tools, furniture, kitchen appliances, computers, or toys. Do they attempt to serve many genders? What color is the handle of your drill? Certainly, we are accustomed to living in a residence designed with some other client in mind. And likely you have noted that car crash dummies are all long waisted? How comfortable is the shifter location if you are short waisted? Perhaps in today’s world, technical companies need to consider designs for multiple markets or clientele.
Activities and design projects included in Not My Thing let students create their own puzzles and toys, or let people choose the color of plastic preferred to build a tulip chair (incidentally, a high female gender response of pink was atypical, with neutral, masculine design being the norm).
Most technical communicators do not have the luxury of getting customer input at the outset of the product development process. However, salespersons have historically surveyed existing customers for input. And websites and chats can provide a means for collecting random responses post design. Would your research make an interesting white paper on a blog site?
Readers should be prepared for thought-provoking presentations. Also prepare for the small narrow font, tight line spacing, and multiple columns used to accommodate this bilingual work of art. The heavy-duty paper treated to accept color print is laid out with sections of tone-on-tone type, making text even harder to read. Not My Thing feels like taking a trip to the museum and having to stop and read all the cards. I found it well worth the effort.
Donna Ford has been an STC member and a technical writer in the hardware, software, and government healthcare industries. She holds an Information Design certificate from Bentley College. Donna is an author who also reviews books online for the US Review of Books.
Els Dragt and Jeroen Timmer. 2020. BIS Publishers. [ISBN 978-90-6369-562-0. 146 pages. US$16.99 (softcover).]
I was drawn to Dare to Ask: Learn to ask questions like a pro because it is designed to be both mentally and visually stimulating by using both words and illustrations. I find books that do this well are more accessible to a variety of readers because it allows the author(s) to break down complex ideas and emphasize key points.
Dare to Ask used a variation of fonts, font weights, font sizes, and character/line spacing. These variations made it easy to discern chapter breaks, subject breaks, key points, content, and supplemental information such as quotes. Most notably, the header that was present on each page made it easy to determine what that page would cover and, in addition, both pick up and put down this book with each page being a clear stopping point. I believe these choices allowed Els Dragt and Jeroen Timmer to break down complex information into simple, easily digested pieces of information that make the book accessible to all readers.
For the illustrations, bold colors were used—teal and orange—which drew the eye but could also be harsh to look at. I think these colors were used best when they only covered one page and were paired with black or white. But, in some places, these colors were used together and/or would span two pages which I found harder to appreciate. With that said, there were several illustrations that I truly enjoyed such as the illustration on page 21 of a man with an iPhone in the middle of his face which was paired with content about always being connected and how that’s affected our ability to interact with those around us. I felt this illustration emphasized the key points in the corresponding text which, for me at least, provides me a moment to reflect on the key takeaways.
While the book title suggests this book is about questions, it’s about how to converse and engage with others using questions. In a world where our screens are ever-present and Google is available to answer all our questions, the art of a face-to-face conversation doesn’t come naturally for all of us. Dare to Ask sets to remedy that by explaining how questions can drive a conversation. The examples, however, often are based on pre-pandemic social standards. I expected at least one page to be dedicated to the complications or changes to conversations that have arisen from the pandemic. While most of the content is still relevant, I felt that avoiding this topic was a missed opportunity to make the content relevant and timely in 2020.
In conclusion, Dare to Ask was a great book that breaks down how to use questions in your conversations to both gather information about and connect with others.
Sara Buchanan is an STC member and a content strategist at LCS in Cincinnati, OH. In her free time, she’s an avid reader, and enjoys cooking and doting on her cats: Buffy and Spike.
Martina Flor. 2020. Princeton Architectural Press. [ISBN 978-1-61689-956-1. 160 pages. US$19.95 (softcover).]
Not often do you pick up a book and immediately sense the personal care, the attention to detail and design, the craft of the printed book itself. The Big Leap: A Guide to Freelancing for Creatives is one such book. The pages, printed with two spot colors (blue and red), contain photographs and many examples from the author’s own creative work in lettering—the art of drawing words, which differs from calligraphy, an artistic form of writing. Martina Flor runs a lettering and font design business (Studio Martina Flor) in Berlin. Her employees worked on the book, designing the cover and page layout, taking the photographs, and managing the project. The book itself is pleasing to the eye and fun to read, thanks to their skills.
Originally written in Spanish and published in Spain as El Gran Salto, this book has an international focus throughout, but one section (p. 47) specifically addresses “Working in Different Markets,” including paying attention to how “standards and practices” vary and noting that in these instances you may have to educate your clients carefully about how you work. (The book is also available in Portuguese and is forthcoming in German.)
