Tagged: textbook

Textbook Analysis: Writing That Works, Tenth Ed.

Writing That Works, Tenth Edition. Walter E. Oliu, et al.

A note: Like crafting an in-office memo or company wide e-mail, critiquing a textbook relies on many factors: context, tone, style, etc. Last class meeting, Rachel expressed her neutrality for the cheesy albeit effective use of goofy images and accompanying speech bubbles from a text we shared in another course. While cheesey, this pedagogic technique is an example of a feature I value in a textbook. So, because the way textbooks choose to instruct is subjective, I’ll be using a concrete criteria for which to critique Writing That Works. For this review, I’ll examine WTW beneath the backdrop of the ENGL 304 Syllabus

What separates WTW from other business writing textbooks lies in its ability to develop in fine detail not just the mechanics of professional communication mainstays (resumes, letter writing, memos), but their designs, their quirks, and the culture in which the circulate. The text has many strengths, but most salient is its ability to instruct in a way that considers these genres and documents as a means to an end: interaction among humans. While it spends many pages clarifying the obvious (the importance of white space in Ch. 7) and the not so obvious (grant and research proposals in Ch. 13), WTW stresses that adherence to accepted and formal designs, documents, and other ways of information exchange is perhaps the greatest signifier of productive and healthy business writing.

To achieve this, Oliu and the gang divide WTW into four parts:

  1. The Writing Process
  2. Essential Skills: Collaboration, Research, and Design
  3. Writing at Work: From Principle to Practice
  4. Revision Guide: Sentences, Punctuation, and Mechanics

Beyond this division, sections are subdivided by chapters until section four. The third section, with nine of the the text’s sixteen chapters, dominates the bulk of the book. This third section offers practical guidance for at-work writing is stressed (proposals, presentations, even job hunting). Proceeding to the final part of the book, section four serves as a reference for polishing sentence level prose by discussing proofreaders’ marks, mechanics and tips for ESL wrtiers.

WTW stresses purpose-driven and audience-aware writing. In this first section, WTW discusses (1) how to compose the cornerstones of business communication like memos, letters, and proposals. Plenty of visuals are provided. To be sure, this is the text’s bread and butter for instruction: use many visuals with marginalia to reinforce the text written before it. (2) WTW encourages “writing systematically.” Claiming that process will produce helpful work documents, WTW adores processes like outlining, brainstorming, and checklists.

Last week, it seemed that one common criterion for evaluating the general quality of a text book was the use or appearance of the word “rhetoric.” Like a few other texts considered then, WTW lists the use of “rhetoric” only once (in reference to avoiding rhetorical questions within professional communication). Because WTW is a text designed for the business writing classroom, perhaps the word would be even more useful here rather than technical writing textbooks. To be sure, much of the material used in WTW focuses on saving face and establishing credibility (ethos) while persuading a co-worker or authority figure (pathos) that the new plan to change a practice or policy is worth their time (logos). Ultimately though, Oliu and company effectively achieve introducing the reader to the knack of rhetoric without saying as much.

Not as an illustration, but as a kind of visual affect, WTW uses color and colored text boxes to spice up and organize the text. Orange is used for headings and as a background colors to differentiate between the meat of the text (ultimately, dos and don’ts) and auxiliary information (“Voices In the Workplace,”Ethics Notes”). As mentioned, WTW heavily relies on visuals to instruct. Clearly marked (eg., Figure 7-9), the graphic element of WTW is mostly always used in antiphony with the text. The less than ideal student who considers reading a chore will benefit from this feature. Of course, the illustrations also provide quick, concrete examples of document format, tone, style.

Nested in the text’s second section, Chapter 6, “Research Your Subject” guides the on-the-job researcher from very beginning raw data collection to polished product. From interview tips (“Be pleasant but Purposeful”) and designing a questionnaire (“Keep it as brief as possible”) to library and online usage (Ebscohost), WTW also provides metasearch engines and subject directories (see below) for the researcher.

Beyond the research process, WTW stresses the ethics of citation and provides clear and useful APA and MLA citation guides marked by colored margins for easy side-of-the-book findability.

Like instructing the aforementioned business communication mainstays, WTW gives consideration to a surprisingly wide range of genres and types of writing. With the exception of Twitter (which might not be germane considering what kind of business writing is desirable), WTW is brilliantly up-to-date re: modes of workplace communication. From medium selection to the appropriateness of when an instant message conversation should happen, WTW covers the obvious genres to the less obvious (eg., transmittals).

The ancillary companion to the text takes a few days for registration. If not registered, the online element to WTW is unremarkable and ultimately not very helpful. To boot, there’s
nothing to write home about in terms of design:

The online component (unregistered) is really only helpful for instructors to assign quizzes and exercises. The tutorials link is somewhat helpful. Here, a student can access entry-level web design and online research tips.

