71.2 May 2024

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.

Social Justice and the Language Classroom: Reflection, Action, and Transformation

Deniz Ortaçtepe Hart

The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary

Sarah Ogilvie

Digital Design: a History

Stephen J. Eskilson

The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men

J. Andrew Deman

How to Deal with Angry People: 10 Strategies for Facing Anger at Home, at Work, and in the Street

Dr. Ryan Martin

Building A Culture of Inclusivity: Effective Internal Communication for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Priya Bates and Advita Patel

The Visual Elements—Photography: A Handbook for Communicating Science and Engineering

Felice C. Frankel

Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work

Nigel Cross

The AI Dilemma: 7 Principles for Responsible Technology

Juliette Powell and Art Kleiner

Sharing Our Science: How to Write and Speak STEM

Brandon R. Brown

The Art and Science of UX Design

Anthony Conta

Wireframing for Everyone

Michael Angeles, Leon Barnard, and Billy Carlson

Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published

Estelle Erasmus

Who Wrote This? How AI and the Lure of Efficiency Threaten Human Writing

Naomi S. Baron

A Myriad of Tongues: How Languages Reveal Differences in How We Think

Caleb Everett

Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published

Timothy Garrand

UX Writing: Designing User-Centered Content

Jason C.K. Tham, Tharon Howard, and Gustav Verhulsdonck

The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence

Matteo Pasquinelli

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Steve Portigal

Confidence Karma: How to Become Confident & Help Others Feel Great Too

Dr. Gary Wood

Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons

Sheila Smith McKoy and Patrick Elliot Alexander, eds.

Teaching Comedy

Bev Hogue, ed.

Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design

David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, and Abbie Vickress

HTML, CSS, & JavaScript All-in-One for Dummies

Paul McFedries

Negotiation Made Simple: A Practical guide for Solving Problems, Building Relationships, and Delivering the Deal

John Lowry

What is Cultural Criticism?

Francis Mulhern and Stefan Collini

Duly Noted: Extend Your Mind Through Connected Notes

Jorge Arango


Social Justice and the Language Classroom: Reflection, Action, and Transformation

Deniz Ortaçtepe Hart. 2023. Edinburgh University Press. [ISBN 978-1-4744-9176-1. 242 pages, including index. US$29.95 (softcover)].

Social Justice and the Language Classroom: Reflection, Action, and Transformation describes the built-in systems of oppression and inequality in our current educational materials and pedagogies. Its aim to “develop language educators’ critical consciousness and critical reflection to recognize [these] systems of oppression and inequality” (p. xv) is met through well-researched, informative, and compelling discussions about the need for and importance of adopting social justice education in the language classroom. The other goal of actively adopting “social justice pedagogies for transformation and social change” (p. xvi) is something that will take more than a book to bring about, but reading this book is an excellent first step in that process.

Deniz Ortaçtepe Hart provides a scaffolded approach to understanding social justice and its place in the language classroom. The book is divided into three parts and includes helpful appendixes with stories, lesson plan template, and sample lessons. Part I, Language Teaching for Social Justice, introduces terms, such as ideology, hegemony, oppression, social justice, and social justice education, and then moves into more complicated concepts, such as critical pedagogy, criticisms of critical pedagogy, deconstructing language classroom materials, and understanding the need for social justice pedagogy in the language classroom.

Part II, Critical Themes and Frameworks, is divided into three chapters on class, race and ethnicity, and gender. Each chapter defines relevant terms, which are more complex than they may seem (race, ethnicity, racialization, ethnicization, and racism) then presents material on theories; historical and contemporary practices; frameworks for social justice education in language classrooms; and criticisms. By addressing criticisms, readers are informed of counterarguments against pedagogies that examine dominant narratives of class, race, and gender, thus providing them with rationale for implementing critical pedagogies.

Part III, Conclusion, addresses problems of implementing social justice. Ortaçtepe Hart acknowledges the contentious atmosphere surrounding social justice education and provides strategies for informing “stakeholders” (mostly parents) about the need for and benefits of this approach to teaching; however, I am uncertain that these strategies are realistic. She is assuming a rational, unemotional, and politically neutral audience. Additionally, there is not much information about how to implement the strategies in this book in an environment where critical instruction of any kind is often met with termination and/or legal consequences for teachers. For example, in chapter 7, Discussion about problematizing representation, shows the importance of validating “all gender and sexual identities in language classrooms” (p. 134), but the most important question is: Can this be done? In many states, it cannot. In other words, implementation of social justice education will take more than the awareness and strategies this book has to offer. I mention this point only because action and transformation are part of the book’s title, which may set readers up for a promise that goes beyond what readers can do after reading it.

Overall, Social Justice and the Language Classroom is an excellent resource for informing readers about the need for and advantages of implementing social justice pedagogies in language classrooms. Each chapter is well written and researched, provides global examples, includes meaningful reflective tasks, chapter notes, multimedia resources, and a list of children’s books. Thus, this book would make an excellent textbook or supplemental text for undergraduate or graduate classes that include language education of any kind.

Diane Martinez

Diane Martinez is an associate professor of professional and technical communication at Western Carolina University. She previously worked as a technical writer in engineering, an online writing instructor, and an online writing center specialist. She has been with STC since 2005.

The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary

Sarah Ogilvie. 2023. Alfred A. Knopf. [ISBN 978-0-593-53640-7. 374 pages, including index. US$30.00 (hardcover).]

Lexicographer Sarah Ogilvie knows well the Oxford University archive of the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED), that treasure house of the English language. As a former OED editor and researcher, she has enjoyed access to thousands of records, particularly the slips of paper submitted by contributors to the corpus of samples of usage during the 30-year tenure of editor James Murray.

In finding this treasure trove, she realized that “I was the first person to . . . track down who the contributors really were, and to build as comprehensive a picture as possible. I had found the Dictionary People” (p. 8). Her descriptions have been lovingly created from long-forgotten notes, letters, those slips of paper, and other documents.

Chapter titles cleverly reveal contributors’ personalities and agendas: “C for Cannibal,” “H for Hopeless Contributors,” “L for Lunatics,” “V for Vicars (and Vegetarians),” etc. Who could be lunatics? Why, William Douglas and John Dormer, who between them wrote out nearly 200,000 reading slips and went mad from overwork. Obligingly, Ogilvie meticulously describes the medical details of Dormer’s descent into madness.

We learn that the mysterious Chris Collier “cut out the quotations and, dipping a brush in sweet-smelling Perkins Paste glue, he stuck the quotation upon the slip.…some nights he could get through 100 slips. Just him and the sound of cicadas, and the greasy smell of the neighbour’s lamb chops” (p. 336). And he often wrapped his contributions in cornflake packets. Many idiosyncratic details we’d never find elsewhere. For example, 238,080 slips were submitted by the 196 American contributors, 10 percent of all contributors.

Ogilvie also devotes loving detail to Murray: as a bicyclist, he was “frequently seen pedalling madly up and down the Banbury Road . . . his white hair, white beard, and black gown flowing in the wind as he delivered copy to the University Press” (p. 116).

Dozens of photos bring to life the contributors, their slips, and Murray. To study these illustrations most efficiently, be sure to access the list of illustrations at the back of the book. You might also want to consult the comprehensive name index.

After a while the succession of one contributor after another can get a bit tiring, so take an occasional break. Also, don’t hurry, for this is a volume to read for pleasure as well as facts.

To get a reasonably full picture of the OED, you can read lexicographer Peter Gilliver’s The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2016) for its broader historical vision and then Ogilvie’s book for its flesh-and-blood account of the early individuals who launched the dictionary.

Avon J. Murphy

Avon J. Murphy is an STC Fellow who serves the Society as a researcher. A onetime college professor and government writer, he is a technical editing contractor and the principal in Murphy Editing and Writing Services, based in western Washington.

Digital Design: a History

Stephen J. Eskilson. 2023. Princeton University Press. [ISBN 978-0-691-18139-4. 288 pages, including index. US$49.95 (hardcover).]

The history of digital design has largely been ignored by previous design histories, either because they were written before the digital design era fully emerged or because it was too soon to piece together the parts. But now, thanks to Stephen J. Eskilson, there is finally a comprehensive book on the subject. This book is what digital designers, researchers, students, and educators have been waiting for. Digital Design: a History is a brilliant reflection on this history and provides an interesting take on presenting a history of design more broadly. There is much that can be learned not only from its content but also from the approach to the telling of its history.

Digital Design is not strictly chronological. It takes a thematic approach, though themes are presented chronologically as chapters, where the content moves back and forth in time to show connections to past ideas and influences. Delightfully surprising, this presentation includes an emphasis on analog design history and its influence on digital design, some of the connections will likely surprise readers.

