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Developing Quality Technical Information: A Handbook for Writers and Editors (2nd Edition) 2nd Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0131477490
ISBN-10: 0131477498
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap


Many books on technical writing tell you how to develop different parts of technical information, such as headings, lists, tables, and indexes. Instead, we organized this book to tell you how to apply quality characteristics that, in our experience, make technical information easy to use, easy to understand, and easy to find. We hope you will find our approach useful and comprehensive—and we hope you will find the information in this book easy to use, easy to understand, and easy to find!

Is this book for you?

If you are a writer or reviewer of technical information—yes! If you write or review software information, this book may be of even more interest to you because the examples in it come from the domain of software. However, the quality characteristics and guidelines are universal to all information.

Reviewers can be any of the many people who are involved in developing technical information:

Writers Editors Graphic designers Human factors engineers Product developers and testers Customer service personnel Customers (perhaps as early users) Managers

In general, this book assumes that you know the basics of good grammar, punctuation, and spelling as they apply to writing. It does not assume that you are familiar with what makes technical information good or bad.

How to use this book

You can use the book in any of several ways:

Read the book from start to finish. Read about the particular quality characteristic or guideline that interests you. Use the checklists at the end of each chapter and "Quality Checklist" on page 269 to evaluate a piece of technical information against the quality characteristics. Use "Who Checks Which Quality Characteristics?" on page 273 to see what areas you as a reviewer need to check, and read those sections.

Whatever your role in developing technical information, we hope that you'll use this information to build these quality characteristics into the information that you work on.

Changes in this edition

The first and second editions were published in 1984 and 1986 for use mainly by developers of information for IBM software products. This edition is published for more general use and takes into account these changes in technical information:

Online information (such as help, tutorials, and documents) is often more important than printed information in the documentation of software. Online information has become more integrated with the product user interface, through forms such as cue cards and wizards.

As a result of comments from customers and editors, we have:

Added two quality characteristics: concreteness and style

Feedback from users showed that, to them, examples and scenarios are not only very important, but also generally lacking or poorly handled in computer information. The first edition treated examples as part of clarity, but clarity has many other aspects as well. In this edition we have added concreteness as the quality characteristic that focuses especially on examples and scenarios.

In the first edition, style considerations were spread across accuracy, clarity, and visual communication. We decided that style needs its own focus.

Renamed two quality characteristics

The earlier name "entry points" has become "retrievability," and "visual communication" has become "visual effectiveness."

In addition, we have reorganized the book into parts and added several sections:

Introduction to help define terms and set the context for the information Chapters 11 and 12, which treat more than one quality characteristic Annotated bibliography Glossary of terms used in this book Index

The technical editors at IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory use these quality characteristics to assess the quality of the information they edit. In this edition, we have revised some guidelines and added more examples to ensure coverage of the kinds of common errors found every day.

Gretchen Hargis Ann Kilty Hernandez Polly Hughes Jim Ramaker Shannon Rouiller Elizabeth Wilde --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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!


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: IBM Press; 2 edition (April 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0131477498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0131477490
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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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.
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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.
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