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.



Perceiving Hierarchy Through Intrinsic Color Structure   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Color is an intrinsic visual attribute of form that functions as language and message. The purpose of this study was to investigate objectively structured color combinations as a means to communicate visual order for the purpose of reinforcing information hierarchy. Controlling the visual relationships of hue, value and chroma contrast can significantly assist a person's cognitive ability to assign importance and dominance to a controlled color structure. This research study provided significant findings supporting the hypothesis that intrinsic color structures can be formulated objectively; represent a visual hierarchy; and be perceived in an understandable order. Chi-square analysis for 99 participants was calculated for task effectiveness. To analyze task efficiency, three distinct ANOVA calculations were made for time variations. The documented findings of this study presented explicit evidence that addresses specific mechanisms for objective color ordering. The natural inferences of the study support the proposition that there is a natural relationship between objective color ordering principles and human perception.

Puhalla, Dennis M. Visual Communication (2008). Design>Information Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits and Uses

This study sought to determine if certain personalities and uses are associated with various fonts. Using an online survey, participants rated the personality of 20 fonts using 15 adjective pairs. In addition, participants viewed the same 20 fonts and selected which uses were most appropriate. Results suggested that personality traits are indeed attributed to fonts based on their design family (Serif, Sans-Serif, Modern, Monospace, Script/Funny) and are associated with appropriate uses. Implications of these results to the design of online materials and websites are discussed.

Shaikh, A. Dawn, Barbara S. Chaparro and Doug Fox. Usability News (2006). Design>Typography>Visual Rhetoric


Period As a Stop Sign

Place strong words at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs, and at the end. The period acts as a stop sign. Any word next to the period says, 'Look at me.'

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


A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

An interactive presentation of a variety of visualization techniques used by graphic designers, technical illustrators and document designers to convey information.

Lengler, Ralph and Martin J. Eppler. Visual Literacy (2009). Presentations>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


The Personable Manual

Why do product manuals sound formal and stiff-upper-lipped? Why don’t users read manuals? These questions have haunted the precincts of Technical Writing for quite some time now. From what I have seen in Indian writers, I am forced to conclude that English Composition, as we were taught in school, is the culprit. Our merit was based on how verbose we were. They judged our style based on how ‘formal’ we were. Take for example, the leave letter. I am sure you have written a few in school or college. Rewind and replay one of those leave letters. Right from the salutation (Respected Sir/Madam) to the signature (Faithfully/Obediently yours) it reeks of colonialism. And, we have yet to learn our lessons. In this age of globalization (or globalisation, to my stiff-upper-lip comrades), it is important to pay attention to the three Cs: Consistency, Context, and Culture.

Sumankumar R. Indus (2009). Articles>Documentation>Rhetoric


Persuasion Beyond Logic: The Importance of Rhetorical Training for Military Officers

It is hard to deny the growing importance of strategic communication, of persuasion, of winning hearts and minds, in modern warfare. As we know from General Smith’s discussion of the changing paradigm of warfare, we will likely never again see two regular armies, uniformed and visible, meet on battlefield with clear boundaries.

McIntyre, Megan. Xchanges (2011). Articles>Education>Rhetoric


Persuasion In Technical Communication: Applying Symbolic Interactionism   (PDF)

Symbolic interactionism provides technical communicators with a persuasive tool that facilitates effective communication. By treating meaning as a socially negotiated and negotiable product rather than apart of language, technical communicators can more easily persuade readers to follow instructions, to grant proposals, or to accept reports. By taking the sources of meaning away from objects and away from symbols per se, symbolic interaction empowers the technical communicator with the means to effectively communicate and persuade.

Ray, Eric J. STC Proceedings (1994). Presentations>Rhetoric>Theory


Persuasion in Technical Communication: Applying the Information-Integration Theory   (PDF)

Technical communicators are skilled rhetoricians whose persuasive documents include letters, reports, and proposals, and with these documents, technical communicators persuade their audience to accept their ideas. Persuasion is the method of supplying new information about a subject to change people’s attitude about that subject. According to the Information-Integration Theory people form their initial attitude about a subject when they first learn about it. As people receive new information about that subject, they adjust their attitude in relation to the new information.

