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 Cubist Approach to Analyzing Interpretive Communities

Stanley Fish's theory of interpretive communities has been highly regarded for the past two decades. This paper deals with the idea of multiple interpretive communities as they relate to technical communicators. Technical communicators have a duty to use rhetorical devices and embedded structural cues to help readers identify the correct interpretive framework.

Connolly, Brianne. Orange Journal, The (2002). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


Cultural Differences in the Appreciation of Introductions of Presentations   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

On the basis of both established theories of the differences between cultures and recommendations in advice literature from different cultures, we believe that it is likely that cultures will differ in what they consider to be an effective introduction to a presentation. In this article, we report on an exploratory experimental study with 300 respondents in the Netherlands, France, and Senegal regarding their appreciation of and response to three introductions to a presentation about a mobile phone. The results show that the cultures differ with respect to the introduction they prefer. The Dutch respondents appreciated the overview most, while the French respondents preferred the ethical appeal, and research participants from Senegal preferred the anecdote. It is likely that the introduction that gains greatest attention and that best increases the ability to listen in a culture will be most appreciated in that culture.

Gerritsen, Marinel and Evelyn Wannet. Technical Communication Online (2005). Articles>Presentations>Cultural Theory>Rhetoric


Cut Big, Then Small

Precise and concise writing comes from disciplined cutting.

Clark, Roy Peter. Poynter Online (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Dabbling in Document Design

One of the advantages that print journalists have is that they learn document design on the job. Today, thanks to computers and design packages, design awareness is very high. Even the novice computer user becomes proficient in designing documents within a few days, if not weeks. Usually, templates are available for brochures, reports, books, etc. All you need to do is fill in the contents in the readymade template.

Kamath, Gurudutt R. IT People (2003). Articles>Document Design>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric


Dam Visuals: The Changing Visual Argument for the Glen Canyon Dam   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Arguments manifest in scientific visuals through graphic representation, content placement, and overall document structure. These arguments, designed to influence public perception, change over time in relation to sociopolitical climate. Analysis of a series of documents constructed deliberately to influence perception can help to determine patterns of argumentation and perceived exigencies. In this article, four self-guided tour brochures produced for distribution to visitors to the Glen Canyon Dam in 1977, 1984, 1990, and 1993 are analyzed in order to identify rhetorical strategies designed to influence public perceptions of the dam site, and examine how public perception of the dam, and related argumentation, is structured by sociopolitical climate.

Ross, Derek G. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2007). Articles>Scientific Communication>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


Dashboard Design 101

The explosion of information that analysts and executives must consume, as well as the increasing variety of sources from which that information comes, has boosted the popularity of information dashboards. Modeled after the dashboard of a car or airplane—which informs its operator about the status and operation of the vehicle they’re controlling at a glance—dashboard user interfaces provide a great deal of useful information to users at a glance. Typically, the role of an information dashboard is to quickly inform users and, thus, enable them to take immediate action.

Hughes, Michael A. UXmatters (2010). Articles>User Interface>Information Design>Visual Rhetoric


The Data Artist

Tufte shares Orwell's impatience with doublethink and humbuggery, his insight that bad thinking and bad expression travel in a pair, and his awareness that they are usually deployed in the service of some brand of propaganda.

Rosenberg, Scott. Salon (1997). Articles>Interviews>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Declarative Information in Software Manuals: What's the Use?   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Declarative information is often considered to be of little value to software manual users, for two reasons: some research results state that it is consistently skipped by users, and other research results show that declarative information does not enhance task performance. This study puts these conclusions to the test, because the research underlying them does not support such general conclusions. Two experiments are conducted to collect quantitative data about the selection and use of procedural and declarative information and to investigate whether or not the use of declarative information affects task performance and knowledge. A new technique for measuring information selection was developed for this purpose: the click and read method.

Ummelen, Nicole. ACM SIGDOC (2000). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric


Decorative Color as a Rhetorical Enhancement on the World Wide Web   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Professional communication scholars have defined the decorative narrowly and subordinated it to informational text. Yet, current psychological research indicates that decorative elements elicit emotion-laden reactions that may precede cognitive awareness and influence interpretation of images. We conceive the decorative in design, and specifically color, as a complex rhetorical phenomenon. Applying decorative and color theory and analyzing design examples illustrating aesthetic, ethical, and logical appeals, we present a range of potential uses for color in electronic media.

Richards, Anne R. and Carol David. Technical Communication Quarterly (2005). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Definitional Techniques

In the course of developing a report, essay, memo, etc. writers are often called upon to define their terms. Some of the more common definitional techniques used in professional and academic writing are described below.

