I received a note from Microsoft Press yesterday to let me know that Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out had received a technical publications award. The note said:
“Every year, Microsoft Press enters our highest quality titles from the past year into the Technical Publications competition hosted by our local chapter of the Society for Technical Communications (STC). Entries are evaluated on rigorous standards for information design, use and appearance of visual elements, usability, writing and editing, and how well the publication meets the needs of the intended audience.
We’ve received the results from the 2011 competition, and I am pleased to inform you that Microsoft® Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out received a Distinguished award in the Informational Materials category. Distinguished is the highest level of award granted in the competition and signifies very high competence in technical communication. It also means that your book is eligible to be entered into the International competition.”
Now, I have no idea about the importance of this award within the technical publication community (in other words, does anyone care) or the process used to assess entries. However, I do know that “Distinguished” is the top-level award, so that’s good. I also assume that the decision is made on the basis of a review of the publication aspects of the book by at least two independent judges because I received two reports from “judge A” and “judge B”. These reports were very interesting because they help shape ideas for future books.
The criteria used include:
- Organization and content scope (see screen shot below)
- Information design – visual appeal; typography; artwork; consistency of design implementation
- Navigation – table of contents; signposts and cues (headings, etc.); index
- Writing – audience and purpose; technical vocabulary; capitalization, spelling, and punctuation; grammar and syntax; consistency
- Essentials of style – word choice (diction); clarity and conciseness; tone (attitude of writer to audience)
The judges didn’t understand much of the technical material being presented so they can only judge from the perspective of an uninformed person who picks up the book rather than an Exchange professional who wants to find details how something particular works.
I found it interesting that so much attention is paid to writing skills because that’s certainly not something that seems to be highly valued in many third-level courses today, possibly because people believe that it’s more important to get information out than worry about how words and sentences are structured, whether spelling is correct, and if the topic being explained is covered in a clear manner rather than obscured in obtuse text.
It’s also interesting that huge value is seen in well-done indexes. Some publishers have tried to convince me that short-cuts are possible when building indexes for technical books. I don’t agree at all. I also like that focus and attention is put on how books are laid out, the typography, and how things like tips and screen shots are integrated with the general body of text.
I learned a lot from the assessments and wish that a similar job had been done on previous books. It reinforced the need for many quality inputs that are required to produce good books – writing, technical editing, copy editing, indexing, production and layout, and printing. A book suffers if you fail in any of these inputs and I’m just glad that Microsoft Press did such a splendid job in helping to publish Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out.
Now on to the next book, whenever that might be…