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Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors (IBM Press Series--Information Management) [Hardcover]

Gretchen Hargis , Michelle Carey , Ann Kilty Hernandez , Polly Hughes , Deirdre Longo , Shannon Rouiller , Elizabeth Wilde
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2004 0131477498 978-0131477490 2

The book presents a much needed approach to quality technical communication and a working plan for achieving quality. The examples are excellent and are easy to use and adapt. The editorial advice is simple and clear enough for tech writers who did not major in English or journalism. It is most worthy of a text in university programs, but it is more valuable to experienced writers, editors and managers concerned with raising the quality of their publications. The main difference between this and other books is that in each of the first nine chapters, one quality characteristic is presented that you can apply to your writing project to make technical information easy to use, easy to understand and easy to find. There are checklists at the end of each chapter for review and a Quality checklist in the appendix covering all of the characteristics. The book shows original text and revision text so that you can actually browse the book and see the differences applied. This is another excellent feature that should catch a purchaser's eye.

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Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors (IBM Press Series--Information Management) + DITA Best Practices: A Roadmap for Writing, Editing, and Architecting in DITA
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: IBM Press; 2 edition (6 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0131477498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0131477490
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 17.8 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 436,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From the Back Cover

"The examples are excellent--right on target and easy to understand and adapt. Even those who don't adopt the entire procedure can profit from the parts, but the greatest value will flow to those who adopt the whole." --Carolyn Mulford, senior writer and editor of Writing That Works

"This is also a book that students can keep for their professional libraries because it will increase in its value to them after they leave class and face real life experiences on the job. It is plain enough for them to understand while they are learning, and at the same time comprehensive enough to support them as professionals." --Elizabeth Boling, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University

"It practices what it preaches. Its guidelines are understandable and appropriate; its examples clear. It contains exactly what writers and editors need to know. It is the book that I would have written." --Cynthia E. Spellman, Unisys

The #1 guide to excellence in documentation--now completely updated! A systematic, proven approach to creating great documentation

  • Thoroughly revised and updated
  • More practical examples
  • More coverage of topic-based information, search, and internationalization

Direct from IBM's own documentation experts, this is the definitive guide to developing outstanding technical documentation--for the Web and for print. Using extensive before-and-after examples, illustrations, and checklists, the authors show exactly how to create documentation that's easy to find, understand, and use. This edition includes extensive new coverage of topic-based information, simplifying search and retrievability, internationalization, visual effectiveness, and much more.

Coverage includes:

  • Focusing on the tasks and topics users care about most
  • Saying more with fewer words
  • Using organization and other means to deliver faster access to information
  • Presenting information in more visually inviting ways
  • Improving the effectiveness of your review process
  • Learning from example: sample text, screen captures, illustrations, tables, and much more

Whether you're a writer, editor, designer, or reviewer, if you want to create great documentation, this book shows you how!

About the Author

The authors have served on the Editing Council at IBM Silicon Valley Laboratory in San Jose, California, an organization dedicated to excellence in technical information. Gretchen Hargis is a technical manager at IBM for a group that provides user assistance and user-centered design for application development tools. She was a technical editor and writer and a pioneer of IBM Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). Michelle Carey is a technical writer at IBM and a technical writing instructor at University of California Santa Cruz Extension. She is an expert on topic-based information systems and on writing for international audiences. Ann Kilty Hernandez is a technical editor at IBM and has been a technical writer, manager, and marketing specialist. She was a co-author of An Introduction to DB2 for OS/390 and contributed to its next edition, The Official Guide to DB2 UDB for z/OS. Polly Hughes, now retired from IBM, worked as a visual designer for technical information and software interfaces and as a technical writer. Deirdre Longo is a technical editor and writer at IBM who edits product interfaces and writes customer information, mostly for content management products. Shannon Rouiller is a technical editor at IBM who has written and edited topicbased information systems, books, contextual help, wizards, and interfaces for products that are marketed worldwide. She co-authored Designing Effective Wizards. Elizabeth Wilde is a technical editor at IBM and a leader in developing quality metrics and quality assurance processes for technical documentation. She also educates writers and editors throughout IBM on developing user-centered information.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for writers of software manuals 1 April 2002
By antom
Format:Textbook Binding|Verified Purchase
An excellent book that concentrates on providing useful examples of writing and style, rather than discussing in detail the management of technical writing projects.
Readers wanting ideas and examples for writing software manuals might also consider "Read Me First! A Style Guide for the Computer Industry" written by Sun Technical Publications.
I own both books, and have found them invaluable.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent investment 19 Mar 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Developing Quality Technical Information provides excellent and consistent advice for writers and editors. Anyone who writes, whether a trained technical author or a software developer who must document his or her program design or code, can be considered "a writer". For professional technical authors and editors, this book provides a handy and accessible aide-mémoire. For others, it provides detailed and reasoned guidance in appropriate English usage.

The book covers ease of use, ease of understanding, and ease of retrieval of information. It then discusses how to apply the quality characteristics that have been covered in the preceding chapters and how to ensure that those characteristics have been met. Throughout these chapters, extensive "before and after" examples are provided, helping to clarify the points made.

Appendixes provide a quality checklist, a definition of who checks which characteristic, and a correlation of quality characteristics and information elements.

