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.



Functional Redundancy and Ellipsis as Strategies in Reading and Writing   (peer-reviewed)

Redundancy is widely seen as a kind of linguistic cholesterol, clogging the arteries of our prose and impeding the efficient circulation of knowledge. However, I will argue that, just as a more thorough understanding of cholesterol reveals the existence of good cholesterol (HDL) as well as bad (LDL), so a broader view on the principle of redundancy reveals its effectiveness in certain situations, particularly beyond the sentence level. In this article I aim to revive the beneficial or functional sense of redundancy and show that functional redundancy in writing need not be a contradiction in terms. I believe a discussion of redundancy should include its opposite, ellipsis, so I will define both terms, emphasizing the beneficial sense of each, and then show how they appear in both reading and writing. In the latter part of the article, to illustrate the pervasiveness of redundancy and ellipsis, I will discuss examples of each in document design and in figures of speech. My attention will mainly be on technical writing, but the principles I will discuss may apply to other genres, too.

Grant-Davie, Keith. JAC (1995). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Fundamentals of Leadership: Communicating a Vision

Today's business climate of outsourcing, in-sourcing, virtual teams, and ROI-driven objectives can leave a manager at any level feeling powerless. Yet, we often see examples of those who can elicit unwavering support from their teams, driving highly effective projects, and getting the best performance from employees despite ever-increasing workloads. What is it about these individuals that makes them stand out as great leaders?

Harris, Kerri. TechCom Manager (2005). Academic>Management>Collaboration>Rhetoric


The Fundamentals of Persuasive Writing

What are the characteristics that make copy effective? Why does one ad make a lasting impression and sell merchandise, while another falls flat and doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay its own cost? Virtually all persuasive copy contains the eight elements described in this article.

Bly, Robert W. Bly.com. Articles>Rhetoric>Writing>Rhetoric


“Future-Proofing” Our Visual Information   (members only)

Visual information has always been tremendously useful for documentation. The assembly instructions for a piece of furniture from IKEA, for example, are almost entirely graphic so as to minimize translation costs. But graphics also offer challenges when used in online outputs. Should we show graphics in the online help or documentation? Should we show them automatically or link to the graphics and leave it to the viewers to click on the links? What graphic file format is best? How big should the graphics be? And so on.

Perlin, Neil E. Intercom (2011). Articles>Documentation>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of the Internet and the Age of Global Capitalism

One of the more popular academic slogans of this half century is Wittgenstein's characterization of language-in-use as a form of life. Genre theory takes this slogan seriously. In perceiving an utterance as being of a certain kind or genre, we become caught up in a form of life, joining speakers and hearers, writers and readers, in particular relations of a familiar and intelligible sort. As participants orient towards this communicative social space they take on the mood, attitude, and actional possibilities of that placeóthey go that place to do the kinds of things you do there, think the kinds of thoughts you think there, feel the kind of way you feel there, satisfy what you can satisfy there, be the kind of person you can become there (Bazerman 1997, 1998). It is like going to a dining room, or a dance hall, or a seminar, or church. You know what you are getting yourself into and what range of relations and objects will likely be realized there. You adopt a frame of mind, set your hopes, plan accordingly, and begin acting with that orientation.

Bazerman, Charles. UCSB (1999). Articles>Rhetoric>Theory


Genre as Social Action   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Although rhetorical criticism has recently provided a profusion of claims that certain discourses constitute a distinctive class, or genre, rhetorical theory has not provided firm guidance on what constitutes a genre.

Miller, Carolyn R. Quarterly Journal of Speech (1984). Articles>Rhetoric>Genre>Theory


"Genre as Social Action": A Gaze into Phenomenology

Genre as Social Action opened up a whole new connection for me, which even now, some 20 years later, I am still exploring. That connection is between genre and everyday human activity, especially the relation between schooling and the other social institutions beyond it. In the early 1990s I was very taken with Bazerman’s idea of genre systems (1994), based on Miller’s 1984 article. I went around the house, the office, the kids’ school activities, imagining genres working together in my (and their) everyday life—including going to the store with my daughter, Madeleine (then 10). She loved using our new homemade grocery list, arranged by aisles and printed on our brand new printer, for our trips to Save-U-More. Diagrams of genre systems and activity systems danced in my head for months.

Russell, David R. Composition Forum (2015). Articles>Rhetoric>Genre>Theory


Genre Ecologies: An Open-System Approach to Understanding and Constructing Documentation   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Arguing that current approaches to understanding and constructing computer documentation are based on the flawed assumption that documentation works as a closed system, the authors present an alternative way of thinking about the texts that make computer technologies usable for people. Using two historical case studies, the authors describe how a genre ecologies framework provides new insights into the complex ways that people use texts to make sense of computer technologies. The framework is designed to help researchers and documentors account for contingency, decentralization, and stability in the multiple texts the people use while working with computers. The authors conclude by proposing three heuristic tools to support the work of technical communicators engaged in developing documentation today: exploratory questions, genre ecology diagrams, and organic engineering.

