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.



Do You Sound Like a CEO Behind a Microphone?

"You have two options when you walk into a room," says public speaking expert Richard Levick about the art of giving speeches. Most entrepreneurs find speech making to be either terrifying or a waste of time. Too many CEOs see dealing with the media or making presentations as an interruption, but it's as essential to doing business as customers. If you can't deliver energetic and commanding speeches, or polished and articulate interviews, then you're short-circuiting your company's future. It's time to do something about it.

Krotz, Joanna L. Communication World Bulletin (2003). Articles>Presentations>Management>Rhetoric


Does Design Matter in Comparison to Content?

Few people have ever commented about my blog’s design at all. The same goes with the music intros for my podcasts. I can change the music each time, and no one ever responds. In contrast, if a post has good content, I see a steady stream of comments. My experience leads me to conclude that content is about 90% important, and design is 10% important.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2008). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Writing


Does Web Delivery Impact the Reader-Response Approach to Technical Communication?

This paper is an attempt to explore how reader-response criticism and the overall approach to using rhetoric in technical communication may be impacted by the large amount of technical documentation moving to the Web. The discussion focuses on three main areas: moving from the “reader” to the “user” in online documentation; the value of plain language style in this medium; and how Web delivery seems to be bridging the gap between user interface (UI) text and help documentation. I shall explore these areas in an attempt to clarify whether the publication of technical documentation on the Internet negates the rhetorical approach to technical communication and how or if Web delivery impacts the reader-response view that users play a significant role in creating the meaning of a text.

Fisher, Jeanette. Orange Journal, The (2001). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


The Dynamic Discourse of Visual Literacy in Experience Design   (members only)

Educators should include new dimensions of visual literacy in academic curricula. Today’s students are actively involved in interactive experiences. They are contributing content to websites as well as designing websites and other types of online experiences for the public. Students need to understand the semiotics of interactive computing and how the integration of diverse sensory data with social interaction impacts the way we interpret online information.

Search, Patricia. TechTrends (2009). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric>User Experience


Echoes of a Reading: Genre as Social Action as Formative Influence on Genres and Ideology

Carolyn Miller’s article on Genre as Social Action had a formative influence on my own article Records as Genre, and the story of that influence might give heart to new scholars. So here’s what happened.

Schryer, Catherine F. Composition Forum (2015). Articles>Rhetoric>Genre>Theory


Review: The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, by Richard A. Lanham   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This is a clever, witty, and engaging--if at times frustrating--book. The central thesis is that in our information age, made possible by digital technology, the scarce commodity to be allocated (and thus a matter of economics) is not 'stuff,' broadly defined as what you can kick or the information based on such stuff (also, stuff). We're drowning in stuff. Instead, it's attention that's scarce, and allocating attention is a matter of style, of rhetoric.

Andrews, Deborah C. JBC (2007). Articles>Reviews>Rhetoric


Ecrire Concis

La concision, c'est l'ergonomie de l'écrivain, c'est obtenir le même résultat informatif en moins de mots, en moins de phrases, moyennant moins de 'bruit' (au sens linguistique du terme).

Redaction (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Editorial   (PDF)

Recently a striking change has taken place in the organization and visibility of what we writing teachers do.

Bruffee, Kenneth. WPA Writing Program Administration (1978). Articles>Education>Writing>Rhetoric


Educating 'Community Intellectuals': Rhetoric, Moral Philosophy, and Civic Engagement   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article encourages technical and professional communication programs to take on the challenge of educating students to become 'community intellectuals.' The notion of educating future professionals for a career needs to be reconsidered in light of both current research concerning civic rhetoric and past practices in moral humanism courses. The triumvirate of rhetoric, ethics, and moral philosophy provides an effective foundation for reconfiguring existing pedagogy in the field and offers insights for nurturing community intellectuals.

