Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 1999

Book Reviews

How to Write & Present Technical Information

Andrea Kross
Interim Catalog Librarian Captain John Smith Library
Christopher Newport University

How to Write & Present Technical Information. 3rd ed. Charles H. Sides. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1999. 209 pp. $24.95 (ISBN 1-57356-133-9)

The author is a professor of communications media at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts. He has been a consultant for various international defense and high-tech clients, and has written several books and articles on communications topics. Dr. Sides is also the executive editor of the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and the editor of the Baywood Series in Technical Communication.

The first edition of this book was titled How to Write Papers and Reports About Computer Technology. As this title and its succeeding title suggest, How to Write & Present Technical Information is a how-to guide for technical writing. It is aimed at managers, engineers and developers in high-tech industries. Topics include definitions of the writer, the audience, and high quality documents; how to get organized; how to use graphics; and how to write introductions, conclusions, and different types of documents, such as specifications, procedures, reports, and memos. The last part discusses how to give presentations and how to conduct effective meetings.

The third edition has two new parts: one describes how to write and design for multimedia applications, the Internet, and the World Wide Web; and the other explains how to write public relations, marketing, and advertising documents. The chapter on graphics has a new section for online documents. The other chapters have been reworded slightly, and the suggested readings at the end of each chapter have been expanded.

The book is well organized. Chapter titles are very descriptive, allowing the reader to find what he needs by scanning the table of contents, or by consulting the index written by Virgil Diodato. However, topics are covered briefly and sometimes superficially, and rarely include detailed explanations of how to do what the chapter title promises. For example, Chapter 21: How to Design and Write for the World Wide Web is four pages long, with the conclusion and suggested readings taking up almost half of the fourth page; there are entire books on this topic alone. Sides gives common sense suggestions, occasionally distilling practical advice in bullet format. While these checklists of do's and don'ts are useful for the technical writer who has a pending deadline, the lack of detail may prove frustrating for some readers.

Since Sides' book is not intended as a manual for students or researchers, academic libraries will do better to order more complete reference sources aimed at a broader audience, such as The MIT Guide to Science and Engineering Communication (1997, 290 pp.) by James G. Paradis and Muriel Zimmerman, or Judith VanAlstyne's Professional and Technical Writing Strategies: Communicating in Technology and Science (4th ed., 1999, 673 pp.).

Libraries that have the second edition of How to Write & Present Technical Information will be equally impressed by the third. Best for libraries in high-tech corporations.


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