WITH ENGL 304 (CHs. 8-15)
In the business writing classroom, I can reasonably see WTW approached chronologically. As WTW might be applied to WVU’s ENGL 304 it most certainly fits the bill (it is, in fact listed among the suggested ENGL 304 textbooks for instructors. But in accordance to the syllabus, approaching the text from front to back might not be putting it to its best use. Its scope and length are just too much. However, it would be very useful for ENGL 304′s two major processes: “The production of a professional writer’s portfolio and the production, with one other student, of a proposal and presentation project.” In this light, WTW is a shoe in. However, one process of the presentation project, the Rhetorical Analysis Memo, would certainly be arhetorical if this text was used, that is, it wouldn’t use the three rhetorical key words and their modes of meaning we’ve come to know and love.

Pg. 5 of the 304 syllabus says, “Students who have completed English 304 should be able to:”
1.“Apply strategies for analyzing professional writing contexts…”
2. “Compose and design documents…”
3. “Apply rhetorical arguments…”
4.  “Conduct research and analyze data” with “proper methods of documentation” and to
understand ethics within the realm of research
5. “Know and apply composition methods and document design strategies…”

Broadly put, the goals amount to this: English 304 must be rhetorical. That is, English 304 must pay attention not only to what students should write, but to how and why writing happens in specific contexts for specific purposes. While WTW doesn’t approach making meaning and establishing credibility under the guise of “rhetoric,” it does an exceedingly good job of instructing them. Again, using WTW for the instruction of Aristotelian rhetoric may be a misstep, but supplements like hand outs or in-class lectures on the topic of rhetoric don’t seem too far out of reach.



Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach (6th ed.).

Anderson, P. V. (2007). Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Paul V. Anderson’s 2007 installment of Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach is the sixth edition of his textbook. It is split into eight parts and an appendix that guide readers on the process of writing for work-related purposes (5). Chapters not only instruct on writing practices and products but also discuss important workplace topics like ethics and appealing to international and multicultural audiences. Each chapter concludes with exercises, as well as directions to online exercises, that build upon the material in the main text. The primary theme for the textbook is that a writer must “think constantly about [their] readers” (10).

Writing Process

Anderson arranges the textbook so that its parts and chapters represent different steps, in order, of the writing process. The parts include:

  1. Defining Your Communication’s Objectives (63)
  2. Planning (97)
  3. Drafting Prose Elements (197)
  4. Drafting Visual Elements (323)
  5. Revising (399).

Rhetoric and persuasion

Like later editions of this textbook, Anderson’s sixth edition does not include the term “rhetoric” within its text (although it is used on the book’s back cover). However, Chapter Five, titled “Planning Your Persuasive Strategies”, does mention Aristotle, a seminal rhetorician, as the “source of [that] chapter’s advice” (121). The terms ethos, logos, and pathos are also defined and clarified in this chapter (121). The textbook stresses logos through sections titled “Reason Soundly” (127), “Present Sufficient and Reliable Evidence” (131), and “Choose Carefully between Direct and Indirect Organizational Patterns” (132), but using emotional strategies (137) and asserting credibility (135) are also recommended.

As previously stated, the idea of audience is the key to the textbook. Anderson perpetually reminds writers to consider their readers as while planning, writing, designing, and revising their texts.

Style and tone

The textbook’s chapter on “Developing an Effective Style” most explicitly addresses the issues of style and tone for its readers. The chapter is divided into three sections: “Guidelines for Creating Your Voice”, “Guidelines for Constructing Sentences”, and “Guidelines for Selecting Words” (257). While a reader can rightly guess that Anderson will advise writers to consider audiences, they should note that he recommends that authors write in ways that make them feel comfortable. He also covers the style behind business and professional writing (avoiding “to-be” verbs [265], placing modifiers next to nouns [264]), and offers lists and diagrams that can help writers with their diction.

This chapter is not the only one that addresses style and tone, as the chapters on particular document genres also discuss these items. For example, the section on correspondence begins by advising that readers take a “you-attitude” to the language in those documents; through this you-attitude writers are supposed to emphasize the recipients of their letters, memos, and emails as the subjects of their sentences.

Document design

Chapter 13, situated within Part V on Visual Elements, provides instruction on document design. In it Anderson advises that readers consider making grids for their documents (375) while also paying attention to how they group items in the document to establish focus. Contrast and repetition are mentioned as beneficial for designing a document for attractiveness and usability.

More specific information on the designs of particular technical documents can be found in the “Superstructures” part of the textbook (523).