One of the strongest aspects of this history is the limited examples of specifically named designs by overly heroized designers. Instead, Eskilson chooses very specific examples of design to represent the themes; these examples also reflect a more equitable presentation of design history, often contributions by women and people of color. This is a refreshing change from the white male Eurocentric narratives that dominate the field. Eskilson also uses the text to point to ongoing issues of gender and race inequities in the design field but leaves us with a sense of hope for a more equitable future. The book also critically examines the role and responsibilities of designers, such as the infamous Theranos project designed by Fuseproject.

One limitation of the book is that it contains relatively few images. Though this is very intentionally done, the text is well supported by images. However, some history books that include a wealth of images are not nearly so engaging. Another wish would be the inclusion of a bibliography; there were a few topics that I would have loved to have investigated further. I usually turn to the bibliography for that, but since none was included, I will need to investigate these topics independently. Arguably, most readers will not notice this omission.

Digital Design is a rich, full picture of the digital age thus far. The content will appeal to a wide audience, including design students, practitioners, educators, and possibly anyone else interested in digital design, though the level of writing is perhaps not for all these audiences; undergraduate students might struggle with the language. The first chapter, which presents the philosophies and ideologies that influenced digital design, was particularly dense and might put off some readers. Still, readers are encouraged to continue as the content soon becomes more manageable, and this history is not presented without a sense of humor, as the author comments, “Skynet becomes self-aware” (p. 161).

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.

The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men

J. Andrew Deman. 2023. The University of Texas Press. [ISBN 978-1-4773-2545-2. 184 pages. US$45.00 (hardcover).]

Chris Claremont’s tenure as the writer for Marvel’s X-Men comic series is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic runs of all time. For sixteen years, from 1975 to 1991, Claremont penned dozens of stories that would radically transform not only the X-Men series but the comic landscape. Yet Chris Claremont’s most significant contribution to Marvel lies in his characterization of the team that he developed over time. When Claremont inherited the title, the X-Men’s personalities were mostly stock comic archetypes that had been seen countless times before. But Claremont imbued each character with a depth and complexity that had never been seen in mainstream comics. In The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men, J. Andrew Deman studies each core character in X-Men to show how Claremont’s progressive approach to gender influenced the characterization of the team and contributed to the series’ runaway success.

In the book, Deman methodically analyzes each of the core X-Men team under Claremont’s stewardship. The author investigated Phoenix, Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Psylocke, Dazzler, Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Havok to see how they deviate from the traditional expectations of gender in comic books throughout the era. This book emphasizes how almost every major character subverts the traditional gender narratives for comic book superheroes. His women are capable, confident, and critically important to the stories of X-Men, something of a rarity for comics of the time. Female characters, like Phoenix and Storm, are arguably the strongest team members. Conversely, Claremont took previously macho, masculine archetypal characters, like Cyclops and Wolverine, and gave them insecurities, doubts, and feelings traditionally reserved for female comic heroes. Cyclops is regularly emasculated by his more powerful girlfriend, Phoenix; similarly, the supposedly hypermasculine, violent Wolverine is regularly placed into a nurturing, maternal role for younger heroes.

Deman highlights these deviations across the sixteen years of Claremont’s run on X-Men. As a longtime comic reader, I found Deman’s observations well-reasoned and insightful. The author cites interviews from Claremont and other historians to support his claims, further strengthening his argument that Claremont intentionally subverted gender norms within X-Men. I greatly enjoyed The Claremont Run. It’s an excellent resource for those looking into gender studies within the comics industry or for those comic fans looking for scholarly analysis. The only reservation I have is that Deman does assume a relatively high level of familiarity with the X-Men franchise. He does his best to explain the key characters and storylines, but I think that readers would still benefit from having a pre-existing understanding of the X-Men. The book reveals the multiple levels of narrative and communication present within Claremont’s comics and proposes a novel reading of X-Men that contains surprising depth and sensitivity regarding gender.

Nathan Guzman

Nathan Guzman is a technical writer based in Overland Park, Kansas. Nathan is an avid reader with interests in reading anything that expands his knowledge of the world and how it works.

How to Deal with Angry People: 10 Strategies for Facing Anger at Home, at Work, and in the Street

Dr. Ryan Martin. 2023. Watkins Publishing. [ISBN 978-1-78678-664-7. 224 pages. US$16.95 (softcover).]

Dr. Ryan Martin, the self-dubbed “Anger Professor”, wrote How to Deal with Angry People: 10 Strategies for Facing Anger at Home, at Work, and in the Street to assist those “navigating the challenges of having an angry person or angry people in their life” (p. 4). This book contains not only the science behind angry people and vexing situations, but also clear ways to understand angry situations, analyze emotions, and resolve conflict.

How to Deal with Angry People is aptly organized into two sections: Part One: Understanding Angry People and Part Two: Ten Strategies for Dealing with Angry People. In Part One, Martin delves into the science behind why a person might be angry, including topics such as their upbringings, worldviews, and biologies. He also poses the idea that there is a stark difference between angry people, who demonstrate “a relatively consistent pattern of angry feelings, thoughts, and behaviors” and those who experience brief, fleeting anger as an “emotion–a feeling state” (p. 17). This portion also contains real life examples of both types of anger in individuals coupled with psychology facts and data, which effectively sets up the actionable Part Two.

Part Two of How to Deal with Angry People is set up as ten chapters, organized as chronological steps the reader can take towards effective management of angry people and situations. Martin suggests that there are a variety of actions we can take towards successful movement forward in high-conflict situations, including remaining calm, having a premeditated response, and working towards a solution. While these can be successful steps, Martin also continually reinforces that there are times where setting personal boundaries and knowing when to disengage in angry situations may be best moving forward.

While How to Deal with Angry People is a practical guide for those looking to understand anger from more than just a “self-help” perspective, it is also highly engaging for a general audience. Martin uses footnotes with humorous quips throughout, making scientific information and case studies entertaining to read and easier to understand. Further, the actionable steps given are easy to follow and directly apply in various situations. Martin clearly outlines many methodologies with steps the reader can employ before an angry situation arises, including diagramming a tense interaction from multiple perspectives, practicing deep breathing techniques to stay calm, and recognizing patterns in behavior to limit the destructive nature of anger.

How to Deal with Angry People is a great read for those who are experiencing an angry situation or would like to further understand the psychology of anger. As technical writers, we engage with a variety of people in the workplace. Even if you do not interact with anger daily, having the tools to successfully navigate angry interactions is well-worth taking the time to read the concepts in this guide.

Lauren Rigby

Lauren Rigby is an STC student member at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She is a first-year graduate student who is pursuing a master’s in English with a certificate in technical communication. Lauren is currently working towards becoming a technical communicator in the greater Huntsville area.

Building A Culture of Inclusivity: Effective Internal Communication for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Priya Bates and Advita Patel. 2023. Kogan Page. [ISBN 978-1-3986-1039-2. 302 pages, including index. US$41.99 (softcover).]

Building A Culture of Inclusivity: Effective internal communication for diversity, equity and inclusion is an excellent resource for professionals who want to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and how internal communication can foster inclusivity. Priya Bates and Advita Patel collectively have 30 years of experience in the communication industry. They lean on that experience and extensive research to explain that “the role of internal communication is to fill the gaps, create clarity, reinforce action and encourage conversations that build trust over time” (p. 293).

The first five chapters of Bates and Patel’s book provide an overview of DEI foundations. The authors recount the history of DEI and detail how this can contribute to organizational success. They describe why trust is the foundation for an inclusive work culture and how leadership at all levels of an organization is essential for successful and lasting change. Bates and Patel explain what bias is, how conscious and unconscious bias impact our decisions, and how curiosity can help us manage our own biases. The last chapter in this section reviews what internal communication is and its value in the workplace.

In the book’s second section, the authors discuss frameworks, models, and best practices for how to implement and sustain DEI practices. They present their own framework, ALLMe 4A, in detail. The 4As in their model are acknowledgement, awareness, action, and accountability. Bates and Patel also review several other change and diversity continuums and encourage the reader to find the framework or model that makes the most sense for their case. The authors walk through how to build an engagement plan for DEI with practical guidelines about setting goals, training employees, measuring results, and sharing success.

Even though the focus of Building A Culture of Inclusivity is internal communications, the book provides helpful information for technical communication professionals who write for external audiences. Bates and Patel discuss the importance of strong listening skills for communicators, online accessibility, inclusive language, and avoiding jargon.

The authors effectively use case studies and current events throughout the book to support their ideas. They conclude each chapter with key takeaways and reflective questions to encourage the reader to think about how to put the chapter’s concepts into practice. Their excellent use of headings, tables, and diagrams make the concepts easy to understand and will be helpful when using this book as a reference in the future.

