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.



Untangling the Law: Verbal Design in Legal Argument   (peer-reviewed)

“The law is a seamless web,” law professors are fond of reminding their students. The lightest touch on any strand will send vibrations through the entire intricate structure. Every legal issue, rule, and theory is integrally connected; thus attention to any part affects the whole. Ironically, the metaphor’s appropriateness extends beyond this initial image since the slightest vibrations running through even the most beautiful web will alert the waiting spider—the beauty disguises a deadly trap.

Woolever, Kristin R. JAC (1986). Articles>Rhetoric>Legal


The Untapped Potential of Voice

Think back a few years, to a time when most enewsletters were text-only, packed with useful information and carrying the unmistakable voice of the writer.

Usborne, Nick. Excess Voice (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Usability Professionals Urged to Embrace the Value of Crafted Words

The emphasis being placed on a plethora of new delivery technologies and content management systems--XML, DITA, XHTML, RoboHelp, Author-it and more-has led many to view information as just "content." When this happens, we lose sight of the importance of efficient communication, which only comes through craft.

Lufkin, Patrick. Usability Interface (2009). Articles>Usability>Writing>Rhetoric


Use Metaphors to Communicate, Not Decorate

Good metaphors emerge from the writer's experience and observation. They connect the readers' knowledge to new ideas or information through concrete images.

Writing that Works (2003). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Tropes


The Use of Pathos in Charity Letters: Some Notes Toward a Theory and Analysis   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Americans contribute $240 billion dollars to charities each year, raised in part by writing letters to potential donors. While it is debatable what the reasons are for donors to give so much money, most donors seem to be moved to contribute by pathos, particularly pity. The concept of pathos as a rhetorical appeal has become more complex over the years, growing from a simple strategy to a complicated set of parameters requiring careful delineation. Beginning with the Greeks, particularly Aristotle, pathos was defined with greater clarity (especially the concept of enargia), with Aristotle's formal definitions of the emotions, and with the use of an image upon which to direct the audience's pity. Cicero adds to the theory by calling for the use of pathos in the peroration and reinforcing Aristotle's emphasis on careful audience analysis. St. Augustine and those who follow, including Renaissance, 18thcentury rhetoricians, and 20th-century scholars like Kenneth Burke, argue that style can also be an effective persuasive strategy for a pathetic appeal. Accordingly, the charity letters examined illustrate not only Aristotle's and Cicero's tenets but also show that elements of style, particularly rhetorical figures and schemes, are common rhetorical strategies used in these charity letters. While at first the rhetoric of charity letters seems simple and straightforward, to raise billions of dollars every year charity letters use sophisticated appeals to pity that have a long and interesting history.

Myers, Marshall. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2007). Articles>Business Communication>Correspondence>Rhetoric


Use Strong Verbs

Use verbs in their strongest form, the simple present or past. Strong verbs create action, save words, and reveal the players.

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


User-Friendly Usability Reports: The Effect of Praise on Product-Improvement Efforts By Teams   (PDF)

A largely uncharted issue in usability is the effect that a particular style of usability report has on the motivation of the team whose work the report addresses. Recent work in cognitive science and social psychology offers evidence of an intimate interconnection among thought, emotion and motivation, with implications for usability reports as well as other forms of technical communication. In this preliminary study, fifteen triads of adult workers arranged materials on a prototype Web site for forty-five minutes. They were then subjected to negative, positive-and-negative, or neutral feedback conditions. Measures for motivation were post-treatment time on task, as well as individual self-reports on attitudes.

Missimer, Constance A. University of Washington-Seattle (2002). Books>Usability>Reports>Rhetoric


Users' Guide to the Promotional Literature

The group 'No Free Lunch' is composed of health professionals trying to avoid the excesses of pharmaceutical marketers. This is their guide to interpreting pharmaceutical promotional materials. Other sections of this website are also of interest.

