A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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Visual rhetoric is the study of how document design (including the use of illustrations, charts and graphs, typography and layout) communicate, as opposed to aural or verbal messages. Visual rhetoric examines also the relationship between images and writing.



A Manifesto for Slow Communication  (link broken)

We need context in order to live, and if the environment of electronic communication has stopped providing it, we shouldn't search online for a solution but turn back to the real world and slow down. To do this, we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from effi­ciency, pause and step back enough to realize that efficiency may be good for business and governments but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships.

Freeman, John. Wall Street Journal, The (2009). Articles>Communication>Technology>Rhetoric


The Abductive Inference: An Effective Tool for Science Communication

Suggests that the interrelated skills of understanding and representing (re-presenting) the abductive inference (often neglected in technical and professional communication pedagogy) are critical for the scientific communicator vis-a -vis kairos, and that science communication instructors ought to develop a pedagogy that includes the instruction of this skill.

Graham, S. Scott. Orange Journal, The (2005). Articles>Scientific Communication>Rhetoric


The Abstract Trap: Why Abstracts Are Bad for Persuasive White Papers

Abstracts, also known as executive summaries, are bad. As a matter of fact, they are really bad, and I stand nearly alone in my opinion. Abstracts are those summaries that typically stand in front of the core content of a white paper. They tend to include the key points about the white paper.

Stelzner, Michael A. WhitePaperSource (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>White Papers


Abstraction: Making the Complex Easier to Understand  (link broken)   (PDF)

How can we make difficult concepts easier to grasp? Hart explores abstraction and how it can be used to clarify both simple and complex ideas.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2006). Articles>TC>Rhetoric


An Academic Strikes Back: Transgressing the Genre of Bureaucracy

The rhetorical event described in this article shows that the rhetor can introduce an alien genre into a community of practice and createa kairotic moment.

Tachino, Tosh. Newsletter of the CASLL (2003). Articles>Language>Rhetoric


Accessible Rhetoric

A website devoted to exploring accessibility at the intersection of technology and rhetoric. The cornerstone of the site is, at least for now, a study of accessible podcasting.

Zdenek, Sean. Accessible Rhetoric. Resources>Accessibility>Rhetoric>Blogs


The Accomplishment of Authority Through Presentification: How Authority Is Distributed Among and Negotiated by Organizational Members   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The complex distribution and negotiation of authority in real time is a key issue for today's organizations. The authors investigate how the negotiations that sustain authority at work actually unfold by analyzing the ways of talking and acting through which organizational members establish their authority. They argue that authority is achieved through presentification—that is, by making sources of authority present in interaction. On the basis of an empirical analysis of a naturally occurring interaction between a medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières and technicians of a hospital supported by her organization, the authors identify key communicative practices involved in achieving authority and discuss their implications for scholars' understanding of what being in authority at work means.

Benoit-Barné, Chantal and François Cooren. Management Communication Quarterly (2009). Articles>Management>Organizational Communication>Rhetoric


Activity Theory

Activity theory was developed in the Soviet Union. The philosophical underpinnings of this theory include the ideas of Hegel and Kant, as well as the theory of dialectical materialism developed by Marx and Engels. The theory evolved from the work of Vygotsky as he formulated a new method of studying thought and consciousness. Vygotsky was working on this theory at a time when the prevalent dominant psychological theories were based on reflexology (stimulus-response - which was later developed into behaviorism) and psychoanalysis. Reflexology attempted to ban consciousness by reducing all psychological phenomena to a series of stimulus-response chains.

Mappin, David, Michele Kelly, Bonnie Skaalid and Sharon Bratt. University of Alberta. Academic>Course Materials>Theory>Rhetoric


Activity Theory and Rhetoric of Empowerment: A Framework for Disaster  (link broken)

This paper focuses on multiple theoretical perspectives that can be combined to provide a framework for analyzing systems under stress. The first section presents an overview of the underlying theories that were used in an application study to illustrate tensions stemming from an imbalance of power in a complex system involving multiple activity systems.

Hurt, Kyle. We Heart Theory (2009). Articles>TC>Rhetoric>Activity Theory


Activity Theory: A Versatile Framework for Workplace Research  (link broken)   (PDF)

During the past decade activity theory has attracted a small but influential group of researchers in two fields that contribute to theory and research in technical communication: human-computer interaction and composition studies. In my STC-sponsored research into electronic editing in technical communication, I am applying activity theory to provide a coherent explanatory perspective on the findings of the qualitative portion of my study. This paper provides a brief introduction to activity theory and applies its analytical framework to help make sense of the qualitative data I gathered on electronic editing practices and attitudes in three different technical communication workplaces.