Joanne DeVoir

Joanne DeVoir is an STC member and the manager of Information Development at Minitab, LLC. She has more than 20 years’ experience in writing technical documentation for software applications. Throughout her career, Joanne has directed content redesign efforts while fostering a collaborative work environment.

The Visual Elements—Photography: A Handbook for Communicating Science and Engineering

Felice C. Frankel. 2023. The University of Chicago Press. [ISBN 978-0-226-82702-5. 240 pages. US$20.00 (softcover).]

The Visual Elements—Photography: A Handbook for Communicating Science and Engineering is a new book series intended for science and engineering professionals to help communicate their work effectively to a broad range of audiences. Photography is the first book in the series by author Felice C. Frankel and is designed to serve as a handbook on how to use photography to portray scientific research effectively. Frankel is an award-winning scientific photographer at MIT and has had a distinguished career, including having several of her photographs chosen to serve as the cover image for the most noted journals in the field of science. The Visual Elements—Photography is an outstanding resource, with a broad approach to capturing images, ideal for anyone interested in improving their communication through photographic images.

The handbook contains six chapters; the first four focus on various tools for capturing images, including scanners, phones, cameras, and microscopes. It might seem odd to include some of these options due to preconceived notions that scanners and phones are not ideal tools for capturing photographic images. Still, the examples with the scanner have some surprisingly good results, and cameras on smartphones are improving all the time. It has been said that “the best camera is the one you have.” Often, we have our phones handy but no professional camera. Additionally, the chapter on using a camera doesn’t provide specific information about camera settings as some might think. Frankel states that the camera’s handbook is the best tool for that. Instead, the chapter focuses on when to use a camera over the other tools and some of its strengths. The final two chapters, “Putting it Together” and “Image Integrity,” focus on composing and adjusting images, as well as the ethical considerations of using photos to depict scientific images.

The content is very approachable, with outstanding photographic examples, the majority of which were captured by Frankel, further indicating her skills and expertise in this area. The images are very purposeful and serve to illustrate the author’s points, often including several steps in the process to show how the best results were achieved. She also provides many examples of the different approaches attempted and often asks the reader to determine for themselves which image portrays the content the best.

It is a quick read and can easily be read in one sitting but is a helpful guide to keep handy for when a specific need for photographs arises. Frankel also proposes a few exercises that would be good to complete for anyone who wishes to improve their photography skills. One of the most refreshing sentiments expressed in the book is the need to experiment with the options at hand, emphasizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to photography. The Visual Elements—Photography is written for people in the science and engineering world to think about how they photograph their work for clear communication of their processes, ideas, data, and so forth, but the book is informative for anyone to learn some handy techniques and tricks for improving their photography.

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.

Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work

Nigel Cross. 2023. 2nd ed. Bloomsbury Visual Arts. [ISBN 978-1-3503-0506-9. 202 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]

Nigel Cross examines several design aspects: design ability, design motivation, and how designers think and work. He defines design thinking as the “practical, strategical and cognitive skills actually used by designers in creating proposals for new products and systems” (p. 2). Understanding these thought processes will help any writer involved in technical design, innovation, or communication. While the author primarily summarizes and analyzes case studies, he brings it all together in his final chapters on designer work and expertise.

Cross uses two different methodologies for his case studies: the first type, based on interviews, highlights two different designers and how they work; the second type utilizes two timed and recorded case studies, one of a single designer and one of a design team. In the timed studies, designers were given prompts to generate a workable solution within two hours. Based on these case studies, Cross writes that designers succeed because of their expertise in their field, their strong motivation, their critical attention to existing models to clarify and improve the status quo, and their detailed design process.

The author notes that design is a highly complex process as designers switch regularly “between solution concepts and problem exploration — between developing ideas for building form and investigating the implications of those ideas in terms of the design brief and technical feasibility” (p. 20). The designers who are most successful seem to rapidly alternate between examining, sketching, reflecting, and back again toward solution development. The innovative designer clearly utilizes parallel working “keeping design activity going at many levels simultaneously” (p. 83). Sketching an idea, then adapting it, then further shifting the design seems to be a powerful way to shift a rough concept into a specific, purposeful design.

Through case studies and research, Cross builds an evidence-based understanding of how designers think and work. In his final chapter, he examines the evidence for how a designer grows from a novice to a master. He focuses especially on the studies done on designers working with ill-defined problems “where there is no definitive, complete formulation of the problem and no single or verifiably correct solution” (p. 155). An experienced designer has a “high level of intelligence used to plan, review, reflect on, adapt and…create novel solutions” (p. 168). A designer must define the problem, determine the relevant information, and discard the rest. While novice designers spend much time determining the problem, experienced designers quickly move to a solution-focused approach, using chunks of data already encountered to innovate and design workable solutions.

Design Thinking: Understanding How Designers Think and Work effectively captures how designers think, what they value, and how they work. The case studies, while occasionally a little dated (this is the second edition), do clarify for technical writers the impetus, discipline, and activities of how designers think, design, and create novel solutions.

Hannah Martin

Hannah Martin is a teacher and technical writer. She holds a master’s in English from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The AI Dilemma: 7 Principles for Responsible Technology

Juliette Powell and Art Kleiner. 2023. Barrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-5230-0419-5. 154 pages. US$22.95 (softcover).]

In The AI Dilemma: 7 Principles of Responsible Technology, Juliette Powell and Art Kleiner offer an engaging look at how leaders can respond to ethical dilemmas that arise as artificial intelligence (AI) technologies proliferate.

With the European Union agreeing in December 2023 on the AI Act, the world’s first attempt to regulate the use of artificial intelligence, and the rest of the world set to follow, this book is an essential read for decision makers.

The authors begin by explaining how society can responsibly manage the effects of AI by considering four “logics of power:” engineering, corporate, social justice, and government. They devote each of the following chapters to a “principle of responsible technology:”

  • Proactively managing risk to humans;
  • Allowing access to the internal workings of AI systems and encouraging the development of “explainable” systems;
  • Giving people control over how their data is used;
  • Managing bias in the outcomes of AI systems;
  • Holding stakeholders, including sellers and users of AI technologies, accountable;
  • discouraging “tightly coupled” systems in which interdependence among parts allows a small malfunction to derail an entire system; and
  • Embracing “creative friction” to minimize the damage that an unchallenged, “frictionless,” system can cause.

The book’s clear organization is just one of its strengths.

Powell and Kleiner embrace the inevitability of AI growth. In the introduction, they state, “This is not a technical book. It does not explain the way in which machine learning can be used or designed. It is also not a technology-bashing book, or a book about industrial policy or geopolitical supremacy through AI. We focus on how decision-makers can think more clearly and act more effectively.” (p. 7).

They make extensive use of examples, both negative ones that show what can go wrong when AI systems are not developed responsibly, as well as positive ones that show how wise decision-making can allow AI to serve us to its full potential without harming vulnerable populations. In Chapter 3, Powell and Kleiner tell the story of two Boeing 737 Max plane crashes in 2018 and 2019, to show the devastation that can occur when information about the use of automated systems is inadequately shared with people who could avert a crisis if they were fully informed. In Chapter 8, “Embrace Creative Friction,” the authors give examples of companies such as Disney and Cirque du Soleil, that deliberately hire diverse teams whose members challenge each other as part of the creative process, even if it slows productivity. They encourage the use of such diverse teams to evaluate and create new AI technologies that benefit the most people and cause the least amount of damage in their pursuit of “frictionlessness.”

The AI Dilemma is a must-read read. Perhaps its only “weakness” is how quickly it will require a follow-up edition that discusses the latest successes and failures of attempts to regulate AI technology.

Valentina DiPeri

Valentina DiPeri is an STC member, a former journalist, and an aspiring technical writer with a recent technical writing certificate. She belongs to several STC SIGs, including the Technical Editing SIG and the Policies and Procedures SIG. Valentina is a website assistant for the Policies and Procedures SIG.

Sharing Our Science: How to Write and Speak STEM

Brandon R. Brown. The MIT Press. [ISBN 978-0-262-54695-9. 300 pages, including index. US$26.95 (softcover).]

“Scientific disciplines have evolved their own technical language” to explain what was previously unnamed. In addition, “specialized terminology becomes a signal for in-group belonging and group identity” (p. x). In other words, we speak the same language. Unfortunately, this is not quite true. What scholars really mean is: They write the same language. If they used the same words in speaking that they do in their scholarly writing, people would stay as far away from them as possible.