Document genres and types of writing

Part VIII of the textbook contains a four chapters and a Writer’s Reference Guide on various document genres. These genres are referred to as “superstructures” (523). The superstructures that Anderson explains are:

  • Letters
  • Memos
  • E-mails
  • Reports
  • Proposals

There is no uniform approach Anderson takes to covering the different genres. The formats for each genre are generally discussed in Writer’s Tutorials, which have diagrams of example documents and short outlines (the superstructures) that list the different parts necessary to each document. There is a lot of material on reports, like a page on reports that offers a short outline (541), eight additional pages of sample outlines and reports for readers to look at, and a sixty-page Writer’s Reference Guide that goes into detail about the ways to write three specific kinds of reports: Empirical reports, feasibility reports, and progress reports (557).

Visuals and oral communication

Anderson places the textbook’s chapters on visual elements after its chapters on textual elements. He also states that, when writing technically, one is supposed to be “replacing, supplementing, or reinforcing [their] words with visual presentations” (327). Such chapter ordering and quotes seem to imply that visuals are not quite as essential to technical documents as text.

There are Writer’s Tutorials on designing slideshows (464), employing graphics, creating graphs (thankfully using Microsoft Excel and not Word [344]), and designing grids for formatting documents. There is also a handy Writer’s Reference Guide on “creating”:

  • Tables
  • Graphs
  • Images
  • Charts.

Not every guide offers much information on “creating” these visuals, however; the guides are more useful for writers who need assistance with formatting tables, and not necessarily making visuals from scratch.

Oral communication is covered in detail in Part VII, “Applications of the Reader-Centered Approach” (437). Its chapter on teamwork covers strategies for listening well, promoting discussion and debate, and using social technologies for communication (451); it also includes a segment that discusses potential ways to handle cultural and gender issues while working in a team (454). A chapter on oral presentations discusses preferred speaking styles, keeping organization for a spoken presentation simple, coping with questions and interruptions, and dealing with presentation anxiety.

Research and writing technologies

Chapter 6, “Conducting Reader-Centered Research” (151), extensively covers research. In it are sections on planning research, information literacy, and ways to consider the legal ramifications of citing certain sources.

The book lacks a chapter straightforwardly dedicated to writing with technology. However, many of the tutorials and guides scattered throughout the book mention how certain programs can help writers create visuals and format texts, and there is a chapter on creating web pages (437).

Textbook Analysis: Anderson’s Technical Communication (7th ed.)

The seventh edition of Paul Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach proposes audience awareness as key to crafting successful technical communications. As Anderson (2011) explains in his preface, “If the communication helps the reader use the information provided quickly and easily and if it influences the reader’s attitudes and actions in the way the writer intends, it is effective” (p. xvii). In addition to the reader-centered approach, Anderson focuses on two key concepts, usability and persuasiveness, throughout the text.

Writing process

In chapter 1 of Technical Communication, Anderson introduces students to his approach to the writing process, which consists of “five major activities”:

  • Defining your communication’s objectives
  • Conducting research
  • Planning your communication
  • Drafting its text and visual elements
  • Revising your draft (p. 22)

The book is divided into sections based on the five-step writing process. For example, Part III, “Planning,” corresponds with the “planning your communication” step in the writing process. With the exception of the first two chapters, which serve as an introduction to the textbook, and chapters 23-29, which focus on specific genres, each chapter in Technical Communication offers six to eleven guidelines based on the writing process outlined above. In addition, many chapters feature global guidelines, which focus on cross-cultural communications. Finally, many chapters feature a guideline devoted to ethics as well.

Rhetoric and persuasion

Although the word rhetoric is not mentioned, persuasion is a central concept in the text. Anderson defines a document’s persuasiveness as “its ability to influence its readers’ attitudes and actions” (p. 12). He goes on to say that all workplace documents are inherently persuasive; even those genres usually seen as informational, such as instructions, contain persuasive elements.

The fifth chapter of the textbook is focused entirely on persuasion. After presenting research about how persuasion is based on shaping audience attitudes, Anderson draws upon the rhetorical tradition. He mentions Aristotle and the rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, and pathos) several times throughout the chapter, noting that pathos is used least in workplace settings. In addition, Anderson cites Toulmin in the fourth guideline, which deals with sound reasoning.

Style and tone

Anderson devotes an entire chapter to issues of style. Chapter 9, “Developing an Effective Style,” contains three subsections that move from broader concerns (voice) to more specific stylistic issues (sentences and words). Much of the advice in the voice section is focused on audience needs; for example, Guideline 1 asks students to “find out what’s expected” (p. 264), while Guideline 3 asks them to “consider how your attitude toward your subject will affect your readers” (p. 267).

In order to construct effective sentences, Anderson advises students to be concise (p .270), use action verbs (p. 271), and emphasize the most important information (pp. 273-274). The subsection on word choice asks students to be concrete (p.276), use specialized terms when the audience can understand them (pp. 277-278), and use plain terms over fancy ones (p. 279), among other advice.

