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 Systematic Approach to Visual Language in Business Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Although business communication relies heavily on the visual, current approaches to graphics and text design are prescriptive and unsystematic. A 12-cell schema of visual coding modes and levels provides a model for describing and evaluating business documents as flexible systems of visual language. Emphasizing clarity and objectivity, the 'information design' movement has generated guidelines for creating functional visual displays. However, visual language in business communication is seldom rhetorically 'neutral' and requires adaptation to the contextual variables of each document, a goal the writer can achieve by com bining visual and verbal planning in the same holistic process.

Kostelnick, Charles. JBC (1988). Articles>Business Communication>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric


Systemic Functional-Multimodal Discourse Analysis (SF-MDA): Constructing Ideational Meaning Using Language and Visual Imagery   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The systemic functional (SF) approach to multimodal discourse analysis (MDA) is concerned with the theory and practice of analysing meaning arising from the use of multiple semiotic resources in discourses which range from written, printed and electronic texts to material lived-in reality. The SF-MDA approach developed in this article explores the meaning arising through the use of language and visual imagery in printed texts. This involves investigation of linguistic and visual forms of semiosis, and formulation of cross-functional systems such as colour. An integrative platform based on the SF metafunctional principle is proposed, and intersemiotic mechanisms and systems (content and expression strata) are developed to capture the expansion of meaning which occurs when linguistic and visual forms combine. The SF-MDA approach is demonstrated through the analysis of ideational meaning in a print advertisement. The practical approach involves the use of digital technology in the form of image-editing software which gives rise to a more detailed semantic and ideological interpretation. The analysis reveals how metaphorical constructions of meaning (i.e. semiotic metaphors) take place across linguistic and visual elements.

O'Halloran, Kay L. Visual Communication (2008). Articles>Language>Visual Rhetoric


Tabular Data: Finding the Best Format   (PDF)

Discusses the results of a study comparing several formats for displaying data in tables.

Tullis, Thomas S. and Stan Fleischman. Intercom (2004). Design>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Tactics for Building Images of Audience in Organizational Contexts: An Ethnographic Study of Technical Communicators   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Discourse theories frequently emphasize the importance of understanding audience but seldom delve into how writers form conceptions of their audiences, especially in organizations. This study examines computer documentation writers' tactics for conceiving of their audiences. Based on two ethnographic case studies and insights from activity theory, the author describes and evaluates technical communicators' tactics for understanding audiences, constrained and supported by their organizations. She discusses the advantages and limitations of each tactic, looking at how each tactic might answer questions about audience. This research should be useful to technical communication educators as they expand students' options for audience research in nonacademic settings. In addition, the findings of this study can enhance theories about the ways writers create images of their audiences.

Rush Hovde, Marjorie. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2000). Articles>Rhetoric>Audience Analysis


Take Control of Your Maps

It is now possible to replicate Google Maps' functionality with open source software and produce high-quality mapping applications tailored to your design goals. Paul Smith shows how.

Smith, Paul. List Apart, A (2008). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Geography


Taking a Political Turn: The Critical Perspective and Research in Professional Communication   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article examines the critical perspective as an alternative to our current descriptive, explanatory research focus. The critical perspective aims at empowerment and emancipation. It reinterprets the relationship between researcher and participants as one of collaboration, where participants define research questions that matter to them and where social action is the desired goal. Examples of critical research include feminist, radical educational, and participatory action research. Adopting the critical perspective would require that scholars in professional communication rethink their choices of research questions and sites, their views of the ownership of research results, and the types of funding they seek for research initiatives.

Blyler, Nancy. Technical Communication Quarterly (1998). Articles>TC>Writing>Rhetoric


Talent vs. Skill in the Modern Writer

Skill, not talent, is the distinguishing factor between the writer whose work others appreciate and the writer whose work only he enjoys. 'Ideas are a dime a dozen' is a helpful aphorism when separating writers into those who think of creating art and those who actually do.

