A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Journal of Computer Documentation

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Review: Assessing Quality Documents   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In recent years, an emphasis on quality has emerged in a variety of organizations and in several fields, including technical documentation. Producing Quality Technical Information (PQTI) was one of the first comprehensive discussions of the quality of documentation. An important contribution of the book is in identifying quality as multiple, measurable dimensions that can be defined and measured (previous views of quality identified it more as some elusive thing that could be identified if present but was difficult to articulate and describe). Despite its contributions to the quality discussion, PQTI runs the risk of simplifying the quality process, reducing quality to a simple checklist that information developers can use to develop effective documentation. PQTI fails to address the fluid nature of some aspects of quality: some dimensions that are important in assessing one document may be less important or irrelevant with other documents. Additionally, PQTI falls short of accounting for the larger contextual framing of documents--that the importance of individual dimensions of quality changes depending upon the audience, context, and purpose of the document.This commentary suggests that all quality efforts should be grounded in customer data and user-centered design processes, and that we should learn to better differentiate among quality dimensions, determining those dimensions that are essential to customer satisfaction and those that are merely attractive. Through increased attention to developing the quality of information, organizations can better differentiate their products and services, facilitate greater productivity, and increase customer satisfactions, all significant activities in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Smart, Karl L. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Reviews>Documentation


At the Heart of Information Ecologies: Invisibility and Technical Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The ecological metaphor for technological systems provides a useful supplement to others dealing with the question of human control over technologies. However, it fails to develop adequately its own reliance on communication as the means whereby human values may be embedded in technologies, or to recognize the role of professional communicators in that process.

Ranney, Frances J. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Information Design>TC


Bibliography for Performance Systems Technology and Computer-based Instruction   (peer-reviewed)

Bibliographies which serve as companions to the two-part article by Reece which appears in the August and November 2000 issues of the Journal of Computer Documentation.

Reece, Gloria A. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Resources>Bibliographies>Education


Commentary on "Planning and Information Foraging Theories and their Value to the Novice Technical Communicator"   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Gattis should be applauded for finding cognitive theories that might be of use to the field, for describing them well with current resources, and for applying them to technical communication with an example. The two theories, however, are too intuitive to provide much value for describing existing behavior or for novices to use as tools.

Eaton, Angela. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Communication>Planning


Commentary on International Learning   (peer-reviewed)

This article, subtitled “Audience Analysis and Instructional System Design for Successful Learning and Performance,” by Margaret Martinez is a must-read for all committed to seeing to it that technologies keep their promises and achieve their potential. There is a propensity among technology proponents to disregard, or at least to minimize the importance of, individual differences among learners and the impact of differences in learning. While the research design, execution, and fi ndings are significant it is important to recognize this work for what it is—a meaningful addition to a less-than-adequate body of knowledge. In our (still) instruction-centered educational environment it is still frustratingly diffi cult to elicit recognition that we are all different in many ways and that includes how we learn. Ms. Martinez has provided us with a contemporary update on individual difference data which flows well from her excellent historical review.

Russell, Thomas L. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Education>Instructional Design>International


Review: Commentary on: "Little Machines: Understanding Users Understanding Interfaces"   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Online materials, as Johnson-Eilola points out, too often provide speed but neither learning nor conceptual information. Minimum information is often provided in help systems because there are no resources to provide more. But the result is often a system that, without any conceptual information, provides little more than help that is so obvious that it ceases to be helpful. Even when resources are constrained, help systems should, at a minimum, refer to external sources that can help users with important concepts behind the tasks they are trying to perform.

Haramundanis, Kathy. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Reviews>Documentation


A Computing Research Repository: Why Not Solve the Problems First?

The Computing Research Repository (CoRR) described by Halpern is potentially a powerful tool for researchers in computing science. In its current form, however, shortcomings exist that restrict its value and that, in the long term, might strongly undermine its usefulness. Important aspects that have insufficiently been taken care of are (1) the quality and consequently the reliability of the material stored, (2) the still restricted submission of material,which implies that other sources have to be consulted by researchers as well, (3) the still unsound financial basis of the project, and (4) the confusion that may easily arise when a preliminary version is stored in the CoRR, while a different final version is published in a journal.

van Loon, A.J. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Knowledge Management>Research>Online


Confessions of a Gardener: A Review of Information Ecologies   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This review of Information Ecologies places the text in the mediating tradition that seeks a middle ground between rigid technological determinism and indifferent value neutrality. The biological metaphors for situated technology use make interesting reading,but the stories may not be compelling evidence that users really can shape technological change from the local level.

Hart-Davidson, William. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Information Design>TC


CoRR: A Computing Research Repository   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper describes the decisions by which the Association for Computing Machinery integrated good features from the Los Alamos e-print (physics) archive and from Cornell University's Networked Computer Science Technical Reference Library to form their own open, permanent, online “computing research repository” (CoRR). Submitted papers are not refereed and anyone can browse and extract CoRR material for free, so CoRR's eventual success could revolutionize computer science publishing. But several serious challenges remain: some journals forbid online preprints, the CoRR user interface is cumbersome, submissions are only self-indexed, (no professional library staff manages the archive) and long-term funding is uncertain.