Document design

Examples of effective document design can be found throughout the textbook. Each chapter features a number of visuals that students can look to when designing their own documents. However, Anderson also devotes an entire chapter to document design. Chapter 14, “Designing Reader-Centered Pages and Documents,” begins by suggesting how good design increases usability and persuasiveness. Next, Anderson explains that each document contains six design elements:

  • Text
  • Headings and titles
  • Graphics
  • White space
  • Headers and footers
  • Physical features (p. 380)

Much of the chapter focuses on practical advice, including putting related visual items closer together (p. 388), using color, type size, and bold to create contrast (p. 391), and using repetition (p. 395). Each guideline also includes a brief explanation of why it is useful in creating effective technical communications. Anderson mentions that using contrast, for example, can help create a sense of hierarchy and focus (p. 391).

Document genres and types of writing

Anderson employs the term “superstructure” in place of “genre.” The last section of the textbook is focused exclusively on specific genres; Chapters 22-27 deal with letters and memos, proposals, empirical research reports, feasibility reports, progress reports, and instructions. In addition to these genres, each chapter provides exercises that stress collaborative writing, digital texts, and ethical issues.

Visuals and oral communication

As a whole, the textbook relies on a number of visuals, including photographs, tables, and charts, to illustrate key concepts and provide examples. Chapter 13 focuses on creating reader-centered graphics, and the text again asks students to consider usability and persuasiveness. The textbook also contains a twenty-page reference guide to visuals found immediately after chapter 13. This guide features eleven types of graphics, and each graphic type is illustrated with a labeled example and a list of suggested uses.

Research and writing technologies

Anderson devotes two chapters to research. Chapter 6, “Gathering Reader-Centered Information,” asks students to first define their objectives (pp. 152-153) before identifying and gathering information that will be useful to both audiences (pp. 153-155). Chapter 7, “Analyzing Information and Thinking Critically,” is the shortest chapter in the textbook and asks students to look for “patterns, connections, and contrasts” in information (p. 197). Finally, there is a reference guide between chapters 6 and 7 that focuses on five research methods: exploring your own memory and creativity, searching the Internet, using the library, interviewing, and conducting a survey.

Technical Communication focuses almost exclusively on newer writing technologies. There are a number of “Writer’s Tutorials” that instruct students on how to use specific computer programs to draft documents; for example, the first “Writer’s Tutorial” tells students how to design a resume using tables in Microsoft Word (see pp. 40-43). However, the book does provide at least one example of using older technology to help compose documents. In the “Using Five Reader-Centered Research Methods” reference guide, Anderson provides an example of a hand-drawn cluster sketch (p. 171) and an idea tree (p. 172) in the section devoted to invention activities.

Online edition

Anderson’s Technical Communication is also available in an online edition. On the Cengage Learning site (www.cengage.com), the online version is substantially cheaper than the print edition ($57.49 for 6 months of use to $131.49, respectively). The online version bills itself as “an interactive eBook,” and it resembles a traditional print textbook. Users can navigate by page number and view the book one or two pages at a time.  Navigation controls are located in the upper center of the page. There is a search box, print page button, and help guide in the upper right corner of the screen.

In addition, users can bookmark text, create notes, and highlight passages in blue, pink, or yellow. Notes and bookmarks are denoted by symbols, and each symbol is a clickable link that users can place wherever they like on the page. Highlighting text brings up a highlighter tool, which is somewhat awkward to use. Bookmarks, notes, and highlights can also be sorted. Bookmarks are sorted by the page on which users created them, while notes can be sorted by date created, page on which users created them, and by “text.” The “text” sorting is unclear; it does not mean alphabetical order. Finally, highlights can be sorted by date created, page number, color, and “text.”

Concluding thoughts

Anderson’s Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach stays true to its title, emphasizing audience awareness in each of its 27 chapters. Usability and persuasiveness are key concepts as well. While such a clear, consistent focus helps students grasp these three main ideas, it also means that the text seems repetitive at times.

Overall, the Technical Communication eBook is rather slow to use (on PCs and Macs and using Firefox, Chrome, and Safari). “Turning” pages and using the search function bring up a loading bar each time. However, the ability to save and sort notes, bookmarks, and highlighted text, in addition to its relatively inexpensive price tag, makes the eBook an attractive option for students with access to computers in the classroom.

Work cited

Anderson, P.V. (2011). Technical communication: A reader-centered approach (7th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth.



Textbook Analysis: Technical Communication (11th ed.), John M. Lannon

Technical Communication


Technical Communication, written by John M. Lannon, redefines technical communicators beyond simply the transfers of information; this textbook approaches technical writers as managers of information who engage in complex social interactions every single day.  Lannon explains that interpersonal, ethical, legal, and cultural demands are imposed upon technical communicators, and his textbook aims to prepare students to understand and accommodate for those demands in the workplace.  This textbook has a heavy focus on the rhetorical principles that shape technical writing, specifically audience awareness, and forces the specific genres of technical writing (which many textbooks view as central to the role of technical communication) to become secondary to the nuances of the rhetorical situation surrounding the communication.


