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.



Visual Texts and Technologies: Situating the Visual in Technoculture

In Western culture, we now understand that visual representations influence our thinking, but we don’t always fully comprehend the extent of that influence, nor do we understand precisely how that influence is exercised. In this course, we will gain a fuller understanding of the influence of the visual on meaning, by thinking with, about, and through the visual.

Kitalong, Karla Saari. University of Central Florida. Academic>Courses>Visual Rhetoric


Visual Texts: Format and the Evolution of English Accounting Texts, 1100-1700   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Emphasis on page design, as an aid to visual accessibility, did not receive attention in modern technical writing until the 1970s. However, accounting documents and instructional texts utilized format and document design strategies as early as the twelfth century to enhance the organization of quantitative data and linear bookkeeping entries. Format in text was used to reflect the arrangement used in oral accounting practices and to produce uniform documents. Thus, format was integral to the rise of pragmatic literacy of the commercial reader. During the Renaissance, these early format strategies received impetus from Ramist method. The result was design strategies that attempted to capture the rigid principles of organization fundamental to commercial accounting. These early accounting documents also illustrate the plain style that would become the focus of the later decades of the seventeenth century. Clarity in language paralleled clarity in page design for the sole purpose of eliminating ambiguity on the page and on the sentence level. Plain style was thus nurtured by financial forces long before the advent of natural science.

Tebeaux, Elizabeth. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2000). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>History


Visualización en el Siglo XX

El siglo XX ha visto muchos avances en campos diversos. La Visualización no ha sido una excepción a esos cambios, que prepararon el camino para su transformación en 'Visualización de Información' durante las dos décadas que precedieron al nuevo milenio.

Dursteler, Juan Carlos. InfoVis (2003). Articles>History>Visual Rhetoric


Visualizar la Interacción Social

La interacción social nos proporciona patrones visuales que nos ayudan a situarnos en nuestro entorno. En Internet, sin embargo, esto no es tan inmediato. Están empezando a aparecer visualizaciones que intentan paliar el problema.

Dursteler, Juan Carlos. InfoVis (2003). Articles>Collaboration>Visual Rhetoric


Visualization Can Help Improve Writing

This exercise of increasing diagrams and illustrations to assist visual learners could potentially help me increase the clarity of the text in any deliverable so that it benefits any who take the time to read or at least scan. At the very least, asking myself whether I could easily illustrate or visualize the text may help me write more clearly.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2009). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Visualization Strategies for Team-Oriented Problem Solving, Analysis, and Project Planning   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article describes visualization methods used by many international organizations in the design of development projects. In this context, development projects means projects that are designed to improve the quality of life for people living in a developing country. During the project design workshop essential elements of a discussion and subsequent analysis are visualized as the discussion takes place and displayed to the participants. This visual record is kept in view through the whole period of the discussion. The visual methods of identifying, analyzing and structuring a problem dramatically improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the problem solving process and the quality of the final solution. The techniques enable a large amount of knowledge available within the group of participants to be collected quickly and allows complex problems to be taken through several steps of analysis.

Lewis, Paul. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Collaboration>Project Management>Rhetoric


Visualizations for Data Exploration and Analysis: A Critical Review of Usability Research   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Data visualization has the potential to change the questions that people are able to pose to their data and transform their analytical methods and decision-making processes. It may, in fact, be the next generation of data reporting tools. This article argues that the prevailing computer science orientation to data visualizations is severely limited for addressing many of the usability concerns associated with supporting users in three critical problem areas: sophisticated visual literacy, complex data analysis, and new paradigms of visual inquiry. I first describe what visualization technology is and what is uncharted about the three usability areas of perceptually rich, interactive displays; complex problem-solving; and visual querying. Then I explain what it means to take a computing -- specifically an object-oriented -- perspective on the usability of visualizations, emphasizing the limitations of this point of view when it comes to supporting users in complex activities and reasoning.

Mirel, Barbara E. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Usability>Visual>Visual Rhetoric


Visualizing English: A Social Semiotic History of a School Subject   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In this article, the authors provide an empirically based, social semiotic account of changes in textbook design between 1930 and the present day. They look at the multimodal design of textbooks rather than at image or any other mode in isolation. Their review of 23 textbooks for secondary education in English shows that profound changes have taken place not just in the use of image but equally in writing, typography and layout. Design is no longer exclusively organized by the principles of the organization of writing, but also, and increasingly so, by graphic, visual principles. They explore what these semiotic changes mean for the social organization of design and knowledge production, asking: What is `English', a subject that supposedly concerns itself with the modes of writing and speech? What has changed in the environment that is set up by the textbook makers for teachers and students to engage in?

Bezemer, Jeff and Gunther Kress. Visual Communication (2009). Articles>Education>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric


Visualizing Information: An Overview of This Special Issue   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The guest editors offer a brief history of visualization, discuss the present state of the art, and explore the possibilities and challenges that lie ahead. They then discuss the contents of this special issue in terms of the trends in visualization theory and research. They conclude by observing that technical communicators must respond to the challenges presented in the content of this issue, both by using the methods presented and by performing the further research the authors call for. Additionally, researchers must incorporate the results of inquiry in the related fields.

