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.



Terrorism, Teaching, and Technology: Reading for Rhetoric in September 11th Documents on the Internet   (peer-reviewed)

Documents associated with September 11 and its aftermath offer a sobering but appropriate opportunity for writing instructors to demonstrate the value of rhetorical analysis and the utility of the Internet as a tool for locating primary sources.

Losh, Elizabeth. Kairos (2002). Articles>Rhetoric


Testing the Usability of Interactive Visualizations for Complex Problem-Solving: Findings Related to Improving Interfaces and Help   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In visual querying, users analyze data for their decisions and problems by interacting with graphics that are dynamic and linked. This querying paradigm is new, a dramatic break from the more familiar retrieving of data via search statements and displaying of it in static charts and graphs. For this new visual querying paradigm, analysts conceptually and operationally need to master new approaches. To discover salient relationships, they need to manipulate displays. To drill down for detail or causes, they have to select data of interest directly from a graph. And to draw inferences, they have to consider meanings across several dynamically linked graphics. With the aim of studying users success in these new approaches, particularly focusing on the approach of directly selecting data from graphs, I conducted a scenario-based usability test with 10 data analysts. They interacted with visualizations to complete a realistic complex analysis evaluating employee performance. Test findings reveal a range of difficulties in visual selection that, at times, gave rise to inaccurate selections, invalid conclusions, and misguided decisions. To overcome these difficulties, support for visual selection needs to be built into interfaces and help. Results and recommended improvements are presented.

Mirel, Barbara E. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>User Interface>Usability>Visual Rhetoric


Testing Visual-Based Modules for Teaching Writing   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

A study of novice writers shows that instructional materials about writing that incorporate basic principles of visual design are more effective than those that are primarily verbal. Less-capable writers benefit most from materials that include the extra text-processing cues provided by the visual design. Narrative comments about the instructional materials show that writers are aware of the design elements and appreciate them. Technical communication practitioners, researchers, trainers, and instructors have a large role to play in improving the way writing is taught.

Markel, Mike. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Education>Instructional Design>Visual Rhetoric


Text and Image

Whether it's gestures in an oral conversation, type on a page, or flickering images on a screen, each medium of communication includes visual elements. Such elements long have been recognized as rhetorically significant, but the cultural proliferation of digital technologies has heightened interest in the visual dimension of rhetoric. As both consumers and producers, we engage daily with a variety of textual and graphical elements. Text and Image will encourage critical consideration of such encounters. We will examine the affordances and constraints of various forms from the perspectives of both reception and production. Our course assignments will ask you to respond to existing theories and examine them in praxis by producing a variety of image/text artifacts.

Turnley, Melinda. DePaul University (2008). Academic>Courses>Visual Rhetoric


Text Models in the USA and The Netherlands   (PDF)

Text models are handy tools for planning or recognizing the global structure of a text. In this paper we compare a few modern communication handbooks in the USA and The Netherlands as to their treatment of text models. The Dutch “vaste structure” may contribute to the tool kit of American technical writers. After that we present a short discussion of the characteristics of ideal text models and their ideal users. The first text model in history, the classical 'partes orationis,' and the first text models for Environmental Impact Statements from the 1970’s prove to possess a series of deficiencies. We conclude our paper with a proposed procedure for pretesting new text models for new documents.

Bulter, Willem J. STC Proceedings (1996). Articles>Language>Theory>Rhetoric


The Paragraph: the Weak Link in Corporate Communication?    (PDF)

The paragraph has been a writer's design convention for centuries. It can be applied to any kind of writing. It is flexible. It is easy to learn. It is what everyone is taught from about third grade onwards as the sole design for writing information. However, two different fields of endeavor are impacting the use of the paragraph as the best convention for communicating written information in the corporate world. They are: Cognitive science research; online media.

Murphy, Stephen W. STC Proceedings (1999). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Theoretical Dimensions of Technical Communication

This graduate course studies theoretical constructs and issues that inform all technical communication. Inherently a multi-disciplinary activity, tech comm draws on theories from fields as different as rhetoric and science, psychology and philosophy, sociology and linguistics. This term we will focus specifically on rhetoric, on the relationships between author, text and reader, and on philosophies of science and language. The purpose of this seminar is to explore relevant theories in sufficient depth and detail to do justice to their complexity, and, at the same time to examine their applicability to technical communication. Students will be expected to comprehend and challenge these theories on their own terms as well as to understand their value for the interpretation and transfer of technical information. Such understanding is crucial to intelligent decisions in professional practice; it allows the technical communicator to look beyond surface issues and see the essential problems and possible solutions. Theoretical knowledge of the field distinguishes the professional from the practitioner.

