Textbook Review

Markel, M. (2015). Technical Communication (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford St. Martin’s.

Argument/Goal of Textbook

Markel’s revised 11th edition is intended to prepare students to communicate effectively in their college courses and in the “face-paced, highly collaborative world in which they will work” (2015, p. v). Markel argues that “Employers have never valued communication skills as much as they value them today, and for good reason. Today’s professionals need to communicate more frequently, more rapidly, more accurately, and with more individuals than ever before.” (p. v).

Audience

This 11th edition is well suited for students in an introductory college course in technical communication who may have little or no exposure to technical writing. Both professional and technical communication majors and those in other programs of study can benefit from this textbook because of the emphasis placed on rhetorical concerns, ethics, research, and collaboration, in the writing and revision processes.

This edition is suited for instructors with all levels of experience, but it is particularly well adapted for newer, less experienced instructors, as it provides a great deal of resources through LaunchPad. Additionally, instructors whose experience is relegated to academia will find opportunities through examples, exercises, and cases to bridge the gap between academy and industry. Such an example can be found in the case study in Chapter 8:

You are interning in the communications department of an animal-rights organization and your supervisor has asked you to put together a survey to gauge public reactions to its marketing message. Before you can draft a questionnaire to assess how well the persuasion strategies are working, you must analyze the organization’s website to determine the ways in which it employs persuasion. To get started with your project, go to “Cases” under “Additional Resources” in Ch. 8 at macmillionhighered.com/Launchpad/techcomm11e. (p. 191)

Because the content is heavily intertwined with the LaunchPad online resources, the ideal class would be located in a computer lab classroom or would be taught on a campus where tablets or laptops are required of all students.

New Edition / Most Important Updates

A complete overhaul of chapter 1 sets the stage for the 11th edition’s new focus: continuous collaboration between technical communicators and stakeholders. Greater attention is given to students addressing audiences outside the classroom and the role of social media in this process. Chapter 22, “Connecting with the Public” was removed, and related topics have a more substantial presence throughout the textbook. Beyond Chapter 1, the new digital companion, LaunchPad, accounts for the majority changes to this edition.

E-Supplement / Teaching & Learning Resources

LaunchPad for Technical Communication: http://www.macmillanhighered.com/Launchpad/techcomm11e/1207297/ECommerce/Unauthenticated

LaunchPad is quite simply a powerhouse of teaching resources for faculty and learning tools for students, with content designed to reflect the technical communication principles of the new edition. LaunchPad is a complementary, online course space that accompanies the textbook. Downloadable case studies, multimodal composition tutorials, adaptive quizzes, resources for multilingual writers, video-based team writing modules situate learning in a digital realm. It is customizable, offering instructors the freedom to incorporate their own materials into pre-built units, record grades in the grade center, and engage students through a streamlined interface.

It should be noted that instructors can use this textbook without incorporating the LaunchPad e-supplement. However, the biggest drawback to omitting LaunchPad is found in the case studies, which represent larger independent and collaborative project opportunities for students. Each case study is introduced briefly in the textbook, but the materials and tools required to complete the case studies are located in LaunchPad. Because it is free, offers a wealth of resources, and incorporates technical tools for students, it’s reasonable to assume instructors will want to use LaunchPad. However, instructors teaching this course without access to computer lab classrooms, for example, may feel the textbook is more limited without LaunchPad. In such instances, LaunchPad assignments could be completed by students for homework on their personal devices.

Design

The textbook comes in paperback, which likely reduces costs to students ($108.47 new on Amazon) and an e-book is also available. The textbook cover illustrates invisible digital information exchange in motion, emphasizing a platform of communication that receives a great deal of attention in the book. Color is used throughout the textbook in graphics, headings, and subheadings, which is visually appealing. The content of the book is organized in a simple, clean design. Bold key terms and bullets make information easy to locate. Headings and subheadings are differentiated by size, color and placement to enhance ease of navigability, and table of contents echoes the color scheme. This consistency of organization enhances readers’ sense of familiarity and comfort with the textbook as they work through it. Graphics appear frequently, and they illustrate and reinforce text, yet pages don’t feel “busy”; there is good use of white space. Overall, the design is both appealing and functional.

Content

The textbook is divided into 5 sections:
·       Understanding the technical communication environment
·       Planning the document
·       Developing and testing the verbal and visual information
·       Learning important applications
·       Reference handbook

Throughout the book: annotated examples, guidelines boxes, ethics notes, document analysis activities, tech tips, writer’s checklists, and cases.

Markel defines a technical communicator as a professional who produces documents such as manuals, reports, and websites. Technical communication, according to Markel, begins with listening, speaking, and reading, and it encompasses a set of activities that people do to discover, shape, and transmit information through digital and print documents. Technical communication analyzes a problem, finds and evaluates evidence, and draws conclusions, much like other college writing courses, but its focus on audience and purpose is different.