Brandon R. Brown stresses his point with a quote from Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” (p. xii). By making it easier to understand, and more interesting, your message will also reach a much wider audience.

The problem is that in the sciences, especially in the natural sciences, the topic is usually much more interesting to the scientist than it is to the reader or the listener. One way around this is to find some real-life examples for the story that includes techniques that make the reader want to read on; by using what those in the trade (novelists, journalists, writers of trade books) call “dramatic tension” (p. 17).

My own take on this is: Try to keep the old fiction formula in mind, in just about everything you write: people, plot, and place (the 3 Ps). In more scientific material, think of the plot as a thesis or hypothesis. And now-and-then, try to rethink how and where you can apply some of the writing concepts that everyone has heard someplace or another.

Take the concept of interest. Have you ever thought of applying it to a Table of Contents? Has the thought ever occurred to you, to design an Irresistible Table of Contents? I haven’t seen many. Or the concept of humor? If you can get the reader to laugh—or even smile—you’ve opened the door. One insight I always try to remember: Connect with the heart and the head will follow.

Brown discusses some of the many magic tricks English uses to gain the readers’ attention and keep them glued to the page; things like openings and closing, repetition and rhythm; figurative language (pp. 153ff) and examples; using the senses (using “sense” verbs); creating suspense; and asking rhetorical questions.

At the same time, we need to remember: the large non-English-speaking readership of our audience. This makes techniques like idioms, slang, and figurative language much harder, often impossible, to understand. Try “Don’t put the cart before the horse” (unless you’re a Cartesian). Add to this the fact that English is one of the most unphonetic of the world languages. Think of George Bernard Shaw’s example of “ghuti” as a way of spelling the word fish (gh as in enough. U as in business. And ti as in nation).

All in all, a very insightful book. But sometimes it is hard cutting your way through the thickets.

Steven Darian

Steven Darian has taught at Columbia, Penn, and Rutgers. He has also taught and studied in 9-10 countries; in three, as a Fulbright scholar. He has done 14 books; popular and scholarly; nonfiction and fiction, including Technique in Nonfiction: The Tools of the Trade.

The Art and Science of UX Design

Anthony Conta. 2024. New Riders. [ISBN 978-0-13-806026-8. 464 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]

When I finished reading Anthony Conta’s excellent book on user experience (UX), I felt the title should have been “The Process and Testing of UX Products.” He organized The Art and Science of UX Design around the central elements of a product design methodology: understanding the problem; exploring possible reasons for the problems; and materializing the solution. It’s evident that Conta certainly comes from the business side of UX with references to SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), Affinity Diagrams, Waterfall, and Agile methods that keep UX grounded in a business framework.

One of the more impressive elements of this book is its introductory chapter where Conta discusses UX in a broader sense, like Don Norman’s treatment in “The Design of Everyday Things.” He points out how we regularly face usability challenges in everyday activities, but we just may not possess the vocabulary for articulating these usability encounters. I appreciated this section because too often UX books dive directly into test evaluation methods or actual testing without providing a context for usability in everyday life.

Conta also has one of the best discussions of low, mid, and high-fidelity wireframes. He carefully defines each one’s unique characteristics and how they differ from one another. This is the first UX book that I have read that even discusses mid-fidelity wireframes and he cleverly states, “If a low-fidelity version of your product is the foundation of a house, then a mid-fidelity version is the layout and flow of that house” (p. 221).

One of the best chapters in The Art and Science of UX Design is about how to conduct a usability test. Conta walks the reader through each of the steps in preparing for a usability test and then discusses how to conduct the test and analyze both the quantitative and qualitative data. He also provides tips on how to present the data to management and clients. He points out how little things, like using pull-quotes from users, can call attention to big UX issues.

Although, the book reads like a volume on product design, Conta includes several tips for designing web pages and user interfaces. He discusses color, typeface, and white space, and includes several fine examples.

The only real weakness to The Art and Science of UX Design is its lack of information on other usability evaluation methods like heuristic evaluation and card sorting. It was also confusing as to why personas were grouped with journey maps since one clearly wants a user, not a persona, completing a journey map. Although the information about personas was very useful, it would have been better as a stand-alone chapter.

Overall, I was pleased with The Art and Science of UX Design. As UX becomes an increasingly popular major at the university level, I expect that we will see many more UX-centered books, which will reflect the unique experiences and focus of the specific author.

Lynne Cooke

Lynne Cooke is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Arizona State University where she teaches courses on usability, digital media, and portfolio development. She is also a member of the Arizona Chapter of STC and the Internship Coordinator at ASU.

Wireframing for Everyone

Michael Angeles, Leon Barnard, and Billy Carlson. 2023. A Book Apart. [ISBN 978-1-9526-1655-6. 158 pages, including index. US$36.00 (softcover).]

In Wireframing for Everyone, Michael Angeles, Leon Barnard, and Billy Carlson encourage readers to use wireframes as vehicles for thinking and communication. They argue that “Learning to create effective wireframes requires a paradigm shift toward seeing them as a flexible, creative tool, rather than as a means to an end” (p. 136). The authors warn designers about the dangers of getting too attached to individual wireframes, and they similarly caution against making wireframes too detailed or attractive, as these approaches can lock teams into ideas prematurely. Because “wireframes are both easy to make and easy to change” (p. 7), they should prompt divergent thinking, where new ideas get created, and convergent thinking, where those ideas get whittled down to the most promising options.

The opening section of the book provides several concrete tips for generating usable, productive wireframes. Most importantly, the authors implore designers to prioritize users by answering three questions: “Who will use this design solution?” “What are the user’s goals?” “What problem(s) does this design address?” Only after answering these questions should designers start making wireframes. Once designers are ready to begin, the book contains with actionable ideas for getting started, such as working from the inside of the interface outward, setting time constraints, and responding to prompts that start with “What if…”? or “How might we….”? These techniques also help designers embrace failure as a necessary and fruitful part of design. As the authors encourage readers, “You’ll know you’re on the right track if you have a lot of great ideas and a few terrible ones” (p. 41).

The book’s middle section provides a comprehensive glossary of design terms, covering both the anatomy of a user interface (elements such as buttons, links, and breadcrumbs) and basic principles for interface design (most notably, hierarchy, alignment, and clarity). This section provides helpful reference material, though experienced designers may find these chapters an overly detailed refresher on well-known concepts.

The final third of the book may be the most helpful. It places wireframes in a larger organizational context by offering advice about creating them as a team, a process that requires not just individual effort but successful handoffs during different design phases. One incredibly helpful chapter establishes best practices for giving and receiving feedback, which should happen, at a minimum, about 30% and 90% of the way through the design process. The last chapter discusses wireframe presentations for internal teams and external clients, an important aspect of design that often gets ignored.

This holistic, informative book feels like getting casual but trustworthy advice from knowledgeable friends. Wireframing for Everyone contains relatable stories, insightful quotes from user experience professionals, and plenty of images to illustrate key points. It’s a breezy read, short enough to finish in a few sittings but substantial enough to apply throughout the design process. Readers will come away with a new appreciation of the power and potential of wireframes.

Ryan Weber

Ryan Weber is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the president of the STC Huntsville/North Alabama chapter. He also hosts the podcast 10-Minute Tech Comm.

Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published

Estelle Erasmus. 2023. New World Library. [ISBN 978-1-60868-836-4. 352 pages, including index. US$19.95 (softcover).]

“How to Bullyproof Your Child” is an Estelle Erasmus article published in The New York Times. With a topic and title like that, it is no wonder the article was the most popular and most emailed the week after publication (p. xv). If you are a parent, of course, you would want to read the article because of its topic and hook. It is also understandable that Good Morning America interviewed Erasmus about the article to cover what a large audience would consider to be a topic of interest.

This article is an example of one of the many interesting and valuable articles Erasmus has written. She explains what motivates her in her writing and how she approaches the writing process in Writing That Gets Noticed: Find Your Voice, Become a Better Storyteller, Get Published. The hope is these explanations and Erasmus’ writing tips will help the reader become a better writer and storyteller and get published.

I thought this book might be a ho-hum read, but I was wrong. Erasmus has an engaging style full of amusing anecdotes, great stories, and wonderfully relevant quotes from other writers. I was totally drawn into the book, finding it at times hard to put down. She does cover the expected basics of writing what should be an irresistible hook and effective pitch, but she also emphasizes I think the most important part of the writing process which is to pick a topic that is of value to the reader—telling an important story.

Anyone interested in becoming a better writer, getting successfully published, and/or developing their storytelling skills would benefit from reading Writing That Gets Noticed. Part of what Erasmus covers is how to incubate ideas, choose an effective format (as a feature article, essay, or op-ed), and accept rejection. A writer needs to develop a thick skin early on in their career as rejection is just part of the process for any writer. Erasmus reminds us, Mark Twain said that every time you want to write “very” replace with “damn” so your editor will remove it, and the writing ends up just right (p. 236). That is an example of some of the fun it is to read Writing That Gets Noticed.