Sauer, Geoffrey. University of Washington-Seattle (2002). Academic>Courses>Graduate>Rhetoric


Theories of Rhetoric and Composition

English 470 will explore some of the major theories of rhetoric and writing which shape the ways that we use language in social, educational, political, and professional situations. We will examine various definitions of rhetoric, key rhetorical concepts and debates, theories of writing, the impact of new technologies on rhetoric and writing, and philosophical questions, among others. Our trajectory for the course can be mapped across several different heuristics. We can say that we will begin with oral traditions of rhetoric, move to written traditions, and then to electric or online instantiations of rhetoric. Another way to think about the structure of the course is philosophically: we start with ancient concepts of language and thought, then move to modernist conceptions, and finish with postmodern ideas about the place of rhetoric in the world. While we won't be able to cover every historical period and every rhetorical concept, you should leave the class with an understanding of what rhetoric is, when, where, and how it can be deployed, and why rhetoric is important. The ultimate goal of the course is for students to understand rhetoric as a productive art that offers transformative possibilities.

Bay, Jennifer. Purdue University (2004). Academic>Courses>Writing>Rhetoric


Theories of the Middle Range in Historical Studies of Writing Practice   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Recent historical examinations of nonliterary, nontheoretical texts within their activity settings have aimed to identify the historically developed communicative and rhetorical resources currently available to writers and to reveal the dynamics of the formation,use,and evolution of those resources. These studies, in examining communal literate practices, combine theoretical, empirical, and practical concerns by building theories of the middle range. This methodological article elaborates how theories of the middle range can guide research through identifying interrelated levels of research questions (originating, specifying, and site specific) and identifying strategic research sites. This article further elaborates methods of finding, selecting, and analyzing relevant texts and placing them within appropriate social and historical contexts.

Bazerman, Charles. Written Communication. Articles>Writing>History>Rhetoric


Theories of Visual Rhetoric: Looking At The Human Genome   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

For too long, journal articles and textbooks on scientific and technical discourse have adopted a positivistic approach to visuals. Unfortunately, this approach is problematic. It ignores that visuals are constructions that are products of a writer's interpretation with its own power-laden agenda. For example, in representing a tamed and dominated nature, visuals become instruments of patriarchy. Reading them responsibly requires that we uncover some of the values attached to the strategies of creating visuals and to the objects created. This article reviews the current approach taken by composition scholars, surveys richer interdisciplinary work on visuals, and-- by using visuals connected with the Human Genome Project--models an analysis of visuals as rhetoric.

Rosner, Mary. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Theory and Research in Professional Communication

This graduate course will study theoretical constructs and issues that inform workplace professional communication. Inherently a multi-disciplinary activity, professional comm-unication draws on theories from fields as different as rhetoric and science, psychology and philosophy, sociology and linguistics. This term we will focus specifically on rhetoric, on the relationships between author, text and reader, and on philosophies of science and language as they apply to workplace practice.

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


There's the Tribe, Where's the Technical Author?

Connecting people and giving them a place in the world IS (what makes you a living). I immediately thought, this affects technical authors. They connect people to information, rather than people. They help people find their place. They play a role in building and maintaining an organisation's tribe. They show there's more to the supplier-customer relationship than the moment of the sale.

Cherryleaf (2008). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Rhetoric


They'll Thank You for Sharing: Make Those Reports, Memos and White Papers Clear and Readable

Words, words, words. It seems as if we're being asked to write something every minute for every need and occasion. Your boss wants a report; your colleagues need a memo explaining a procedure; your clients send e-mails that need to be considered and answered; your company's products or services should be described in a descriptive white paper, and on and on. How can you deal with all that? Are there any general writing rules that apply to business writing of all sorts?

Canavor, Natalie and Claire Meirowitz. Communication World Bulletin (2007). Articles>Business Communication>Rhetoric>Technical Writing


This Is Not Your Father's Education   (PDF)

Employees, whether they are hourly workers on a manufacturing line, salaried supervisors, or owners of their own businesses, often need to develop newsletters, make presentations, create WWW Home pages, and communicate via e-mail. Therefore, students enrolled in professional writing courses need to acquire skills in manipulating desktop publishing and presentation software, hypertext and multimedia authoring programs, programs that display numerical data graphically, and programs that integrate graphics onto a Web Home Page. However; the visual displays that the generation raised with Nintendo's Mario Brothers prefer differ from those of the textbooks. They are more glitzy, colorful, and busy.

Boiarsky, Carolyn. STC Proceedings (1997). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric


Three Steps to Great Copy

There are some simple steps you can take which, when taken in the right sequence, can improve your copy.

Usborne, Nick. ClickZ (2001). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Tips for Getting to Know Your Audience

Effective communication requires understanding the target population and how it operates. That need to understand runs the gamut: sometimes it's simply information gathering, other times it's copy testing, or it may mean monitoring the effectiveness of a campaign. But before you start any campaign, you need to know your audience.