Spinuzzi, Clay and Mark Zachry. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric


Genre in a Changing World   (peer-reviewed)

Genre studies and genre approaches to literacy instruction continue to develop in many regions and from a widening variety of approaches. Genre has provided a key to understanding the varying literacy cultures of regions, disciplines, professions and educational settings. Genre in a Changing World provides a wide-ranging sampler of the remarkable variety of current work. The twenty-four chapters in this volume, reflecting the work of scholars in Europe, Australasia, North and South America, were selected from the over 400 presentations at SIGET IV (the Fourth International Symposium on Genre Studies) held on the campus of UNISUL in Tubarão, Santa Catarina, Brazil in August 2007 — the largest gathering on genre to that date. The chapters also represent a wide variety of approaches including rhetoric, Systemic Functional Linguistics, media and critical cultural studies, sociology, phenomenology, enunciation theory, the Geneva school of educational sequences, cognitive psychology, relevance theory, sociocultural psychology, activity theory, Gestalt psychology, and schema theory. Sections are devoted to theoretical issues, studies of genres in the professions, studies of genre and media, teaching and learning genre, and writing across the curriculum. The broad selection of material in this volume displays the full range of contemporary genre studies and sets the ground for a next generation of work.

Bazerman, Charles and Adair Biondi. WAC Clearinghouse (2009). Books>Rhetoric>Genre>International


Gentle Reader, Stay Awhile; I Will Be Faithful

Every opening paragraph is the beginning of a delicate and transient relationship between reader and writer. This relationship begins quietly, usually without much fanfare--and if it's properly initiated, the reader doesn't even know it's happening. Yet the success of this relationship is an important factor in creating an enjoyable, engaging experience for the reader. This is especially true on the web where author credibility can be difficult to establish, and where, increasingly, readers have so many choices that separating the chaff from the wheat can be a daunting process.

Simmons, Amber. List Apart, A (2006). Design>Web Design>Writing>Rhetoric


Getting Off the Starting Block: Practical Tips to Starting a White Paper

Why are white papers so hard to write? Simply put, they require effort. Effort makes us sweat. Just the thought of working hard causes some people's blood to percolate.

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


Ghosting Authenticity: Characterization in Corporate Speechwriting   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

One of the most distinctive stylistic virtues of speechwriting is characterization, the art of capturing a client’s voice in a believable and engaging manner. This article examines characterization in the context of corporate communication, interweaving an interview with veteran executive speechwriter Alan Perlman with accounts from the ancient rhetorical tradition. As the analysis shows, Perlman’s approach to characterization confirms long-standing rhetorical wisdom yet incorporates insights that reflect the contemporary corporate context in which he has worked. The analysis also calls attention to enduring tensions in characterization—tensions between imitation and representation, effectiveness and ethics, and dramatic character and trustworthy ethos.

Bruss, Kristine S. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2011). Articles>Business Communication>Rhetoric>Collaboration


Girl Talk Tales, Causal Models, and the Dissertation: Exploring the Topical Contours of Context in Sociology Talk and Text   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Since the early 1980s, composition studies has arrived at a broad consensus that it is important to understand how social contexts relate to the cognitive processes and individual behaviors involved in writing and reading texts, although within this broad consensus are various notions of context and of how contexts relate to processes and texts. Drawing on both structuralist and everyday accounts of discourse and society, composition theory and research have generally conceptualized the contexts of writing in terms of abstract, unified constructs. Whether defined globally (culture, language, history, discourse community, genre, ideological state apparatus) or locally (institutional setting, communicative situation, task demand), context has typically been construed as a static, unified given, something that both frames and governs literate activity.

Prior, Paul. LLAD (1994). Articles>Rhetoric>History


Give Participants Something to Flip Over

Let me start off by saying that I do NOT like toys or other distractions in training. I’m NOT one to provide little widgets to keep participants’ hands occupied or provide cutesy pens or such trinkets. I’ve always viewed them as distractions that shouldn’t be necessary if your training is engaging and relevant.

Traut, Terence R. Presenters University. Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint


Good Design in PowerPoint

Effective PowerPoint design can be an invaluable tool for delivering your team’s message. When teams know their design options and adhere to a few simple guidelines, they can capitalize on the possibilities for communicating complex ideas in a clear, accessible, and memorable format.

conneXions (2008). Articles>Presentations>Usability>Visual Rhetoric


A Good Speech is Like a Good Relationship: 20 Tips for Presentation Success!

Contrary to what many people think, a speech is not a performance. Rather, it's a relationship -- ideally a meaningful one -- that you create with a group of people. Like any good relationship, a speech requires caring, trust, openness, accessibility, and two-way communication.

