IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication
Special Issue Focus: Technical Communication and Usability Studies
Deadline for Proposals: December 1, 2008
Brian Still, Texas Tech University
Michael J. Albers, East Carolina University
Some important, recent scholarship on usability studies has called for a
revamping of the methods we use when testing more complex systems  or
has encouraged us to develop a collaborative knowledge space so that we
might better share our approaches and data . Still other scholarship
has focused on the usability profession. Lund asserts that we are
entering a postmodern usability era that requires a reassessment of our
disciplinary purpose . Johnson, Salvo, and Zoetewey, writing in the
IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, call for a better
balance in usability studies between empirical observation and rhetoric,
arguing that technical communicators are best suited to deal with the
challenges of such a new approach .
As teachers, practitioners, and scholars, how can technical
communicators contribute to such a new approach, to the evaluation of
more complex systems, to the more open exchange of data and methods, to
the redefinition of the usability profession? Answers to these questions
about the roles, the impact, and the contributions of technical
communicators to the changing face of the usability profession will be
the focus of this special issue. For this special issue, we encourage
articles that describe and analyze approaches to teaching, testing,
analyzing, or managing usability studies—approaches that involve
technical communicators making unique or novel contributions to
Possible examples for paper topics could include but are not limited to
- Analysis of the ways that the technical communicator-turned-usability
tester differs from the HCI specialist or the cognitive
- Arguments about the extent to which usability is a core element of
technical communicator knowledge and examinations of how degree programs
- Methods and approaches to teaching usability in technical
communication courses (see IEEE-TPC’s tutorial and teaching case features).
- Methods of measuring users’ comprehension of complex material and
ensuring maximal comprehension.
- Methods of developing usability tests that are appropriate for a
specific domain and that account for users’ lack of domain knowledge.
- Ways to design usability tests that account for the knowledge of the
main audience as well as the needs of advanced-knowledge audiences.
- Examinations of domain experts’ retrieval and use of information on
the web and best practices for designing usability tests for this
audience and these tasks.
- New methods required for evaluating complex systems (e.g., health care
situations, resources allocated among many projects (intelligence
analysis of multiple sources of data, customer service working across
multiple technologies and/or cultures) .
- Reevaluations of usability in light of visual analytics, i.e., using
interactive visual interfaces to conduct analytical reasoning and
complex knowledge work.
- Community websites as complex sites that require new usability approaches.
- Descriptions and analyses of the ways that domain experts perceive
complexity and simplicity in unique production environments, such as
If you have any questions, contact one of the guest editors of this
special issue: Brian Still ([log in to unmask]) or Michael Albers
([log in to unmask]).
December 1, 2008 Proposals due to the guest editors Brian Still
([log in to unmask]) or Michael Albers ([log in to unmask])
June 10, 2009 Complete manuscripts due for review
September, 2010 Publication of the special issue
 J. Redish, “Expanding usability testing to evaluate complex
systems,” Journal of Usability Studies, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 102–111, 2007.
 C.B. Kreitzberg, “Can collaboration help redefine usability?”
Journal of Usability Studies, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 109–111, 2006.
 A. M. Lund, “Post-modern usability.” Journal of Usability Studies,
vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1–6, 2006.
 R. Johnson, M. Salvo, and M. Zoetewey, “User-centered technology in
participatory culture: Two decades ‘beyond a narrow conception of
usability testing,’” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication,
vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 320–332, 2007.
Dr. Michael J. Albers
2110 Bate Building
East Carolina University
Greenville NC 27858
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