Jeansonne, Jerold. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>TC>Rhetoric


Persuasion In Technical Communication: Not Necessarily Just Another Academic Exercise   (PDF)

Four graduate students' papers on communication theory can contribute to the field of technical communication, specifically in two ways: increase our understanding of message production and reception; provide a context in which to develop a theory of technical communication. Several human communication theories have practical and theoretical applications to technical communication. Applying these human communication theories can increase our understanding of how a message is produced and received. Understanding the message, its sender, and its receiver in technical communication can help us to become more effective technical communicators as well as researchers and teachers of technical communication.

Kim, H. Young, Eric J. Ray, Cathy A. Shuffield and Jing Xu. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>TC>Rhetoric


Persuasive Techniques Used in Fundraising Messages   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Based on an analysis of 63 fundraising packages representing 46 nonprofit organizations, as well as research in trade journals and other secondary sources, this study discusses a variety of persuasive techniques used in fundraising messages to accomplish their missions. The fundraising package consists of the carrier envelope, the fundraising letter, the reply form, the reply envelope, and optional enclosures such as brochures, small gifts for the reader, and surveys to complete. These parts work together to perform the following tasks: 1) persuade recipients to open the envelope and read the letter; 2) convince readers a serious but not unsolvable problem exists; 3) make readers want to help solve the problem; 4) convince readers they can help by giving to the appealing organization; 5) tell readers what the organization needs them to do; and 6) make it easy to comply.

Spears, Lee A. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2002). Articles>Business Communication>Correspondence>Rhetoric


Picture Perfect: Selecting Graphics for Instruction   (PDF)

Discusses some principles for choosing appropriate graphics for instructional materials.

Lyons, Chopeta C. Intercom (1995). Articles>Education>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric


Picture Power vs. Word Power: A Crash Course in Presentation Visuals   (PDF)

One of the biggest complaints about presentations that has been voiced far too frequently is 'The visuals were terrible.' This demonstration will show presenters that if they have visuals at all then they should be good visuals. It is as easy to make good visuals as it is to make poor ones.

Rhodes-Marriott, A. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric


Place Gold Coins Along the Path

Learn how to keep your readers interested by placing gold coins throughout your story.

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


Plain Language in Science: Signs of Intelligible Life in the Scientific Community?   (PDF)

'The importance of the work is inversely proportional to the number of people who can understand it' is an outdated attitude in today's scientific arena. The trend toward plain language is gathering force in government, academe, and scientific journals.

Locke, Joanne N., Lily Whiteman and Devora Mitrany. Science Editor (2001). Articles>Scientific Communication>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Plain Language: What Is It?

When you reach out to your readers, you show that you have considered who they are and what they need to know. Communicate a concern for your readers' needs so they will be receptive to your message.

U.S. Small Business Administration. Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Planning and Creating Infographics   (PDF)

Information graphics, or infographics, can be a powerful way to persuade your audience and convey large amounts of data in a way that is quickly digestible and entertaining to the reader. In this article, the author explains how to visualize information, which data to include or omit, and how to label data. He also reviews the required skills for creating infographics, helpful tools, the types of visualizations, the creation process, and ethical considerations.

Opsteegh, Michael. Intercom (2013). Design>Information Design>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


Plastic Language for Plastic Science: The Rhetoric of Comrade Lysenko   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Rhetoric of science reveals the role of rhetoric in the complex social enterprise that is standard science. Rhetoric plays a role in non-standard science too. The recent elucidation of the human genetic code calls to mind an earlier, tragic episode in the history of genetics, Lysenkoism in Stalinist Russia. It involved the repudiation of standard science in favor of an insular, intuitive, and anti-intellectual science called agrobiology which supposedly could shape agricultural productivity to political will. The tragedy is that careers were ruined and millions suffered starvation as the new science failed to bear its predicted fruit. Whether seen as a debased rhetoric of science or as a rhetoric of debased science, it assumed that language is plastic and can support a plastically reconceived science that reflected the plasticity of nature itself. This plastic rhetoric is strikingly similar to Plato s view of sophism, which of course differs considerably from contemporary views of sophism.

Dombrowski, Paul M. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>Scientific Communication>Rhetoric>History


Play with Words

Play with words, even in serious stories. Choose words the average writer avoids but the average reader understands.

