A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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ACM SIGDOC (Special Interest Group on Design of Communication)   (peer-reviewed)

The ACM Special Interest Group on documentation provides a forum on documentation and user support for computer products and systems. The SIG studies processes, methods, and technologies for communicating information via printed and online text, hypermedia, and multimedia. Members include technical communication professionals, educators, and researchers, as well as system designers, developers, usability specialists, and managers responsible for producing or supervising the creation of documentation, online help systems, and end user interfaces. SIGDOC offers conferences, a high-quality Web site, and The Journal of Computer Documentation, a respected quarterly publication.

ACM SIGDOC. Organizations>Documentation>Multimedia


ACM SIGDOC Undergraduate Scholarship

One non-renewable scholarship of $500 will be granted toward school tuition and expenses for the 2003-2004 academic year. The award will be paid directly to the school for crediting to the student's account. To assist a student who is pursuing an established degree program in an area of technical or professional communication. A committee set by the SIGDOC board will evaluate each application with respect to potential future contribution to the field of technical communication. Financial need is not a factor.

ACM SIGDOC. Academic>Scholarships>TC


Agile Documentation with uScrum   (PDF)

uScrum (uncertainty Scrum) is an agile process developed by a small team at Altitude Software to manage the process of writing user documentation. uScrum manages uncertainty and the unknown, allowing writers to quickly react to changing conditions. uScrum uses orders of ignorance to understand the difficulty of tasks, allowing the team to effectively prioritize regular work together with difficult creative work.

Baptista, Joaquim. ACM SIGDOC (2008). Articles>Documentation>Agile>Scrum


Annual Awards for Contributions to the Field of Technical Communications   (peer-reviewed)

The ACM SIGDOC Executive Board welcomes letters of nomination for the SIGDOC Rigo and Diana Awards. The Rigo Award celebrates an individual's lifetime contribution to the field of information design, technical communication, and online information design; the Diana Award celebrates the contribution of an organization, institution, or business.

ACM SIGDOC. Academic>Research>Assessment


Building a Home-Grown Knowledge Base: Don't Wait for the Resources—Build a Prototype

In this presentation, we will discuss why and how we came to build a knowledge base for the Computing Help Desk at MIT. We discuss MIT’s re-engineering effort and its impact on the various Help Desk groups who were brought together as a single team; how this centralizing of Help Desk services created a new requirement of getting useful, just-in-time knowledge to student consultants, and professional staff; and how that requirement helped us approach another goal of our re-engineered processes-helping our customers to help themselves. We then describe the tool we created and how we are using it.

Jones, Susan B. and Carol Wood. ACM SIGDOC (1998). Design>Information Design>Web Design


Cognitive Strain as a Factor in Effective Document Design   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

People have a limited amount of cognitive resources. Coping with the increasing amount of information presented via a software interface strains a user’s cognitive resources. If a person has to use documentation, whether on-line or paper, additional cognitive resources are consumed, often overloading the user. Using several windows or multi-media elements can compound the problem. Unfortunately, as Wickens (1992) states, humans are unable to manage excessive cognitive strain and they respond by getting frustrated, committing errors, shedding tasks, or reverting to known methods.

Albers, Michael J. ACM SIGDOC (1997). Presentations>User Centered Design>Usability>Cognitive Psychology


Communicating Effectively With Interaction   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The ability to build interactions that support, enable, and improve communication is a valuable skill for help developers, Web-site designers, multimedia content developers, information-rich user interface designers-anyone who designs and develops information to be used online. This paper presents the basics of interaction design for information products and describes some basic underlying human factors and user-interface design principles.

Ames, Andrea L. ACM SIGDOC (2001). Presentations>Information Design>User Centered Design>Multimedia


Content Management and the Production of Genres   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In this paper, I suggest that granularized content management introduces as-yet-unexplored issues to genres of technical communication. I argue that content management, while it can, as advertised, free content and make it easy to reuse that content in multiple genres, that flexibility can create new problems for genres and genre systems, leading to problematic reuse, inflexible genre systems, rigid and proprietary genres, and uncritical internationalization.

Clark, Dave. ACM SIGDOC (2007). Articles>Content Management>Genre>Localization


Decision Making: A Missing Facet of Effective Documentation   (peer-reviewed)

The old school of software interface design and document writing took the view that if the user could find the information someplace, the user could use it. But simply sticking in details ignores how readers access and process information.

Albers, Michael J. ACM SIGDOC (1996). Presentations>Documentation>Management


Declarative Information in Software Manuals: What's the Use?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Declarative information is often considered to be of little value to software manual users, for two reasons: some research results state that it is consistently skipped by users, and other research results show that declarative information does not enhance task performance. This study puts these conclusions to the test, because the research underlying them does not support such general conclusions. Two experiments are conducted to collect quantitative data about the selection and use of procedural and declarative information and to investigate whether or not the use of declarative information affects task performance and knowledge. A new technique for measuring information selection was developed for this purpose: the click and read method.

