A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Technical Communication Online

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The ABCs of Writing a Technical Glossary   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article identifies and explains format rules, style rules, and lexicographic conventions that have been shown to improve clarity and precision in a technical glossary. Rationale for the rules of language, presentation, and style are examined. The need to allow flexibility in following the rules is discussed in terms of strengthening the technical merit and vitality of the glossary. This article also describes the computer-display techniques and file-management system used in committee to develop U.S. Federal Standard 1037C, Glossary of telecommunication terms, and to display the results both in the meeting room and on the Internet between meetings.

Gray, Evie, William Ingram and Dennis Bodson. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Editing>Technical Editing>Glossary


The Academe-Industry Partnership: What's In It For All of Us?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

I'm always puzzled by the misunderstanding, distrust, and sometimes downright animosity between academic and practitioner members of the technical communication family. At its extremes, this attitude manifests itself in practitioners who consider research and theory to be ivory tower games with no relevance to their practice, and in professors who regard practitioners as ignorant anti-intellectuals. The vast majority of us, of course, would never admit to being either academic snobs or practitioner rednecks, but many of us evidence less extreme vestiges of these biases.

Hayhoe, George F. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Collaboration>Industry and Academy


Academic Programs in Information Design: The Bentley College Approach   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The focus of Bentley College's information design programs is the user, addressing universal behaviors (human factors) and task-related behaviors (goal-driven needs). All too often in the past, professional communicators have rushed to design external information products (books, illustrations, online help systems, and the like) to support the information requirements of a system. Increasingly, however, solutions are found much deeper in the system design, a concept we call knowledge-infused design.

Gribbons, William M. Technical Communication Online (2000). Articles>Education>Information Design


Accentuate the Negative: Obtaining Effective Reviews Through Focused Questions   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

How you ask a question strongly determines the type of answer that you will obtain. For effective documentation reviews, whether they are conducted internally or externally as part of usability testing, it's important to use precise questions that will provide concrete information on which to base revisions. This paper proposes an approach to obtaining useful feedback that emphasizes negative, 'what did we do wrong?' questions. This approach focuses limited resources on areas that need improvement rather than areas that already work well and that don't require immediate improvement.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Technical Communication Online (1997). Articles>Usability>Methods>Testing


Accessibility Testing: Case History of Blind Testers of Enterprise Software   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

How do software companies evaluate whether accessibility criteria mandated by law are met? Confirmation is often provided by filling out a checklist. However, the method used for determining compliance to the checklist is not specified. Typically the task of filling out the checklist is done by accessibility specialists, usability professionals, quality assurance testers, or, in one case we know of, the development team that wrote the software. We have conducted several types of accessibility evaluations, walkthroughs, and testing with scenarios by sighted test participants and testing by blind test participants. While testing with blind participants takes considerable preparation time, we have uncovered important findings that were not revealed with sighted participants. We consider accessibility testing by blind participants an important component of our evaluations.

Bayer, Nancy L. and Lisa Pappas. Technical Communication Online (2006). Articles>Accessibility>Testing>Visual


Active Learning for Software Products   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article shows how principles from the fields of adult learning and situated learning can be applied to the method of Instructional System Design to create classroom-based training for software products. These principles and methods do not need to be antithetical; rather, they can complement each other to create instructional strategies that incorporate context-rich activities for work-oriented instruction.

Hughes, Michael A. Technical Communication Online (1998). Academic>Computing>Instructional Design>Software


Actual Readers Versus Implied Readers: Role Conflicts in Office 97   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article uses reader role theory to explain the dramatic failure of Paper-clip, the interface to Office 97's online help system. Called an Office Assistant, it is designed to shield users from the complexities of the software. Problems with Paper-clip surfaced as soon as Office 97 was launched. This article explains the Paper-clip controversy in terms of reader role conflicts by showing why actual readers rejected Paper-clip's role as implied writer and why they rebelled against the reader role Paper-clip implied for them.

Shroyer, Roberta. Technical Communication Online (2000). Articles>Word Processing>User Interface>Microsoft Word


Adaptive Technologies for the Visually Impaired: The Role of Technical Communicators   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This column examines emerging technologies of interest to technical communicators to help them identify those that are worthy of further investigation. It is intended neither as an endorsement of any technology or product, nor as a recommendation to purchase.

Ray, Deborah S. and Eric J. Ray. Technical Communication Online (1998). Design>Web Design>Accessibility>Visual


Adding Value as a Professional Technical Communicator   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Value added means generating greater return on investment than the cost of the initial investment.