Lack of Evidence Based Medicine Working Group, The. nofreelunch.org (1999). Resources>Publishing>Biomedical>Rhetoric


Using a Problem Focus to Quickly Aid Users in Trouble   (PDF)

Users are encountering more and more situations where task dotumentation separates topics too much for the interconnected nature of the task. These complex processes require an approach that takes into account the effect of strategy on the outcome of the task. Users have to know what factors affect the quality and type of output, and the stages where branching will depend upon these choices. This paper deals with the methodology required to help users in trouble in complex tasks. It also presents the types of situations where this approach is most useful.

Hallgren, Chris. STC Proceedings (1997). Presentations>Writing>Rhetoric


Using a Writing Method to Design Applications   (PDF)

Arguing that technical writers have the skills to do more than write documentation, Van Mansom demonstrates how technical writers can apply writing methods to the creation of software.

Van Mansom, Kees. Intercom (2001). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Using Color in Your Documents

People often use colors in their documents in the wrong ways. Many students think that bright colors should be used in a document when they want to attract someone’s eye to a place on the page. Colors alone, however, should be used in synch with white space, font size, type and placement of whatever it is you want someone to be attracted to. Furthermore, just because something is filled with a bright color does not mean that it is eye-catching or attractive. True, bright colors will quickly draw the eye there, but use colors in a way that will make the eye stay there, not glance away in disgust.

Lanier, Clinton R. sense and usability (2008). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Using Emulation to Teach Nonverbal Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century   (PDF)

Although nonverbal technical communication played a key role in the nineteenth century introduction of varied technologies, verbal communication has been emphasized in most technical communication textbooks and classes. Recognizing that nonverbal communication is substantively different than verbal communication, this paper offers a heuristic table to be used to teach nonverbal technical communication.

Brockmann, R. John. STC Proceedings (1996). Articles>Rhetoric>TC


Using Key Messages to Explore Rhetoric in Professional Writing   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article introduces an assignment that uses key messages to introduce students to the different ways that rhetoric is used in professional writing. In particular, this article discusses how analyzing and writing reports about organizational web sites can help students perceive the rhetorical nature of professional communication, gain familiarity with several professional writing genres and writing conventions, become more critical readers, and recognize the relationship between an initial study and a report that communicates the findings from that study.

Shaver, Lisa. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2011). Articles>Education>Business Communication>Rhetoric


Using Photographs to Increase Trust in a Website

Exposure to photographs prior to an interaction does seem to increase trusting behavior.

Bailey, Robert. Web Usability (2003). Design>Web Design>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Using Photography to Illustrate Technology Trends and New Capabilities   (PDF)

The very best of today’s public relations photography devises visual statements by carefully blending composition and lighting. Dramatic use of color has emerged as a strong graphic element over the past decade. Today’s inexpensive scanners and related image manipulation software provide new capabilities to manipulate B/W and color photos.

Brus, John M. STC Proceedings (1993). Design>Document Design>Image Editing>Visual Rhetoric


Using Text Organizers   (PDF)

Many technical documents are rich in text and poor in graphics. Not all documents have photographs and illustrations to provide the reader with visual cues. Text organizers can be used as a method for relieving the visual grayness that happens when a document is all text. Headlines, kickers, subheads, headers, footers, pull quotes, and bulleted lists are all text organizers that can be used throughout a technical document to promote a better flow of information.

Sadowski, Mary A. STC Proceedings (2002). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Technical Illustration


Using the Enthymeme as a Heuristic in Professional Writing Courses   (peer-reviewed)

In the following pages, I will offer a methodology for letter and memoranda writing which exchanges an emphasis on forms for one on rhetorical analysis. Ultimately, training in rhetorical analysis helps students exercise and refine the analytical and analogical thinking needed for any discipline; that is, a professional writing course can serve, as Carolyn Miller says, to 'present mechanical rules and skills against a broad understanding of why and how to adjust or violate the rules, of the social implications of the roles a writer casts for himself or herself, and for the reader, and of the ethical repercussions of one’s words—effects which emphasize the fundamental nature of the humanities' (617). But before addressing how a professional writing course advances a liberal education, or even why to adopt a new methodology, it would be instructive to look at the causes for a letter such as the one which opens this article. Certainly, cost is a consideration, it being cheaper to mail form letters than have secretaries research and write personalized letters; for a mail order business, though, especially one whose clientele pay substantial prices, this strategy may be penny-wise and pound-foolish. However, the two causes I want to discuss pertain more to the concerns of a writing class: the writer’s reliance on forms, and the lack of analysis of context and audience.