Writing Process

The writing process is heavily emphasized very early on in this textbook.  Part One of the book entitled “Communicating in the Workplace” most directly focuses on the writing process.  This part of the textbook consists of four chapters that, according to Lannon, are each essential steps in the writing process of a technical communicator: delivering the essential information, exercising persuasive reasoning, weighing the ethical issues, and exercising good teamwork.  In the second chapter on the textbook, Lannon also identifies and explains the main steps in the writing process of technical documents in actual workplace settings.

Aside from the direct references to the writing process in Part One of this textbook, aspects of the writing process like researching, summarizing, organizing, editing, designing visual information, etc are also heavily emphasized throughout the textbook.  In fact, the majority of the textbook (aside from the section on specific documents and applications of them) is dedicated to examining the writing process of a technical communicator.


Rhetoric and Persuasion

Interestingly enough, the word “rhetoric” is never mentioned in this textbook (aside from in the author’s preface to the book) even though issues of emotional appeals, the context of the communication, strategies for shaping the argument, etc are addressed in the text.  There is, however, plenty of information about the role of persuasion in technical communication and the strategies of technical communicators to be persuasive in their writing.  One chapter, called “Being Persuasive,” is specifically dedicated to rhetorical/persuasion issues like identifying your specific communication goal, recognizing the constraints of the situation (legal, organizational, ethical, social, etc), trying to predict audience reaction, offering convincing support for your claims, etc.


Style and Tone

There is one specific chapter of this textbook, “Editing for Readable Style,” that is totally dedicated to explaining the ideal style of technical communicators’ writing and how to achieve that style in technical documents.  This chapter covers topics like editing for clarity (use active voice whenever possible, avoid ambiguous modifiers, etc), editing for conciseness (avoid wordy phrases, avoid excessive prepositions, etc), editing for fluency (vary sentence length and construction, etc), finding the exact words, and adjusting your tone (avoid personal bias, avoid sexist usage, address readers directly, etc).


Document Design

This textbook contains one chapters related to document design: one entitled “Designing Visual Information” and the other called “Designing Pages and Documents.”  The chapter on document design focuses on why design is important in technical communication, specific design skills needed in today’s workplace, using typography and space effectively, etc.


Document Genres and Types of Writing

One fifth of this textbook is focused on specific genres of technical writing.  This part of the textbook addresses memos and electronic correspondence, formal business letters, résumés and cover letters, web pages, technical definition documents, technical description documents, instructions and procedures, proposals, etc.  Within the section dedicated to a specific genre of technical writing, Lannon has identified the purpose and goals of the genre, the audience, the elements/conventions of the genre, and which situations require that genre.


Visuals and Oral Communication

There is one chapter in this book dedicated to visual information (“Designing Visual Information”) and one chapter dedicated to oral communication (“Oral Presentations”).  The chapter on visual information addresses issues like when to use visuals, why visuals matter, the use of color, cultural considerations in visual information, etc.  The chapter on oral presentations includes explanations of advantages and disadvantages of oral communication, planning a presentation, preparing a presentation, delivering a presentation, etc.  Aside from the chapter specifically dedicated to oral presentations, this textbook does not focus on other areas of oral communication in the workplace.


Research and Writing Technologies

Lannon has dedicated one fifth of this textbook to the research process.  He addresses issues like asking the right research questions, evaluating your sources, exploring electronic and print sources, conducting primary research, summarizing and abstracting information, etc.  The research process is also referenced in other sections of the textbook in terms of researching for oral presentations, researching before a job interview, bias in research, writing a research proposal, etc.

There is not a section or chapter of this book dedicated to writing technologies, but Lannon consistently incorporates the role of technology in technical communication throughout this textbook.  He explores ideas of electronic sources in research, the production of web-based documents, electronically mediated collaboration, plagiarism and technology, desktop and electronic publishing, etc.



Overall, I think this textbook could be extremely effective in an undergraduate technical communication course.  I appreciate that the author sees technical communicators as more the transporters of information, I value his focus on audience awareness, and I find it refreshing that textbook first and foremost explains and illustrates the rhetorical principles surrounding technical communication before showing their application in various documents.  I also love that Lannon focuses on application beyond the classroom, has included plenty of information about the place of technology in technical communication, emphasizes the importance of collaboration in technical communication, and makes a point to provide collaborative and service-learning project ideas at the end of each chapter.


Lannon, J. M. (2007). Technical Communication (11th ed.). Longman.