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.

Who Wrote This? How AI and the Lure of Efficiency Threaten Human Writing

Naomi S. Baron. 2023. Stanford University Press. [ISBN 978-1-5036-3322-3. 346 pages, including index. US$30.00 (hardcover).]

Whether artificial intelligence (AI) replaces or simply augments human writing depends on how we define language. Humans learn language through immersion, repetition, and embodied experience, a process as much sensory and tactile as intellectual. As Naomi Baron observes, “What we write is an expression of who we are” (p. 234). Humans can also generate sentences they have never heard before or that have never been uttered before—such as Noam Chomsky’s famous example, “‘Colorless green ideas sleep furiously’” (p. xiii)—whereas AI can only create sentences using the rules it has been taught. It cannot spontaneously change the rules, so it cannot be unpredictable or inventive. In absolute terms, AI will not replace human writing or expression.

In relative terms, it will. AI generates text by searching its database or large language model (LLM) for the style and content typical of the genre it seeks to imitate. The larger and broader the LLM and the more specific the instruction set, the more human-like the output. Asked to write a book review, AI will scan all examples of book reviews in its LLM, then, using artificial neural networks that mimic how the brain works, will apply the conventions of book reviewing to the book in question. The larger the set of examples and the more comprehensive the rules for writing book reviews, the more the review will sound like a human wrote it. As such, AI is a highly advanced version of autocomplete or spellcheck. Its power and sophistication arise from the immense number of examples at its disposal and the reduction of writing to a vast—but always inherently incomplete—set of instructions.

Because AI works only from models, it cannot “create” a response, it can only “assemble” one from inputs it does not understand except in relation to rules and examples it has been given by humans. As Baron notes, rules enable AI to “predict the next word by drawing on word combinations most frequent in its storehouse” (p. 176), so that it “generates its own text based on the language it has been fed” (p. 190). The result is not a text created by a human, but a simulacrum of a text humans might or could create—an approximate and generic imitation.

AI may not fully replace human originality, but it will certainly increase efficiency in writing. Baron says the “goal [is] to augment rather than replace human cognition” (p. 214) and find the “right balance” (p. 213). AI can produce drafts of generic texts that humans can use as given or revise and personalize as appropriate for the intended purpose and audience.

AI will therefore continue to require oversight from humans, just like autocomplete or spellcheck. In Who Wrote This? How AI and the Lure of Efficiency Threaten Human Writing, for instance, a typo appears, replacing the name “Turing” with “Turning” (p. 51). Humans missed that, but so did AI.

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.

A Myriad of Tongues: How Languages Reveal Differences in How We Think

Caleb Everett. Harvard University Press. [ISBN 978-0-674-97658-0. 288 pages, including index. US$27.95 (hardcover).]

Knowing the differences in how audiences think about and use information is the key to the success or failure of a technical document. As a result, audience analysis is at the center of everything we do. In A Myriad of Tongues: How Languages Reveal Differences in How We Think, Caleb Everett provides a cogent and intriguing overview of how language shapes the way we think and speak.

The key strength of Everett’s book is the depth of his research. He draws from a wide variety of linguistic studies, both well-known theories such as the work of Whorf, as well as ground-breaking new research. In addition, he offers personal examples from his time living in the Brazilian Amazon with the Karitâna tribe (pp. 18–19). This wealth of examples drawn from around the world, including lesser-studied and non-Western cultures, illustrates his points about how language affects our thinking in a variety of everyday situations, as well as how differently humans from separate cultures can view the world.

The thoroughness of Everett’s research and the detail in which he explores linguistic and cognitive differences may also be a drawback for some readers, particularly for readers without a background in linguistic theory. Although Everett explains the linguistic concepts and theories clearly and explains the meaning of academic theories in layman’s terms, his exploration of some of the finer points in linguistic differences between cultures may seem less relevant or confusing to an audience looking for a practical discussion.

Technical communicators working in localization and internationalization will find A Myriad of Tongues useful because Everett provides informative insights about how the language spoken by the audience can influence the way that they think. For example, many cultures do not distinguish between green and blue, or may place the dividing point between these two colors in a different hue range than North American or European cultures (p. 103). Additionally, some cultures do not order objects from left to right, as most Western cultures do. Instead, they may order objects according to the cardinal directions. For example, when sorting objects from the largest to the smallest, the largest items are placed to the north rather than to the left (pp. 58–59). These differences in turn may affect the design of products as well as the documentation.

Technical writing instructors will appreciate Everett’s thorough discussion of the many facets of how language can influence cognition. The number of linguistic and practical examples Everett offers would provide illuminating material for discussion in the classroom. A Myriad of Tongues would also be a good addition to the syllabus of any graduate-level intercultural technical communication course.

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.

Writing for Interactive Media: Social Media, Websites, Applications, E-learning, Games

Timothy Garrand. 2024. 4th ed. Routledge Press. [ISBN 978-1-0325-5424-2. 312 pages, including index. US$54.95 (softcover).]

Think about how often you use text to interact with technology. You know which button to click in your bank’s app because it has a helpful label. You pull up the mobile version of a company’s website to help you decide which headphones to buy. You get an in-depth science lesson at a museum by playing an educational game at a kiosk. These types of interactive media need writers to craft this text. The fourth edition of Writing for Interactive Media: Social Media, Websites, Applications, E-learning, Games is an updated guide to help writing students or writers accustomed to creating linear documents transition to a career in which they write for these types of applications. And the world of interactive media writing is broad. Timothy Garrand showcases many fields, including user experience, social media, website design, instructional design, and video game writing.

Professionals know that no writing happens in a vacuum, and Writing for Interactive Media makes it clear that the interactive media writer is part of a team. The writing is just one of many elements that make these products work. Some of the most interesting chapters of this book are the case studies that document a collaborative project from proposal to execution. These projects are diverse, representing the broad range of writing an interactive media writer could work on, including a marketing website, an educational website, interactive math and statistics lessons, and a computer game. Students and early-career professionals will appreciate this glimpse into real-world projects.

This book clearly lays out how interactive writing differs from linear writing. Besides writing a cohesive document, an interactive writer must keep up with the user’s choices and path through the website or application. To teach this, Garrand pulls in lessons from information architecture, discussing and diagramming several common structures. He also describes how to communicate this information, with lessons on building flowcharts and recommendations for flowchart and planning software. This is useful information for any writer planning an interactive project but is especially helpful for linear writers interested in branching out into interactivity.

While the Writing for Interactive Media is a textbook, supplemental material, like exercises and sample syllabi, is available online instead of being included in the text. Instead of discussion questions and assignments, each chapter ends with a short conclusion and each main part of the book ends with a more detailed list of key points. This makes it a well-organized guide, and it could be especially helpful for any writer interested in starting a career in interactive media writing, whether they are a student or professional.

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 degree in computer science.

UX Writing: Designing User-Centered Content

Jason C.K. Tham, Tharon Howard, and Gustav Verhulsdonck. 2024. Taylor & Francis. [ISBN 978-1-03-222740-5. 248 pages, including index. US$46.95 (softcover).]

UX Writing: Designing User-Centered Content is both a textbook and a playbook for user experience (UX) writing, as Kirk St.Amant notes in the Introduction (p. xvi). The book is divided into 3 sections (Perspectives, Processes, Practices) and 12 chapters that include an overview; 4–5 learning objectives; in-depth topic content with ample illustrations and research; a chapter checklist with key points; learner-centered discussion questions; and 1–2 learning activities designed to encourage hands-on learning experiences. At first glance, it may seem like it’s geared toward undergraduate students, but it’s also a useful text for practitioners who are interested in learning more about the history and practice of UX writing.

The book begins with a brief history of the user-centered content and defines UX writing as a broad practice that involves “writing within and around an interface” (p. 12) to create “successful content for products and services as experiences for different users across numerous channels” (p. 19). The Perspectives chapters also cover the importance of (inter)cultural awareness, ethical practices, and agile collaboration among cross-functional teams (pp. 46–55).

The second section covers UX writing processes, including assessing user needs and common content research practices. The authors include in-depth examples for things like gaze plots and F-pattern heat maps (pp. 78–81); step-by-step guides for content inventories, audits, and personas (pp. 102–107); and ideation, prototyping, and information architecture (pp. 120–124). I appreciated the importance of participatory design as a framework for understanding users (p. 115) provided by the authors. By highlighting content as an integral part of the design process, the authors contextualize UX writing “as design,” not just an afterthought or a “last step” in the UX process.

