70.3 August 2023

Book Reviews

Jackie Damrau, Editor

Books Reviewed in This Issue

The reviews provided here are those that are self-selected by the reviewers from a provided list of available titles over a specific date range. Want to become a book reviewer? Contact Dr. Jackie Damrau at jdamrau3@gmail.com for more information.

Superspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond

Kathryn Harkup

Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication

Laura Gonzales

Try This: Research Methods for Writers

Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Derek Mueller, and Kate Pantelides

Investing in the Era of Climate Change

Bruce Usher

Joyful Infographics: A Friendly, Human Approach to Data

Nigel Holmes

Introduction to Digital Media Design: Transferable Hacks, Skills and Tricks

David Leicester Hardy

The Business of UX Writing

Yael Ben-David

Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic

Karen Lee Ashcraft

The Necessity of Critique: Andrew Feenberg and the Philosophy of Technology

Darryl Cressman, ed.

Comics and Graphic Novels

Julia Round, Rikke Platz Cortsen, and Maaheen Ahmed

The Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Guido Rings and Sebastian M. Rasinger

Talking in Clichés: The Use of Stock Phrases in Discourse and Communication

Stella Bullo and Derek Bousfield

Can We Trust AI?

Rama Chellappa, PhD, with Eric Niiler

Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace

Anna Tavis and Stela Lupushor

Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook

Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall

Content Strategy: A How-to Guide

Guiseppe Getto, Jack T. Labriola, and Sheryl Ruszkiewicz

The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

Amy Schneider

Take My Word for It: A Dictionary of English Idioms

Anatoly Liberman

Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide

Natalie Canavor

Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Ann Handley

Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Sally Helgesen

Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers

Sheryl Cababa

Subatomic Writing: 6 Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter

Jamie Zvirzdin

You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Powers of Persuasion, and Why It Matters

Vanessa Bohns

Decoding the Metaverse: Expand Your Business Using Web3

Chris Duffey

How to Promote Your Book: A Practical Guide to Publicizing Your Own Title

Dr. Jan Yager

The Anatomy of Genres: How Story Forms Explain How the World Works

John Truby

Engineering Words: Communicating clearly in the workplace

Sharon Burton and Bonni Graham Gonzalez

Superspy ScienceSuperspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond

Kathryn Harkup. Bloomsbury Sigma. [ISBN 978-1-4729-8226-1. 400 pages, including index. US$28.00 (hardcover).]

Kathryn Harkup is a chemist who, after completing her PhD, realized that she preferred to talk, write, and demonstrate science, not slave away in front of a fume hood in the lab. She started to give talks on science and engineering topics that appealed to bored teenagers, which evolved into workshops on the quirky side of science. These talents came together well in Superspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond.

The book takes into consideration the larger-than-life hero and villains, glaring plot holes, and gadget-stuffed Aston Martin and balances them with what’s plausible and implausible. The descriptions and explanations are an engaging read.

The chapters in Superspy Science match the order of Bond films in the series and are numbered 001, 002, 003 … 007 …. In each chapter, Harkup discusses things like weapons (for example, the poisoned-tipped shoe knife and headphones that deliver a lethal electrical shock), dangerous animals (like snakes, sharks, giant centipedes, and crocodiles), and the ways people die (an exploding space station, atomic weapons, and bioterrorism, to name a few).

Chapters begin with Harkup briefly describing scenes from various Bond movies and pointing out the long-running themes or tropes. This format is an excellent refresher for those who haven’t watched a Bond film in a while, and it helps readers to see the interrelatedness of characters and events. For instance, Chapter 013 tells us that Bond and bombs have a long, intimate history. He’s survived exposure to radioactive mud, been handcuffed to an atomic weapon, and saved the world from nuclear war several times. “[I]t’s surprising 007 doesn’t glow in the dark.” The author provides a footnote in Chapter 013 that reads, “I’m exaggerating, of course; Bond would not glow in the dark regardless of how much radiation he had been exposed to, but his level of exposure would be a health concern” (p. 186).

Harkup’s footnotes are a fun addition. She uses them to continue a stream of thought, share related information about the topic at hand, and give us insight into behind-the-scenes stories. For example, she tells us that radioactive thallium made an appearance in the 2015 film Spectre. Bond visited Mr. White to get information about it and he finds White looking very ill. White said it was due to the radioactive thallium he found on his mobile phone. Harkup’s footnote reads, “I’m not going to ask how he figured that out. His technologically well-appointed cabin in the woods perhaps has an atomic absorption spectrometer and a Geiger counter alongside all that surveillance equipment. What villain’s lair wouldn’t?” (p. 66). See what I mean about the footnotes adding in some critical thinking while accounting for the suspension of belief that’s required for fiction?

If you watch movies and wonder, “Is that even possible?” you’ll find that the narrative in Superspy Science provides the kind of explanations you’re after. It might even arm you with facts that could help you win at movie trivia.

Michelle Gardner

Michelle Gardner is a contract senior writer at Microsoft focused on their cloud portfolio. 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.

Designing Multilingual ExperiencesDesigning Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication

Laura Gonzales. 2022. Utah State University Press. [ISBN 978-1-64642-275-3. 204 pages, including index. US$25.95 (softcover).]

As a technical communicator with a keen interest in localization and internationalization, I found that Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication fell short of its promise to provide strategies and best practices for researchers engaging in multilingual communities.

The book is at its best when it ruminates on the need for “fluid language models in technical communication” (p. 59) with the example of a multilingual website with cleanly split Spanish and English sides, neither of which fully reflect the Spanglish reality of how its target users communicate daily. Here I thought Laura Gonzales might introduce novel frameworks for marking up content with metadata that would allow certain phrases to be personalized or translated differently under certain contexts, but she makes it clear that she is wary of technological solutions. The author argues that because “computer code is built on binary infrastructures…many of the technologies currently in use, and the people who design them” cannot be counted on to be able to operate outside of binary ways of thinking (p. 59). Gonzales does not only eschew existing technologies (p. 126); elsewhere, she argues that some people’s very “embodied presence” (p. 167) perpetuates colonial oppression, and thus their embodied presence must face “destruction” if her conception of social justice (p. 30) is ever to be achieved.

A central theme of the book is that technical communicators should embrace “complexity, rather than aiming for simplification” (p. 22). To this end, Gonzales says she wants to “facilitate the design and development of more effective multilingual technologies that reflect the fluidity of language rather than segmenting languages into static categories” (p.170). From my perspective, one of the most effective ways technical communicators can create complex, personalized, multilingual experiences at scale is by quite literally segmenting language into categories, elements, and attributes in markup languages like XML or XLIFF and embracing decades of research into plain language writing principles that show that there are indeed “good” and “better” ways to write the words that go in-between tags so that they can be more readily understood by, and localized for, multilingual audiences. Gonzales makes no mention of these strategies or best practices, however, likely because she believes that technical communicators who hold to notions of language being “correct” or “incorrect” are “run[ning] the risk of embracing oppressive perspectives that extend racist, colonial legacies” (p.172).

In my experience, I have found books like Senongo Akpem’s Cross-Cultural Design, Robert M. Schumacher’s Handbook of Global User Research, and Val Swisher’s Global Content Strategy to be practical and helpful in my work designing multilingual experiences. I would recommend those over Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication.

Josh Anderson

Josh Anderson, CPTC, is a multilingual technical communicator at Precision Content.Josh was an English teacher in Japan before earning a Master of Information at the University of Toronto.

Try This: Research Methods for WritersTry This: Research Methods for Writers

Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Derek Mueller, and Kate Pantelides. 2022. University Press of Colorado. [ISBN 978-1-64642-312-5. 170 pages. US $22.95 (softcover).]

Try This: Research Method for Writers is part of the “Practical and Possibilities” series that offers low-cost print and free digital books in the field of writing studies. Jennifer Clary-Lemon, Derek Mueller, and Kate Pantelides, “teacher-scholars in Writing Studies” (p. vii), have created a guide for performing primary research in the writing field. Specifically, their book covers “multiple interdisciplinary methods—often used in research in the field, but rarely drawn upon in undergraduate courses—and suggest them for use at all levels” (p. vii). This book is also a useful guide for faculty who want to incorporate practices in their own classes.

The authors are enthusiastic proponents of this approach, which they explain has “energized our own research and teaching” (p. vii). While the authors are experienced practitioners, they are sensitive to their audience’s understanding of the topic and have organized their book accordingly. They clearly want their readers’ exploration of primary research practices to be a positive, successful experience. The authors establish a foundation with an overview of research methods in Chapter 1, followed by a discussion of ethical research practices in Chapter 2. While students can read the book according to their research needs, the authors strongly advise readers to review these two important chapters. The remaining chapters are “organized around methods to approach a particular kind of primary data—texts , artifacts, places, and images” (p. viii).

The authors employ a variety of techniques to make the information in Try This accessible to students who are new to primary research practices. They begin with topics likely familiar to students, such as “… rhetorical analysis, secondary source use, surveys and interviews” and transition to those the authors “…think that might be less familiar, though just as useful and engaging—discourse analysis, map-making, and using worknets for invention” (p viii).

The authors provide numerous examples to clarify and reinforce the topics they cover, as well as also provide opportunities to explore and practice the topics via their “Try This” exercises. The creative, well-designed exercises vary in complexity from those that can be completed quickly in 15 minutes to projects that require more of a commitment, taking a day to finish. Each exercise lists the suggested time for completion, which provides a helpful guide for students.