Burton Nelson, Mariah. Expert Magazine (2002). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric


Grant Writing Tips

This page includes a list of grant planning questions and a list of basic proposal elements that I use when I offer grant-writing workshops.

Seanet. Articles>Grants>Proposals>Rhetoric


Graphic Design

Graphic design is everywhere, in every product, package, poster, and product of the modern world. Although the graphic design discipline was created less than a century ago, the world has since come to rely upon it. The world simply cannot function without graphic design and graphic designers. Yet graphic design is broader than any other creative profession. It is the third largest profession in the United States, far ahead of more commonly understood and respected vocations such as attorney, accountant, and educator. Graphic designers, who run the gamut from after-hours moonlighter through freelancer, solo- and team-creative, to agency and corporate designers, work in every city, town, and village in the world. Graphic design impacts everything and everyone.

Burke, Pariah S. Designorati (2005). Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Graphics and Ethos in Biomedical Journals   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article describes a study that examined the tables and figures in articles from a basic research journal, The Journal of Cell Biology, and compared them to tables and figures from an applied medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine. Comparison of graphics between the two journals shows sharp differences in terms of range of graphics types, visual consistency within and between articles, or use of color. As the articles take into account what is needed by different audiences, the graphics help to build the credibility of the journal. The study also addresses the question of how scientific visuals contribute to the persuasiveness of a writer, looking at how the graphics within an article affect the credibility or ethos of the writer.

Hutto, David. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2008). Articles>Research>Biomedical>Visual Rhetoric


The Great Myth That Plain Language Is Not Precise   (PDF)

Occasionally, when you try to convert from legalese to plain language, someone will come forward and assert that you made a mistake. You missed something in the translation. You inadvertently changed the substance.

Kimble, Joseph. Plain Language Network (2000). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Green Giving: Engagement, Values, Activism, and Community Life   (peer-reviewed)

Philanthropic campaigns typically offer value identification and identity rewards for gift giving. These rewards may be increased by engaging the gift-givers within the work and activity of the charitable organization; moreover, fund-raising may reach beyond the limited budget people typically allocate to psychic goods if charitable gifts are perceived as part of the costs of one's way of life and as part of the meanings, activities, and communities within which one lived one's life. In support of these claims, I examine environmental fund-raising in Santa Barbara through interviews with fund-raisers involved with the Community Environmental Council and the campaign to purchase a major coastal property for a preserve. The fundraising for CEC indicates ways in which people's identities and commitments may be drawn on and reinforced and how people's interests in sustaining a way of life can become the basis of funding campaigns; CEC fundraising suggests that activism does not necessarily translate into giving, depending on the nature of the active engagement. The case of the preservation of the Wilcox property suggests how commitment to a community way of life can mobilize extraordinary giving when the community as a whole starts to perceive itself engaged in common endeavor and commitment. The success of the campaign itself then becomes a sign of community strength and community values.

Bazerman, Charles. UCSB. Articles>Rhetoric>Community Building


Grunge Style In Modern Web Design

As Web 2.0 style passes way, it’s time for something new. Few weeks ago we’ve written about the hand-drawing style in modern web-design. And as Web 2.0 style is all about glossy and shiny look, another option would be something rather crude, radical and provoking. Such as the grunge style — dirty look with irregular, nasty, sometimes even ugly and crooked visual elements. Will it establish itself as a trend? Probably not. However, it may be used once some creative and unconventional design approach is needed.

Smashing (2008). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric


Guidelines for Designing and Evaluating the Display of Information on the Web   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

These guidelines are intended to assist Web designers, authors, and editors in their efforts to create Web pages that effectively reveal—rather than obscure or confuse—the information they are trying to present. These guidelines are also intended to be used to assist in the evaluation of existing Web sites. Of course, the design of a Web site can, to some degree, be modified by the user or by the characteristics of the browser or monitor enlisted to display it. The guidelines, consequently, acknowledge that in a very real sense, users may also assume the role of designer. The guidelines, therefore, are also intended to help users make informed decisions about how to make a display easier to use.

Williams, Thomas R. Technical Communication Online (2000). Articles>Web Design>Assessment>Visual Rhetoric


Harnessing the Power of Annotations -- An Interview with Dan Brown

Annotations come in all shapes and sizes depending on the artifact and the intent of the document. People are probably most familiar with wireframe annotations, where the author calls out areas of the screen to describe functionality not immediately discernible from the picture alone.

Spool, Jared M. User Interface Engineering (2009). Articles>Interviews>Visual Rhetoric>Technical Illustration


Hearing Type

Understanding the dynamic qualities of typography through analogies with sound and music.

Armstrong, Frank. AIGA (2005). Design>Typography>Visual Rhetoric>Audio



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