Halpern, Joseph Y. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Content Management>Web Design


Review: Counterfeit Capital: Searching for a Silver Lining in Bernadette Longo's Spurious Coin   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Dr. Bernadette Longo, Ph.D., uses the metaphor of devalued currency to trace some of the roots in technological history for technical writing's lack of intellectual and cultural capital. She ingeniously incorporates early threads of management and industrial technology, like the formation of the railroad, in an attempt to contextualize her research. Academics must view Longo's text, Spurious Coin, as just one branch of what must be a webbed tree of intersecting social attitudes towards knowledge definition and science. In understanding the gaps in Longo's narrative, people interested in technical writing might find her book to act as a launch pad for better defining the questions guiding their own research. In this review, I will focus on some of the important gaps I see in Longo's research methodology as she historically situates the emergence of engineering as a discipline and then as the determining factor in technical communication's subjugated position within the academy and industry.

Trim, Michelle. Journal of Computer Documentation (2001). Articles>Reviews>Documentation>History


The Dilemma of Credibility vs. Speed   (peer-reviewed)

CoRRs implicitly constrained but officially open acceptance policy for submitted papers raises concerns about both censorship and credibility. To avoid refereeing incoming papers yet still help readers assess their merits, CoRR could use coordinated public comments and ratings in the manner of some online auctions and booksellers.

Prekeges, James G. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Content Management>Online


Egoless Writing: Improving Quality by Replacing Artistic Impulse With Engineering Discipline   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

When technical communicators have a strong personal attachment to the publication they are preparing, this attachment may interfere with the design and testing of the publication itself. Documents developed by solo authors tend to be late, buggy, and exceedingly difficult for others to maintain. 'Ego-less' methods---collaborative and structured---break the proprietary connection between the writer and the book; in so doing they permit the most powerful tools of engineering and testing to be used. But they also reduce the satisfactions of the communicator's job.

Weiss, Edmond H. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Content Management>Documentation


The Ergonomics of Hypertext Narative: Usability Testing as a Tool for Evaluation and Redesign   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

While usability research concentrates on evaluating informational documents and Web sites, significant insights can be gained from performing usability testing on texts designed for pleasure reading, such as hypertext narratives. This article describes the results of such a test. The results demonstrate that the navigation systems required for such texts can significantly interfere with readers ability to derive value or pleasure from the fiction. The results emphasize the importance of hypertext authors providing more linear paths through texts and of simplifying the navigational apparatus required to read them.

Gee, Kim. Journal of Computer Documentation (2001). Articles>Usability>Hypertext


Expanding Beyond a Cognitivist Framework: A Commentary on Martinez’s “Intentional Learning in an Intentional World”   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

One of the looming challenges educators face today is understanding how student diversity and uniqueness impacts the complex process of learning. Affective and conative factors are increasingly examined as we seek to understand how to teach and support the whole learner. The goal is to build theory that informs practice so that we may, as Martinez argues, move beyond “fuzzy, one-size-fi tsall [instructional] solutions” to instruction that is designed to match individual learning needs. Factors such as motivation, self-effi cacy, learning styles, and emotional intelligence have become increasingly common terms in educational research as we seek to defi ne affective and conative variables that impact the learning process as well as design of instruction. However, as with much of educational research, there are a vast number of complex, interrelated variables to consider and no one easy solution.

Kirkley, Jamie and Thomas Duffy. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Education>TC>Cognitive Psychology


Exploring the Blind Spot: Audience, Purpose, and Context in "Product, Process, and Profit"

Technical communicators have longed turned to audience, purpose, and context as they analyze situations. But Mirel's article demonstrates that audience-purpose-context is too weak a framework to handle the job of detailed sociopolitical analysis: not only is it inadequate for analyzing the needs of end users, it is also inadequate for analyzing situations within the writer's organization. In this response, this paper explores the weakness of audience-purpose-context and points to alternative sociopolitical frameworks.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Rhetoric>TC


Genre Ecologies: An Open-System Approach to Understanding and Constructing Documentation   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Arguing that current approaches to understanding and constructing computer documentation are based on the flawed assumption that documentation works as a closed system, the authors present an alternative way of thinking about the texts that make computer technologies usable for people. Using two historical case studies, the authors describe how a genre ecologies framework provides new insights into the complex ways that people use texts to make sense of computer technologies. The framework is designed to help researchers and documentors account for contingency, decentralization, and stability in the multiple texts the people use while working with computers. The authors conclude by proposing three heuristic tools to support the work of technical communicators engaged in developing documentation today: exploratory questions, genre ecology diagrams, and organic engineering.

Spinuzzi, Clay and Mark Zachry. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric


Information Technology and the Emergence of a Worker-Centered Organization   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Barbara Mirel's narrative highlights the interplay of profit, power, and personalities in a software engineering project. My response's purpose is to widen the perspective on the story. More specifically, I contend that information technology (IT) enables positive change in today's workplace. Rather than being techno-centric, the re-visions currently being brought about by IT will place the knowledge worker of the 21st century at the center of design and engineering considerations. I support my claim by identifying four trends in organizational management that will afford human factors and usability engineering a better seat at the table in the not too distant future. They are (1) requirements for next-generation IT applications, (2) improved understanding of culture and context in the workplace, (3) recognition of knowledge management and human capital, and (4) fostering strategic leadership beyond resource management.