In the third section, the authors offer tactical approaches to UX writing practices, from tackling genres and tasks to automating content with artificial intelligence (AI). Because UX writers encounter common scenarios such as tight copy and specific error states, I found the attention to microcopy and error message development especially helpful (pp. 181–187). Of course, not to be missed is the chapter on using generative AI to automate content practices. The authors’ focus on the affordances of large language models (LLMs) and their use as a “writing companion” (p. 212) was compelling. They suggest UX writers “bring the HEAT” (Human experience, Ethics, Authenticity, and Trust) when they use AI as a tool for content ideation, development, and testing (pp. 213–215). As AI continues to be personified as either a villain or a hero, UX Writing strikes a good middle ground—use the tools, but also understand where their sharp edges are.

As someone who works as a content designer, I found this text to be a realistic picture of UX writing across contexts. UX Writing will stand the test of time as an action-oriented introduction to the discipline and a guidebook for those who seek a holistic understanding of a UX writer’s daily work.

Erica M. Stone

Erica Stone is an STC member and serves on the STC Scholarship Committee. She works as a content designer, consultant, and independent researcher.

The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence

Matteo Pasquinelli. Verso Books. [ISBN 978-1-78873-006-8. 264 pages, including index. US$24.95 (softcover).]

In The Eye of the Master: A Social History of Artificial Intelligence, Matteo Pasquinelli walks us through a long history of the division of labor “to identify the operative principle of AI in the long run” (p. 240). To help explain the relationship between labor, rules, and automation, Pasquinelli divides the book into two parts: the Industrial Age and the Information Age.

Part 1, the Industrial Age, takes us back to the 19th century when a computer was not a machine, but a human who was responsible for doing calculations by hand. Pasquinelli points out this was the first historical occurrence of a computing network because the computers were “working from home, receiving stacks of numbers to calculate and sending back results by mail” (p. 51). (Long live remote work!)

Pasquinelli describes machines in the Industrial Age as an embodiment of science, knowledge, and the general intellect of workers. He goes into detail about Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine, which “substitutes mechanical performance for an intellectual process” (p. 52). He also writes about Ada Lovelace, celebrated as “the first woman programmer of history” (p. 68), and her work with Babbage in designing the Analytical Engine. Karl Marx is a recurring name as one who believed that the master was not an individual, but “an integrated power made up of ‘the science, the gigantic natural forces, and the mass of the social labour embodied in the system of machinery’” (p. 6).

Part 2, the Information Age, gets into the nitty gritty of neural networks and cybernetics. (Cybernetics claims to have found a basic mechanism of behavior in all organisms where they use feedback to adapt to their environment.)

We learn about theories of self-organization and the early digital computer, and about pioneers like John von Neumann, Konrad Zuse, and Alan Turing who explored self-organization as a technique of computation. Pasquinelli devotes a chapter to Friedrich Hayek and connectionism that would later be known as the paradigm of artificial neural networks.

This is a dense and complex book. The breadth and depth of topics will engage readers who appreciate technical subject matters, their theories, and their complications.

Michelle Gardner

Michelle Gardner is a copywriter and content editor in the life sciences industry. 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.

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Steve Portigal. 2023. 2nd ed. Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-959029-78-6. 260 pages, including index. US$49.99 (softcover).]

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights is a groundbreaking book that deals in-depth with an oft-overlooked topic: how to effectively conduct interviews when doing user research. Many books discuss user research and how to perform it, but none deal with the topic of interviews and their place in the user experience (UX) world so completely. In the second edition of Interviewing Users, Portigal includes valuable new content that makes this edition worth the investment if you are doing user research.

Like the first edition, this book devotes its first eight chapters to the interviewing process. These chapters include advice on creating a business case for interviews, dealing with interview logistics, thinking about other contextual methods, engaging in successful fieldwork, asking effective questions, doing better interviews, and documenting findings.

The last two chapters are new to the second edition and include advice on analyzing findings from interviews and reporting these findings within an organization. In addition, the second edition includes seven new sidebars from guest contributors as well as updated examples, stories, and tips for leading interviews. It also includes new sections of existing chapters about bias, remote research, ResearchOps, planning research, and research logistics.

Like the first edition, this book stands as a ready guide for everything you need when interviewing users about a product. There are detailed guides for dealing with things like disrespectful research participants (p. 111) and audio recording interviews (p. 191). There are also useful discussions on higher-level concerns such as how learning about users can inform decisions in UX (p. 4) and why it’s important to embrace how participants see the world when interviewing (p. 103). The book’s overall goal is to help readers understand the place of interviewing users in the modern world of UX.

Readers will thus find within the pages of this book a complete workflow for becoming competent interviewers of users. Though the book doesn’t cover every possible nuance of conducting interviews—no one volume could accomplish that—Interviewing Users is perhaps one of the most complete books available on this topic. More importantly, it is written in terms that even a complete novice can understand, but also contains a wealth of wisdom that seasoned professionals will find useful as a reference guide to the most difficult art and science that is user research.

Guiseppe Getto

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

Confidence Karma: How to Become Confident & Help Others Feel Great Too

Dr. Gary Wood. 2023. Watkins Media Ltd. [ISBN 978-1-78678-804-7. 248 pages. US$16.95 (softcover).]

Have you ever considered the definition of “confidence”? Dr. Gary Wood in his book Confidence Karma: How to Become Confident & Help Others Feel Great Too says it is “an assessment of our ability to effect change. First, we assess whether there is a way to make a change and then whether or not we are up to it” (p. 7). He then goes on to introduce his first “Confidence Karma Triangle”, which features actions, feelings, and thoughts as the basis of confidence building.

A main theme in the book is to “always build on what you have rather than to obsess over what you don’t have” (p. 16). In Chapter 1, Dr. Wood encourages the reader to explore their current confidence status. There are quizzes that rate self-confidence, self-esteem, readiness, and willingness. Chapter 2 continues the self-evaluation with topics about how different environments and factors may cause confidence to fluctuate. Chapters 3 and 4 look at the mind–body connection with a focus on relaxation, tips for creating positive first impressions, and developing an awareness of body language and assertiveness.

Chapters 5 and 6 assist the reader in reviewing their own attitudes, values, and meaning, and in considering their needs from different perspectives: physical, safety and security, love and belongingness, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, and self-actualization.

Chapter 7 broaches battling demons and building resilience, while Chapters 8 and 9 consider aspirations, goal setting, and linking goals with values and strengths. Finally, Chapter 10 provides a review of the book’s themes.

Personally, I found this book comprehensive, engaging, and enjoyable. One of the exercises that I found very interesting was to consider my internalized “parental” messages (pp. 147–148). Questions included:

  • How do you feel, act, and think based on your [parent’s] view of the world (or your perception of it)?
  • Do the parental sound-bites you run in your head lift you up or hold you down?
  • Do you find yourself behaving in a counter-productive way and think “That’s just like my mother,” or “That’s just like my father”?
  • If the feelings, actions and thoughts of your parental state are not helping then what might you replace them with?

If you are serious about building your own confidence and others’, and you want a wide range of techniques to try, then Confidence Karma is a book worth your time.

Charlotte Weddington

Charlotte Weddington is an STC member and has been a technical communicator in the manufacturing sector since 2015. She has a background in ISO 9001 documentation and currently works for Hunter Douglas as a Technical Writer.

Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons

Sheila Smith McKoy and Patrick Elliot Alexander, eds. 2023. The Modern Language Association of America. [ISBN 978-1-60329-591-8. 328 pages, including index. US$49.00 (softcover).]

Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons is a collection of essays providing resources for instructors who teach in jails and prisons. Although the field of critical prison studies has expanded and national attention to social justice issues has increased, Sheila Smith McKoy and Patrick Elliot Alexander realized that instructors in prisons are hampered by limited pedagogical resources. This volume is designed to provide information for instructors, whether they are incarcerated or nonincarcerated, on “course development, pedagogical strategies, publication…and presentation of imprisoned students’ scholarly and creative work” (p. 3).

McKoy and Alexander present an historical context of prison education to help set the scene for some of the challenges faced by today’s instructors. They begin with Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century enslaved person, who wrote of how materials for reading and writing were routinely withheld from him. People in prison face a similar scarcity of materials. Incarcerated learners “constitute the fastest-growing population of Americans with limited or no access to reading, writing, higher education opportunities, or learning communities” (p. 4). At the same time, more people in prisons are enrolling in courses and more resources are needed for their instructors.

Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons is divided into two sections. The first is “Purpose.” Essays in this section ask the question: “What is the purpose of literary study, writing, and the performed word in jail and prison classrooms?” (p. 6). Essay topics in this section address, for example: how community is formed in studying literature; creating a space for creativity that doesn’t mimic the prison power structure; how incarcerated people and outside teachers can share in creating inclusive learning; the role of performance in exposing abuse; and changing preconceived ideas of education.

Part Two, “Practices,” asks: “What are specific pedagogical strategies for teaching literature and writing in particular carceral classroom contexts?” (p. 6). These essays echo the advice in the first section of the book to create the learning space based on the needs of the students. Essays cover topics such as prison book clubs, specific text-driven and dialogue-driven experiences of the essayists, the importance of shared classroom leadership, and importance of students publishing their own work. This section concludes with advice on self-care for those who teach and volunteer in the prison setting.

The authors make a special point of bringing attention to the terminology used throughout Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons. They refer respectfully to incarcerated people without using stigmatizing terms often heard and read about people in prison—a good model for any writer.

Contributors to Teaching Literature and Writing in Prisons include authors of various backgrounds and areas of expertise, some of whom have been or are incarcerated. Their biographies are listed at the end of the volume. The essays themselves each contain notes and a bibliography, a self-contained format that is convenient for reading.

Linda M. Davis

Linda M. Davis is an independent communications practitioner in the Los Angeles area. She holds an MA in Communication Management and has specialized in strategic communication planning, publication management, writing, and editing for more than 25 years.

Teaching Comedy

Bev Hogue, ed. 2023. Modern Language Association. [ISBN 978-1-60329-615-1. 328 pages. US$38.00 (softcover).]

A reviewer and his editor walk into a bar. “Ouch!” says the reviewer. “Sorry,” the editor replies. “We set the bar lower for reviewers.”

Despite its title, Teaching Comedy isn’t about writing jokes, though you may learn a few tricks along the way. Rather, it focuses on how comedy can teach students to think about key aspects of communication such as audience and context. Comedy interests, attracts, and motivates students. As editor Bev Hogue notes, “Comedy can build community, ease personal and shared pain, and enhance connections among cultures” (p. 2). Comedy has “a concern for subverting cultural norms and holding up to the world a fun-house mirror that may be distinctly unfunny” (p. 4). As in satire, mirrors can produce distorted reflections, with the distortion itself part of the message.

An academic text on humor challenges the maxim that the easiest way to kill a joke is to dissect it. Teaching Comedy sidesteps that fate by showing teachers how to use comedy (from stand-up routines to novels) to reveal universal truths, such as the importance of an audience’s context (history, power structures, racism). Though humor’s culturally bound, understanding it also requires genre knowledge: comedy has its own vocabulary, jargon, and structural conventions. For example, most comedy begins with a mise en scène to establish the abovementioned context. Technical communicators from all genres can learn much about identifying the context required for communication to succeed. Teaching Comedy also reveals the pitfalls of cross-cultural communication with diverse audiences and how to mitigate the problem. Many chapters describe a teacher’s first-time journey learning how to teach comedy, and include tips, tricks, and pitfall warnings. Authors emphasize modern pedagogical techniques, such as facilitating and guiding rather than controlling the discourse and encouraging students to work together to explore and discuss the material and learn from each other’s insights.

Hogue doesn’t establish consistent terminology for all contributors, so there’s occasional confusion that results when contributors discuss different things under the same name or the same thing under different names. Humor is neither comedy nor satire; rather, each borrows from the others. I’d have preferred to see these terms established and used consistently. Unfortunately, there are no visuals to make descriptions of humor’s visual aspects concrete, and few Web links to videos or sounds. Ironically, there are few examples of actual humor, leading to many abstract descriptions that should have been grounded in example, particularly for subjects such as “graphic novels” that unite text with illustration.

Teaching Comedy is mostly light on jargon, with exceptions such as “Problem based learning framework informed by health and environmental humanities and postcolonial cultural studies” (p. 90). But with a little work, even non-academics will learn something. Humor encourages us to think more deeply—a skill that can be applied far more widely than just for teaching comedy. Hogue’s book will inspire you to apply that skill.

Geoff Hart

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

Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design

David Dabner, Sandra Stewart, and Abbie Vickress. 2023. 8th ed. Quarto Publishing plc. [ISBN 978-1-394-18566-5. 208 pages, including index. US$62.95 (softcover).]

Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design is an indispensable resource for students first stepping into the field, but it also works well for anyone applying design skills on the job, from creating social media posts, designing websites, creating graphics to working user experience/user interface (UX/UI) for mobile devices.

Its attention to detail and updated examples make it a must-have reference to which readers will return often. Those with earlier editions might find this 8th edition valuable for its examples showcasing the latest apps, product branding, book designs, as well as for its updated links to contemporary designers and their work, including a list of design-specific online resources.

The book is an exemplar of design, with a keen attention to detail. For example, the book has two parts, each balanced with four chapters, and those with an eye for design will pick up that the numerals 1 and 2 for the parts are colored the same as those numerals for chapters 1 and 2, with the size and stroke distinguishing the levels. The full-color pages are balanced and consistent in form, simplifying reader comprehension. The book demonstrates its guidelines through its pristine design.

Part 1, “Principles,” includes chapters on research, composition, typography, and color. For those working in technical communication, perhaps the most indispensable chapter is the one on typography, which begins with a history lesson on lead type and moves quickly into digital typefaces, type families, ornaments, and glyphs. Part 2, “Practice,” applies the principles from Part 1, including chapters on tools, production, and web design as well as a chapter that guides students toward design careers that fit their interests, including a list of the top designers in each area. This beginner guidance is crucial, and often missing from senior seminars or final courses. Any serious student should immediately appreciate the wealth of knowledge in this text.

The chapters are chunked into modules, with each module containing headings, brief paragraphs, bulleted lists balanced with images to support the text, and a glossary as needed. This chunking of information into bite-sized pieces is an effective way to teach material because readers can focus on one concise lesson at a time. Instructors can dip into modules from various chapters each week of class or they can teach the text in sequence. Each chapter ends with a series of assignments that instructors can use in class or as homework, and the assignments are pedagogically sound, putting the chapter contents into practice in a way that builds students’ skills.

Finally, the last chapter, on career paths, guides students through various disciplines under the graphic design umbrella. Career topics are also sprinkled throughout the book. For example, Chapter 7 contains a module, “Initial consultations,” that discusses how to work with clients, from preparing for pitches to estimating scope and costs. Another discusses the relationship a designer should have with a printing press. Given its solid foundation and insightful career guidance, Graphic Design School is required reading for anyone serious about entering the field of graphic design.

Kelly A. Harrison

Kelly A. Harrison, MFA, teaches technical communication at Stanford University and has taught a range of writing courses at San José State University and San Francisco State University. She has over 15 years of experience as a technical writer, editor, and manager. She currently writes, edits, and consults and she is the Associate Editor for West Trade Review.

HTML, CSS, & JavaScript All-in-One for Dummies

Paul McFedries. 2023. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. [ISBN 978-1-394-16468-4. 828 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]

Back at the dawn of the internet, if you wanted to create a website, you had to write the HTML code by hand. This involved, for me, opening Notepad in Window 3.1 and manually entering all the HTML tags and formatting, and then FTPing the file to a webhost. While my elementary website was not great, it did land me a college internship at a hospital running their website. Which also involved my editing files in Notepad and then using a dialup modem to transfer the files to their webhost. My guide during these edits was a website that taught you what the HTML tags did. I printed that site in its entirety, about twelve printed pages, and carried it back and forth to my internship for reference. Fortunately for the world, the internet has evolved beyond the simplicity of such hand-coded sites. However, to understand how the structure of websites works, an understanding of website architecture is required. That is where HTML, CSS, & JavaScript All-in-One for Dummies comes in. This massive tome is billed as six books in one, teaching you how a website is structured in HTML, how it is formatted using CSS, and how it is enhanced by JavaScript.

As part of the Dummies series, HTML, CSS, & JavaScript follows a standard format. Concepts are well explained, and the book builds on earlier knowledge that it presents. Callouts draw attention to important ideas, and illustrations have very descriptive captions. The book is part training manual and part reference book. You can read it from cover to cover, all 830 pages of it, or you can find the concept you want to focus on and read that section as standalone content. If you do the latter and there is a term or concept that was explained earlier in the book, it is referenced in that section so you can do additional research if needed. The tone is light, friendly, and informal but does not hold back on sharing useful information. Many examples fill the book to help illustrate concepts which might otherwise be difficult to describe.