Textbook Overview: Technical Communication 8th ed. by Mike Markel

I think that this textbook does well to cover a wide range of topics within technical communications in a very organized and procedural way. As Mike Markel states in his introduction to the textbook, “Technical Communication remains a thorough, accessible introduction to planning, drafting, and designing technical documents.” (iii)

This textbook does make ethics a major part of both its message and each of the individual chapters. This is explained in the introduction to this textbook as being a conscious addition to this edition because of the “increased emphasis on ethics” in the field of technical communication and technical communication education. Along with this addition, the author also noted an increased focus on “electronic communication tools” in that there is a need for understanding of these tools in this freshly electronic technological world.

With a new edition of this textbook, Mike Markel also specifies that “it makes more explicit connection between technical communication in the academy and …in the workplace.” (iii) I find this interesting as the field of technical communication progresses. It could lend insight into the development of agency and utility within technical communication education.

Writing Process:

I feel that the whole text does well to address the writing process both in a chapter specifically pertaining to “understanding the writing process”, “drafting and revising,” and through the progression of each section and the applications of technical communication. (xvi, xviii) In fact, within the “Introduction to Writers”, it states that the book is “organized into six parts, highlighting the importance of the writing process in technical communication…” (ix) The overall concept of the textbook also moves in such a way; from the introduction to technical communication in the classroom and also the workplace, to planning the documents, developing the elements, and being able to apply them, this book focuses a lot on the idea of process.

Within the application section, the book moves from the more basic technical communications to the more complex ones. Also within this section, at the beginning of every applications section, there is a diagram outlining the process of creating the document that is detailed within the chapter.

Rhetoric and Persuasion

There is an entire chapter on communicating persuasively which covers the basic arguments, using evidence, and presenting yourself and your communication effectively. This chapter is heavy on ethics, knowing your constraints, being responsible with how you appeal to people, and “using the right kinds of evidence.” (159)

There is also an underlying theme of rhetoric and persuasion through a chapter regarding understanding your audience, understanding legal and ethical considerations, and through some of the application chapters referring to how to write/communicate persuasively within certain genres of technical communication and why it is important.

Style and Tone

There does not seem to be a lot of explicit instruction regarding style and tone. There are little notes in certain sections such as “use the appropriate level of formality,” but instructions of style and tone are worked in throughout the entire “writing process” within this textbook. It is implied. For example, each type of application obviously has a certain style in which it is written and the tone is derived from how formal informal or professional it is meant to be. There are also certain “tech tips” which pertain to document design and a certain type of electronic “styling”.

Document Design

I believe that document design is a large part of the textbook’s focus. First, within the second part of the book, it discusses the planning and organizing of information; within the third and fourth parts, the books discusses writing and designing the documents both in textual and visual elements. Within the fifth part, dealing with all of the different applications for technical communication, document design emerges a lot within each chapter. For each type of document or communication discussed, there are descriptions and activities based on how each text is designed.

Visuals and Oral communication

As this is a technical communications textbook, it does not just contain technical writing instruction. There is a whole section (part 4) on “Developing the Visual Elements” which consists of chapters about designing these visual pieces and creating the graphics or “pictures” within this visual category.

Another interesting chapter in this textbook is on the application of the oral presentation. The final chapter in the book, it covers knowing your audience, organizing and designing the presentation itself using visual and written elements, how to effectively present yourself, and even a section on answering questions after your presentation.

Research and writing technologies

As I stated in my introduction, it was noted that this edition of the textbook was expanded to include the emphasis on electronic tools for technical communication. Included in this is a companion website that has many activities and tools that can work alongside the information in the book. This is called “TechComm” and each chapter has a discussion that correlates with it. Along with this, there are also “Tech Tips” within each chapter that instruct students on certain tools within their electronic technologies that can aid them in certain topics.

In terms of Research, there is one chapter regarding this subject. Situated within the planning part of the textbook, it discusses the differences between research for academic and the workplace as well as research methods, understanding the research, and conducting primary and secondary research. Research is referenced in a few other places, but not expanded upon besides within that chapter pertaining to it.


Markel, Mike. (2007). Technical Communication (8th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Textbook Analysis; Technical Communication: A Reader Centered Approach by Paul V. Anderson


Introduction and Overview:

Technical Communication: A Reader Centered Approach purports the ability to take technical writing scenarios and give them an augmented sense of audience awareness by always focusing on creating a reader-centered approach. The book attempts to address a multitude of different documents, document parts (like graphics, headers, tables, etc.), and situations in which a tech writer may be producing documents and then discuss what potential obstacles the reader/audience member may bring to that writing situation. As Anderson (2011) states in his introduction: “When writing think constantly about your readers. Think about what they want from you—and why” (p. 11). 