Part 1 defines and introduces readers to technical communication. In doing so, it examines the characteristics of excellence within technical documents, workplace skills and qualities of technical writing professionals, and it also addresses the ethical and legal considerations inherent in technical writing, the process of planning and creating technical documents, and the practice of collaboration (emphasizing electronic tools including social media). Analyzing audience and purpose and choosing the appropriate writing tools are emphasized.

Part 2 focuses on rhetorical concerns of the technical document. A deeper examination of audience and purpose is given attention through tools and techniques. The research process (primary and secondary) is introduced, and workplace and academic research are differentiated. Organizing information rounds out this section of the textbook, emphasis given to three principles for organizing technical information and a review of conventional organizational patterns.

Part 3 describes persuasive communication: testing verbal and visual information by foregrounding the audience’s broader goals within the context of a successful argument (guidelines for crafting arguments provided); leveraging content organization and design for information emphasis; writing coherent documents and effective sentences; analyzing graphics’ function, creation, and effective use; conducting usability testing of documents and websites. The principles, preparation, and practice of usability tests conclude the chapter.

Part 4 covers important learning applications for common professional writing genres: correspondence, job-application materials, proposals, informational reports, recommendation reports, lab reports, definitions, descriptions, instructions, and oral presentations, and applications used for communicating with the public.

The appendix contains a reference handbook that provides guidance for reading and note-taking, documenting sources, editing and proofreading, and cultural and stylistic issues for multilingual writers (ESL).

Writer’s checklists, exercises, and case studies are offered at the end of each chapter. Several exercises (both independent and team) are included, and they can be used as in-class activities and homework assignments, or they can be expanded as larger projects, which would be useful for those without the resources for students access to LaunchPad. The exercises involve learning applications that vary in nature between academic and practical, with digital communication platforms playing an integral role:

Using the search term “social media policy examples,” find a corporate policy statement on employee use of social media. In a 500-word memo to your instructor, explain whether the policy statement is clear, specific, and comprehensive. Does the statement include a persuasive explanation of why the policy is necessary? Is the tone of the statement positive or negative? How would you feel if you were required to abide by this policy? If appropriate, include a copy of the policy statement (or a portion of it) so that you can refer to it in your memo. (p. 39)

Case studies, likewise, comprise of independent and collaborative projects and focus on issues including ethics, audience and purpose, information emphasis, and cultural needs. LaunchPad provides students with the documents described in the case study and provides a forum for individuals and groups to complete their work. One example comes from Chapter 4, “Writing Collaboratively,” and it provides students and the instructor with an excellent opportunity to address communication related to conflict and establish a class-wide (or team-wide) policy:

Your technical-communication instructor has organized you into groups of three in which you will collaborate on a series of projects throughout the semester. Before your first assignment is due, you learn that one team member must deal with a family emergency that will interfere with his ability to participate in the project for some time. Now, you and your other teammate must devise a plan to proceed with this project. You also decide to propose a classwide policy for communicating with teammates when problems arise. TO get started on your assignment, go to “Cases” under “Additional Resources” in Ch. 4: macmillanhighered.com/Launchpad/techcomm11e. (p. 79)

Cultural Relevance

Cultural consideration and ethical communication are woven throughout the textbook. Part 1 examines ethical, cross-cultural communication and principles for ethical communication are outlined. At its conclusion, brief attention is given to the roles of gender and culture in collaboration. In part 2, communication across cultures receives heavier attention as part of the writer’s rhetorical concerns. Part 3 gives brief attention to simplified English for nonnative speakers, and the preparing of text for translation is examined. Part 4 introduces different genres of technical communication, and cultural awareness is woven into many of the exercises.  One example that combines cultural awareness and the creation and rhetorical analysis of visual communication comes from Chapter 11:

As an employee in the educational information office in the U.S. Department of Education, you have been asked by your supervisor to design a flyer for international students hoping to complete graduate school in the United States. She’s given you a text document with all of the relevant information; it’s your job to turn that information into a visually appealing flyer that will catch students’ attention. Your supervisor has asked you to write her a memo before you begin, describing and defending the design you have in mind. To get started designing your flyer, go to “Cases” under “Additional Resources” in Ch. 11 a macmillianhighered.com/Launchpad/techcomm11e. (p. 293)

Conclusions 

While fact that 11 editions have been published since 2007 may be disconcerting to the cash-strapped student and the overburdened instructor, Mike Markel’s 11th edition of Technical Communication is arguably a relevant, extremely well designed and supplemented textbook that is appropriate for an introductory undergraduate technical writing course taught by rookie and veteran instructors alike. At its core is its argument for the rhetorical concerns of audience, purpose, and ethics, and these are explored in detail through readings, exercises, case studies, and writer’s checklists. Its heavy emphasis on technical communication in the digital sphere (e.g., websites, wikis, microblogs) and supplemental online tools/resources address the modern demands of the field. Although most of the activities and projects offer hypothetical situated learning experiences within industry, they provide the instructor with opportunities to bridge the gap between in academy and industry in the local community, offering students a useful balance of both theory and practice.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s