Ummelen, Nicole. ACM SIGDOC (2000). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric


Educational Models and Open Source: Resisting the Proprietary University   (peer-reviewed)

This paper presents an educational model derived from open source methods for computer programming. The article places this search for an alternative model within a framework of proprietary educational practices that are driven by a need for efficiency and rationalization. As an alternative model, the paper suggests that an open source derived educational process would emphasize collaborative problem based learning, working through drafts, risk taking, mentoring, user testing, releasing early and often. . . .

Faber, Brenton D. ACM SIGDOC (2002). Articles>Education>Knowledge Management>Open Source


Finding a Home for Technical Communication in the Academy   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The placement of technical communication within an academic curriculum presents an interesting challenge for university administrators and faculty. Technical communication is a young discipline that borrows content from several older, more established disciplines. As a younger discipline, technical communication must combine its borrowed ingredients from other areas into a new and complete offering that can attract research funding for professionals in the academy and deliver job opportunities for its students preparing to enter industry. The credibility of technical communication as a new discipline is dependent on its ability to develop a cohesive body of basic and applied research, its ability to manage technological change, and its ability to promote its identity among an army of competing disciplines.

Carver, Michael. ACM SIGDOC (1998). Academic>Education>Assessment


Full Text Available Documentation, Participatory Citizenship, and the Web: the Potential of Open Systems   (peer-reviewed)

Technical communicators have become increasingly interested in how to 'open up' the documentation process - to encourage workers to participate in developing documentation that closely fits their needs. This goal has led technical communicators to engage in usability testing, user-centered design approaches, and, more recently, open source documentation. Although these approaches have all had some success, there are other ways to encourage the participatory citizenship that is implied in these approaches. One way is through an open systems approach in which workers can consensually modify a given system and add their own contributions to the system.

Spinuzzi, Clay. ACM SIGDOC (2002). Articles>Documentation>Information Design>Open Source


How Document Design Helps English Learners Master Science

Explores how basic, scaffolded technical-writing exercises can help ESL students gain cognitive maturity, practice science literacy, improve their note taking, and use text signals and science idioms more effectively.

Girill, T.R. ACM SIGDOC (2005). Articles>Education>Document Design>Language


Hypermedia Systems in the New Millennium   (peer-reviewed)

This article revisits three past articles about the implications of hypermedia in the 21st century. Each August, the ACM Journal of Computer Documentation reprints a classic article, book chapter, or report along with several analytical commen- taries and a response by the author of the classic document. In this context, a 'classic' document means one that was published at least five years ago but is no longer in print. It also means one that raises issues of lasting importance to the profession.

Waite, Bob. ACM SIGDOC (2001). Presentations>Information Design>Hypertext


Information Design Considerations for Improving Situation Awareness in Complex Problem-Solving   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The conventional techniques for task analysis derive the basic tasks that make up user actions. However, in the complex-problem solving environment, attempts to describe step-by-step actions break down because no single route to a solution exists. Although individual tasks can be defined, task-analysis normally results in the tasks being divorced from context. However, to support complex problem-solving, the design must place the information within the situation context and allow users to develop and maintain situation awareness.

Albers, Michael J. ACM SIGDOC (1999). Presentations>User Centered Design>Usability


Learnability in Information Design   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Design of information used for technical communication of complex products should consider how learnable that information is, and strive to deliver materials that are inherently learnable.The speed of information interchange and the demands of the workplace and school curricula require increasingly minimalist approaches to the material that is made available. People are frustrated by long learning times, and new users of software tools demand rapid absorption of tool capabilities. In addition, many readers of technical information are people for whom English is not their native language.Methods and practices that worked in the period when people were willing to commit to hours of study to understand a topic, or days of practice to master a tool, no longer work in a world based on ?internet time.? To assist our understanding of these trends in learning, this paper addresses three key areas related to learnability: proposing a definition of learnability, showing where learnability and usability intersect, and providing a basis for learnability based on some attributes of human beings.

Haramundanis, Kathy. ACM SIGDOC (2001). Presentations>User Centered Design>Usability>Cognitive Psychology


Making Sense of Step-by-Step Procedures   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Procedural instructions that consist of only a sequence of steps will probably be executable, but nevertheless 'meaningless' to users of technical devices. This paper discusses three features that can make procedural instructions more meaningful: adding functional coordinating information, adding information about the use of the technical device in real life, and adding operational information about how the device works. The research literature supports the effectiveness of the first feature, but offers little evidence that real life elements enhance understanding of instructions. As for operational information, the research suggests that users are willing to read it, and that it contributes to better understanding and performance in the long term, but only if it is closely related to the procedure. As a conclusion, we propose a theoretical framework that assumes three levels of mental representation of instructions: syntactical, semantic, and situational.