Writing Process:

Process is emphasized in the book both by demonstrating steps needed to write any number of documents or parts of documents (like front or back matter) alongside the arrangement of chapters that guide the user, reader, or instructor to address documents in a particular order. In Anderson’s case, the book begins with resumes and moves towards more official reports like feasibility reports and empirical research reports near the end.

Anderson shows the process for documents and document components in “writer’s tutorials,” which are purple highlighted sections throughout the book that guide students in a step-by-step process. He does this with a resume, showing where to add borders, tables and how to organize the information; editing graphics and pictures for the sake of web-based documents is another area Anderson focuses on for a tutorial.

Rhetoric, Persuasion, and Theory:

Rhetoric does not have an official representation in Anderson’s book (there’s not even an entry in the index for rhetoric and the word only appears in article names cited in the bibliography), but some key rhetorical concepts, ethos, logos, and pathos, terms that hardly come up again throughout the book are addressed briefly in the chapter regarding persuasion. Indirectly, however, the concepts of Rhetoric are emphasized throughout the book with the constant focus towards potential readers. Anderson does talk about logical fallacies in his discussion of writing documents that utilize cause and effect, but only mentions “post hoc” and “overgeneralization” as two of many other fallacies (p. 254).

Anderson gives the same treatment to other theoretical issues like ethics and mostly isolates discussions of ethics to chapter-end exercises and doesn’t dedicate a full chapter to either ethics or rhetoric. For instance, Anderson addresses ethics briefly in the introduction claiming, “a basic challenge facing anyone addressing ethical issues in workplace settings is that different people have different views of the right actions to take in various situations” (p. 21). Those “situations” however are only really ever addressed in Anderson’s made-up situations instead of in real problems that actually happened or have been studied. Additionally, the situational approach to ethics doesn’t necessarily help students understand the broad theoretical presence of ethics in technical documents.

Document Design:

Anderson emphasizes design in several chapters of his book. He discusses the integration of graphics, coloring, and structuring of a document. This often involves showing examples that Anderson dissects with arrows and commentary in the margins about what kinds of strategies are employed in each kind of document. A basic example of this is the difference between what Anderson calls an experiential resume versus a skill-based resume found scattered throughout chapter 2.

(p. 39)

Anderson also has several chapters near the end of the book where he discusses what he calls the “super structures.” In these final chapters, he takes time to break down the elements and give more specific examples of technical documents including memos, proposals, and reports. Unfortunately, this appears inconveniently at the end of the book while ironically being the most useful part of the book.


Visuals permeate the book with examples of documents and pictures of finished products. Anderson, however, does a poor job following his own advice to “use bright colors to focus your reader’s attention” (advice linked the image below) and overdoes and over-colors the textbook to the point it’s impossible to look at any given page and understand what is most important to understand.

(p. 345)

Pages 368 and 374 are perfect examples of the confusion that occurs as a result of over-styling or over-marking the page. This kind of problem can also be observed on the opening page of any particular chapter (374 Shown below).


Anderson has sections where he discusses writing in digital mediums and his book comes with an online component that offers both an interactive version of the textbook (which it turns out, basically means it’s searchable, but not much else) and there are additional quizzes and case scenarios online. The problem is that these scenarios and online components add almost nothing to the book or the course since the electronic book, aside from the ability to use electronic search functions, offers an experience almost identical to the paperback copy. Additionally, the case scenarios, instead of referencing real problems, are often Anderson’s own wonky creations that often emphasize his inelegant sense of dialogue instead of investigating real technical issues that would hold more utility and practicality to students of technical writing. A prime example of Anderson’s approach to case studies is his example of addressing ethical issues in a scientific workplace work place: the scenario consists largely of a long, droll conversation between two colleagues about how to address their superiors about misgivings regarding animal testing, full of detail irrelevant to the actual writing task at hand.


Anderson’s book, especially with the Instructor Companion book, is a fine resource for first time technical writing teachers, but its inability to focus on actual real-life scenarios or theory, and its ad nauseam focus towards reader-centered approaches (which are often obvious and droll) will inevitably lead teachers to supplement the text with a great deal of other readings both technical and scholarly. In short, this book makes for a great starting point for those not fully familiar or comfortable with technical writing, but you will owe it to yourself and your students to find something better suited to technical writing in subsequent semesters.


Works Cited:

Anderson, P. V. (2010). Technical Communication (7th ed.). Wadsworth Publishing.

Writing that Works: Communicating Effectively on the Job (9th edition)

In the preface, the authors state that this book has been successful because “it effectively prepares students to apply the writing process to the documents and situations they will encounter in the workplace—regardless of their academic background or occupational interest” (Oliu, Brusaw, & Alred, 2007, p. v). Walter E. Oliu is a communications consultant and has taught at various universities; Charles T. Brusaw worked for 20 years as a technical writer and has worked in advertising, public relations, and curriculum development, has served as a business-writing consultant, and has taught at the college level; and Gerald J. Alred is an English professor who teaches professional writing and directs the Graduate Certificate Program in International Technical Communication.