Redish, Janice C. 'Ginny'. Technical Communication Online (1995). Articles>TC>Assessment


Analysis of the Skills Called for by Technical Communication Employers in Recruitment Postings   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Provides a framework of experiences and skills employers call for in job postings. Shows that potential employers are seeking very technical or domain-specific knowledge from technical writers. Shows that specific technology tool skills are less important to employers than more basic technical writing skills.

Lanier, Clinton R. Technical Communication Online (2009). Careers>TC


Applying to Graduate School in Technical Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Provides extensive guidance on applying to Master's and PhD programs for practitioners. Provides tips on applying for current students. Provides tables listing current graduate programs in technical communication, organized by state.

Eaton, Angela. Technical Communication Online (2009). Academic>Education>Graduate


Are You Ready for the E-lance Economy?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

According to an analysis conducted by Daniel Pink, former speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and contributor to Fast company magazine, approximately 25 million Americans are self-employed, independent contractors, or temporary employees. This means more than 16% of the U.S. workforce is working for themselves. While this is a significant statistic, it begs the question, is this a temporary trend or are we in the midst of a historic transition in the way we work?

Florzak, Douglas. Technical Communication Online (2002). Careers>Freelance


Attributes of Performance-Centered Systems: What Can We Learn from Five Years of EPSS/PCD Competition Award Winners?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Reviews briefly the systems that Gery presented in Electronic Performance Support Systems and then focuses on the 19 attributes she subsequently developed to elucidate them. Then examines the 1997–2001 competition award winners in light of these attributes. Doing so, it turns out, both clarifies the attributes and suggests a few new ones.

Marion, Craig. Technical Communication Online (2002). Articles>Content Management>Online


Audience-Driven Web Design: An Application to Medical Web Sites   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

We begin by identifying the problem of defining medical Web site credibility and then identify the gap in Web design research, a gap that fails to identify or address specific audience needs in Web site design. We then present our process for identifying and fulfilling specific audience needs, describe a framework, and present a case study in audience-driven Web design using the framework to guide the discussion.

Swenson, Jenni, Helen Constantinides and Laura J. Gurak. Technical Communication Online (2002). Design>Web Design>User Centered Design>Biomedical


Authority and Audience-Centered Writing Strategies: Sexism in 19th-century Sewing Machine Manuals   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article examines audience-centered writing strategies in two very early sewing machine manuals and considers the interplay between such strategies and sexism in technical writing. It considers the difference between non-sexist and gender-neutral writing, and concludes that avoiding sexism in technical writing is difficult at best—and perhaps impossible—in any society that assigns work (and correspondingly, technologies) for use according to the gender of the user.

Durack, Katherine T. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>History>Documentation


Back to Fund-amentals: The Business Realities of Funding for Performance Support Projects   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Although electronic performance support systems (EPSSs) sound like exciting projects to technical communicators and instructional designers, many proposed EPSSs stay on the drawing boards because the organizations for whom they were designed choose not to fund them. In general, EPSSs require more up-front investment than traditional documentation and training. That additional expense, sometimes increasing up-front expenses by several times, could be enough to stop a project unless the designers can explain how the organization can benefit from this additional investment. In fact, most often, these organizations decline to fund the proposed EPSSs because the financial benefits of the EPSSs are not explained, and so the proposed EPSS is perceived to exceed the cost of designing and developing it. In other words, the businesses do not perceive that the EPSS is a good investment of their money.

Driscoll, Margaret and Colin Hynes. Technical Communication Online (2002). Articles>Content Management>Proposals


Below the Neutral Axis: A Case of Writers, Managers, and Companies in the Current Economic Context   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

As a growing and integral part of America's corporate workforce, technical writers increasingly share general employee benefits and burdens. Negative trends that affect the workforce in many companies now threaten serious damage to the teams that technical writers work on, the projects they develop, and ultimately the revenues that pay their salaries. The structural and secondary effects of such trends are explained; an illustration is given in the case of one company; and predictions are made about where such trends will lead.