Whitburn, Merrill. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Articles>Rhetoric


A Derridean Approach to Critical Reading: A MONSTER!

Hearing the term 'critical reading' provokes my composition students to lemon-pucker grimace and nervously shift in their seats as if a monster had suddenly appeared. They often gasp at the prospects of the composition course's planned future critical reading unit. They identify with theorist Jacques Derrida's poststructural (deconstruction) notion that 'the future is necessarily monstrous: the figure of the future, that is, that which can only be surprising, that for which [they] are not prepared, you see, is heralded by a species of monsters'. I do not try convincing students that texts are un-intimidating and that critical reading is an unthreatening process of merely examining specific dominant codes within texts that allow for predisposed meanings to occur. I rather tell students that texts are indeed monstrous and the process of critical reading is undeniably what Derrida terms 'a monster.' Considering then that a monster rears its head in the composition classroom, it is necessary to learn one possible way students may approach the wide-ranging process of critical reading. In this brief article, I attempt to discuss Jacques Derrida's definition of the 'monster' and how this definition may be applied to a practice of critically reading texts, appropriately expressed by the memorable acronym, 'A MONSTER.'

May, Talitha. Lore (2002). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


Design and Impressions

Design is subjective: You can't please all of the people all of the time.

Will-Harris, Daniel. eFuse (2000). Design>Web Design>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Design is Function   (PDF)

Good design, like good writing or editing, cart make or break a technical publication. Even if you know little about design us a discipline, as a technical communicator you employ it in every publication you produce. If technical communicstion is indeed the art that bridges the gap between people and technology, then understanding the function of design us an inherent element of communication is paramount. Design seeks 10 translate perceptions, goals, and desires through the manipulation of images and language. Design inspires understanding, is both an art and a science, and is good business. Design matters! The purpose of our presentation is to explore the relationship between design until technical communication and heighten the level of consciousness of the function of design.

DuBose, Mary E. and Deborah L. Baxley. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


The Design of World Wide Web Home Pages: Using Visuals to Establish Organizational Ethos   (PDF)

The World Wide Web presents information developers with the task of designing texts that will be accessed by multiple, global audiences. At the same time, Web technology presents developers with new design constraints. Therefore, Web text development warrants new design considerations. This paper presents an approach based on the rhetorical concept of ethos. Four visual design considerations—page grid, graphic files, icons, and text structure—are reviewed based on how decisions about each convey the ethos of the organization.

Hunt, Kevin. STC Proceedings (1995). Design>Web Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Designing Documents

The aim of this tutorial is to provide an introduction to typography. Typography is defined as: the art of designing printed matter; the appearance of printed matter. There are many different types of printed matter, books, brochures, newsletters and many more. This tutorial focuses on technical documents. Typography is relevant for user interface designers from two perspectives. Firstly, user interface design often includes the presentation of text on a display. Although typography is mainly concerned with printed matter, it provides valuable guidance for these situations. Secondly, user interface design involves to a large degree documenting and communicating designs, usually on paper. Knowledge of typography can aid this process.

HCIRN (2003). Design>Typography>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Developing Products and Their Rhetoric from a Single Hierarchical Model   (PDF)

Goal hierarchies are models that represent a set of problems or goals. Goal hierarchies can also represent the goals of a product, and the information that should be provided to explain the product. A single goal hierarchy can direct the design of both the product and all rhetoric about the product. Goal hierarchies can direct the design and ordering of the tasks required to build the product. They can also define the structure and order of its accompanying text, online help, hypertext, training, and customer support heuristic. Goal hierarchies were used to enhance development of a specific Department of Veterans Affairs information product and its accompanying rhetoric.

White, Basil J. STC Proceedings (1996). Presentations>Rhetoric>TC


Developing the Political Perspective on Technological Change Through Rhetorical Analysis   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Rhetorical analysis provides a means through which a political perspective on technological change can be developed at a micro-discursive level. Through the analysis of managers' arguments and counterarguments, this article identifies three rhetorical strategies that negotiate the relationship between the technical and the social: attributing the effects of technology; claiming convergent and divergent interests; and constructing identities for self, groups, and the technology. It argues that a rhetorical approach maintains space for agency on the behalf of employees (through the witcraft of argument) and analytical skepticism concerning the reality of technology properties and effects (through counterargument). In addition, it proposes the concept of the argumentative context as a means of bridging the gap between individual and organizational rhetoric.