If you have ever looked at content and thought that you could do a better job with the formatting and delivery, then this book is an invaluable resource. It will help you evaluate the structure of HTML content, adjust the formatting using CSS, and tweak the display by adding JavaScript. Also included are online supplements, such as example files, cheat sheets, and bonus chapters. Overall, this weighty tome is an excellent addition to anyone looking to learn about website design.

Timothy Esposito

Timothy Esposito is an STC Fellow, current STC President, and past president of the STC Philadelphia Metro chapter. He is the Manager of Logistics Documentation at Oracle with more than 20 years of technical communication experience.

Negotiation Made Simple: A Practical guide for Solving Problems, Building Relationships, and Delivering the Deal

John Lowry. 2023. HarperCollins Leadership. [ISBN 978-1-4003-3632-6. 240 pages, including index. US$24.99 (hardcover).]

Negotiation Made Simple: A Practical guide for Solving Problems, Building Relationships, and Delivering the Deal provides a straightforward approach to negotiation through four sections: Manage Yourself, Ambitious Competition, Creative Cooperation, and Deliver the Deal. In “Manage Yourself,” John Lowry focuses on helping us understand who we are, our natural tendencies, and preparing strategically for the negotiation. The next two sections discuss two different negotiation approaches: Ambitious Competition and Creative Cooperation. The last section is devoted to closing the deal.

Regardless of our natural tendencies, we will be involved in both competitive and cooperative negotiations. We will have our preferred approach. The other party will have their approach. We need to understand how both we and the other party are approaching the negotiation.

As a mentor to introverts, I’ve seen that most of my mentees would prefer to avoid any type of competitive negotiation, often because they don’t want confrontation. Following the approaches in the book will help introverts achieve those results and remove some of the emotion. Here’s is a list of the key concepts that resonated with me:

  • Knowing yourself. Learning to take a strategic approach to negotiations helps remove the emotional component and helps you gain what you need to through the negotiation.
  • You don’t have to be a jerk. You don’t have to treat your opponent poorly, nor respond in kind if they treat you poorly. You can honor the other party, work to understand their position, and try to find wins for both sides.
  • The importance of empathy. Recognizing and acknowledging what the other party is trying to achieve and why will lead to a smoother, more mutually beneficial result.
  • Make the opening offer and ask for more than you’ll settle for. If you make the opening offer, you establish the baseline for the negotiation. If you recognize that most negotiations end somewhere in the middle of what both sides are seeking, you’ll realize that you must ask for what may be a much larger sum or concession than you will settle for. You may also find that your opening offer may be accepted!
  • Sometimes you need to walk away. Sometimes parties may start so far apart that there is no acceptable midpoint. Sometimes you may need to walk away to show the other party you’re serious.

The book provides two valuable tools:

  • The Negotiator’s Preparation Checklist that helps in ensuring you are considering all facets of the upcoming negotiation, helps in assuring your team is on the same page, and helps in ensuring you maintain a strategic approach.
  • Negotiation Made Simple Self-Assessment helps you understand how well you know (and follow what you know) in a negotiation. Lowry recommends completing this self-assessment before reading the sections on negotiations and delivering the deal.

Before starting this read, I was afraid when I started reading this book that it would focus on being a salesperson and winning the deal. To the contrary, I found the strategic and analytical approach to negotiation valuable and look forward to approaching my next negotiation more positively, strategically, and successfully.

Ben Woelk

Ben Woelk, CISSP, CPTC, is an STC Fellow, a past STC president, and is a CPTC Foundation trainer. He is Governance, Awareness, and Training Manager for the Information Security Office at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Ben is an adjunct instructor in Cybersecurity Policy and Law and Technical Writing and Editing.

What is Cultural Criticism?

Francis Mulhern and Stefan Collini. Verso. [ISBN 978-1-80429-339-3. 224 pages, including index. US$11.99 (digital).]

What is Cultural Criticism? Is organized as a debate between two prominent critics of European intellectual culture: Francis Mulhern and Stefan Collins (p. viii). Each chapter is taken from previous works published by the authors, beginning with excerpts from Mulhern’s Culture/Metaculture, followed by Collins’s response to this work, and so forth. In the text, the two authors engage in a discussion of, as the title implies, the nature of the field of cultural criticism. Collini argues that cultural criticism can include modern culture, such as modern pop culture movements, whereas Mulhern takes a more traditional stance, arguing that cultural criticism transcends modern fads and should engage with the elements of “deep culture,” such as national history and political movements.

One of the main drawbacks of What is Cultural Criticism? for academics and practitioners in technical communication is that the text assumes that the reader is well-grounded in the theory and scholarly works in cultural criticism. The first chapter, drawn from Mulhern’s text Culture/Metaculture, begins right away with describing the tension between the modern field of cultural studies and the philosophical notion of Kulturkritik, which is in European philosophy, a pessimistic viewing of “the emerging symbolic universe of capitalism, democracy and enlightenment” (p.5). Throughout the work, much name-dropping of philosophers, poets, and cultural critics ensues, which I found difficult to follow as someone outside of the field.

A further issue with What is Cultural Criticism? involves the Euro-centered nature of the debate between the scholars. Aside from a brief mention of the fact that the field of cultural criticism is beginning to engage with non-European frames of reference, the text focuses on European events, schools of thought, and examples. Part of this issue no doubt occurs because of the length of time over which these passages were originally published—Mulhern’s Culture/Metaculture was originally published in 2000. However, scholars looking for a more inclusive view of cultural criticism will not find it here.

Despite these drawbacks, the multi-layered debate between two scholars at the top of their field is a rare treat in academia. The process of publishing and responding to the published work is one that takes years, if not decades, and reading this distilled version nicely illustrates the mechanisms of how academic discourse shapes a field. Graduate students in technical communication could learn much from this text, particularly regarding how an academic argument is framed and how to engage with the work of other scholars civilly and productively. I could see a graduate-level course in rhetoric using passages of What is Cultural Criticism? to illustrate the process of academic discourse, provided that enough groundwork was laid for the students to understand the context of the discussion.

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.

Duly Noted: Extend Your Mind Through Connected Notes

Jorge Arango. 2024. Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-959029-04-5. 200 pages, including index. US$39.99 (softcover).]

Jorge Arango says, “Note-taking, whether it is on scraps of paper, notebooks, or smartphones, is a tool for thinking and knowing that practically everybody uses…to create ‘knowledge gardens’” (p. vii).

Extending your mind through connected notes involves making your notebook or smartphone your most powerful tool for super-charging your thoughts and ideas. Learning the difference between “taking notes and making notes” is an interesting concept. Note-taking is “about capturing ideas for recall” and thinking of all your notes as a “knowledge garden,” while “note-making is about generating new ideas.” You constantly build your “knowledge garden” by “continually learning new things…in areas that rely on acquiring, managing, and deploying knowledge,” with your effectiveness depending on your ability to “find, assimilate, and produce information” (p. xiv).

Duly Noted focuses on three simple rules for digital note-taking (p. xv): (1) make short notes; (2) connect your notes; and (3) nurture your notes. Each chapter includes three actionable sidebars: (1) Notable Note-Taker shows how people use notes to help their thinking; (2) Side Notes provides advice and tips to improve your own note-taking; and (3) Working Notes are how-to exercises that help you get started.

We should write notes with the intent of giving us time to revisit them later (note-taking) and then thinking of making those notes into longer pieces of prose (note-making). Notes are for remembering, transcribing, recording, learning, researching, generating, planning, communicating, and fidgeting. When attending educational events, conferences, or meetings, we take notes to keep our attention and not forget that one key nugget the speaker(s) shared. We take notes by hand using pen and paper or index cards; writing in the margins, on sticky notes stuck to the page of a book or photograph where the content lies; or with electronic devices.

We write lengthier notes when using paper and pen, but with digital note-taking we need to think differently about how we capture the information. When writing notes, use sticky notes for short-term reminders and digital notes for long-term thoughts you will later expand on.

Note-making is different from note-taking in that you are writing down what you are thinking to make sense of ideas you’ve heard. If you draw mind maps or sketch out your notes, you are note-making. These are not salient pieces of information that equal a full deliverable. Arango says in his blog, “Thinking isn’t just happening in your brain and then being captured on paper; instead, you’re thinking with and on the paper” (https://jarango.com/2023/01/26/note-taking-and-note-making).

Whether using note-taking or note-making, consider using Arango’s Minimally Viable Note (MVN) concept. This involves writing a clear name for the note with a call to action, the next steps, where the idea came from, and the date.

Duly Noted is a useful book for those wanting to learn new, unique techniques for creating digital notes. The book also teaches how to build a “knowledge garden” to store your notes for future growth.

Jackie Damrau

Jackie Damrau is an STC Fellow with more than 25 years of technical communication experience. She serves STC as the book review editor for Technical Communication.