Lastly, the authors reinforce important terminology by bolding certain text, and include brief, supporting information in the side margins.

As the book’s title suggests, Clary-Lemon, Mueller, and Pantelides invite “…students and faculty to approach writing and researching differently than before” and be open to “…discover something new and exciting” (p. vii).

Ann Marie Queeney

Ann Marie Queeney is an STC senior member with more than 20 years’ technical communication experience primarily in the medical device industry. Her STC experience includes serving as a Special Interest Group leader, 2020-2022 Board member, and CAC (Communities Affairs Committee) Chair. Ann Marie is the owner of A.M. Queeney, LLC.

Investing in the Era of Climate ChangeInvesting in the Era of Climate Change

Bruce Usher. 2022. Columbia Business School Publishing. [ISBN 978-0-231-20088-2. 304 pages. US$27.95 (hardcover).]

There is so much to love about Investing in the Era of Climate Change. Students, teachers, investors, and anyone interested in the topics of investing or climate change (or both) will find a great read here. The research, scope (with 26 chapters), and readability—just about everything—are most impressive. The tone itself is matter of fact and rooted in reality, which I greatly appreciated.

Some topics discussed in Investing in the Era of Climate Change involve great sums of money such as the energy retrofit of the Empire State Building that generated a payback in three years (p. 141). But some covered topics can apply to the more average investor as, for example, someone thinking of where to buy a home. Which locations might not fare well in the future due to climate change? One answer comes when Usher points out that the “intensity of wildfires because of drier forests” can create a threat to homes located in a “risk area” (p. 143). Usher points out that “rising temperatures are raising global sea levels because of thermal expansion and are increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires” so buying a home in a related risk area could be a poor investment (p. 143).

As for the total scope of topics covered by Usher, the range is impressive. Some topics are big picture concerns such as why investing matters. Other topics involve details of investing in areas such as forestry, agriculture, and real estate. Usher aptly handles both the forest and the trees. Usher credits many people who did research for the book with the scope of research being impressive and sound.

Whether you are simply interested in the topic of climate change and/or wise and effective investing (with a wide scope to include investing in real estate, stocks, etc.) or someone who works in academia as a student or teacher interested in learning more about the issues covered in Investing in the Era of Climate Change, you will find that Usher and his colleagues did at least some of the research for you on timely and important topics.

Jeanette Evans

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 and undergraduate degree in education.

Joyful InfographicsJoyful Infographics: A Friendly, Human Approach to Data

Nigel Holmes. 2022. CRC Press. [ISBN 978-1-0032-2236-1. 215 pages, including index. US$26.95 (e-book).]

In Chapter 5 of Joyful Infographics: A Friendly, Human Approach to Data, Nigel Holmes references to the ubiquitous smiley face icon, which may have been invented in 1963, but lives on today in buttons, emojis, and even a forest in Oregon. The smiley face is an appropriate symbol for this book: warm, accessible, and cheerful. Holmes is a British graphic designer, best known for his graphic design work with Time magazine from the 1970s through the 1990s. He advocates for presenting data in ways that are engaging and friendly.

Infographics convey data through a combination of graphics and text. They’re not quite the same as data visualization (think computer-generated charts and graphs); dataviz graphics only present data, while infographics explain it. Infographics tell stories, which, Holmes claims, people crave. In this book, Holmes defends his style of engaging, sometimes whimsical infographics, arguing that artistic elements aren’t the “chart junk” data scientist Edward Tufte insists they are. These playful touches are not clutter; they’re what make Holmes’s designs engaging, reader friendly, and effective.

Joyful Infographics itself is as friendly as Holmes’s graphic design work. He writes with humor and gives enthusiastic shout-outs to designers and artists whose work he admires. The book is filled with examples of imaginative infographics. And he draws from a wide range of examples; readers can study visuals from fields as diverse as human physiology, advertising, and the Olympic games. Holmes also grounds his work in history: Chapter 3 traces visual representations of information throughout history, referencing everything from the Chauvet cave paintings to Henry Beck’s Tube maps, from the Bayeux Tapestry to emojis.

Holmes also provides actionable instructions for designers. Chapter 4 offers nine techniques to make infographics more engaging, and Chapter 9 warns “Don’t do this!” and provides examples of how not to design infographics. Following his guidelines will help designers keep the humanity in their visual communication. In a time when many communication professionals are wondering how much of our work artificial intelligence can do, it’s a good reminder that it takes the human touch to communicate data in a way that audiences want to engage with.

Elizabeth Hardin

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.

Introduction to Digital Media DesignIntroduction to Digital Media Design: Transferable Hacks, Skills and Tricks

David Leicester Hardy. 2022. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. [ISBN 978-1-350104-93-8. 226 pages, including index. US$34.95 (softcover).]

The emerging challenge for digital designers is to appeal to ever more varied audiences with a uniform, optimized user experience across a broad spectrum of platforms and tools, often under significant time and cost pressure. The success of the development effort, as well as the designer’s continued employability, depends on adopting this approach.

David Leicester Hardy’s Introduction to Digital Design: Transferable Hacks, Skills and Tricks addresses this problem by observing that if design is now “part of early strategy” (p. 208), designers must learn to “get things working quickly and then build on that” (p. x) by adopting a “generalist approach” that integrates “increasingly diverse skills” (p. xi) with pragmatic hacks and iterative design practices.

Because users expect “seamless, unified experiences” across different platforms, designers must focus on acquiring “multidisciplinary skills” (p. 207), “getting user feedback early,” and “iterating quickly” (p. 45). They must also save “any changes that increase progress toward user goals” (p. 45), discard those that don’t, and build a library of reusable hacks.

A primary method is to create a basic, cross-platform structure that allows “visual design” details to be added later (p. 45). Any tool from any source that satisfies the user’s experience is allowed, and logged in the designer’s inventory for future reuse. “It’s like Lego blocks for designers” (p. 22), with new blocks building upon existing modules.

For example, a designer can avoid laborious, repetitive, pixel-by-pixel web development for different platforms by developing mobile applications first, then scaling for tablets, laptops, and desktops. The smallest screen requires “prioritizing the most important content” (p. 139), and can serve as a basic structure amenable to “progressive enhancement” (p. 140) for larger screens, streamlining the development process.

Although written for designers with some experience, Hardy’s book can be readily adapted for beginning students. It covers the major digital design elements: user interface, user experience, animation and motion graphics, interaction design, design for the web, and emerging technologies. It also includes an HTML tutorial useful as a primer or refresher.

Hardy concludes by showing how integrating the virtual and physical worlds for augmented or mixed reality applications requires further expansion of the digital designer’s skill set. Particularly nettlesome is the problem of “rendering virtual objects behind real ones in the viewer’s eyes” (p. 195). The complexity of the issue reinforces the need for iterative, pragmatic design solutions that can provide the unified, immersive experience expected by the user.

The book’s hacks, illustrations, examples, and realistic designer exercises—all reflective of Hardy’s extensive industry experience—are accompanied by a website where students can practice design principles and techniques. Hardy’s emphasis on pragmatism, process, and reusability is valuable because it reminds students that digital design is a technical, creative, and economic activity that requires continual learning and growth. As he says, “you simply can’t design based on intuition” (p. 30).

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 twenty-three years in high technology as a technical writer, engineer, and manager in semiconductors, instrumentation, and server development.

The Business of UX WritingThe Business of UX Writing

Yael Ben-David. 2022. A Book Apart. [ISBN 978-1-952616-24-2. 140 pages, including index. US$29.00 (paperback).]

The Business of UX Writing is a practical book that defines user experience (UX) writing as a discipline, a practice, an occupation, and a business investment. In just five chapters, Yael Ben-David documents the history of UX writing, describes the intersection of UX writing and business, proves how UX writing increases ROI, demonstrates methods for measuring UX writing successes, and suggests ways that UX writing can benefit businesses, including process documentation.

Ben-David begins her book with some storytelling about the origins of UX writing and its relationship to other common UX roles, especially content design. Besides documenting what UX writers know and do, Ben-David recalls a poignant conversation she had with Kristina Halvorson about what “we” should call ourselves—UX writers or content designers. Ben-David advocates for “UX writer” because she feels it’s important to have UX in her title, whereas Halvorson prefers “content designer” because of the potential downsides of referring to ourselves only as writers (p. 19). She describes the intersection of UX writing and business and her five-part, business-centric framework, KAPOW, where UX writers (UXWs) help businesses set responsible goals. The KAPOW framework is:

Know your goals.

Articulate solutions.

Prioritize solutions.

Own your metrics.


Ben-David models the process throughout the book with a few examples, being careful to explain how UX writing can showcase the return on investment (ROI) of UX writing by reporting on their own self-defined metrics. She recommends tying goals and metrics to “if–then statements” to ensure everyone is focused on similar data points. For example, “If 5 percent more users in the test group draw funds in their first seven days, then the copy was successful” (p. 41). Ben-David’s examples are short and effective, giving tangible suggestions for how to conduct quantitative and qualitative user research.

She reminds readers that ROI on UX writing is a long game that must be strategically played. UX writing can increase ROI by breaking down the barriers between designers, users, and decision-makers. By engaging in a collaborative cycle with UXWs, the business is better able to serve customers through a better user experience. This results in the business receiving more profits where it can then invest in hiring additional UXWs to enhance the business’s success (p. 51, Figure 3.2).