The conversational tone and chunked topics make for a quick read. The early topics vary from what it means to be a freelancer to how to decide on making The Big Leap from employee to sole proprietor. After that, the book moves to practical business approaches: getting clients, generating income (such as tangential projects like teaching and speaking), and managing time between the artistic work itself and the business administration. The final chapter outlines how to grow the business.
Flor writes directly to designers, photographers, and studio artists, but most of the information also applies to writers considering freelancing, including technical communicators—albeit in a more general fashion. The text is introductory in nature, so it’s perfect for those who know little about freelancing. As such, American readers will quickly note there is nothing about the legal side of creating a business, nothing about business licenses, taxes, or incorporating. However, Flor does address money: pricing your work. She knows that freelancers in creative fields typically love their work and thus would practice their art even for low or no compensation. She warns us readers to “assign a sufficient and fair monetary value to your work” (p. 111). Practice advice like this abounds.
She also addresses business communication, including how to email clients properly and professionally, including billing and contracts, but all of this is conveyed in a general sense, as if you were engaged in conversation. The text avoids business jargon.
Since most readers of The Big Leap must be considering a professional change, Flor includes a few simple activities to help envision work and life as a freelancer. These exercises are more like daydreams than business plans, but in the beginning, isn’t dreaming of a different way of working the point?
Kelly A. Harrison
Kelly A. Harrison, MFA, teaches technical communication at Stanford University. In collaboration with a colleague, she recently received an NEH grant for curriculum development at San José State University, where she has taught a range of writing courses. Kelly has written print and online content for various high-tech companies.
Sally McConnell-Ginet. 2020. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-44590-0. 320 pages, including index. US$26.95 (softcover)].
“Most people like to think of language as just ‘there,’ as neutral” (p. 207); however, Sally McConnell-Ginet clearly explains in Words Matter: Meaning and Power that language is far from neutral. She powerfully illustrates the connection between language and social practices, and invites readers to critically examine their own words and ideas about the language they use.
Through contemporary, national examples, McConnell-Ginet addresses language issues that plague America today, such as shifting ethnic/racial labeling, sex/gender labels, marking and erasing certain populations, Black Lives Matter, reciprocal forms of address, slurs, sexism and racism, the politics behind dictionaries, and dangerous speech. Many, if not most, Americans are well-meaning in the words they choose when speaking to and about people other than themselves. However, many people are not aware of or understand historical roots and how social issues and trends affect language. There is a fine line between explaining the history and meaning behind certain words and making readers feel uncomfortable or defensive about their own linguistic practices; this is where McConnell-Ginet shines. She does an excellent job of explaining the way “norming” creates a standard and everyone else a deviant or derivative of that norm. Norming practices lead to marking and erasing certain people, which lead to more dire consequences for people who are already marginalized. Without telling readers what they “should” do, she explains the rationale behind certain labels like cisgender and helps them explore the possibilities and implications for gender identification.
There are also discussions that help readers understand common practices like name calling, where nouns versus adjectives are the basis of racial and ethnic slurs, but avoiding nouns and sticking with descriptions (adjectives) has led to people-friendly practices like the “people-first strategy” (p. 45). Likewise, although the idea of colorblindness seems to be a linguistic move that is compassionate toward people of color, McConnell-Ginet explains how “attempted colorblindness and associated colormuteness can make it more difficult for people actually to notice racial discrimination, which is essential for doing anything about it” (p. 88). Skin color does not need to disappear from anyone’s sight; what needs to change is how skin color leads some people to “draw conclusions about a person’s intelligence, talents, tastes, or general worthiness” (p. 89).
When talking about words and their meaning, the issue of freedom of speech generally enters the conversation. Although some people may see discussions about the meaning and power of words as infringing on their right to freedom of speech, Words Matter is an intelligent discussion about the consequences of language without giving prescriptive directives. “It is because words matter that freedom of speech matters” (p. 279); therefore, understanding how language can tear apart a country—as well as heal a country—makes this book highly recommended for all adults.
Diane Martinez is an STC senior member and an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University where she teaches technical and professional writing. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist.
Scott A. Baldwin. 2018. American Psychological Association. [ISBN 978-1-4338-2707-5. 134 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]
Despite the title and the contents of other books in this series, Writing Your Psychology Research Paper focuses on writing classroom papers based on library research, not empirical research, and is most suitable for undergraduates. Though it can support empirical research writing, better books are available for that purpose.
