A Technical Writer’s Bookshelf

Books. Yes, real books.  Black and white ink printed on paper.  I am a purist and one of the last remaining proponents of reading actual books.  No matter how cool, convenient, or affordable the eReaders get, I refuse to ever get one.  I like the experience of physically holding a book, turning the page, and writing notes in the margins.

I take books with me on airplanes and when everyone else has to turn off their electronic devices, I can still keep reading.  The battery on my book will never die, the hard drive will never crash, and water spilled on it will not ruin it. In fact, the older and more wear and tear that a book has makes it more valuable to me because it shows the character of the book.

Call me a curmudgeon, call me old fashioned, I don’t care.  One of my favorite things in life is the smell of an old book.  I love walking into a used bookstore, picking up a first edition, opening it to the middle, and planting my face in between its pages.  The smell of an old book takes me away to a different time when there was a slower pace of life.  You just can’t get that from a kindle.

So naturally at my desk at work, I have a bookshelf that is chock-full of paperback and hardcover books. Below is a list of the books on my shelf at work, which I believe to be a Technical Writer’s bread and butter.  I reference many of these books on a daily basis.

Style Reference Books

  1. Microsoft Manual of Style – Fact. Every technical communicator should have a copy of this book. It is 100% essential to producing quality (and correct) end-user documentation.
  2. Chicago Manual of Style – Goes hand-in-hand with the Microsoft one.
  3. AP StyleBook – If you are doing any sort of journalism or writing articles, you need a copy of this to reference as well.  These two styles are completely different and it is extremely valuable to know the difference.
  4. The Elements of Style By William Strunk, Elwyn Brooks White – The quintessential style reference book. Another must-have for any style of writing.
  5. HTML Manual of Style – Good for anyone who works with HTML.
  6. Merriam-Websters Dictionary and Thesaurus – Even though the internet can rapidly define almost any word, I still use this because it is more accurate.

Web Design/Usability/User Interface Books

  1. Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability By Steve Krug  – If you are working in web design in any capacity, this book is a must-have.
  2. How to Design and Write Web Pages Today By Karl Stolley – A really good approach to writing web sites by today’s standards.
  3. User Interface Design for Programmers by Joel Spolsky – a little more technical than the others, but it provides a ton of great information.
  4. The Design of Everyday Things By Donald Norman – A great book that will forever change the way you think about design.
  5. Head First HTML, CSS, & XHTML – This is a phenomenal book that teaches even the most non-tech savvy person how to make websites from scratch.  I love the Head First books because they present the information in such a user-friendly and easy to understand way. I highly, highly recommend.
  6. Head First Javascript By Morrison
  7. Head First jQuery By Benedetti & Cranley
  8. Adobe Classroom in a Book: InDesign – I highly recommend these books if you are going to teach yourself how to use the Adobe Creative Suite.  Their instructions are very good and they come with CDs.
  9. Adobe Classroom in a Book: Illustrator
  10. Adobe Classroom in a Book: Dreamweaver
  11. Writing Effective Use Cases by Cockburn – If you’ve never written a use case before, you will benefit from this book.
  12. Software Engineering: A Practitioner’s Approach by Pressman – This is a good book if you are new to Software Development (as I am).

Marketing & PR Books

  1. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore – This book explains the Technology Adoption Curve that I talked about in an earlier post.  It is really interesting and helps you understand how the general public encounters new technology.
  2. Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore – This book explains more about the chasm as well as going into detail about Value Propositions.
  3. The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era By Theressa Iezzi


I also have the Hunger Games series on my shelf.  Because, it is one of the best fictional series I have ever read.  Fabulous.  I highly recommend it.  Fiction is my favorite genre of books to read for pleasure.  I usually buy paperback or hardcovers, but I also occasionally will listen to an audio book from Audible on my iPod at the gym or on cd in my car from an audio book I checked out from the library (yes, people still check out books from the library).  I am starting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series this week.  What’s on your bookshelf?

My Top 20 Tracks of 2011

As someone who is at a computer for 8-10 hours a day on average, I need a couple of things to be productive at work: dual monitors, granola bars, and music.  I have a constant stream of music going in my headphones all day long.  I started using my ipod, then discovered Pandora, then moved on to Grooveshark, and have recently stumbled upon Spotify and I haven’t looked back. 

I am interested in many different genres of music, but in the last decade I have been more and more interested in indie music.  It started out slow, with Modest Mouse and the like in the early 2000’s, but now I am a full-fledged indie lover.  It’s practically all that I listen to.  I think 2011 was one of the best years for this genre, so I have compiled a list of my top 20 tracks in the last year.

I’m sure that once this list is posted I will discover 5 new bands that had amazing songs last year that I didn’t know about, but that’s what I love about indie music… there are always “new to me” bands out there to stumble upon.  In fact, before anyone barks at me for being inaccurate, a couple of these tracks are older than 2011, but the point is that I discovered them last year, therefore they go in my best of 2011 list (I make the list, I  make the rules).

I love indie music for so many reasons, but mostly, it makes me feel good.  Most of it is upheat, happy, and energetic.  The lyrics are some of the most poetic and meaningful too.  Many of these songs speak to me and reach me on a personal level. It makes the work day go faster and makes me work more productively.  I really disagree with the argument that there “hasn’t been any good music out since the 90’s.”  I think people just don’t react well to a change in styles.    If you trust my taste in anything, trust my taste in music and give a couple of these tracks a listen.  If you aren’t an indie music lover, you might be pleasantly surprised how addicting some of these songs can be.  If you are an indie music lover, what do you think of my list?  Are there any on your list that I should listen to?

  1. “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men on Into the Woods, 2011
  2. “Simple Song” by The Shins on Simple Song, 2011
  3. “How’d You Like That (Happy)” by The Kooks on Junk of the Heart, 2011
  4. “Midnight City” by M83 on Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, 2011
  5. “So American” by Portugal. The Man on In the Mountain in the Cloud, 2011
  6. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye, Kimbra on Making Mirrors, 2011
  7. “If Ever I Stray” by Frank Turner on England Keep My Bones, 2011
  8. “5 Years Time” by Noah and The Whale on Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, 2008
  9. “I Follow Rivers” by Kykke Li on Wounded Rhymes, 2010
  10. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine on Ceremonials, 2011 (really, this whole album – it’s just amazing)
  11. “Turning Tables” by Adele on 21, 2011 (this whole album too)
  12. “Call It What You Want” by Foster The People on Torches, 2011 (entire album too)
  13. “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove on Never Trust a Happy Song, 2011
  14. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes on Fleet Foxes, 2008
  15. “Undercover Martyn” by Two Door Cinema Club on Tourist History, 2010
  16. “Punching in a Dream” by The Naked and Famous on Passive Me, Aggressive You, 2011
  17. “You are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie on Codes and Keys, 2011
  18. “Young Blood” by The Naked and Famous on Passive Me, Aggressive You, 2011
  19. “Lonely Boy” by The Black Keys on Lonely Boy, 2011
  20. “What You Know” by Two Door Cinema Club on Tourist History, 2010
  21. (bonus) “Giving Up The Gun” by Vampire Weekend on Contra, 2010 (I just couldn’t leave them off the list)
  22. (bonus) “Animal” by Mike Snow on Mike Snow, 2010 (ok I’ll stop adding songs now – there are just sooo many good ones!)