Ben-David opens her final chapter with this fact: UX writing is “largely tactical” because writers are outnumbered by visual designers and product owners, sometimes as much as 10 to 1 (p. 96). Because of this reality, content operations and organization-wide education is key to the success of UX writing, especially in large enterprises. Developing the voice and tone of a content team should be collaborative with a heavy emphasis on process documentation and quality control.

As someone with an extensive career in many areas, I found this book to be a humbling reflection of my inner conversations about the value of writing to both design and business. Ben-David showcases her own UX writing experience as she brings her research and story together, leading readers to her desired conclusion: UX writing is beneficial to both the practice of UX design and businesses desire to make a profit.

Erica M. Stone, PhD

Erica Stone has more than 10 years of technical communication experience with a focus on UX writing and content design. She is a member of STC and serves on the STC Scholarship Committee.

Wronged and DangerousWronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic

Karen Lee Ashcraft. 2022. Bristol University Press. [ISBN 978-1-5292-2140-4. 264 pages, including index. US$19.99 (softcover).]

Around the world liberal democracies are struggling to come to grips with far-right populist backlash. In Wronged and Dangerous: Viral Masculinity and the Populist Pandemic, Ashcraft provides a refreshingly original, deeply thought out, and well-argued analysis of the problem, and suggests a path toward mitigation.

To date most attempts to understand the populist backlash have focused on socioeconomic factors and issues of class. While acknowledging their importance, Ashcraft argues that the deeper cause can be traced to the issues of gender—specifically to “a seething sense of rightful virility wrongly denied” (p 4.) that she calls “aggrieved” or “viral masculinity” (p. 4).

As she describes it, viral masculinity is less a political or ideological position, than a feeling of dread or precarity which is experienced as anger at a sense of aggrieved entitlement, a sense that those who should be in charge are being displaced and wrongly challenged. Ashcraft prefers the term “viral masculinity” to “toxic masculinity,” which some have used, because she feels that for all its toxicity, it acts more like a virus, spreading through a communality of feeling or contagious resentment. While men are especially susceptible to the feeling, they are by no means alone. She likens the infected to the pufferfish, which reacts to perceived threats by puffing up and spewing toxins, which, if continued long enough, also harms the fish.

Ashcraft shows how aggrieved masculinity provides the force driving populism, as it hijacks whatever materials it finds available to seethe against an ever-morphing list of grievances—COVID mask mandates, political correctness, feminists, immigration, LBGTQ, critical race theory—and shows how it undergirds the populist playbook, with its vibe of antagonism, “people vs elites” rhetoric, strong-man leadership, and its need for “Others” to demonize (pp. 65–69) In a wide-ranging analysis, she traces her subject through politics here and abroad, through its role in the culture wars, through its depiction in popular culture, and through its exploitation by powerful interests who seek to achieve ends of their own by stoking the people’s anger.

Two major approaches to coping with populist backlash have been tried so far: 1) attempts to understand and empathize with populist angst, while disagreeing with its vitriolic expression, and 2) denunciation and counter protest. Ashcraft argues that each fails because aggrieved masculinity relishes the attention given to its complaints, but also loves nothing more than an opportunity to brawl. While these approaches are socially important, Ashcraft argues, they are not up to the task of slowing the spread of populist anger. Ashcraft instead advocates for a quasi-public health approach, focusing not on what the “populist pandemic” fumes about, but on how it spreads (pp. 7–8).

There is much more to Ashcraft’s argument than I have been able to cover in this brief space, but anyone wanting a better understanding of our often bewildering and tumultuous political and cultural landscape will find Wronged and Dangerous insightful and richly rewarding.

Patrick Lufkin

Patrick Lufkin is an STC Fellow with experience in computer documentation, newsletter production, and public relations. He reads widely in science, history, and current affairs, as well as on writing and editing. He chairs the Gordon Scholarship for technical communication and co-chairs the Northern California technical communication competition.

The Necessity of CritiqueThe Necessity of Critique: Andrew Feenberg and the Philosophy of Technology

Darryl Cressman, ed. 2022. Springer Nature. [ISBN 978-3-031-07876-7. 286 pages, including index. US$140 (e-book).]

Many contributors to this collection make clear that Andrew Feenberg is one of a few strong voices who has consistently pushed for critical and political examination of technology and its role in society. Feenberg’s Critical Constructivist framework has developed over the past couple decades; it engages with Marx, Marcuse, Heidegger, the Frankfurt School, Science and Technology Studies, Foucault, and Latour to name a few. In the opening chapter, Feenberg identifies Critical Constructivism’s core value: it “‘de-ontologizes’ these philosophies of technology, capturing their critique of rationality while affirming nevertheless the value of modern science and technology” (p. 15). While rooted in theories that are in themselves more complex and nuanced than many practitioners find useful, Feenberg’s opening chapter is readable and accessible. It is vital to understanding Feenberg’s view of his own work and contextualizes subsequent chapters.

Editor Darryl Cressman divides his book, The Necessity of Critique: Andrew Feenberg and the Philosophy of Technology, into three parts: Democratic Potentials, Trajectories of Contemporary Critique, and Critical Theories of Technology. The chapters on Democratic Potentials, offer the best gateway for those new to Feenberg or thinking about how critical theory can be applied, in practical, non-ontological ways, to specific instances of technology. Of great interest, given the pandemic, are discussions on a Corona tracking app and hydroxychloroquine. The second section is almost as accessible, but more philosophy happens. In Part II, authors engage with big data, algorithms, and recommender, Sally Wyatt’s chapter, “Critical (Big) Data Studies” is the best in the book, blending academic voice and style, connecting to Feenberg and theory, all while addressing a vital topic. Equally interesting is de Jong and Prey’s chapter on recommender systems: AI-driven algorithms that suggest products to consumers, like new artists on Spotify, movies on Netflix, or books on Amazon. While Big Data impacts on a daily basis, recommender systems are more explicit and present in our lives as we consume media and content. Both chapters make for intense but rewarding readings for advanced undergraduate or graduate students.

The last section is of limited interest and accessibility. Those deeply read in philosophy will likely find the rabbit holes of Soviet Block Marxism versus Western Marxism, comparisons of Feenberg to Byung-Chul Han, and detailed engagements of Marx, Heidegger, and Foucault interesting. The arguments are compellingly detailed, reasoned, and supported. Sadly, several chapters offered limited practical connection or discussion of material conditions, and thus seemed counter to the very spirit of Feenberg’s work to “de-ontologize” philosophies of technology. In contrast, Romele’s discussion of refining Feenberg’s philosophy towards one that is more agonistic (drawing on Chantal Mouffe) is a highlight.

An impressive, intense set of readings, Cressman’s collection is a valuable scholarly contribution. Price and the final section’s philosophical re-ontologizing make it hard to recommend The Necessity of Critique to practitioners not already deeply steeped in philosophy. This volume is worth reading.

Gregory Zobel

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

Comics and Graphic NovelsComics and Graphic Novels

Julia Round, Rikke Platz Cortsen, and Maaheen Ahmed. 2023. Bloomsbury Academic. [ISBN 978-1-350-3-3609-4. 282 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]

In Comics and Graphic Novels, Drs. Julia Round, Rikke Platz Cortsen, and Maaheen Ahmed delve into the fascinating world of comics, exploring its history, development, and critical theories. This book offers readers an insightful look into comics and graphic novels, examining the unique language of these diverse media, their impact on popular culture, and the ways in which they challenge and expand upon traditional communication techniques. The authors provide a well-researched, engaging, and accessible account of comics studies. Combining their expertise in the field, the authors bridge the gap between academic inquiry and the appreciation of comics as a visual communication experience. Comics and Graphic Novels is divided into four sections.

Approaching comics. In this section, the authors trace the winding definition of comics through its various recesses, comparing and contrasting definitions offered over the past 180 years by Rodolphe Töpffer, David Kunzle, Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, and Neil Cohn. they then move into exploring the ideological definitions and mechanics of comics by exploring the manipulation of the superhero as a symbol of national identity.

History and cultures. This section examines the histories and criticisms of comics in America and Europe, focusing on the censorship debates of the 1950s. This section also explores the histories of comics around the world, moving from Europe through Africa and Asia. The focus moves from regional focus to newer research approaches that attempt to tie emergent themes of comics across borders.

Productions and reception. The third section explores the contributions and influence of early artists and imprints. The reader’s reception of comics and their interactions with comics across various platforms figures prominently in this section as do the collection of comics and the formation of fan groups and discussions within broader cultural contexts.

Theories and genres. This section reviews the historical and modern themes of comics and how certain genres of comics have become synonymous with the medium itself. This section is an artful exploration of how comics engage weighty themes like trauma and serious genres like autobiography.

While the entire volume is an intellectually stimulating read, teachers of technical communication and comics studies courses will appreciate the final chapter on general reference guides and textbooks. This chapter reviews and compares a variety of texts on comics and graphic novels and evaluates their suitability at various levels of coursework.

Technical communication practitioners, who may not have regarded comics as a serious genre, will appreciate a greater understanding of how comics have influenced readers in a variety of cultural contexts. Comics and graphic novels have much to offer practitioners who struggle to reach audiences beyond written text and video tutorials.