Eble, Michelle F. and Lynee Lewis Gaillet. Technical Communication Quarterly (2004). Articles>Education>Rhetoric


Effective Presentations

An essential aspect of any research project is dissemination of the findings arising from the study. The most common ways to make others aware of your work is by publishing the results in a journal article, or by giving an oral or poster presentation (often at a regional or national meeting). While efforts are made to teach the elements of writing a journal article in many graduate school curricula, much less attention is paid to teaching those skills necessary to develop a good oral or poster presentation - even though these arguably are the most common and most rapid ways to disseminate new findings. In addition, the skills needed to prepare an oral presentation can be used in a variety of other settings - such as preparing a seminar in graduate school, organizing a dissertaton defense, conducting a job interview seminar, or even addressing potential philanthropic sources!

Radel, Jeff. University of Kansas. Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Scientific Communication


The Effects of Argument Explicitness on Responses to Advice in Supportive Interaction   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study assessed whether explicit articulations of a proposal's efficacy, feasibility, absence of limitations, and use of facework are effective strategies of advice giving in supportive interactions. Two hundred forty-eight college students read and responded to a hypothetical scenario in which they received advice from a friend. The findings of this study demonstrated that advice was more effective (resulting in higher perceptions of advice quality and facilitation of coping, as well as stronger intention to implement the advice) when advice givers outlined the efficacy of the advised action, explained the feasibility of undertaking the advised action, addressed the potential limitations of the advised action, and employed politeness strategies when giving advice. The study further found that perceptual counterparts of the manipulated message features largely mediated the effects of the message variations on the dependent variables.

Feng, Bo and Brant R. Burleson. Communication Research (2008). Articles>Collaboration>Advice>Rhetoric


The Effects of Contrast and Density on Visual Web Search

This study evaluated the effects of white space on visual search time. Participants were required to search for a target word on a web page with different levels of white space, measured by level of text density. Screens were formatted with one of four types of graphical manipulation, including: no graphics, contrast, borders and contrast with borders under two levels of overall density and three levels of local density. Results show that search times were longer with increased overall density but significant differences were not found between levels of local density. Only the use of contrast was found to be significant, resulting in an increase in search time.

Weller, Donnelle. Usability News (2004). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Search


The Effects of Culture-Specific Rhetorical Conventions on the L2 Reading Recall of Chinese Students   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study explores whether culture-specific rhetorical conventions affect the reading recall of Chinese EFL college students at two grade levels. Four English passages verified as texts that used Chinese rhetorical conventions were modified into four counterpart versions reflecting English rhetorical conventions. One hundred twenty Taiwanese Freshmen and 120 Seniors read two of the four topics, one in each rhetorical convention. After each reading, students completed a Text-Perception Questionnaire, and performed an immediate recall. One week later, participants wrote delayed recalls and completed a Topic-Assessment Questionnaire. Although students failed to perceive rhetorical differences, different rhetorical convention had a significant overall effect on Chinese students' reading comprehension in both immediate and delayed recall. Moreover, post hoc comparisons revealed that two topics among the four reflected in the eight texts showed more impact from rhetorical convention than did the others. Analysis of questionnaire data suggested that factors such as topic interest and topic familiarity moderated the effect of rhetorical convention. The study concludes with suggestions for future research and classroom implications.

Hsi-Chin, Janet Chu, Janet Swaffar and Davida Charney. TESOL Quarterly (2002). Articles>Rhetoric>Usability>Language


The Effects of Information Design on Perception of Environmental Risk   (PDF)

Communication about environmental risk is important and problematic. A few prior researchers have explored the impact of information design in this area. This paper describes research done involving one common graphic tool, the risk ladder. Risk ladders explain the magnitude of risk from an environmental hazard, often by including comparative information about more familiar risks.

Campbell, Kim Sydow. STC Proceedings (1998). Design>Information Design>Environmental>Rhetoric


The Effects of Motivational Elements in User Instructions   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Should instructional texts be purely technical, with a focus on effectiveness and efficiency, or should they also focus on satisfying and motivating users? Good arguments have been made for paying attention to motivational aspects. But only analyses of existing instructions have been published so far, and guidelines for making user instructions motivational have not yet been studied carefully. This article presents motivational strategies and an experiment to test their effects. The results show that motivational elements have little effect on users’ effectiveness and efficiency in performing tasks, their product appreciation, and their self-efficacy, but they do increase users’ appreciation for the instructions.