Nihmey, John. Writer's Block (1995). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Talking with Virginia Postrel

Postrel's new book, The Substance of Style, explores the economic, cultural, social, personal, and political implications of the growing importance of aesthetics in business and society.

MacLaughlin, Steve. Boxes and Arrows (2003). Articles>Graphic Design>Cultural Theory>Visual Rhetoric


Teach Others To Write Clearly   (PDF)

Simplicity is the key to clarity. Review basic principles of clear writing, such as using simpler words and using fewer words. (See sample curricula of two inhouse writing classes in the column to the right). Examine overheads used to teach these skills inhouse.

Medved, Jane E. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Teaching a Visual Subject and Facilitating Interaction   (PDF)

This panel segment focuses on facilitating interactivity and teaching a visual subject matter in a distance (satellite) learning environment.

Keyes, Elizabeth. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric>Collaboration


Teaching Audience in Technical Communication   (PDF)

Teaching technical writing students how to communicate with the different audiences of technical documents requires defining those audiences. Traditional division of audiences by educational level or job function fails to consider the readers’ familiarity with the subject and their interest in it. This paper sets up three categories of audience (lay, middle, and expert) and suggests how to communicate effectively with each, to help students prepare to create documents designed for different audiences.

Samson, Donald C., Jr. STC Proceedings (1993). Presentations>Rhetoric>Writing


Teaching Students the Persuasive Message Through Small Group Activity   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Teaching students to write persuasive messages is a critical feature of any undergraduate business communications course. For the persuasive writing module in my course, students write a persuasive message on the basis of the four-part indirect pattern often used for sales or fund-raising messages. The course text I use identifies these four components by their rhetorical functions: gain attention, build interest, reduce resistance, and motivate action.

Creelman, Valerie. Business Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Education>Rhetoric>Collaboration


Teaching The Complexity Of Purpose: Promoting Complete and Creative Communications   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The successful communicator is expected to provide communications that are not only complete but also representative of effective thinking (i.e., original). Creating complete and creative communications begins with a disciplined process of discovery--identifying, assessing, prioritizing, and integrating the articulated and embedded purposes. Expanding on the work of Linda Flower and John Hayes, this article first explores a means to promote a thorough examination of purpose. It then provides tools for capturing and integrating these insights into communications that are complete, capable of satisfying the rhetorical challenges, and compelling reflections of the student's creative problem solving abilities.

Plung, Daniel L. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2006). Articles>Education>Writing>Rhetoric


Teaching the Visual: Understanding our Approaches

Despite the significant presence of the visual in the field of technical communication, we have not yet achieved a unified pedagogical approach to the visual. Because of the traditional emphasis on written communication, there is often a conflicting boundary between teaching the visual and textual, which often results in the visual assuming a secondary position to the textual.

Portewig, Tiffany Craft. CPTSC Proceedings (2003). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric


Tech-Rhetters Go Back to Grad School

A while ago, I queried the techrhet mailing list for suggestions. I asked: Which five technical/technological skills (beyond the basics of e-mailing and word processing) would you make absolutely sure you had under control at the start or the end of the PhD process? Here are the responses.

Whipple, Bob, Jr. Bedford-St. Martin's (2009). Articles>Education>Technology>Rhetoric


A Techne for Artful Choices in Digital Writing   (PDF)

The techne I envision for digital production deliberately makes things more difficult for designer users, whether they are teachers or students. This is a hard sell, particularly to teachers who feel intimidated enough by technology of the consumer ease variety. But we should remember that rhetoric, unless it takes the form of a Mad-Lib, is not easy. A techne of digital production is an effort to remove the disproportionality between effort and consequences: only when we earn the knowledge of production from a designer user standpoint can we more fully take responsibility for what we do with it. Digital writers must do the hard work of fashioning their content into a sound structure, developing unique presentational designs, and considering audience interaction with their finished works.