Comics and Graphic Novels is an essential text for anyone interested in the study of visual communication. The authors provide an in-depth, well-researched, and accessible account of comics, blending historical context, formal analysis, and critical theory. With its engaging writing style and thoughtful organization, this book is sure to become a touchstone for students, scholars, and fans of comics and graphic novels.

Michael Opsteegh

Michael Opsteegh is an STC Associate Fellow and a technical writer in the software and financial services industries since 2004. He is a lecturer in the professional writing program at Cal State Long Beach. Michael holds a master’s degree in English and is a Certified Technical Professional Communicator (CPTC).

The Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural CommunicationThe Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Guido Rings and Sebastian M. Rasinger. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-82254-1. 262 pages, including index. US$32.99 (softcover).]

The demand for intercultural competence in the technical communication field is increasing, especially since the COVID pandemic and the rise of remote working began. Whether you work in a face-to-face setting for a multinational company or are a digital nomad, you need to know how to effectively communicate with your users, clients, and coworkers. The Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication aims to provide a “state of the art” introduction to this topic (p. xii).

The text is divided into three major sections: introducing intercultural communication; theories, key concepts, and approaches; and application. As a professor who teaches intercultural technical communication, I appreciated that the authors provide detailed instructions for how this text could be used in a classroom setting, or how to proceed through the sections on your own according to your personal needs.

Each chapter discusses a specific topic within intercultural communication in detail, drawing from a wealth of sources, which are referenced at the conclusion of each chapter. Rings and Rasinger present a variety of examples to frame the discussion, ranging from current political issues to music, film, and even culture-specific proverbs. These examples help the reader visualize the concepts as they occur in real world situations.

A major strength of The Cambridge Introduction to Intercultural Communication is the conscious effort the authors have made to draw from academic sources, theories, and examples stemming from many cultures. Too often, books on this topic are written by British or American authors from their own perspective and using examples from developed countries, unwittingly reinforcing the hegemony of western and industrialized nations.

Despite the authors’ assertions that this is an introductory textbook, it would have limited usefulness in most intercultural technical communication classrooms. The discussion assumes a more advanced knowledge of communication theory and provides a very limited discussion of the major theories of intercultural communication. In many cases, these theories are presented with no visuals or summary callouts to help the reader. Key words are highlighted but often do not have a thorough definition unless the reader consults the book’s glossary. Further, the discussion for writing or creating information for an intercultural audience is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, technical communicators interested in the theory of intercultural communication would find this text an invaluable addition to their collection. I learned several new facts and even a new theory that I plan to integrate into my teaching and research. The detailed reference sections alone make this book worth the purchase price for an academic researcher. However, technical communication practitioners and instructors may find this book to be too theoretical and not practical enough for their needs.

Nicole St. Germaine

Nicole St. Germaine is a Professor of English and the Coordinator of the Technical and Business Writing Program at the Natalie Z. Ryan Department of English at Angelo State University.

Talking in ClichésTalking in Clichés: The Use of Stock Phrases in Discourse and Communication

Stella Bullo and Derek Bousfield. 2023. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 978-1-108-45813-9. 200 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Talking in Clichés: The Use of Stock Phrases in Discourse and Communication is a book written by scholars, for scholars. It uses very technical language without defining it and assumes the reader will understand it; for example, words like metacommentary or in this sentence: “Chapter 5 draws on sociopragmatic theories…” (p. 8). And, as in the case of most academic writing, its vocabulary is often so formal that it loses sight of the need to “connect” with the reader, as in: Clichés “offer a comfortable standpoint of commitment to the propositional content of the utterance” (p. 4). It also cites many experts by their last names and assumes the reader will know who they are, which is not an especially inviting opening.

Definitions are important but can differ and still be equally valid or useful. One might ask: What is a cliché and how does it differ from an idiom? Here are two examples: “an expression that was repeated so often that it lost its freshness and became hackneyed” or “a word or expression that has lost its force through over-exposure” (p. 1). Evidently, debate about the negative effect of clichés was made as early as 1885 from an article in the Punch magazine that criticized the figure of speech.

Also, the debate on the use and usefulness of clichés extends to the marketing world; some ad agencies arguing that clients should avoid them “if they want their brand to stand out from their competitors” (p. 2). Otherwise, phrases like “you’re in good hands” are designed to assure customers of a company’s quality (p. 8).

Think about a negative reaction you might have to certain clichés; things like: “Have a good day” or “How are you?” received in a face-to-face encounter, on the phone, or an email with someone you know or may not know. This reviewer has conducted telemarketing training working with callers from Sri Lanka, where these callers use phrases like these in their calls. I believe that it’s totally inappropriate to say to someone you don’t know: “How are you.” My usual reply from such calls is “My dog just died.”

Still, after all is said and done, clichés have become such an integral part of our vocabulary, in speaking and writing, that it’s worth becoming more aware of their role and effectiveness in our own language. Clichés join company with slang and idioms, jargon and euphemisms, acronyms and abbreviations—that help enrich our view of the world. In the end, clichés are part of the near endless figures of speech that make up that magical––and, for ESL students, that often maddening––brew called the English language.

Steven Darian

Steven Darian is a professor emeritus from Rutgers University. Two of the eight books he’s written since retiring are Understanding the Language of Science and The Role of Religion in Just About Everything.

Can We Trust AI?Can We Trust AI?

Rama Chellappa, PhD, with Eric Niiler. 2022. Johns Hopkins University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4214-4530-4. 224 pages, including index. US$16.95 (softcover).]

In Can We Trust AI?, Chellappa explores both the promise and peril of AI (artificial intelligence). For readers searching for an understanding how AI came to be, in the Dawn of AI (p. 11), Chellappa situates AI in an historical context that is thorough, and thoroughly fascinating given its conception in 1945, while not being exhaustive. Most refreshing is his current assessment of AI that dispels the hype of AI’s world takeover. It is not fully ready for prime time. “[S]ome experts view current artificial intelligence technology as equivalent only to a newborn” (p. 3).

At 224 pages, this book is a quick read and serves as an excellent AI primer. On-the-go readers may also appreciate the small paperback size as it is easy to tuck into a bag or backpack for later access. An electronic version is also available. Chellappa gracefully moves among AI’s past, present, and future. You’ll learn that the term AI was first used at a conference at Dartmouth University in 1955 (p. 15) and that AI is necessary if we want to conquer or make sense of the amount of digital data created in the next five years, which Chellappa says will be “twice the amount created since the beginning of digital storage” (p. 29). Future AI developments may benefit the healthcare industry allowing older adults to remain independent and in their homes. AI may also benefit people with visual or hearing disabilities.

Chellappa’s focus on AI’s ability to improve health (Saving Lives with AI, p. 33) is a significant focus in Can We Trust AI?. Given his work with Johns Hopkins University and the locus of his research that probably should not come as a surprise, but readers should be aware of it as he returns to the theme of AI and healthcare and AI and personal health several times throughout. He does include AI’s ability to benefit transportation (The Promise of Autonomous Vehicles, p. 94) while also including a harsh dose of reality around ethical AI (The Complexities and Contributions of Facial Recognition, p. 83).

Chellappa does not shy away from the underbelly of AI or sounding the alarm about its misapplication, or worse, its misappropriation in the wrong hands. “Beyond its continued research funding, artificial intelligence’s future growth is dependent on addressing four core issues: bias when applied to people and social systems; further refinements in its abilities to adapt to different kinds of data, environments, sensors, cultures, and societies; privacy; and weaponizing applications of its technologies, including deep-fake attacks and other rogue uses” (p. 154).

The way AI has already been misapplied is deeply troubling. Chellappa cites several research studies where issues of conscious and unconscious bias in AI have been confirmed. For AI to overcome these hurdles, companies must “do better when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting a more diverse pool of AI developers and computer engineers” (p. 85). Readers will need to decide for themselves after reading if they can trust AI. It has promise, as shown by Chellappa, but it is also, in its current state, fraught with peril.

Liz Herman

Liz Herman, PhD, is a knowledge management practitioner and is certified in project management and technical communication. She is an STC Fellow and works for Accenture Federal Services as a Senior Manager.

Humans at WorkHumans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace

Anna Tavis and Stela Lupushor. 2022. KoganPage. [ISBN 978-1-3986-0423-0. 264 pages, including index. US$34.99 (softcover).]

Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace by Anna Tavis and Stela Lupushor discusses the importance of prioritizing human-centered practices in the workplace. The book analyzes how organizations can create a workplace that is not only productive but also fulfilling for their employees. The authors present a compelling case for why companies must focus on the well-being and satisfaction of their employees and provide practical advice and real-world examples of how to do so.

Tavis and Lupushor argue that too often, companies focus on profit at the expense of the well-being and satisfaction of their employees. They suggest that this is not only unethical but ultimately counterproductive, as happy, engaged employees are more productive, innovative, and loyal. The book provides numerous examples of companies that have successfully implemented human-centered practices, such as flexible schedules, remote work options, and mindfulness programs, and have seen significant improvements in employee satisfaction and business outcomes.