Dayton, David. STC Proceedings (2000). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory>Activity Theory


Activity Theory: Basic Concepts and Applications  (link broken)

This tutorial introduces participants to Activity Theory, a conceptual approach that provides a broad framework for describing the structure, development, and context of computer-supported activities. The tutorial will consist of lectures, discussion and small group exercises. A Web community will be established so attendees will be able to continue to learn about and use activity theory.

Kaptelinin, Victor and Bonnie A. Nardi. ACM SIGCHI (1997). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>Theory>Rhetoric


Adding an Informal Touch to Organizational Communication

Some say it's a revolution that will change radio broadcasting and people's listening habits forever. Others say it's a fad that's of limited appeal or use to anyone but geeks and enthusiasts. Whatever anyone says, something that has rocketed out of nowhere and gotten big companies and radio stations alike interested (and after only eight months) must be worth investigating. That "something" is called podcasting.

Hobson, Neville. Communication World Bulletin (2005). Articles>Business Communication>Rhetoric>Workplace


"Advanced Composition" And Occasion-Sensitivity

As writing teacher but also freelance writer and editor, I rejoice to see current advanced composition textbooks emphasize sensitivity to occasion. For real-world writing profoundly requires audience-awareness. Out there, students will not be writing yet another typical theme for the teacher, concerned mainly with correctness. Nor will they be writing expressively, concerned mainly with self and authenticity. They must be writing for the occasion, to achieve specific purpose with specific readers, and hence must be concerned with effectiveness above all. But what about actual current classroom practice on this point?

Beck, James P. JAC (1981). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Advocating Plain Language: Thom Haller Discusses The Need For Clarity  (link broken)

Plain language is clear, concise, and straightforward presentation of information. It is professional content structured to eliminate ambiguity and confusion in technical, government, and legal documents. Plain language allows readers to fully comprehend complex regulations, practices and instructions by requiring the language of bureaucracy to reflect the language of everyday speech.

Haller, Thom. Rockley Bulletin (2007). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Aesthetic Experience and the Importance of Visual Composition  (link broken)

When considering the design of information and information structures, the focus tends to gravitate to general issues of content, information hierarchies, and in some instances, system usability. In discussions concerning system usability and human factors, the issue of the user experience, or overall aesthetic experience, with regard to a specific information structure is rarely addressed. Things such as the 'look and feel' of a website, for example, may get some attention by the designers and developers of the information structure, but the idea of 'look and feel' is essentially an issue of how to 'decorate' the information. Too often, when software developers or usability engineers discuss 'look and feel,' they do not consider it to be an integral part of the information design structure but an additive element applied only after the structure and content of the information have been resolved. What seems to be lacking in information design is a concern for the visual composition of information.

Greenzweig, Tim. Orange Journal, The (2001). Design>Web Design>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Aesthetics Engage Language   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Although the medium of film, by virtue of its photographic process, is image-dominated, some of its finest efforts have been in re-presenting word-centric tales. The text—appealing to the intellect—is refashioned/reinvented into a medium appealing to the senses of sight and hearing, through the personal vision of an auteur/director who adapts material from the language of text to the language of film. Certainly technical considerations come into play, but the auteur’s choices are essentially aesthetic. In rendering words into images, he or she responds to the audiovisual aesthetic of film.

Ades, Sally. Lore (2003). Articles>Rhetoric>Aesthetics


The Affective Domain and the Writing Process: Working Definitions   (peer-reviewed)

Since the time of classical Greece, we have been accustomed to viewing humans as both thinking and feeling individuals. The dichotomy of cognition and affect is so ingrained in Western thought that it seems a natural one; the two elements have seldom, however, been deemed equally important in the scientific community. During the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, psychology gave primacy to affect; humans were thought to be at the mercy of various drives and passions. As behaviorism became more domiúnant in the field, affect was discounted; indeed, there were those who wished to exclude affect from scientific study altogether. More recently, with the ascendancy of cognitive psychology, humans have been viewed as problem-solvers whose thinking processes operate rather like a computer. Often in such a view, affect is seen as “a regrettable flaw in an otherwise perfect cognitive machine” (Scherer 293). But most researchers who study human behavior and human nature agree that the views of both extremes—emphasizing only affect or only cognition—are undesirable.