Reagan, Joey. Communication World Bulletin (2003). Articles>Business Communication>Audience Analysis>Rhetoric


Tips for Presenting to Young Audiences

It was my first year in business and I was 20-minutes into delivering a one-hour presentation skills seminar when it was becoming painfully clear that I was losing my audience fast. With this particular group, the early warning signs were all there. It started with some subtle multi-tasking activity followed by a pronounced loss of eye contact by a few individuals at first and then half the group. If you’ve ever had that experience you know that you only have a couple of options at that point. You can try to pump up the energy level and occasionally re-energize an audience; but, let’s face it, the odds are pretty slim. Or you can always start summarizing, cut your loses and go for a well-scripted close. At least there’s some hope that your audience will, at a minimum, hear a few crisp closing points and an interesting story to tie it all together. On that particular day, I didn’t have a chance to do either. The bell rang at precisely 11:22 and Cheryl Bailey’s third period PowerPoint class darted for the door and I was left standing there (unplugging my projector and laptop) wondering what the heck just happened. It was my first time presenting to a group of kids and since then I’ve had to revise my technique considerably for this unique audience.

Endicott, Jim. Presenters University (2003). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Children


Tips for Scientific Communicators: How to Become a Member of the Research Team   (PDF)

Communicators usually focus on audience needs, and rightly so. But scientific communicators may find it equally important to consider the needs and cultural values of the scientist/engineer researchers they work with. Working within the context of their culture, as well as observing (or at least recognizing) their etiquette and standards, can help us become their trusted collaborators.

Davis, Nancy E. and Mark Hodges. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Scientific Communication>Engineering>Rhetoric


To Be or Not To Be   (PDF)

During this workshop, To Be or Not To Be, the workshop presenters demonstrate how getting rid of the verb 'to be' increases accuracy, clarity and effectiveness in verbal communication. E-Prime originated in the field of general semantics; it consists of the English language, but excludes all forms of the verb 'to be.' Practitioners in the field of general semantics have developed a number of techniques that promote clear understanding of communication in the world around us. The workshop presenters strive to create an environment for participants to learn the philosophical background and practical application of the English language subset known as E-Prime.

Anderson, Jack R. and Jeffry A. Rybak. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


To Draw and Hold Readers' Attention, Apply a Hollywood Technique

Find the one thing you want people to remember as you write a posting for a Web page, a subject line for an e-mail or a headline for a newsletter.

Writing that Works (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


The Top Five Writing Mistakes in White Papers

A compelling topic and an attractive design will initially draw readers to a white paper. But those readers may lose interest if the paper contains any of five common writing mistakes.

King, Janice M. WhitePaperSource (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>White Papers


Toward a Critical Perspective of Culture: Contrast or Compare Rhetorics   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Kaplan's framework of contrastive rhetoric has been widely accepted in the field of cross-cultural technical communication. However, in the last four decades, contextual factors such as economic globalization trend and the advances of communication technologies are changing our ways of interacting with others. As a result our understanding of culture and cultural differences need to be adjusted. In this research, I start by recommending a workable definition of culture in the present context—culture as a process, which establishes a foundation for cross-cultural rhetorical research in the new era when communication across cultures transcends national boundaries. Based on the critical perspective of culture, I continue to point out the limitations of contrastive rhetoric and argue that contrastive rhetoric's view of culture and its research purpose and methodology need to be modified to overcome its constraints and better meet the needs of the present social context.

Wang, Junhua. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2008). Articles>Language>Rhetoric>Cultural Theory


Toward a Feminist Rhetoric of Technology   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article extends current thinking about the rhetoric of technology by making a preliminary inquiry into what a feminist rhetoric of technology might look like. On the basis of feminist critiques of technology in various disciplines, the author suggests three ways in which feminist approaches to building a rhetoric of technology might differ from current nonfeminist approaches to this task. First, feminist scholars should adopt a more expansive definition of technology than that which informs current rhetoric of technology research. Second, feminist scholars should ask different research questions than those being asked by current rhetoric-of-technology researchers. Third, feminist scholars should move beyond the design and development phases of technology, which most of the current research on the rhetoric of technology emphasizes.

Koerber, Amy E. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (1999). Articles>Rhetoric>Technology>Gender


Toward a Theory of Goal Detection in Social Interaction: Effects of Contextual Ambiguity and Tactical Functionality on Goal Inferences and Inference Certainty   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The inferences individuals make about others' goals is an integral, but neglected, aspect of empirical and theoretical work on social interaction. An original theoretical framework is proposed to account for interindividual agreement and certainty of goal inferences. Two experiments applied the framework to explain how contextual ambiguity and tactical functionality affected agreement and certainty. Results generally support hypotheses regarding agreement, such that goal inferences converged (i.e., interobserver agreement increased) as the context and tactic became more compatible, yet results largely do not support hypotheses for inference certainty, as the only significant effect that emerged was that certainty was higher in unambiguous than ambiguous contexts. A reconsideration of the theoretical framework on goal detection is discussed and implications are advanced.

Palomares, Nicholas A. Communication Research (2008). Articles>Collaboration>Rhetoric



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