One of the key takeaways from Humans at Work is the importance of creating a workplace culture that fosters a sense of community and purpose among employees. The authors argue that people are motivated by more than just financial incentives and that a strong sense of belonging and meaning in the workplace is essential for employee satisfaction and productivity. Tavis and Lupushor emphasize the importance of creating a safe and inclusive workplace where people feel valued and respected, which can be achieved through measures such as diversity and inclusion training and zero-tolerance policies for harassment.

Another key theme in this book is the need for leaders to communicate clearly and authentically with their employees. Effective communication is essential for building trust and creating a culture of transparency, which is particularly important in times of change or uncertainty. The book provides practical advice for how leaders can communicate effectively, such as using storytelling to convey a sense of purpose and building a feedback loop to encourage dialogue and participation from employees.

The chapter on the future of work explores how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and the Internet of Things will impact the workplace. While these technologies have the potential to revolutionize work in many ways, they must be designed from a human-centered perspective. Tavis and Lupushor caution against the dangers of replacing humans with machines and instead suggest that companies focus on augmenting human capabilities and providing opportunities for reskilling and upskilling. The book highlights the importance of clear communication and transparency when introducing new technologies, as well as the need to address concerns about privacy and security.

Humans at Work is an essential read for anyone interested in the future of work and the role of human-centered practices in creating a successful, fulfilling workplace. The book provides insights into how to create a workplace culture that fosters innovation, creativity, and collaboration and provides practical advice and real-world examples of how to create a workplace culture that prioritizes the well-being and satisfaction of employees. This book is useful for both managers and individual contributors who are responsible for designing and implementing workplace policies and practices.

Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith is an STC member and has been a technical communicator since 1997. She is the Membership Manager and Social Media Manager of the STC Michigan Great Lakes chapter.

Decolonizing DesignDecolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook

Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall. 2023. The MIT Press. [ISBN 978-0-262-04769-2. 136 pages, including index. US$22.95 (hardcover).]

What does it mean to decolonize design, is it necessary, and how does this process apply to design education? Those who recognize systemic racism and its barriers, including in design education, will understand that it is necessary. But where do we begin? Elizabeth Tunstall, better known as Dori, the first Black dean of design faculty and a leader of the movement to decolonize design has written Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook to assist those who wish to engage in and pursue the decolonization of design in academia.

Decolonizing Design is a short book, with just over 100 pages of content including an introduction and five chapters. The introduction asks, “Decolonizing Design: what might it mean?” setting the stage for the rest of the book. Subsequent chapters form a response to the question by stating “Decolonizing Design Means…” followed by topics to be addressed. The first chapter focuses on “Putting Indigenous First”, which Dori represents by reorganizing the typical acronym of BIPOC, used to identify marginalized peoples as Black, indigenous, and people of color, as IBPOC embracing the ethos of putting Indigenous peoples first. Chapters 2–3 address issues in the process of decolonizing design including “Dismantling Tech Bias in the European Modernist Project”, “Dismantling the Racist Bias in the European Modernist Project”, “Making Amends through more than Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”. While chapter 5 “Reprioritizing Existing Resources to Decolonize” reminds us that all budgets are finite and that where we allocate monies reveals priorities.

Throughout the book, Dori explains key terms very clearly, for example, colonization is defined as, “an economic system that seeks to transfer wealth from Indigenous, Black, and other POC communities to white people in Europe or colonial settlers of European descent” (p. 98). This is an important term to understand because if your intent is to decolonize you must first understand colonization. Another term that Dori presents is “Supertokenism”, which she explains as “an individual from a marginalized group(s) whose talents are so desired by institutions that they are able to overcome their innate aversion to the individual’s identities” (p. 77). She explains that this too can be harmful because it has the potential to set a dangerous standard, that only the few who succeed in making a name for themselves within colonized systems are accepted, rather than accepting diverse people for their individual strengths.

This book is a quick read, but it should not be rushed, taking the time to process the information and takeaways is a must. Throughout Decolonizing Design, Dori calls out modernism as a harmful practice for which an express goal was to create a “universal” approach to design. But why would a universal approach to design be harmful? Tunstall explains that this universal man, was a “working white man” (p. 58) ignoring IBPOC and women. Those who follow modernism devoutly will likely push back at the idea that it is associated with racist bias. As such Decolonizing Design may not be viewed as a book for everyone, but it should be.

Amanda Horton

Amanda Horton holds an MFA in Design and teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in design history, theory, and criticism. She is also the director of the Design History Minor at UCO.

Content StrategyContent Strategy: A How-to Guide

Guiseppe Getto, Jack T. Labriola, and Sheryl Ruszkiewicz. 2023. Routledge. [ISBN: 978-0-367-75950-6. 226 pages, including index. US$128.00 (hardcover).]

Content Strategy: A How-to Guide is an instructive book that offers readers an introduction to content strategy and a detailed review of each facet of the discipline. The book comprises 14 chapters and is divided into three sections: key concepts (Chapter 1), the content strategy process (Chapters 2–13), and how to become a content strategist (Chapter 14).

In Chapter 1, Guiseppe Getto, Jack Labriola, and Sheryl Ruszkiewicz divide content strategy into two types: content-focused components and people-focused components. As a reader, I found this definitional work to be extremely beneficial. For content-focused components, the authors suggest paying attention to substance and structure (p. 5) asking questions like:

  • Substance: What kind of content do we need? What messages does content need to communicate to our audience?
  • Structure: How is content prioritized, organized, formatted, and displayed?

On the flipside, people-focused components center on workflows and governance. When working with people-centered practices and processes, content strategists often ask questions like (p.5):

  • Workflow: What processes, tools, and human resources are required for content initiatives to launch successfully and maintain ongoing quality?
  • Governance: How are key decisions about content and content strategy made? How are changes initiated and communicated?

Chapters 2–13 really break down the content strategy practices and processes. From audience analysis to content modeling to usability, the authors discuss how to “create the right content for the right people at the right time for the right reasons” (p. 18). That phrasing makes the job sound super simple, but the authors describe all the complexities of working as a content strategist, from collaborating with subject matter experts (SMEs) to software engineers. Chapter 13 is perhaps the most beneficial chapter of this book. Using the metaphor of a hardware store, the authors outline the kinds of tools and technologies a content strategist might use. When you visit a hardware store, you may have heard about some of the tools for sale (a jigsaw), but you may not have used them before (p. 177). Similarly, as you familiarize yourself with the available content strategy tools, ask questions like (p. 178):

  • What does each tool allow you to do and prevent you from doing?
  • What’s the learning curve like for each tool?
  • What context does each tool best fit into?

Finally, Chapter 14 offers guidance for how to establish yourself as a content strategist and find a job in the field. Networking and credentials are essential, but the most important thing is gaining experience, even if it’s just consulting or occasional contract work. Unlike academia or research jobs that require specific credentials, industry work requires demonstrative skills and often a portfolio of work that showcases your skill sets and helps hiring managers evaluate your ability to do the job.

As someone with over a decade in the field, I thought this book really delivered on the promise of being a how-to guide. I recommend Content Strategy to anyone exploring content strategy as a discipline or possible career. It’s also a great guide for students studying to become content strategists.

Erica M. Stone, PhD

Erica Stone has more than 10 years of technical communication experience with a focus on UX writing and content design. She is a member of STC and serves on the STC Scholarship Committee.

The Chicago Guide to Copyediting FictionThe Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

Amy Schneider. 2023. The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-76737-6. 240 pages, including index. US$18.00 (softcover).]

Years ago, I attended Amy Schneider’s copyediting fiction presentation. After she’d finished, I begged her to write a book. The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction is that long-awaited book and will please both fiction editors and authors who must self-edit. “[This book] is intended as food for thought, a road map for helping each author, character, and manuscript tell their own story in their own voice and their own style” (p. 2). The fiction editor must therefore question how each edit serves the author, the reader, and the story. Thus, rules “are made to be broken if doing so serves the story” (p. 192).

Schneider assumes you already know how to copyedit and are familiar with the vocabulary and shows how to apply those skills. (Much of the advice also applies to substantive and developmental editing.) Unlike non-fiction, each story comprises its own editorial and stylistic universe. To manage that universe, Schneider provides a thorough discussion of style guides, though she omits the common synonym story bible used to describe them. Internal consistency is essential in any writing, but authors must also be consistent between books in a series and with the world outside the book. She quickly but thoroughly covers style guides, characters, and locations. Each provides excellent advice to help authors create richer descriptions of these key story ingredients. The text is packed with good examples, as well as advice on handling issues you won’t find in other guides, such as “naughty words and dirty talk” (cussin’ and courtin’). As she notes, a “good copyeditor has a dirty mind” (p. 147). Schneider also brings us up to speed on issues such as conscious language, gender pronouns, and whether to italicize non-English words.

There are a few things I’d like to see in the second edition. Although Schneider emphasizes that most copyediting is done by computer, and provides basic tips, there are no references to major onscreen editing resources in the text, though Adrienne Montgomerie’s Editing in Word (https://eiw365.com/) appears in the bibliography. I’d also like to see better online support for the book, such as downloadable templates and an addenda Web page. Finally, I’d like to see clear distinctions among genres and their unique editing needs. For example, “speculative fiction” ranges from science fiction (in which authors must be consistent with known science) to fantasy (in which authors can break the rules if they’re consistent).

If the number of details seems overwhelming, a good approach is to treat each chapter as a separate editorial pass and focus on those specific details. You’ll quickly internalize them and become a much stronger author’s ally.

