Friday, February 17, 2006

Speaking of many texts...

Debbie Hawhee recently posted about finishing a chapter manuscript (congrats!). What I enjoyed about her post was the picture of her desk (re"printed" below). It's a great, familiar image of academic writing and it reveals a lot of details about familiar composing processes. Some of what I notice in such pictures are things like:
  • Post-It note bookmarks to help find key places in the text
  • Folders for grouping like/related info
  • Is it a Swingline? Also for keeping related texts together
  • The invevitable photocopied journal articles
  • Spiral notebook for creating new texts
  • Calendar, for coodinating the production of text over time
  • A buncha Burke
  • A folder organizer to help stage texts for later use (ditto the row of books)
  • Crumpled paper -- an unsuccessful text?
  • The Computer -- where it all comes together

About the creation of new texts... I think we often create "ancillary" texts when writing -- they're not the thing we're writing but something we have to create *toward* the thing we're writing.

What we can't see (here) is what all happened on-screen (like the "100+ footnotes" etc.). My desk is often relatively clean, because many of my texts are electronic. That's why I used screen-capture software when studying writing [example, 19M].

T.C. in the wild...

My friend Carrie Gilbert, a user-experience designer for White Horse spotted a textual coordination problem in the wild! She shared it with me…

cowboyboo: oh hey, I witnessed *textual coordination* the other day… and then proposed improvements to an online app to decrease the number of texts the user was dependent upon. I was *very excited*
Shaun: no way!
cowboyboo: it was funny, too, she saw no problem with it…
: "well, the app only does x, so then I go into SQL and run a query, and size that window beside this spreadsheet, and ...
: lol. so, really, did you stop and go, "This is a problem of textual coordination and I bet there’s a way to co-locate the text" or something like that?
: well, not quite like that, because although I'm a nerd, I'm not as big of one as *you* ;) ...
: few are
: I think I said, "wow, you're juggling a lot there, it would be great if we could display more of that data you need right there in the app so that you don't have to rely on so much stuff" or something
What made me particularly excited was some verification that spotting such problems creates an opportunity for intervention. By seeing textual coordination as a “thing” people do, we can intervene strategically to improve composing processes. Although, the statement "she saw no problem with it" seems to indicate a high threshold for coordination. Is it something we just learn to cope with? Does coordinating many texts impact the task? (I suspect so, but...)

Anyway, it made my day.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Online Presentation

I'm giving a virtual presentation for the 2006 Computers & Writing Conference. My project page has all the info, but here's a quick link to a quicktime movie (5.7M) I made of my powerpoint slides with a little help from Camtasia. Love that software.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Simple Instructions

I teach technical writing (among other things). Creating a set of instructions is a pretty typical assignment and I've become fascinated with them. Here's two of my recent favorites...

The instructions for Pong, the first video game: "Avoid missing ball for high score."

And the two rules for sumo wrestling, according to Jason at Signal vs. Noise. [Update: How 'bout these from Nataliedee?]


One of my favorite things about technology is people's ability to use it in unexpected ways. I admire the hacker ethos. It's what leads Johndan to use Google as a spelling checker and me to turn on all the cell borders in Excel to quickly print graph paper. Here's a nifty nifty solution to not having a ruler when you need one:

printable paper rulers

[link: swissmiss; image:]

Oh, and there's online graph paper... much better than my Excel hack. Thanks cooltools.