Online groups, summer 2011
A member wants to improve her graphic design skills. She is specially interested in graphic design for technical manuals. What makes a graphic good instead of only average? What are the principles of graphic design?
Members recommended the following books:
- The Non-Designer's Design & Type Book by Robin Williams, ISBN: 978-0-321-53405-7. Although the book is not about technical publications, it has useful design guidelines.
- All books by Edward Tufte are good. Tufte's books are expensive, but they do not become out-of-date. In particular, read Visual Explanations (1997).
- Dynamics in Document Design by Karen Schriver deals with the cognitive processes that are related to layout and graphics.
- A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web by Mark Boulton explains basic graphic design principles that apply to all fields (www.fivesimplesteps.com/books/practical-guide-designing-for-the-web).
Andrew Mundi has a good introduction to graphic design: www.designconsolidated.com.au/graphic-design-principles/.
What are the guidelines for the typography of scientific and technical symbols? For example, what is the usual letter space between a value and an abbreviation of a unit?
- The National Physical Laboratory has a short checklist (www.npl.co.uk/reference/measurement-units/si-conventions/)
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology has detailed information (www.nist.gov/pml/pubs/sp811/index.cfm)
- Quantities, Units and Symbols, published by the Symbols Committee of the Royal Society in 1971 is old but useful.
To produce useful output with only the DITA Open Toolkit is difficult. Tools help you to obey the XML schema. Members suggested the following tools:
- oXygen XML Editor (www.oxygenxml.com)
- XMLmind XML Editor (www.xmlmind.com)
- Arbortext Editor with Arbortext Styler (www.ptc.com/product/arbortext)
- FrameMaker (www.adobe.com)
- XMetaL (http://na.justsystems.com).
Many of the editors that support DITA include the DITA Open Toolkit. Therefore, you can create output 'out of the box'. If you can write script and have XSLT skills, then you can customize the DITA Open Toolkit.
In one search, Google gave 47 million results for 'touchscreen' and 118 million results for 'touch screen'. When a new noun is made from two words, what are the rules for spelling? For example, is the correct spelling 'touch screen', 'touch-screen', or 'touchscreen'? Another member bought a PC with a touch-sensitive screen. The US website used 'touchscreen', but the UK website used 'touch screen'.
Usually, first the words are not connected, then they have a hyphen, and finally, they become one word.
Technical communication must be clear. If the two existing words that make the compound noun each have many meanings, confusion is possible. Therefore, make sure that the new thing is clearly different from the two existing words. The words 'touch' and 'screen' are both verbs and nouns:
- Compare 'the light touch' and 'touch the light'.
- Compare 'the data screen' and 'screen the data'.
Confusion is possible, specially for people who do not use English as a first language. Technical communicators must minimize the possibility of confusion. Therefore, 'touchscreen' and 'touch-screen' are satisfactory, but 'touch screen' is not satisfactory.
To improve some old websites, a member wants to use a content management system (CMS) instead of HTML and CSS. He wants a flexible design, a good range of templates, and the option to change colours and backgrounds. Additionally, the CMS must be easy to learn and easy to use.
Members recommended the following CMSs:
- WordPress is simple to use and is good for publishing content (http://wordpress.org). However, the options are more restricted than other CMSs. Sometimes, free WordPress templates contain hidden links to dangerous websites. If the security options are not set correctly, the website will be easy to attack.
- Joomla! is more complex than WordPress and has more options than WordPress (www.joomla.org). To use Joomla!, you need some technical ability.
- Drupal is the most complex CMS (http://drupal.org). Drupal is difficult to learn. Additionally, to import existing content is difficult.
One member uses Blogger to link two separate blogs to her website (www.blogger.com). The member thinks that Blogger can be used for a template-based website. Blogger is easy to use, and has many templates.
A CMS is good if you manage and publish much content. However, a CMS can restrict options, and you need time to learn to use the CMS.