McKeown, Roger R. Technical Communication Online (1997). Articles>Human Computer Interaction


The Big Chill: Seven Technical Communicators Talk Ten Years After Their Master's Program   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Recounts the experiences of seven professionals entering the field and the ways their perceptions of the profession and roles within it have changed. Explores the variety of roles technical communicators are expected to assume

Wilson, Greg and Julie Dyke Ford. Technical Communication Online (2003). Academic>Education>Graduate


Bridging Boundaries, Negotiating Differences: The Nature of Leadership in Cross-Functional Proposal-Writing Groups   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper analyzes behaviors and mechanisms that led to successful and unsuccessful aerospace proposals written by one company over 10 years. Successful proposal managers elicited cooperation through persuasion and by successfully negotiating organizational, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries. Tracking devices that identified scheduling problems early in the project and designation of a dedicated, neutral project space located near corporate decision makers also contributed to a proposal team's success. This research suggests the need for technical writing instruction that develops students' non-coercive persuasive skills and their sensitivity to the communication challenges inherent in cross-organizational and cross-cultural contexts.

Kent-Drury, Roxanne. Technical Communication Online (2000). Articles>Grants>Proposals>Writing


Building a Better ReadMe   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Surveys and focus groups show that most software buyers use ReadMe files. Users primarily look to ReadMe files for information on software bugs. They identify the following ways that software manufacturers can improve their ReadMe files: 1) keep them short, 2) include a table of contents, 3) use hypertext, and 4) eliminate the need for ReadMe files. Along with these four improvements, this article discusses other ways to create quality ReadMe files that meet concrete user needs.

Johnson, Mark A. Technical Communication Online (1997). Design>Documentation


Building a Truly World Wide Web: A Review of the Essentials of International Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Though the Web knows no borders, linguistic, cultural, technological and legal barriers have confined most of the Web's growth to the United States. Only by addressing these challenges will Web authors reach a truly worldwide audience. This review of contemporary literature examines the current demographics of Web usage and the challenges these demographics reveal. Next, I describe some of the prevailing maxims guiding Web authors, and other technical communicators involved in the creation of World Wide Web content with the intent of reaching international audiences, and explain how and why these approaches are effective. Finally, I address contemporary thought on what can be achieved by making the World Wide Web a true international medium.

Arnold, Mitchell D. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Web Design>International


Building Blocks of Functional Design   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Only when we fulfill the function of the document rather than embellishing it, can we improve the communication-value of that avalanche of 'information' we pour out for them out there. Unfortunately, the flamboyance of today's graphic culture is so gripping, that we often mistake the medium for the message. The medium is never the message, the message is always the message.

White, Jan V. Technical Communication Online (2005). Design>Graphic Design


Business Objectives: A Key Tool for Demonstrating the Value of Technical Communication Products   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Little has been written for technical communicators on how to identify the business goals of the projects we work on, or how to write those goals in observable, measurable terms. When we prepare goals in observable, measurable terms, we call these goals objectives. This article is intended to fill that gap. It first describes the challenges of setting business objectives for a project, next describes the three ways that a performance improvement program can contribute to the business performance of an organization, and then explains how to write a business objective. Finally, this article describes the benefits of writing business objectives.

Carliner, Saul. Technical Communication Online (1998). Careers>Writing>Business Communication


Capabilities and Roles of Enterprise Wikis in Organizational Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The article alerts technical communicators to wiki technology, an emerging new medium that allows dispersed groups to create shared content via collaborative editing and different-time communication. Wiki-based collaborative content creation enables new communication practices and thereby challenges several assumptions of existing media choice theories.

Wagner, Christian and Andreas Schroeder. Technical Communication Online (2010). Articles>Content Management>Wikis>Collaboration


A Case of Exhaustive Documentation: Re-centering System-oriented Organizations Around User Need   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Braun Corporation's home-grown documentation processes served the organization well for its first 50 years as it grew from a local to a nationally-competitive producer of mobility and accessibility products. Now poised to become a global leader in its field, this corporation found its efforts hampered by ineffective and outdated documentation practices, which were hurting the company's competitive advantage. This article describes Braun Corporation's curious mixture of global reach and local isolation. By bringing in a technical communicator with expertise in user-centered design, Braun has begun reforming its formerly exhaustive documentation and communication practices. While technical communicators have incorporated a variety of strategies to develop user-centered and task-based documentation, less attention has been placed on changing the cultures of these organizations. The case presented here represents a shift from establishing documentation procedures to critically assessing and reforming existing procedures for the global workplace, describing the shift from ineffective and exhaustive processes to effective processes with defined goals and measurable outcomes. The article concludes with an inventory for determining whether other organizations are over-documenting processes and products, and offers suggestions for creating better documentation procedures.

Salvo, Michael J., Meredith W. Zoetewey and Kate Agena. Technical Communication Online (2007). Articles>Documentation>Management>User Centered Design



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