Symon, Gillian. Management Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Management>Technology>Rhetoric


Differential Discourses: The Contribution of Visual Analysis to Defining Scientific Literacy in the Early Years Classroom   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article presents a kindergarten science inquiry as an exemplar for the purpose of suggesting an analytic graphic that is visually inclusive of the multimodal resources brought to bear by children and teachers engaged in classroom interaction. The central aim is the visual representation of the analysis so that the analysis itself becomes visual communication, a means of generating knowledge about multimodal discourse. This makes the discourse structure much more accessible to viewers than a verbal transcript. Findings demonstrate that the children and teacher carried out activity that reflected generally mismatched classroom discourses. The children engaged in the science processes of observation, interpretation, and design of the investigation while the teacher focused on the social process of classroom management. Visual communication is central in helping researchers and teachers to visually associate the elements and structure of interactions so that teaching response can be designed.

Britsch, Susan. Visual Communication (2009). Articles>Education>Scientific Communication>Visual Rhetoric


Digital Politics: Engaging Voters Online

The 2008 Presidential election's brought a new battleground to the forefront of the political arena - online. The online activities of both Barack Obama and John McCain, and their UK counterparts, highlights the increasing reach and influence of online channels and seems to be setting a trend for elections to come.

Salisbury, Olivia. Webcredible (2008). Articles>Rhetoric>Online>Politics


Disciplinary Identities: Professional Writing, Rhetorical Studies, and Rethinking "English"   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Few of us in professional and technical writing or rhetoric and composition have avoided the turf wars that often accompany the development or revision of curricula within English departments. At institutions across the country, faculty in these areas have attempted to carve a niche for themselves, often in the midst of heated resistance. When we, along with several of our tenured and untenured colleagues in the areas of rhetoric, linguistics, and professional writing, proposed a curriculum for an undergraduate concentration in “Rhetorical Studies and Professional Writing” (RSPW) as one option for English majors at East Carolina University (a regional state university with approximately four thousand graduate and sixteen thousand undergraduate students), we certainly felt some heat.

Henze, Brent, Wendy Sharer and Janice Tovey. WAC Clearinghouse (2009). Articles>Education>Rhetoric>Business Communication


Distributing Memory: Rhetorical Work in Digital Environments   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article presents data from a long-term, qualitative study of writers appropriating new software tools for note taking. Instead of asking whether a writer knows how to use the discrete features specific to a software program, I argue that we might more profitably ask about the properties of functional systems that allow writers to flexibly meet the demands of their literate activity.

Van Ittersum, Derek. Technical Communication Quarterly (2009). Articles>Writing>Online>Rhetoric


The Divorce of Probabalistic Mathematics from Forensic Rhetoric (and Why This Matters to Technical Communication)

This paper discusses some of the founding work in the field of probabalistic mathematics (that of Jakob Bernoulli, the seventeenth-century Swiss scientist). By discussing similarities between Bernoulli's formulation of the mathematics to evaluate the probability of any given event and the forensic (or courtroom) rhetorics which Bernoulli had studied in school, this paper suggests that the foundations of probabilistic mathematics might well be rooted in part in forensic rhetoric. This is important to technical communication because it historicizes the origin of positivism in mathematical technical discourses.

Palmer, Terri. EServer (2001). Presentations>Lectures>Rhetoric>History


Do Their Words Really Matter? Thematic Analysis of U.S. and Latin American CEO Letters   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study compares the annual report letters written by the CEOs of 30 U.S.-based companies and 24 Latin American—based companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Using a grounded theory approach, the authors thematically analyzed both sets of letters to ascertain common topics, stylistic (writing) features, and embedded cultural attributes. They found that although both sets of letters share much regulatory and financial information, the Latin American letters are characterized by a richer mix of topics, a more complex writing style, and evidence of cultural dimensions as conceptualized by the research of scholars such as Geert Hofstede and Edward T. Hall. Their work is founded on the belief that corporate documents exist to communicate more than factual information to their constituencies. Rather, the purpose of corporate writers is to influence public opinion and attitudes, particularly among potential investors, in ways that create support for organizational practices or undermine opposition to them.

Conaway, Roger N. and William J. Wardrope. JBC (2010). Articles>Business Communication>Management>Rhetoric


Do These Serifs Make Me Look Phat? Conveying Personality with Typeface

Explores some possible approaches to understanding typeface 'personality,' including empirical research and scholarly discussion, in the hopes of generating more discussion about how we can understand and use typeface personality when creating organizational identity packages.

Striker, Amy. Orange Journal, The (2005). Design>Typography>Visual Rhetoric



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