Re: tech writer bookshelf -- long

Subject: Re: tech writer bookshelf -- long
From: Itowsley -at- aol -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2000 01:16:46 EST

In a message dated 11/16/00 6:30:35 PM Eastern Standard Time,
ghaas -at- selectica -dot- com writes:

<< "Understanding Comics" (McCloud). >>

I thought I was the only one who thought this book should be required reading
for any technical writer. It covers almost every salient point in good
communications. Another excellent book is "Reinventing Comics" (McCloud).

"Understanding Comics" is something that shows as well as tells its audience.
McCloud effectively uses the medium (comics) to discuss the technology of
communications. Even those of us who can't draw worth a "rat's tin fanny"
can effectively use one side of the spectrum of comic drawings to effectively
instruct readers. The effective use of text and pictures is something that
is a fascinating study in and of itself.

"Reinventing Comics" discusses why the comic book industry went from bang to
bust, and where it might be going. Why is that relevant to technical
writing? Well, we can definitely adapt many of the concepts of comic book
writing to technical writing.

I was at WorldCon in Chicago this year and in one of the panels the panelist
mentioned that the ONLY REASON he knew what the speed of light was on a test
was not from reading it in a text book, but from reading it in Superman.
(Remember, the people who used to be in charge of the editorial process in
the publishing houses were very careful to check their facts. Sadly, fact
checkers have been among the groups dwindling in the publishing industry.)
This illustrates how effective a combination of words and pictures can be in
capturing an audience.

If you haven't read these books, I suggest you do.

As far as indexing goes, I prefer the "Indexing and Abstracting in Theory and
Practice" by F. W. Lancaster. I like the fact that it covers concise writing
and goes into the theory of indexing as well as just the practical stuff. I
am not familiar with "The Art of Indexing" so I can't comment on it. Some
people have asked me what text I like to use for teaching good, concise
writing - not like what I write in email ;-) - this is the book. It is the
textbook I had in my Master's (Library and Information Science) program for
Indexing. I'll admit, I may be biased towards this book, but I like killing
two birds with one stone.

As far as style guides, my order of preference is:

-- "New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage" by Andrea
Sutcliffe (Editor) [This covers any general and obscure English usage you can
think of and makes it easy to find it. I find I can find the answer here
faster than in any other book. Leave it to a librarian ;-) .]

-- "Read Me First A Style Guide for the Computer Industry" by Sun Technical
Publications(Editor) [I find this is a much more common sense usage guide for
computer issues than Microsoft's Style Guide - of course, I find MS to have
strange non-standard English, especially when IT does something like not
allow me to turn off Grammar Check {YUCK!!}]

-- "Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Publication
Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th Ed)" [Most scientific
communities and marketing groups have adopted this style guide. It is
comprehensive and easy to use - not as easy as NY Public Library Style Guide,
but close. It is definitely not as comprehensive. It does give good
guidelines as to the various types of documents you are likely to cover, and
has a decent section on concise writing.]

Though I have recommended it as a general usage resource, I haven't used
Harbrace since my freshman English class. All of my other classes required
the APA Style Guide with a smattering of MLA for good measure. Of all of the
style guides I've used, I definitely recommend the New York Public Library
Writer's Guide to Style and Usage above ALL OTHERS.

My JavaScript Library:

- "JavaScript Bible" by Danny Goodman, Brendan Eich. Paperback (March 1998)
[I saw that there is an update coming in January. {YEAH!} This is the book
that no one who owns it loans out. They just tell you to buy a copy because
it is so valuable. Lots of example code that Goodman goes through in a
methodical and understandable method. This book is something you definitely
should have on your bookshelf if you are doing any web development.]

-- "Dynamic Html : The Definitive Reference" by Danny Goodman [This is the
quick reference with explanation of every DHTML tag that was in use at the
time of its writing. It even includes browser issues. Another must have.]

-- "Javascript : The Definitive Guide" by David Flanagan [Another quick
reference for JavaScript instead of DHTML. If you remember when JavaScript
was LiveScript and all of this was available on the web without any

A basic HTML book if you are doing web-based help. Any of them will do -
there is even a downloadable HTML WinHelp file and HTML MS HTMLHelp file
available at (They keep moving their site around.)


-- "Designing Web Usability : The Practice of Simplicity" by Jakob Nielsen
[I actually wrote and THANKED him for writing this. You can give this book
to marketing, programmers, managers, etc. and you have some backing for what
you are telling them. It isn't just the "crank of a tech writer" saying
these things anymore. He presents the issues that most of us have come
across in designing help or even print and explains it in plain English. And
it isn't YOU saying it, so maybe you aren't alone in thinking what you thing.
Granted, I don't agree with everything he says, but I find I agree with 95%
of what he says.]

Technical books:

If I'm working on a programming topic, I find out from a listserv or friends
or by looking at Amazon reviews whether the Que, "Bible", or Dummies book is
better for beginning with a technology/program/whatever. After I graduate
from that initial book I go check out O'Reilly.

If it is Telco land (my job for the next week and one day - I got a new job
and am looking forward to starting :-) ) I could not live without my
"Newton's Telecom Dictionary". This is the book that you will find on
virtually every desk of every programmer, marketing, engineer, etc. in any
telecommunications company. It should really be part of the welcoming
package when you join a telecommunications firm. I also highly recommend
McGraw-Hill books. I have Voice and Data Communications Handbook. It goes
into all the various things that people need to know to understand the world
of telecommunications and why it ain't the world of computers. Computers are
only a part of the telco world.

Ok, I will step off of my soap box now... I hope this helps you in your
search for good books.


Melissa L. Owsley, M.L.I.S. (Hey, once a librarian, always a librarian.
Books are one of the things I actually know ;-) )

Develop HTML-based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver! (STC Discount.)
**NEW DATE/LOCATION!** January 16-17, 2001, New York, NY. or 800-646-9989.

Sponsored by SOLUTIONS, Conferences and Seminars for Communicators
Publications Management Clinic, TECH*COMM 2001 Conference, and more or 800-448-4230

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