I have bought many copies of this book, which I have given to systems architects, project planners, programmers, and testers who were required, as part of their job, to write technical information. In doing this, I was being entirely selfish. In a grossly understaffed editorial department, I needed to educate those "authors" in correct and appropriate grammar and punctuation, to help them write more clearly and, thus, reduce the workload on my tiny editorial group. Of all the options available, this excellent book was most likely to succeed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A year after buying it, it is still my resource of choice 9 Aug 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Textbook Binding
What a great book! Ms. Hargis has developed a manual that provides readily-accessible and practical information regarding the technical writing process. I actually read (yes, read) this book from cover to cover. Hargis practices what she preaches, by designing a tech writing book with the actual tech writing skills she prescribes. I use this book almost as often as my dictionary and my Microsoft Manual of Style.
One of the most impressive aspects of this book is the vast amount of tech writing examples that can be incorporated into actual documentation. Instead of merely telling the writer what steps to take, Hargis actually SHOWS the writer what to do. How refreshing to read a handbook that actually illustrates tech writing techniques.
The book also provides a multitude of checklists that show the writer the logical progression of the documentation.
A definite must for your stack of books next to your computer.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most complete writing style guides available 1 Sep 2004
By Todd Hawley - Published on
When I first started reading this book, I was quite impressed at the amount of detail provided in it. Although any style guide will provide a technical writer with most of the information needed to write effective manuals, this book goes into more detail about the "art" of technical writing than any other book I've read.

There is truly a wealth of excellent information in this book. The authors have covered virtually every aspect of writing technical manuals and also for online material, making this an excellent guide to refer to anytime a writing question comes up. From the beginning chapter (Quality technical information), through chapters on Accuracy, Completeness, Clarity, Style, Organization, and Retrievability (to name a few), you can clearly see this book's attention to detail. The book's last chapter (Reviewing, testing, and evaluating technical information) offers tips on doing review cycles, who to involve in them, usability tests, and evaluating the information contained in the manual.

I especially liked the chapter on Retrievability. As the book points out, information doesn't do the reader any good if there isn't a logical way to find it. This chapter points out ways to "facilitate" navigation, by providing a complete index, the proper level of detail in the Table of Contents, even helpful links (for online material).
Another excellent chapter was the one on Style, although clearly each chapter in this book stands out on its own for providing detailed information about the chapter topic.

Another nice feature of this book is that the beginning of each chapter lists the main points (or topics) to be covered, and then summarizes them at the chapter's end. It serves as an excellent reminder of these points and one that can be referred back to.

I found this book to be an excellent reference and recommend it to any technical writer, regardless of their experience level.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concepts and examples anchor excellent reference 30 Mar 2000
By Patrick J Suarez - Published on
Format:Textbook Binding
In spite of the editorial errors in the book (blame IBM Press) and the rather pointless pedantic goings-on in these reviews about the use of the word "quality", this is a most worthwhile manual. Hargis presents her strategy of ensuring that technical documents reflect accuracy, clarity, completeness, concreteness, organization, retrievability, style, task orientation and visual effectiveness. She devotes a chapter to each concept and offers relevant examples to show aspiring tech writers how to apply the concepts to their own work. This is not just a grammar book; it is a well thought out set of tactics that help generate a worthwhile technical document. I'd like to see future editions of this expand into the area of data gathering and instructional system design. Nevertheless, the concepts Hargis describes here are worthwhile, as is this book.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a word...Excellent 7 July 1999
By John P. Callan - Published on
Format:Textbook Binding
I own many books on technical writing. Almost all of them fall flat in one way or another. Many don't even follow the rules they prescribe. Then there's this book. Superbly organized, consistent, logical, well structured, etc.! Torrents of acolades can get boring, but I hope the point is made; This is a best-of-class effort. Ms. Hargis and her team deliver everything they promise. Page 2 lays out just what to expect.
Buy one, use it, be impressed!
42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Enshrines mechanics of mediocre technical writing 28 April 2007
By Brian Cochran - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a mixed bag at best, advocating practices that help keep today's technical writing mired in mediocrity. For example: always use the 2nd person; and for heaven's sake don't try to explain anything to people, just tell them what to do! Much of this reads like tips for helping non-writers get by as technical writers, and for making technical writing into a kind of non-writing.

For devotees of the Jackson Pollock school of tech writing (throw lots of vetted statements at the page till they stick) or of the everything-is-a-numbered-list technique, there's probably much that's heartening in this glossy example of bad desktop publishing. (Jeesh, who decreed that tech writers can't learn typography and basic functional layout, or maybe hire someone that does?)

This book is probably ok for anyone writing product assembly manuals, or documenting GUI interfaces (press this, select that... yup second person actually works pretty well there). But for software? Or for anyone struggling to articulate complex ideas or just write a reasonably compact and self-contained conceptual overview (MIA from most tech writing today), there isn't much help here. Maybe it's time we technical writers focused more on good writing per se, on the things that good technical writing shares with effective prose (clarity, precision, range of useful styles), fiction (point of view) or even poetry (compression, effective use of embedded metaphor).

So, yeah, it turns out there're so many other rich directions and ideas for tech writers to pursue. For starters, there're the old standbys: Strunk and White or Wm Zinsser's Writing Well. And any of the wonderful books on prose style by Richard Lanham or perhaps Mark Turner's Clear and Simple as the Truth (which, suprisingly enough, addresses technical writing directly, albeit briefly, offering a number of classical examples). Also just about any of Edward Tufte's books, and by the way, did you catch his 2004 interview in Technical Communications Quarterly? Posted (free) on ET's website. I think it even mentions a time when he consulted with IBM about their tech writing and tried to get them to stop using the second person, and, well...
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