© 2009-2010 Ugur Akinci
The only thing I do not like about this series of books is their name: “… for Dummies!” Nobody likes to be addressed as a “dummy.”
But having said that, I also have to admit that most Dummies books are well written. I do not always enjoy the kind of “obligatory humor” included in the Dummies books but in general they are comprehensive. They cover the basics of a topic pretty good. And so does this one: Technical Writing for Dummies by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts.
The chapters include 1] Accelerating your career the “write” way, 2] The person to whom you’re speaking. 3] Creating a team and a plan, 4] Don’t be a draft dodger, 5] Visualize this!, 6] Going in for a tone up, 7] Dotting the eyes and crossing the tees, 8] The ultimate user manual, 9] Writing in the abstract, 10] Writing spec sheets, 11] How am I doing? That is the question(naire), 12] I came, I spoke, I conquered, 13] Executive sum-upmanship, 14] Doing_research_online.com 15] Sights and sounds, 16] Computer-based training (CBT), 17] Web-based training: CBT on steroids, 18] Creating online help, 19] Ten ways to make your technical documents shout “Read Me!”, 20] Ten tips for Publishing in a Technical Journal, 21] Ten things to know about filing a patent, 22] Ten tips for writing a grant proposal, Appendix A] Punctuation made easy, Appendix B] Grammar’s not grueling, Appendix C] Abbreviations and metric equivalents, Appendix D] Technical jabberwocky, Index.
Among the things that I liked in this book are the gray-screened sidebars that give you in-depth personal takes and important tips about the subject discussed. For example, the sidebar on “Writing a White Paper” inside the chapter on “Publishing a Technical Journal” is short but useful and to the point.
Chapters 3 and 4 should be read by all technical writers preparing a Documentation Plan (and all should have such a plan before typing the first word in their text editor). There is a good list of questions that you need to ask while preparing a technical document. You might enjoy the section on “Brown-paper editing” and adopt it as a useful visualization and low-tech collective editing technique.
Chapter 5 is one of my favorites since it addresses one of my beloved topics: visualization of technical information. The typology of graphics provided is useful and thought-inspiring.
Chapter 8 gives the shortest thumbnail sketch of a user manual’s anatomy that I’ve seen anywhere.
One chapter I regard as redundant is Chapter 14 which aims to teach you how to make research on the Internet. Since you are reading this blog post, I’m sure you’re already pretty good at that to start with. Plus, such printed information gets obsolete very quickly anyway. For example, when I checked the web site quoted in the book for “Society of Documentation Professionals,” it took me to a Chinese web site on skin care and makeup! Oops… But that’s normal. There’s no way for a book published way back in 2001 to keep up with the pace of the Internet.
The two chapters on creating training modules are pretty good, reflecting the expertise the writer has in e-learning and online training. We can all certainly benefits from such content.
Some of the stuff (like grammar and punctuation for which some so-called “Technical Writing Programs” are charging a hundred dollars or more) are appropriately delegated to two appendices.
If you are a beginner, you can learn much from this book. At $19.95 it’s a good bargain and I’m sure it’s even cheaper on Amazon. Recommended as a general introduction to the technical writing field.
(Do you have a book that needs review? Please send a note through the Comment box.)