Geoff Hart

Geoff Hart is an STC Fellow with more than 35 years of writing, editing, and translation experience. He’s traveled widely and worked with authors from many cultures. He’s the author of two popular books, Effective Onscreen Editing and Write Faster With Your Word Processor.

Take My Word for ItTake My Word for It: A Dictionary of English Idioms

Anatoly Liberman. 2022. University of Minnesota Press. [ISBN 978-1-5179-1412-7. 336 pages, including indexes. US$22.95 (softcover).]

Most formal written language is made up of words that can be found in the dictionary. But much of the living language—especially spoken language used in daily life—consists of multi-word idioms, where the dictionary is often not of much help. What is one to make of such phrases as “raining cats and dogs,” “the cut of one’s jib,” “to save one’s bacon,” or “to pay the piper,” on first encountering them? Our language is replete with such phrases, but where do they come from, and what do they mean.

Well, help has arrived. With Take My Word for It: A Dictionary of English Idioms, Anatoly Liberman has done an admirable job of defining and tracing the history of a stunning list of idioms, some familiar, and many that will be new to many of us.

In a preface and a short introductory essay, Liberman shows that idioms are so varied—proverbs, similes, phrases that are totally puzzling, phrases referencing odd persons and places, phrases whose surface meaning is clear but whose force is in unstated overtones, and more—the term is hard to define. But for a quick working definition he gives: “a group of words whose meaning has to be learned or explained, even though in separation each of its components is clear” (p. 2).

Figurative language has a long history, but the use of idioms didn’t really develop until the Renaissance. Homer has “wine-dark sea,” and Biblical writers use parables, but as late as the Middle Ages language usage was quite literal. No one “gathered wool” (except from real sheep), “flew off the handle,” or “paid through the nose” for anything. Liberman argues that the flowering of the use of idioms during the Renaissance constituted an evolution in human consciousness, akin to the revolution that occurred in the visual arts when artists first discovered how to use perspective to portray depth.

Liberman holds that to understand an idiom and the mental process behind how it was coined it is best to be aware of its entire recorded history. He points out that the effort to trace such history is full of pitfalls, prone to guess work, and littered with colorful, but dubious, explanations. By way of correction, Liberman has done his best to deliver serious scholarship, gathering up various suggested etymologies from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), back issues of Notes and Queries, and other scholarly sources, gives full citations, and clearly states when an entomology is dubious, or simply unknown.

While the main text is presented in dictionary-style alphabetical entries, the book also includes theme, name, and word indexes to help the reader locate specific items. Whether you turn to the book for its serious scholarship, or just to explore and enjoy the many idioms that enliven our language, Take My Word for It is well worth your time.

Patrick Lufkin

Patrick Lufkin is an STC Fellow with experience in computer documentation, newsletter production, and public relations. He reads widely in science, history, and current affairs, as well as on writing and editing. He chairs the Gordon Scholarship for technical communication and co-chairs the Northern California technical communication competition.

Business Writing TodayBusiness Writing Today: A Practical Guide

Natalie Canavor. 2022. 4th ed. SAGE Publications. [ISBN 978-1-0718-5406-8. 382 pages, including index. US$75.00 (softcover).]

Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide is aptly named. Taking a straightforward, concept-by-concept approach to developing business writing skills, this book equips readers to think strategically, write powerfully, and connect positively with their audience.

As stated in the preface, “Business Writing Today is grounded in principles of psychology and the idea that good writing is good thinking” (p. xix). Writing is about relationship-building, and author Natalie Canavor understands what makes people respond or push back. In an increasingly global and diverse workplace, communicating with clarity and sensitivity is more important than ever.

Canavor leads readers through a “progressive learning experience” (p. xxi) as they master key aspects of solid business writing. Topics include seeing past personal filters to perceive others’ points of view, targeting WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”), navigating cultural and generational divides, listening with empathy, creating strong business documents, working with visuals, writing for video, and preparing résumés and application letters.

The book is divided into sections: “How to Communicate in Writing” (Ch 1–3), “Sharpen and Energize Your Writing” (Ch. 4–6), “The Basics of Business Communication” (Ch. 7–9), “Writing for Online and Spoken Media” (Ch. 10–11), and “Into the Future” (Ch. 12). Every chapter includes numerous practice exercises and a “View from the Field,” featuring industry heavy hitters who offer an insider’s perspective on the chapter’s theme.

I have used every edition of Business Writing Today in my university classes, going back to the more engagingly titled first edition, Business Writing in the Digital Age (SAGE Publications, 2011). However, there are some shortcomings related to classroom usability. Although the book is rich in before-and-after examples, formatting choices make them hard to distinguish from surrounding text, presenting challenges for class discussion. It would be easier to talk about examples if they were numbered or in a text box. Italics are used for most, but not all, examples (see, for example, pp. 196, 217, 218, 228, and 233), but it’s a strain on the eyes and brain to read the longer stretches in italics, even for individuals without a reading or vision disability. Further, italics are used for emphasis in non-examples as well (see, for example, pp. 197 and 354), so the formatting message is inconsistent.

Another weakness is the lack of document models. Even when discussing résumé formats in Ch. 12, “Writing for the Hunt,” no samples are provided. Yes, sample documents can readily be found online and in other sources, but a textbook at this price would ideally be one-stop shopping for students.

Overall, Business Writing Today, 4th edition, is an excellent tool for those seeking to improve their written communication skills in our post-pandemic world, where new ways of working demand new ways of communicating. This book can help readers at all levels of confidence in their writing ability grow and achieve success.

Bonnie Denmark

Bonnie Denmark is an STC Member and Coordinator of the Business and Technical Writing Option at Western Connecticut State University. Bonnie was previously a software developer and technical communicator, focusing on natural language applications, human interface, testing protocols, and health/science writing.

Everybody WritesEverybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Ann Handley. 2023. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-119-85416-6. 432 pages, including index. US$28.00 (hardcover).]

Everybody Writes: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Create Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley is a revised and improved edition published in 2023. The book is written by a marketer focusing on writing expertise, and it provides general and specific writing know-how for engaging readers’ interest in the current digital era. Handley uses humor to help readers learn and believes good writing is more about thinking, rewriting, having fun, and focusing on readers (p. 129).

As writers, we often think fancy words such as extra letters and syllables make a better sentence. The most touching thing about this book anybody can write, and I enjoy, is that the simplest version of a word is the strongest (p. 133). In this book, you can see many practical examples of writing skills and tips. You should be able to apply it to your real-world writing whether you are a beginner or already have writing experience.

This review highlights several key sections of the book, including the importance of writing in the present tense for clarity (pp. 136–137), using active voice over passive voice (pp. 139–140) for liveliness, and making a friendly first impression to encourage readers to keep reading (pp. 74–76). The book also includes sections on storytelling in marketing, things marketers write, and content tools for research, knowledge management, productivity, and editing.

Section 51, the Six Elements of a Marketing Story, helps you understand how to shape the point of view for the reader (pp. 197–200). Marketers’ attention in Part 4 shows 20 Things Marketers Write (pp. 277–376). Part 5 included content tools such as Research and Knowledge Management Tools, Productivity Tools, Editing Tools, and Readability Tools.

The reviewer enjoyed learning about the importance of structured ideas before writing, ways to organize writing based on structure, and the significance of fact-checking for credibility. Overall, the review praises Everybody Writes as a well-written, practical guidebook for writers, marketers, and storytellers, with the ability to transform writing in personal and business situations. The quote “Done is better than perfect” is mentioned as a takeaway from the book.

Sam Lee

Sam Lee is an STC member and a Policies & Procedures SIG manager. Sam has a Master of Technology Management, a Master of Electrical Engineering, and a Technical Writing Certificate. He is currently a Senior Electrical and Avionics System Engineer, where he supports avionics systems certification and writes aviation-related documentation.

Rising TogetherRising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Sally Helgesen. 2023. Hachette Book Group. [ISBN 978-0-306-8-2830-0. 256 pages. US$30.00 (hardcover).]

The Wall Street Journal stated that Sally Helgesen wrote “one of the best books on leadership of all time” and credited her with “bringing the language of inclusion to business” (back cover). Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace builds on Helgesen’s previous writing about inclusion as she offers practical ways to build inclusion into the workplace. She does not focus on why inclusion is important. Instead, she has a focus on “how” to create a more inclusive workplace. This is in response to what audiences have asked her to talk and write about.

Before providing practical tips, Hegelsen gives a big picture comment by effectively arguing that a focus on inclusion in today’s workplace is not surprising and instead a logical evolution. With the Great Resignation, companies are scrambling to find enough workers (p. xviii). An inclusive workplace where “everyone rises” can attract and keep top talent. This explains the interest today in how to create an inclusive workplace.

The organization of Rising Together revolves in part around what Helgesen calls triggers. For example, if a woman proposes an idea, and it falls on deaf ears, she may find a man expressing the same idea with a positive reception. Instead of this triggering the response—what a jerk he is or feeling for the woman that the situation is “impossible”—the woman can speak up and say she is happy to hear someone agreeing with her idea (p. 10). Yes, this is a bit of a work-around. Yet, Helgesen argues that this can be effective for the woman to get the credit she deserves instead of getting no recognition or simply venting to a sympathetic ear after the meeting.