Scott Baldwin begins (Chapter 1) by describing how brainstorming helps writers to choose a topic and narrow the focus until that topic has a manageable scope. Chapter 2 provides a good overview of literature searches, though it’s no substitute for the fuller treatment in Susanne Hempel’s book (reviewed in Technical Communication 67(2)). Baldwin provides good advice on search keywords, but reminds us of the continuing importance of librarians and libraries in this age of Internet searches and of the need to assess information quality, based on both the quality hierarchy (peer-reviewed journals at the top) and critical judgment, such as scrutinizing research methods. Even good journals sometimes publish questionable papers. Chapter 6 complements this chapter by clarifying when citations are necessary, how to avoid unintended plagiarism, and how to use software like Zotero to manage references.
Chapter 3 carefully distinguishes a topic (the subject) from a thesis (opinions on that topic) and illustrates how a thesis emerges from synthesizing the literature review and how a paper emerges from organizing the results to support the thesis. One useful trick: to summarize each chosen paper based on what the authors did, how they did it, what they found, and the paper’s limitations, including both limitations the authors report and limitations you identify through critical reading.
Although Chapter 3 emphasizes the importance of an outline for organizing thoughts and facilitating writing, it doesn’t describe the highly iterative process of outline development, with rigorous evaluation followed by revision to improve the outline’s effectiveness. Most outlines must be revised repeatedly to support efficient writing. The example outline Baldwin provides is too general. Though it goes beyond a simple list of headings, it relies on questions rather than statements of what will actually be said. Thus, it illustrates an early step in outline development, not the final outline that should be created before beginning to write.
Chapter 4 ties the outline to a typical scientific paper’s structure and uses the effective analyze–evaluate–compare–synthesize approach to writing. Chapter 5 describes the revision process, based on well-known principles such as presenting one topic per paragraph, but doesn’t sufficiently emphasize the iterative nature of revision. Baldwin ends with an insightful and helpful discussion of how to fight procrastination.
Writing Your Psychology Research Paper provides a solid foundation for learning to write classroom papers, accompanied by many clear examples that illustrate the principles. It will also provide a solid foundation for learning to write more demanding peer-reviewed papers.
Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 30 years of writing, editing, translation, and information design experience. He’s the author of two popular books, Effective Onscreen Editing and Writing for Science Journals.
Jacqueline D. Lipton. 2020. University of California Press. [ISBN 978-0-520-30181-8. 264 pages, including index. US$22.95 (softcover).]
In Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers, Jaqueline D. Lipton focuses on the legality and permissibility that contemporary writers must face before publication. This book offers extensive knowledge on the specific rules that writers must follow in today’s digital world and speaks on each writer’s intellectual rights. Lipton extends her law school knowledge to young, emerging writers. Introductory topics cover copyrighting, ghostwriting, and freelancing. In today’s world, e-books and self-publishing are popular, but what rights do you have versus what rights do you give up in the process? Is fanfiction legal? What exactly can be copyrighted in a digital media age? Lipton acknowledges these present-day concerns and makes sure we as writers realize our rights.
As writers, the world inspires us. From a book quotation, a conversation, a painting, or a movie scene, creativity strikes. When we are reading, watching, overhearing, and communicating, we invent new ideas from older ones. But as writers, are we allowed to write anything we want? Do our ideas belong to us or do they belong to who inspired them? What rights do we have when we are writing for someone else? Lipton’s book gives an introduction on work-for-hire positions, ghostwriting, and intellectual property (IP) projects. It offers present-day examples to showcase how writing for someone else transpires. Ghostwriting is usually referred to as writing for a famous person. But here, Lipton notes, “Anyone who has a story to tell but doesn’t have the skill or the time may choose to hire a ghost” (p. 55). Lipton discusses how and when to receive credit and acknowledgement when writing for someone else.
As you read further, the author describes how to protect authors with topics on trademarking, specific fair usage, and contracts. As a young or new writer, specific rules and regulations may only be told to us by our agents, our writer friends, or through late-night Google searches. After writing, all we want to do is to become published. Lipton offers paramount insight on the laws of publishing with agents versus. self-publishing.
Digital technology requires authors to market their brand and use all social media platforms. Law and Authors discusses the pros and cons of using social media to interact with your fans, readers, and clients. When authors want to use photographs and images that belong to other artists, are these photographs copyrighted? Seeking permission is often the hardest part, but Lipton gives us useful tips on how to sail the stormy trademarked seas.
Writers of all kinds, from academia to storytellers, will benefit from Law and Authors. Lipton offers the most current laws on publication and creative works, thus also providing a notable read for educators and marketing managers who use copyrighted images and texts.
Giannina Jensen is a graduate student who is currently studying technical communication with an emphasis in user experience and social media at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She enjoys editing science manuals and reading an abundance of topical nonfiction.