McLeod, Susan H. JAC (1991). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


Afraid of Freezing During a Presentation? Some Thoughts on Why We   (link broken)

In a memorable scene from the movie “8 Mile” the character played by rapper Eminem enters a competition and gets on stage to prove his prowess in front of a rowdy crowd. Using rhyme and rap, he must show his skill at cleverly putting down the reigning champion. Winning the contest could mean fame, fortune and a way out of his grimy, dead-end life. We know he’s up to it. In the preceding scenes he’s brilliant in front of his friends and the bathroom mirror. But when he faces the jeering crowd on the big night he freezes and is unable to speak. As the crowd chants “Choke! Choke!” he leaves the stage in shame. Freezing in front of an audience is every speaker’s worst nightmare. Eminem was clearly facing a hostile crowd. But why do some speakers freeze even when they are in front of an audience that is friendly and receptive?

Berkley, Susan. Presenters University (2003). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric


Aligning Theme and Information Structure To Improve The Readability Of Technical Writing   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The readability of technical writing, and technical manuals in particular, especially for second language readers, can be noticeably improved by pairing Theme with Given and Rheme with New. This allows for faster processing of text and easier access to the "method of development" of the text. Typical Theme-Rheme patterns are described, and the notion of the "point of a text" is introduced. These concepts are applied to technical writing and the reader is then invited to evaluate the improvements in readability in a small sample of texts.

Moore, N.A.J. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2006). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Rhetoric


Analysis of a Diagram

Just because you like something you created, it doesn't mean it's any good or you have a big ego. But it can be useful to stop and ponder something you did that you particularly like--so that you can understand your own design priorities a bit better.

Hughes, Michael A. Humane Experience, The (2010). Articles>User Experience>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


An Analysis of Failed Queries for Web Image Retrieval   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper examines a large number of failed queries submitted to a web image search engine, including real users' search terms and written requests. The results show that failed image queries have a much higher specificity than successful queries because users often employ various refined types to specify their queries. The study explores the refined types further, and finds that failed queries consist of far more conceptual than perceptual refined types. The widely used content-based image retrieval technique, CBIR, can only deal with a small proportion of failed queries; hence, appropriate integration of concept-based techniques is desirable. Based on using the concepts of uniqueness and refinement for categorization, the study also provides a useful discussion on the gaps between image queries and retrieval techniques. The initial results enhance the understanding of failed queries and suggest possible ways to improve image retrieval systems.

Pu, Hsiao-Tieh. Journal of Information Science (2008). Articles>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Search


The Analyzing the Apple: Persuasive Visual Rhetoric in the Campaign Literature of an Apple Party Candidate, St. Petersburg, Russia

In this article, I illustrate the essential role that visual rhetoric plays in a specific example of persuasive documentation. I focus narrowly on one element of persuasive visual rhetoric by examining the credibility of an Apple political candidacy flyer.

Herrington, TyAnna K. Argumentation (2000). Articles>Rhetoric>Policies and Procedures


Annual Report Graphic Use: A Review of the Literature   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Corporate annual reports typically include a narrative section and a financial section. The narrative section is not scrutinized by auditors as the financial section is, yet many readers rely heavily on its graphs to estimate the firm's financial situation. However, the graphs often misrepresent the financial data. To better understand annual report graphs' important role, this article examines more than 25 years of literature related to these four areas: (a) the ways financial graphs are prepared, used, and misinterpreted; (b) differences by country; (c) regulatory influences for accountants; and (d) the parts formatting and media selection decisions play in communication interpretation and persuasion. Across the literature, the author notes consensus that annual report graphs are widely used in many countries and that there is rampant disregard for the guidelines for their accurate, non-misleading presentation. The article concludes with seven proposed directions for future research.

Penrose, John M. JBC (2008). Design>Document Design>Business Communication>Visual Rhetoric


Anxiety and Public Speaking: What You Ought to Know

You think that you sound terrible but people who don’t know you don’t know that that’s not your normal voice. People who know you well may be able to perceive a slight difference. This is not to say that an audience doesn’t perceive anxiety at all – just that what they perceive is at a much lesser scale than you. The best way to convince yourself of this is to video yourself and then watch yourself.

Mitchell, Olivia. Speaking About Presenting (2010). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric


Anxiety In Action: Sullivan's Interpersonal Psychiatry as a Supplement to Vygotskian Psychology  (link broken)

Is there a way to deal with such psychiatric issues in a way that is consistent with the psychological theory of Vygotsky and his followers? Or do these issues represent a totally different subject matter belonging to the distinctive disciplines of psychiatry and clinical psychology, which use entirely different intellectual, investigative, and practical tools? Are Vygotskian approaches to being human in fact blind to major processes of human interpersonal development and to the consequences of that development for the social participation that Vygotsky identifies as the source of higher mental processes?

Bazerman, Charles. UCSB (1994). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory



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