Jacobi, Martin. JAC (1987). Articles>Rhetoric>Writing>Business Communication


Using Visual Rhetoric to Avoid PowerPoint Pitfalls   (members only)

Criticisms that Tufte and others have leveled against PowerPoint are not insurmountable defects of the programs themselves. These defects are generally due to an orientation, shared by program designers and users alike, and toward images rather than diagrams, toward perceptual decoration and object indication rather than toward visually mediated, iconic representations of verbal information. Using Peirce's theories of visual rhetoric, we show that improvements in visual communication generally - and PowerPoint slides in particular - depend on shifting our orientation away from image-driven thinking and toward diagrammatic modes of presentation.

Manning, Alan D. and Nicole Amare. IEEE PCS (2005). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint


Using Visual Techniques to Enhance Usability   (PDF)

Effective visual design enhances the overall success of a manual as much as, if not more than, the other factors that go into its makeup. The presentation shows how we redesigned a 2-volume manual into a 6-volume manual and otherwise maximized the visual impact of the manual. The many examples of improved visual presentations show how important effective visual design is to the overall impact of the manual. While we also changed stylistic and organizational elements of the manual, we found the impact of the changes in the visual elements most powerful.

Evans, Jeanette P. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Usability>Visual Rhetoric


Verbal Versus Visual: A Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures, Too   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes—a saying debated by some but accepted pragmatically by most. Do we not all remember some little drawing or other that came in handy to clarify an otherwise plainly unintelligible discourse? Professionally, experienced technical communicators know the benefit of adding illustrations to the text of their technical publications. With increasingly better tools available for their production, pictures seem to have a bright future indeed.

Doumont, Jean-luc. Technical Communication Online (2002). Articles>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric>Technical Illustration


Verbalizing About the Visual: Visual Analysis Tools for Design Evaluation and Group Communication   (PDF)

While technical communicators are increasingly involved in visual design, they frequently have difficulty communicating verbally about the visual, and, therefore, contributing effectively to design development. A five-step visual analysis tool provides a common framework and language for design evaluation and group communication.

Keyes, Elizabeth. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization

Visual designers working on the web need an understanding of the medium in which they work, so many have taken to code. Many have entered the usability lab. But what about the other side? Are developers and human factors professionals immersed in literature on gestalt and color theory?

Wroblewski, Luke. Boxes and Arrows (2003). Design>Web Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization

Visual communication can be thought of as two intertwined parts: personality, or look and feel, and visual organization. The personality of a presentation is what provides the emotional impact —your instinctual response to what you see. Creating an appropriate personality requires the use of colors, type treatments, images, shapes, patterns, and more, to “say” the right thing to your audience. This article, however, focuses on the other side of the visual communication coin: visual organization.

Wroblewski, Luke. Boxes and Arrows (2003). Articles>Web Design>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric


Visible: The New Valuable   (PDF)

Documentation departments have value; however because of the disconnection with the rest of the company, that value rarely get accurately communicated. Therefore, it is the department’s responsibility to show their value by becoming more visible. This paper describes how one technical writing department overcame negative perceptions by making themselves visible in five different ways.

Granger, Christine and Austin Skaggs. STC Proceedings (2005). Articles>Documentation>Visual Rhetoric


Visual Aid Virtuosity

Einstein said, If I can't 'see' it, I don't understand it. When visuals are used, you are more persuasive, you can cover more ground in less time, retention and comprehension are greater and, your presentation is more interesting and involving.

Miller, Anne. Presenters University (2002). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint



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