Loorbach, N., Steehouder, M., Taal, E. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2006). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric>User Centered Design


Eight Key Points for Perfect Presentation Practice

Knowing a subject doesn’t guarantee success. The ability to articulate the message and connect with audience members is what counts – and perfect practice can make this happen.

Brody, Marjorie. Six Minutes (2010). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric


The Elements of Style

Asserting that one must first know the rules to break them, this classic reference book is a must-have for any student and conscientious writer. Intended for use in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature, it gives in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.

Strunk, William, Jr. and E.B. White. Bartleby.com (1959). Reference>Style Guides>Writing>Rhetoric


Eleven Tips on Terrific Titles

Honestly, which white paper would YOU sooner read: 'Implications of Business Intelligence Methodologies on Operational Efficiencies: A Retrospective Study' or 'Six Things You Must Know about Data Warehousing'? This article offers eleven tips on putting together compelling titles for white papers.

Graham, Gordon. WhitePaperSource (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>White Papers


Eleven Ways to Use Images Poorly in Slides

As digital cameras have become ubiquitous, and cheap (or free) photo websites plentiful, more people than ever are using images in presentations. Images are not appropriate for every kind of talk, but even when images are appropriate (such as keynote/ballroom style presentations), people are still making the same common mistakes. So here are some things to keep in mind if you use images in your next talk.

Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen (2009). Articles>Presentations>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


The Emergence and Evolution of a Research Project   (PDF)

Research never goes exactly according to plan; nor should we expect it to because research is a rhetorically situated activity. This paper illustrates this truism by providing a brief summary of the author’s experiences in designing, proposing, re-designing, and carrying out an investigation into electronic editing using both quantitative survey and qualitative methods.

Dayton, David. STC Proceedings (1999). Articles>Research>Rhetoric


Emotional Design: Communicating an Experience

Today communicating is not always about a single message but an entire experience. One of the reasons the Web and the Internet has gained in popularity is not only because of its commercialization but because users can dynamically interact with it. Walker Gibson uses the term 'mock reader' to describe when a reader accepts the role within a story that an author has presented. The authors of Web sites, the designers, create an experience that immerses the site visitor or viewer into the Web site. A successful Web site designer has the ability to create a 'mock Web visitor' who becomes completely immersed emotionally in the site the designer has created.

Chinn, Darryl. EServer (2001). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Emotions


Employee Voice Behavior: Interactive Effects of LMX and Power Distance in the United States and Colombia   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In contemporary organizations, competitive advantage can come from ideas employees communicate to supervisors for improving processes, products, and services. One approach to studying employee communications with supervisors is voice behavior. In this research, the authors consider leader— member exchange (LMX) and the individual cultural value orientation of power distance (PD) as predictors of voice. Two studies, conducted in different countries, demonstrate the unique and combined effects of these predictors. In Study 1, conducted in the United States, LMX was positively related to voice, PD was negatively related to voice, and PD made more of a difference in voice when LMX was high. In Study 2, conducted in Colombia, LMX and PD were both related to voice but did not interact. The authors discuss the implications for theory and practice.

Botero, Isabel C. and Linn Van Dyne. Management Communication Quarterly (2009). Articles>Business Communication>Management>Rhetoric


Employees Want to be Led by Leaders Who Lead

Virtually every employee in an organization performs a discrete set of tasks. Only the leader sees the big picture -- unless the leader does a good job of conveying that big picture to his workforce. Of course, there's more to leadership than getting people to buy into your vision.

Holtz, Shel. Communication World Bulletin (2003). Articles>Management>Collaboration>Rhetoric


Engaging and Educating Readers Through a Progressive Writing

Although technical communication documents cannot possibly be tailored to exactly match the interest, reading level and many-faceted influences of a reader, they can I believe, take measures to engage the reader to believe that the information he or she is receiving from the document is valuable to their experience in some way.

Comstock, Jeanie. Orange Journal, The (2003). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Technical Writing


The Engineer as Rational Man: The Problem of Imminent Danger in a Non-Rational Environment   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Mine safety instruction manuals and training guides reflect an engineering perspective based on the concept of a Rational Man, a perspective which obsstructs effective risk management.

Sauer, Beverly A. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (1992). Articles>Documentation>Risk Communication>Rhetoric



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