Carlson, Patricia A. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Careers>Workplace>Technology


Integrating Academics and Industry: A Challenge for Both Sides   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Rapidly emerging technologies are bringing radical changes and challenges to today’s workplace, not just for our own profession but for many others as well. As society’s information needs change, so do the roles of technical communicators. Even the questions technical communicators face are constantly evolving: Which medium to use—and when, and how? Paper or online? Verbal or visual? Such questions were unheard of when many of us entered the profession, but they are commonplace for many practicing technical communicators today (as they certainly will be for many of today’s university students in their careers—and it’s impossible to guess what other questions will be just as routine for them, questions we cannot predict because quite likely the concepts and gadgets and words involved do not yet exist).

Sutliff, Kristene. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Education>TC


Intentional Learning in an Intentional World: Audience Analysis and Instructional System Design for Successful Learning and Performance   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

How do we support successful, lifelong learners and performers and help them competently respond to rapidly changing opportunities in the 21st century. The answer to this question lies in how well we understand audiences differentiated by key learning differences and consider how these differentiations influence winning learning and performance. Historically, cognitive-rich explanations have tended to underplay the dominant impact of affective and conative factors on thinking and learning. Recently, these dimensions have gained considerable importance as contemporary multidisciplinary research has begun to demonstrate how intentions and emotions can influence, guide, and, at times, override our thinking and other cognitive processes. More importantly, research suggests that intentions and emotions are a dominant, powerful influence on learner success.

Martinez, Margaret. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Documentation>Instructional Design>Education


Intentionality and Other 'Nonsignificant' Issues in Learning: Commentary on Margaret Martinez’s 'Intentional Learning in an Intentional World'   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The backdrop facilitating Margaret Martinez’s study and the increased interest in studies of learners and of alternative learning environments is a complicated one. Most certainly, technological advances during the last decade have invigorated educational institutions and corporate interest in providing alternative educational opportunities for under-represented audiences. Additionally, numerous educational researchers have noted the increased pressure to provide improved educational experiences that are driven by both internal and external pressures on traditional educational institutions.

Mehlenbacher, Brad. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Education>TC


Review: Introduction to Commentaries on "Spurious Coin: A History of Science, Management, and Technical Writing" by Bernadette Longo   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In past issues of JCD, we have employed graduate students in rhetoric and technical communication to provide their point of view on new books in the field. In this issue's book commentary, I have taken this opportunity one more time as students in a graduate seminar at Michigan Tech - Histories and Theories of Technical Communication - read, discussed, and then responded to Bernadette's Longo's Spurious Coin, A History of Science. Management, and Technical Writing.

Johnson, Bob. Journal of Computer Documentation (2001). Articles>Reviews>Documentation


Issues of Online Research Repositories from the Perspective of the Biomedical Sciences   (peer-reviewed)

This commentary on Joseph Y. Halpern's proposal for a computing research repository discusses difference in traditions and practices of online publishing and repositories between computing and biomedicals sciences. Issues of accessibility and archiving are also discussed.

Armbruster, David L. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Scientific Communication>Online


Klare's "Useful Information" is Useful for Web Designers   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In many ways the writing principles that Klare recommended 37 years ago to promote high readability scores still apply to web-site design. Behind the pursuit of readability lies audience analysis, a concern with the intellectual level, previous experience, motivation, and reading goals of ones intended audience. Suitably adjusted to take account of online interactivity, those same concerns should guide design work on web structure and interfaces today.

Zibell, Kristin. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Design>Web Design>Writing>Assessment


Little Machines: Understanding Users Understanding Interfaces   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper questions the ubiquitous practice of supplying minimalist information to users, of making that information functional only, of assuming that the Shannon-Weaver communication model should govern online systems, and of ignoring the social implications of such a stance. Help systems that provide fast, temporary solutions without providing any background information lead to the danger of users completing tasks that they do not understand at all. (Word will help us write a legal pleading, even if we have no idea what one is.) As a result, we have help systems that attempt to be invisible and to provide tool instruction but not conceptual instruction. Such a system presents itself as a neutral tool, but it is actually an incomplete environment, denying both the complexity and alternative (and possibly improved) modes of thinking about the subject at hand.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Journal of Computer Documentation (2001). Articles>Documentation>User Centered Design>Usability


Mapping the Expanding Landscape of Usability: The Case of Distributed Education   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

As the environments in which we use technology become more complex and more diverse, we need to extend and expand our notion of usability to include a broad spectrum of users and user activities. We take as an example the case of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's distributed education program for human-computer interaction (HCI). While HCI is the subject matter for the courses, the courses themselves present a challenging case study in HCI usability.

Grice, Roger A. and William Hart-Davidson. Journal of Computer Documentation (2002). Articles>Usability>Education>Online



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