Steehouder, Michael F., Joyce Karreman and Nicole Ummelen. ACM SIGDOC (2000). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric>Technical Writing


Pragmatic DITA on a Budget   (PDF)

A small documentation team working on a tight budget can now use the tool ecosystem enabled by the DITA standard to create the sophisticated content that previously required long and expensive projects. The author spent just nine person-weeks over three years to replace a custom XML system with a DITA system based on a combination of off-the-shelf software, authoring conventions, and custom scripts.

Baptista, Joaquim. ACM SIGDOC (2008). Articles>Documentation>DITA>Case Studies


Publishing on the Cheap: One Idea That Worked

For computer centers to eliminate paper documentation is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Durack, Katherine T. ACM SIGDOC (1992). Academic>Computing>Publishing


Reflections on NoteCards: Seven Issues for the Next Generation of Hypermedia Systems   (peer-reviewed)

NoteCards, developed by a team at Xerox PARC, was designed to support the task of transforming a chaotic collection of unrelated thoughts into an integrated, orderly interpretation of ideas and their interconnections. This article presents NoteCards as a foil against which to explore some of the major limitations of the current generation of hypermedia systems, and characterizes the issues that must be addressed in designing the next generation systems.

Halasz, Frank G. ACM SIGDOC (1988). Presentations>Information Design>Hypertext


Single Sourcing for Translations   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

OCLC Online Computer Library Center has reduced costs and improved quality by using single sourcing in the localization of its services. For its FirstSearch reference service (which provides access to 80 databases for 18,000 libraries in 64 countries), OCLC has been through three phases of localization. Each phase has increased consistency and efficiency and lowered our translation costs. In the first phase of localizing FirstSearch in 1999, we introduced French and Spanish versions. The translation included the user interface screens and the help system. During this phase, we had minimal reuse of text in the interface and help files. The next year, OCLC released a major redesign of that service-with three levels of searching and greatly expanded database help. A separate administrative service and help system were also included. The translation task became much larger, and we needed to optimize the opportunities for text reuse in the system interfaces, help systems, and documentation. In the interfaces, all text strings were categorized and defined as entity strings-reused as needed among functions, databases, and user levels. For help and documentation, the needed content was analyzed and defined in an SGML DTD. Scripts were used to generate 240 help topics from a few SGML files. This approach reduced translation costs and facilitated consistency. Now in the third phase of localization, we are integrating our tool set, implementing a content management system, and adding support for Asian languages. Through this phase, we expect to reduce translation costs and improve quality.

Hysell, Deborah A. ACM SIGDOC (2001). Presentations>Language>Translation>Localization


Successfully Crossing the Language Translation Divide   (peer-reviewed)

Going global is a familiar phrase in today’s competitive business environment. When we hear the phrase “going global” what comes to mind? Most of us think of products being sold in a foreign country. Providing documentation in your customer’s language gives your company the competitive advantage in the global marketplace. For those products to be sold successfully, a clear understanding and communication of the language is imperative. Language translation into each target language presents a host of challenges and choices that must be anticipated and resolved in the source language prior to translation.

Dilts, David W. ACM SIGDOC (2001). Presentations>Language>Localization


Technical Communication Degrees for the 21st Century   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The practice of technical communication, especially for professionals just entering the workplace, is rapidly changing. Companies have higher expectations for degrees in technical communication, a strong foundation in technology, and the ability to function on cross-disciplinary teams alongside technical experts in the design and development process. As the practice of technical communication shifts its focus, academics have the responsibility to be certain that technical communication degree programs have a strong component of such topics as engineering design, programming, human factors, usability, instructional design, and project management, in addition to traditional communication skills. Academic programs have lagged behind practice, largely due to the location of degree programs, departmental reward systems, faculty deficiencies in technology, little depth in fields beyond rhetoric, and lack of exposure to best industry practices. This paper addresses these issues and makes some practical recommendations for catching academe up to practice.

David, Marjorie T. ACM SIGDOC (2000). Articles>Education>TC


Technologizing Change: Rhetoric of Software Implementation at a University Campus   (members only)

This paper reports on a study of new software implementation at a university. Seven emails distributed by a central Office of Information Technology were examined for semantic (content) meaning and syntactic (grammatical) function. Semantic findings show a high degree of topical shift. Syntactic findings show a high number of clauses and complements. The analysis also shows how determiners were used to construct 'new' information as 'given' (presupposition). The paper argues that discursive stability was created by technologizing the rhetoric of implementation. The study concludes by suggesting that a heavy reliance on dependent clauses, along with other features, may be indicative of technologized discourse.

Faber, Brenton D. ACM SIGDOC (2003). Articles>Technology>Software>Rhetoric



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