Stolley, Karl. Purdue University (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Online


Technical Communication Quarterly

The website of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing's peer-reviewed scholarly journal. For ATTW members the site contains PDF versions of articles from the 1997-2001 volumes.

Technical Communication Quarterly. Journals>Rhetoric>TC


Technical Communicators as Purveyors of Common Sense   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In this article I argue that technical communicators are in the position to foster users' commonsense understanding of products. The notion that technical communicators can increase the common sense of users is absent in the field of technical communication literature. Reasons for not recognizing the legitimacy of common sense range from its unexamined nature to a belief that it cannot be taught. After discussing different definitions of common sense, I suggest that including scenarios, common metaphors, and language that promotes procedural knowledge in product information can strengthen users' commonsense understanding of the products they use. Moreover, in failing to make use of commonsense appeals, technical communicators are ignoring a sound persuasive strategy.

Praetorius, Pete. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2002). Articles>TC>Usability>Rhetoric


The Technical Talk: More Effective Use Of Visual Aids   (peer-reviewed)

While most technical writing teachers assign the oral report and insist on visuals, very few offer their students good classroom examples of technical report visual aids. However, a set of 35 mm slides on one teaching topic could be easily produced with neither expensive equipment nor much ability in graphic design.

Jobst, Jack W. JAC (1981). Presentations>Advice>Visual>Visual Rhetoric


Technologies of the Visual

The progression of computer-generated images in motion pictures gives a sense of where we are headed.

Faigley, Lester. University of Texas (1999). Articles>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric>Multimedia


Technologizing Change: Rhetoric of Software Implementation at a University Campus   (members only)

This paper reports on a study of new software implementation at a university. Seven emails distributed by a central Office of Information Technology were examined for semantic (content) meaning and syntactic (grammatical) function. Semantic findings show a high degree of topical shift. Syntactic findings show a high number of clauses and complements. The analysis also shows how determiners were used to construct 'new' information as 'given' (presupposition). The paper argues that discursive stability was created by technologizing the rhetoric of implementation. The study concludes by suggesting that a heavy reliance on dependent clauses, along with other features, may be indicative of technologized discourse.

Faber, Brenton D. ACM SIGDOC (2003). Articles>Technology>Software>Rhetoric


Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Technological literacy-meaning computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity and performance-has become as fundamental to a person's ability to navigate through society as traditional skills like reading, writing and arithmetic. In explicit acknowledgment of the challenges facing the education community, on February 15, 1996, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced the Technology Literacy Challenge, envisioning a 21st century where all students are technologically literate. The challenge was put before the nation as a whole, with responsibility shared by local communities, states, the private sector, educators, local communities, parents, the federal government, and others.

Selfe, Cynthia L. CCC (1999). Articles>Rhetoric>Literacy>Civic


Technology, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication

This course offers students in various disciplines a critical view of the technologies now shaping workplace communication and our society as a whole. Using rhetorical theories of technology, we will examine the historical roots of communication technology and explore a number of economic and ethical issues spawned by the computer revolution. Students will gain a deep understanding of how technology impacts the decisions of technical communicators in an increasingly electronic workplace.

Sauer, Geoffrey. Iowa State University (2005). Academic>Courses>Technology>Rhetoric


Ten Commandments of Storytelling

You may not have known your presentations have protagonists, but they do (or should). And whether the protagonist is you, your product, your cause or even your audience, IT must be primarily responsible for the major benefit or crisis you are trying to convey. If you’re selling a product or service, let it demonstrate exactly what it does. If you’re asking for funds, the audience may be the protagonist. Make it clear that they are the key to making it all happen.

Martin, Jill. slide:ology (2009). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric


Ten Recipes for Persuasive Content

In many of my columns, I have touted the importance of persuasive, or influential, content and shared relevant theories and arguments, sprinkling in some practical tips and examples along the way. This column brings together a collection of practical tips, or recipes, for persuasive content.

Jones, Colleen. UXmatters (2008). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Persuasive Design



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