Reviewed: May 2015
Well, I’m neither a writer (the odd thing for the ACCU journals apart), nor an editor. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book for anyone who writes software that has any sort of user interface. I was expecting a fairly dry text, reflecting the dry text that is most technical documentation. That isn’t what I found. I had jumped to the conclusion that ‘Technical Information’ equates to ‘User Guide and Technical Reference’. This book does cover ‘Technical Information’ in the widest sense. Early in the book, the authors state that the large majority of users don’t read the manuals, and either ask colleagues or search for information on Google. So in order to convey the information required to use software a significant part of this book covers GUI design and usability (with the emphasis on style, consistency, progressive disclosure, tooltips and contextual help). Another chapter that is ‘modern’ and far from dusty printed manuals is one covering search and information retrieval.
The tone is not prescriptive. There are a lot of guidelines, and many examples, in particular examples of poor interfaces and documentation followed by one or two improved versions, with the accompanying text pointing out the problems in the original and why the changes improve things. There is a fairly strong emphasis on conveying information in a way that is task oriented and minimalist. The final chapter on testing and reviewing was a nice rounded ending to the book.
There are a couple of chapters on clarity and style that fell into the classic tech writing stereotype that I half expected, but even these were concise and quite pleasant to read. Altogether a thoroughly professional piece of work.