The focus of the text is the writing process and document design for different workplace genres. The majority of the textbook focuses on written communication between employees—i.e. memos or emails, for example—and written communication between employees and outside parties. There is little focus on verbal communication, particularly amongst employees within a workplace. One of the most unique elements of the book are the “Voices of the Workplace” contributions—from a president, CEO, customer service manager, sportswriter, first grade teacher, associate attorney, information analyst, mechanical engineer, congressional staff member, licensed mental health counselor, marketing media coordinator, university senior career counselor, and the like, who bring the workplace perspective into the text.


The entire book, in some way, is devoted to the writing process, from brainstorming to delivering your information to your audience to styling your texts precisely. The authors address assessing audience and purpose, writing the draft, and then revising the draft. In Part Two, collaborative writing is discussed in terms of writing with a team and dealing with conflict in collaboration, and is then outlined, including planning, research, writing, review, and revision.


Part Two, chapter 6 deals extensively with research. Primary research is broken down into experience, interviewing (determining whom to interview, preparing, conducting, and expanding your notes), observing, and using questionnaires, for which an example is provided in-text. The authors detail library and Internet research, then discuss source documentation. Here, a special section is devoted to APA and MLA guidelines.

Writing technologies are only intermittently covered throughout the text, touching on topics such as writing for the web or on the web, composing e-mails, instant message correspondence, graphics software for design, and presentation software.


Chapter 1 discusses how to determine your purpose and assess your audience’s needs, two factors that effect the organization of information and its effectiveness and persuasiveness. But other than persuasion, rhetoric is hardly, explicitly written about. Much of the book deals with determining what your purpose is based on who your audience is, particularly in regards to different forms of workplace writing. In chapter 13, Writing Proposals, the authors briefly touch on persuasive writing—here naturally, rather than anywhere else in the book, because a proposal is intended to do just that: persuade. And in chapter 14, the practice of delivery is explored, including practice run-throughs and using techniques like eye contact, movement and gesture, vocal pace, volume, and inflection.


Due to the nature of this textbook—i.e. effective written communication in the workplace—style and tone are essential elements. In Part One, the authors touch on emphasis, including active and passive voice, point of view, and language elements such as word choice, bias, and using plain language versus jargon. In Part Two, the different styles of source documentation are outlined before the authors move on to style issues in document design, and Part Three deals specifically with choosing the appropriate medium and form for a given situation, including writing and formatting letters, memos, and international correspondence, as well as a brief look at sending email and instant messages and the “netiquette” that entails. Later, in chapters 8, 9, and 15, style and tone are again attended to as the authors define how to write and format letters and memos, deal with tone—especially in positive and negative messages, and discuss writing for the web, particularly how simple style and appropriate tone are essential for web content. Finally, Part Four in its entirety is devoted to stylistic tools including sentences, punctuation, and mechanics.


This textbook focuses extensively on the different genres of workplace writing and the types of writing one might be required to do in the workplace. The longest section of the textbook, by far, is Part Three, Writing at Work: From Principle to Practice. Here, the authors spend six chapters (nearly 200 pages) covering how to write business correspondence, informal and formal reports, instructions, and proposals. Each chapter includes several sample documents as well as writer’s checklists.


Document design is an important component of this textbook. The authors explain the importance of document design, in general, before detailing the importance of design for the different genres mentioned previously—formal reports, emails, etc. From margins, columns, typography, and templates to illustrations, format consistency, headings, and page design, document layout and design are well defined. Chapter 7, Designing Effective Documents and Visuals, “provides guidelines and models for designing” (Oliu, Brusaw, & Alred, 2007, p. 205), emphasizing that clarity and consistency allow your reader to better understand and use your document for their needs.


While the focus of this textbook tends to revolve around written communication—i.e. words rather than visuals—the authors do try to incorporate discussion on using visuals, as well as giving presentations and conducting meetings. Chapter 7 looks specifically at typography, highlighting devices, page design, and integrating visuals like tables, graphs, flowcharts, maps, and photographs, and within each section, the authors implement many of the very tools and techniques they are outlining in the book.

Overall, this textbook seems like a very comprehensive collection of guidelines for writing and achieving success in the workplace. Each chapter is introduced with an overview and closed with a summary, exercises, and suggestions for collaborative classroom, research, and web projects. With this edition, the authors aim to incorporate more attention to global communication, ethics, digital tips, visual communication, and finding a job.


Oliu, W. E., Brusaw, C. T., & Alred, G. J. (2007). Writing that works: Communicating effectively on the job (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.