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


Police Reform, Task Force Rhetoric, and Traces of Dissent: Rethinking Consensus-as-Outcome in Collaborative Writing Situations   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Pedagogical and scholarly representations of collaborative writing and knowledge construction in technical communication have traditionally recognized consensus as the logical outcome of collaborative work, even as scholars and teachers have acknowledged the value of conflict and "dissensus" in the process of collaborative knowledge building. However, the conflict-laden work product of a Denver task force charged with recommending changes to the city police department's use-of-force policy and proposing a process for police oversight retains the collaborative group's dissensus and in doing so, illustrates an alternative method of collaborative reporting that challenges convention. Such an approach demonstrates a dissensus-based method of reporting that has the potential to open new rhetorical spaces for collaborative stakeholders by gainfully extending collaborative conversations and creating new opportunities for ethos development, thus offering scholars, teachers, and practitioners a way of reimagining the trajectory and outcome of collaborative work.

Knievel, Michael. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2008). Articles>TC>Collaboration>Rhetoric


Political-Ethical Implications of Defining Technical Communication as a Practice   (peer-reviewed)

Let me present one possible version of the history of teaching writing in the last century and a half. When the tradition of classical rhetoric was restricted to composition in the nineteenth century, teachers of writing found themselves teaching service courses, usually defined as skills courses. Furthermore, having lost touch with the classical tradition, they began to teach writing particularly suited to current needs and, by extension, to teach thought forms that imitate modern consciousness —- a form of consciousness largely molded by forms of production, or technology. As Richard Ohmann says, much modern composition instruction reflects this technological consciousness: it casts the writing process in terms of problem solving, stresses objectivity and thereby denies a writer's social responsibilities, distances the interaction between writer and reader, deals with abstract issues, and denies politics (206). As a result, teachers of writing indoctrinate students, turning them into the sorts of people who will fill the slots available in our technological society.

Sullivan, Dale L. JAC (1990). Articles>Rhetoric>History


Politics and the English Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.

Orwell, George. Impact Information (1946). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Power Emails: How to Write Them

Most emails have lousy subject lines, are too wordy, and probably are deleted unread, read but not responded to, or filtered out as spam. Learn how to avoid these fates by composing Power Emails that are legal, ethical, and effective.

Streight, Steven. Blogger.com (2004). Articles>Business Communication>Correspondence>Rhetoric


PowerPoint Presentations: A Speaker's Guide   (PDF)

Vinton Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, reportedly parodied the well-known quote about the cost of attaining power, observing that if power corrupts, 'PowerPointcorrupts absolutely.' Pointed though Cerf’s statement is, it places far too much blame on the software. After all, speakers must take some responsibility for their presentations. As in any other form of communication, you must decide what you’re going to say and how you plan to say it. But once that’s done, you need to use all the skills at your disposal to make the chosen medium work for you.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2004). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint


PowerPoint Should Be Banned. This PowerPoint Presentation Explains Why

As PowerPoint conquered the world, critics have piled on. And justifiably so. Its slides are oversimplified, and bullet points omit the complexities of nearly any issue. The slides are designed to skip the learning process, which — when it works — involves dialogue, eye-to-eye contact and discussions. Of course PowerPoint has merits — it can help businesses with their sales pitches or let teachers introduce technology into the classroom. But instead of being used as a means for a dynamic engagement, it has become a poor substitute for longer, well-thought-out briefings and technical reports. It has become a crutch. We should ban it.

Park, Katrin. Washington Post, The (2015). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint


Practicing Safe Visual Rhetoric on the Web   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This essay examines when and why a 'safe' approach to visual design for web pages is attractive to writers and writing teachers. It considers typical reasons for choosing a 'safe' approach to designing the visual dimensions of web pages, traditional sources in print graphics and writing for safe advice about visual design, and design challenges posed by issues of a web design's stability and navigation. The essay then turns to the fact that the additional media included in a web site bring more design traditions into consideration. It discusses the differing concerns and aims that issue from visual design traditions that focus on prose graphics versus those that focus on theatrical graphics. Keeping these differences in mind, the essay ends with a consideration of the forces shaping visual rhetoric on the web.

Sullivan, Patricia. Science Direct. Articles>Web Design>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric



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