If you are a manager wanting to improve on a poor track record of hiring and/or retaining people who create an inclusive workplace, a manager who wants to keep a currently effective inclusive workplace, an employee who wants to rise in the workplace, a student or teacher wanting to learn more about inclusivity, or any countless variation of this audience, you will find something of value in Rising Together. You will find practical information as well as an idealistic vision of how to rise together and bridge divides.

Jeanette Evans

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 and undergraduate degree in education.

Closing the LoopClosing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers

Sheryl Cababa. 2023. New York, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-959029-88-5. 256 pages, including index. USD$54.99 (softcover).]

Rosenfeld Media has established itself as an industry leader in presenting UX trends and best practices to the world. Each book in their catalogue attempts to present a particular facet of the current state of the User Experience Design (UX) field, at least at time of publication. You can see this emphasis in Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers by Sheryl Cababa, a book that begins with a strong critique of one of the underpinning philosophies of UX: user-centered design (UCD).

Chapter 1 is entitled “The Shortcomings of User-Centered Design” and critiques the UCD process, which she claims “does not take into account the impact that designers have on their users beyond the direct use of their product” (p. 9). This limitation, Cababa further argues, can lead to “detrimental outcomes” for users who are lured into products and services by well-designed user experiences. To avoid this pitfall, she argues for a paradigm shift toward systems thinking, which, as she explains in Chapter 2, is founded on the assumption that “building an understanding of the complexity of existing systems, of the problem space, is fundamental to figuring out ways of improving the status quo” (p. 25).

Cababa continues to explore this shift in Chapter 3 when she argues that another popular philosophy, design thinking, “fails to acknowledge the privilege of the designer” (p. 56). To rectify this, she proposes that designers “disrupt the power imbalance between you as a designer and those who, in a traditional design-thinking process, you would be designing ‘for’” by shifting the focus of the role of designer to that of facilitator, with the goal being to “draw out and integrate other stakeholders’ expertise and experiences” (pp. 58–59).

The rest of the book lays out a systems thinking process, that includes collecting data (Chapter 4), synthesizing data and mapping stakeholders (Chapter 5), mapping forces, or “conditions and drivers that make a system the way it is” (p. 123) (Chapter 6), creating a theory of change (Chapter 7), anticipating unintended consequences (Chapter 8), and engaging in speculative design, process for “imagining possible futures as a form of critique” (Chapter 9). Each chapter includes heuristics and examples that lay out the chapter’s topic in terms even non-experts can understand clearly. This includes brief stories about the applications of systems thinking in the real world.

Ultimately, Closing the Loop is potentially very disruptive to current approaches to UX, which largely focus on the development of specific products and services, rather than on the systems these products and services rely on. It is a strong critique of many of the existing philosophies that drive what UX practitioners do daily. To say it is thought-provoking is to put it mildly. Readers will find within its pages not only important considerations for rethinking current design philosophies that govern UX, however, but also practical alternatives to many of the current approaches UX practitioners take when engaging in design.

Guiseppe Getto

Guiseppe Getto is a faculty member at Mercer University. He is also Director of Mercer’s M.S. in Technical Communication Management.

Subatomic WritingSubatomic Writing: 6 Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter

Jamie Zvirzdin. 2023. Johns Hopkins University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4214-4612-7. 260 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover).]

“The demon wasn’t as ugly as I’d feared, although the cheerful IKEA lighting and the sun-yellow rug in our library can make anything seem cozier, even a blue-skinned night fiend (p. 7). A very dubious quotation from what is overall, a textbook about grammar, style, syntax, and punctuation—a summary and application of rules like those in The Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White.

In Subatomic Writing: 6 Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter, Jamie Zvirzdin outlines her knowledge of advanced writing in detail and provides students with exercises at the end of each chapter. By day, Zvirzdin is a science writer and educator at Johns Hopkins University and, by night, a program analyst for the University of Utah.

Her unique approach incorporates her knowledge of the mechanics of grammar and science with her love of narrative, action, and mystery into a one-of-a-kind textbook. Zvirzdin’s imagined demon is modeled after the famous hot/cold sorting demon of the brilliant physicist James Clerk Maxwell. The author uses her fabricated “demon” to suggest the metaphor of the book that “particles of language are like particles of matter” (p. 4). And when her house cat is “Schrodingered” (disappears) upon the threat of NOT creating a manuscript, Zvirzdin is forced to comply. To get her cat back by Halloween night, she composes six lessons. In each lesson, she takes a physics concept and likens it to some aspect of writing. Some of her metaphors work better than others, but for the reader it is the process of thinking about the validity of each that makes the book achieve its goal, to provide clarity and a source of communication between these elusive subjects that so desperately need each other for mutual success.

For example, there is a problem with her metaphor that likens writing to collisions between little balls: “Because if all the world is to be explained mechanically in terms of little balls (molecules, electrons, photons, gravitons, etc.), then the only way one ball affects another ball is if the little balls hit. If that is so, collision becomes the essence of physical interaction” (p. 16). Scientists who research molecular motion and thermodynamics will recognize this as an overgeneralization about their topic—most molecules do not behave this way and that is why equations like the ideal gas law are just that—for unreal, ideal situations.

After several chapters of rather exhaustive definitions of physics terms (like quarks and leptons), Zvirzdin concludes her textbook with a return of her demon. To conclude, the mystery of the “Schrodingered cat” resolves itself when Zvirzdin submits her manuscript to the demo, and the cat miraculously reappears. A clever application of the statistically disappearing feline of quantum mechanics.

The narrative approach to Subatomic Writing provides humor and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise arduous, backbreaker science communication textbook. Zvirzdin tackles two challenging subjects by likening them to each other hoping to bring them in closer collaboration: a demon of a task.

Julie Kinyoun

Julie Kinyoun is an on-call chemistry instructor at various community colleges in Southern California. An avid reader, she enjoys reviewing books that help her become a better educator.

You Have More Influence Than You ThinkYou Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Powers of Persuasion, and Why It Matters

Vanessa Bohns. 2023. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-324-03595-4. 256 pages, including index. US$17.95 (softcover).]

In You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Powers of Persuasion, and Why It Matters, Vanessa Bohns, a social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, uses psychology to illustrate the influence we yield on those around us. Through research—her own and others—along with personal anecdotes and real-world examples, Bohns demonstrates our ability to influence others without even trying and, more importantly, our responsibility to use that influence wisely.

In the first half of the book, Bohns highlights how we are oblivious to the impact we often have on others because we’re focused on our own emotions and perceptions. Study after study shows that we underestimate how willing others are to help us if we ask because we’re focused on our anxiety about asking others for help. Research shows that people will often do things that are clearly wrong if asked to because it is even harder to say “no.” The takeaway is that “People want to do nice things for others. They want to feel the warm glow of helping and feel like good people. So, when you ask someone for something, you do put them on the spot, but you also give them an opportunity to feel good about themselves” (p. 96).

In the last half of the book, Bohns highlights the importance of how we use our influence. In chapter 5, “Misinformation, Inappropriate Asks, and Me Too,” and in chapter 6, “Power and Perceived Influence,” Bohns discusses how influence can be used for worse: crime, sexism, sexual harassment, opportunistic leaders, “consensual” relationships between a high-power person and a subordinate (Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky), and racism. Each of us wields influence, and because we often have so little understanding of our influence, we’ve likely—though unintentionally—used that influence in a harmful way. Bohns’s hope is that by being aware of our influence, we “can use it more mindfully” (p. xv). This is even more critical for people in a position of power, such as managers or coaches. As Bohn puts it, “When we are in a position of power over someone else, we tend not to realize how little choice that person has to disagree with us or go against our suggestions” (p. 137).

In conclusion, Bohns successfully offers a “nuanced understanding of [our] influence over others—one that allows [us] to more accurately recognize the influence [we] already have, not only so [we] feel more confident using that influence, but also so [we] feel more confident not using it” (p. 193).

Sara Buchanan

Sara Buchanan works at LCS, a property management software company, in Cincinnati, OH. In her free time, she’s an avid reader, enjoys cooking, and doting on her cats: Buffy and Spike.

Decoding the MetaverseDecoding the Metaverse: Expand Your Business Using Web3

Chris Duffey. 2023. Kogan Page. [ISBN 978-1-3986-0904-4. 368 pages, including index. US$27.99 (softcover).]

Decoding the Metaverse: Expand Your Business Using Web3 is a book of commendable breadth but often disappointing depth. Chris Duffey, who leads strategic development for Adobe’s Creative Cloud, entices the reader with promises to illuminate the pathway to business success with the metaverse and related technologies. The only problem is that he was likely premature with writing this book. Currently, there are few mainstream metaverse success stories one can point to, so the reader should not expect to find detailed case studies of companies and entrepreneurs who have already begun mining the metaverse for profit. Instead, Duffey spends much of the book speculating on what the future might bring across an expansive array of domains, often with alarmingly optimistic statements such as, “Everything good about humanity will be amplified and enhanced by the metaverse” (p. 188). With such unqualified bold predictions, I fear that this book may not age gracefully.

The book’s subtitle, Expand Your Business Using Web3, makes a curious pair with Decoding the Metaverse, because, as Duffey emphasizes, “The metaverse is not to be conflated with Web3; they are distinctly different and meet different needs” (p. 44). While he contends that “Web3 is a core enabler that unlocks the fullest potential of the metaverse” (p. 44), there is not a satisfactory explanation as to why other than conjecture about future potential interoperability between metaverse platforms and assets.

Beyond Web3 and the metaverse, the book also devotes chapters to subjects as wide-ranging as gaming, digital fashion, and ethics. Basically, the thematic thread supposedly tying all the disparate subjects of this book together—the promise of strategic business insight into the metaverse—is too thin to prevent the book from feeling at times like a series of stitched-together Wikipedia introductions about any and every topic that is even remotely tangential to the metaverse. I did not feel that I gained any particular strategic business insight from being told the date of the first commercial movie screening (p. 163) nor the history behind the development of the early text adventure game Zork (p. 139), for example.

Decoding the Metaverse would have benefited from a tighter focus and a slimmer page count. I also would have appreciated more graphics; the ones we do get are fantastic, such as “The Metaverse Model” (p. 45) that depicts the organization of the technological and social layers that make up the metaverse and “The Reality—Virtuality Continuum” (p. 253), which brilliantly differentiates the stages between the real environment and virtual reality. Wordiness aside, Decoding the Metaverse can be a great resource for discovering new terms and concepts for the technologically inclined reader to explore further; however, other books may be the preferred way to learn about them.

Josh Anderson

Josh Anderson, CPTC, is an Information Architect at Precision Content.Josh was an English teacher in Japan before earning a Master of Information at the University of Toronto.

How to Promote Your BookHow to Promote Your Book: A Practical Guide to Publicizing Your Own Title

Dr. Jan Yager. 2023. Square One Publishers. [ISBN 978-0-7570-0474-2. 278 pages, including index. US $17.95 (softcover).]

Dr. Jan Yager, author of How to Promote Your Book: A Practical Guide to Publicizing Your Own Title shares her experience as a publicist in the publishing industry and author of more than fifty books to provide a comprehensive, practical guide for authors to successfully promote their books. Yager’s book also includes other authors’ advice and perspective as she “…surveyed or interviewed more than a hundred authors who have written in a range of genres” (p. ix).

While Yager mentions that her book is useful for aspiring and new authors, as well as “a seasoned wordsmith who is looking to brush up on your promotional skills” (p. 2), I found the content to be more valuable for new authors. It seems that published authors would already be aware of much of the advice, having experienced one or more publishing cycles.

Yager writes in a conversational tone and is clearly passionate about helping authors achieve success. The book is well-organized and easy to follow. It begins with Part One: Book Promotion Basics that includes a publishing industry overview, audience types, media promotional (traditional and Internet), and the author’s role in a book’s success.

In Part Two: What to Do Before Your Book is Published, Yager covers how to prepare for a book’s publication to maximize sales. Topics include creating a project timeline and obtaining blurbs and book reviews. In Part Three: What to Do After Your Book is Published, she describes creating a media kit, securing speaking engagements, and exhibiting at book fairs and trade shows.

Rather than discuss a generic, one-size-fits-all approach to promotion, Yager recognizes that there are a variety of publishing options and addresses how these different scenarios affect an author’s approach throughout the book. Yager covers traditional (referred to as commercial), academic, and self-publishing. She also covers a hybrid publisher, which she defines as a “business that performs many of the same tasks as a commercial publisher… but requires the author to underwrite the cost of producing the book”) (p. 226).

Although How to Promote Your Book does not specifically focus on publishing technical communication topics and includes sections that would not likely apply to these books, such as book tours or TV show interviews, it does contain valuable information that technical communication authors can use to create a successful promotional campaign. Such topics include obtaining blurbs and book reviews, exhibiting at trade shows, and creating podcasts. For technical communicators who are considering the self-publishing route, they will find Yager’s advice and cautions regarding this option valuable.

Yager is knowledgeable and passionate about her topic. Besides being a helpful guide through the promotion process, her book also serves as a valuable ongoing resource. The resource material includes samples, such as sample author bios, a glossary of publishing and promotional terminology, and a Resources section, organized by topic.

Ann Marie Queeney

Ann Marie Queeney is an STC senior member with more than 20 years’ technical communication experience primarily in the medical device industry. Her STC experience includes serving as a Special Interest Group leader, 2020-2022 Board member, and CAC (Communities Affairs Committee) Chair. Ann Marie is the owner of A.M. Queeney, LLC.

The Anatomy of GenresThe Anatomy of Genres: How Story Forms Explain How the World Works

John Truby. 2022. Picador. [ISBN 978-0-374-53922-1. 720 pages. US$20.00 (softcover).]

Essentially––or let’s say, theoretically––Truby’s The Anatomy of Genres: How Story Forms Explain How the World Works is about the 14 archetypal genres of novels that provide the foundation of all fiction. These genres span the major beliefs that govern our lives–– the social, political, and religious beliefs that become the foundations of our existence. And they all build on our relation to ourselves, to each other, and to the universe.

Truby’s book feels like a mixture of Homer, the Bible, and the Mahabharata. The value of this statement lies in the meaning of the word “feel:” It opens the doors of your senses where they all seem to flow out. And then flow together, carrying you off on a great river without a name, to some unknown destination. In other words, you sometimes get the feeling that the book is all over the place; that it lacks focus.

There are many good nuggets of information, though. Truby makes the excellent point that to differentiate yours from the tons of other books in the genre, you must “transcend” that genre (p.14). This can be done by changing the “beat;” giving the reader something they didn’t expect to find in a book of that genre; “something they recognize––it’s still in their world––but it’s recast in a different light” (p. 15).

Another informational nugget is that The Anatomy of Genres goes so deeply into each genre that the readers must keep themselves from drowning in the details.

The first genre Truby discusses is Horror. Why? Because “The major distinction governing human existence is life versus death” (p. 22). He states that “horror as a modern genre is about 250 years old.” But its elements have been part of Myth, the oldest genre, from the beginning” (p. 23); citing the Old Testament and Greek tragedies. Horror begins to shift from the supernatural to the psychological with the appearance of Poe’s work, that brought it “down to earth” and made it more a part of everyday life (p. 24).

Two things that Truby omits is the historical novel, which has become a major literary form in modern times, and an index. Not every to-do book (one whose aim is teaching you to do things, like writing) has an index. But with the mountain of concepts and technical terms that Truby discusses, the reader would benefit from having an index to consult. The problem is: The Anatomy of Genres already has 700 pages. And adding an index would make it harder to stuff it into the backpack.

Steven Darian

Darian is a professor emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Rutgers University. He has written 13 books that include Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools of the Trade (2019); The Wanderer: Travels & Adventures Beyond the Pale (2021); and The Heretic’s Book of Death & Laughter: The Role of Religion in Just About Everything (2022).

Engineering WordsEngineering Words: Communicating clearly in the workplace

Sharon Burton and Bonni Graham Gonzalez. 2023. XML Press. [ISBN 978-1-937434-30-4. 164 pages, including index. US$35.95 (softcover).]

One of the most common issues that engineers must overcome is poor communication skills. Many engineers are effective in their fields but dread speaking publicly or sharing their ideas. Sharon Burton and Bonni Graham Gonzalez seek to help in their book, Engineering Words: Communicating clearly in the workplace. They have perceived a lack of communications training for students of engineering and have written their book to fill this void. Burton and Gonzalez cover the most common communication environments that engineers encounter and discuss different strategies to communicate successfully in these situations. Though primarily aimed at college-level engineering students, the book’s topics are applicable to practicing engineers, people in STEM-adjacent fields, and any professional hoping to communicate more effectively.

Engineering Words’ 12 chapters each focus on a different communication domain. These include such topics as writing résumés, designing presentations, and many other topics. Each chapter briefly introduces the topic before diving into a more detailed exploration of strategies that engineers can use to succeed in the given context. While the breadth of topics covered in this book is impressive, each chapter only devotes about 10 pages to the topic, so someone looking for a deep study on speaking with your boss about project budgets, for instance, may want to look elsewhere. The book works best as a primer on what effective communication looks like in the engineering field. As a book written primarily for students, this is an understandable structure to showcase the different facets of engineering communication.

As a STEM-adjacent student myself, I found Engineering Words an interesting, enjoyable read. Rather than an impassive textbook, Burton and Gonzalez inject their book with personality and even humor, making the book approachable and easy to follow. Each chapter was useful and informative, although those already in the workforce may not find every chapter applicable to them. Still, even if a specific topic doesn’t relate to a reader’s needs, the core skills explained throughout the book can improve anyone’s communication, in engineering or otherwise. Another strength of Engineering Words is its focus on accessibility and inclusivity. The authors try to write inclusively; as they state in the first chapter, “everyone that can be an engineer should be an engineer, regardless of their specific pronouns” (p. 3). They also touch on user-centered design principles for communicating to all readers, such as using high-contrast colors to accommodate those with vision impairments. This emphasis on inclusivity is nice to see in a text such as this.

Engineering Words is a great reference for prospective engineers hoping to improve their communication at work. Each chapter prepares readers for the realities of communicating in the workplace, and the strategies presented are generally useful for any reader. I recommend this book for anyone hoping to learn better communication skills. Engineering Words is a great starting place to begin this journey.

Nathan Guzman

Nathan Guzman is a graduate student studying technical communication at the University of Alabama–Huntsville. His background is in aerospace engineering with plans of becoming a full-time editor upon graduation. Nathan is an avid reader with interests in reading anything that expands his knowledge of the world and how it works.