Gribbons, William M. and Arthur G. Elser. Technical Communication Online (1998). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Technical Illustration


Visually Speaking: Adult-Only Publications

Corporate photography was once the realm of adults only. Just a few years ago, it was surprising to see a picture of anybody under 40 years old in an annual report or capabilities brochure, much less someone under the age of 12. But nowadays, photos of children are showing up more and more often in all kinds of corporate publications, and as you might suspect, photographing children requires a totally different approach than shooting the CEO.

Salvo, Suzanne. Communication World Bulletin (2008). Design>Graphic Design>Photography>Visual Rhetoric


Visually Teaching Technical Communication—Despite Technology   (PDF)

Enticed by sophisticated software, students of technical communication often lose perspective of visual effect. Inclusion of design principles into syllabi for technicalcommunication courses can conflict with those elements, such as substance content and audience analysis, that already occupy primary emphases. Principles of visual design can, however, be taught within group projects on professional presentations or similar topics. Cognitive dissonance introduced through rudimentary techniques of not computerized—but manual—design shifts student focus from keyboard and mouse to visual coherence of the final product. This simple technique offers benefits to students and researchers of technical communication.

Bonk, Robert J. STC Proceedings (1999). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric


Visuals and Specialization Present Possibilities for Handling the Information Overload Crisis

Professional communicators and attorneys have long stood side by side as both fought to win in court—one in the court of law, the other in the court of public opinion. These two sometimes wary compatriots, however, are now beginning to partner more frequently to garner the best results for the executive suite.

Larkin, T.J. and Sandar Larkin. Communication World Bulletin (2005). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Visuals Engage Users — Why Aren’t There More Illustrations in Help Content?

While screenshots are important, visuals that illustrate technical concepts are necessary for engagement. Visuals communicate an idea that is otherwise lost in paragraphs of text. Users may skim and scan text, but their focus moves right to visual, because that’s how our brains are wired.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2010). Articles>Documentation>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


Visuals for Speaking Presentations: An Analysis of the Presenter's Perspective of Audience as a Partner in Visual Design   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Based on an interpretive study, this article focuses on visual composition within the workforce as perceived by individuals who use visuals to instruct, persuade, or inform while speaking to an intended audience. Tabulated and evaluated responses to survey statements relate the presenter's perception of a visual's function, the presenter's sensitivity to and the use of the audience perspective in visual composition, and training received in researching an audience. Data also provides a comparative analysis among respective organizations categorized by career interests: administrative or managerial positions within product-oriented business, people-oriented business, and educational institutions. Survey statements reflect the frames of reference that regulate visual design: the color spectrum, gender, cultural sensitivity, structural organization, semantics, and adherence to ethics when applying technological enhancements.

Caricato, Josephine A. Technical Communication Online (2000). Design>Information Design>Visual>Visual Rhetoric


Visuals When You Have No Visuals

You have just been asked to to give a 30-45 minute speech at a conference and there is absolutely no time to put visuals together for it. You're panicked at the thought of boring these people to death. What can you do? Use Word pictures.

Miller, Anne. Presenters University (2003). Articles>Presentations>Rhetoric>Microsoft PowerPoint


Visuospatial Thinking in the Professional Writing Classroom   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

It has been suggested that teaching professional writing students how to think visually can improve their ability to design visual texts. This article extends this suggestion and explores how the ability to think visuospatially influenced students’ success at designing visual texts in a small upper-division class on visual communication. Although all the students received the same instruction, students who demonstrated higher spatial faculties were more successful at developing and designing visual materials than were the other students in the class. This result suggests that the ability to think visuospatially is advantageous for learning how to communicate visually and that teaching students to think visuospatially should be a primary instructional focus to maximize all student learning.

Lauer, Claire and Christopher A. Sanchez. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2011). Articles>Education>Business Communication>Visual Rhetoric



The goal of this site is to explore the ways in which rhetoric, visual culture, and pedagogy interact with and inform each other. In keeping with this mission, the viz. blog is a forum for exploring the visual through identifying the connections between theory, rhetorical practice, popular culture, and the classroom.

University of Texas. Resources>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Blogs


Want to Talk About...: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Introductions of 40 Speeches About Engineering   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article investigates the introductions of 40 professional speeches from a rhetorical perspective to address the problems audiences seem to have with presentations about engineering. The authors use an exordial model that they derived from classical manuals on rhetoric. This model enumerates and groups rhetorical exordial techniques into 3 main functions: attentum, benevolum, and docilem . The study shows that rhetorically complete introductions are rare. Most of the speakers seemed to prefer a content-oriented, direct approach (docilem) in their introductions and seldom used techniques to garner the audience's attention (attentum) or sympathy (benevolum). The article concludes with an evaluation of the exordial model and a discussion of the study's pedagogical implications.

Van De Mieroop, Dorien, Jaap de Jong and Bas Andeweg. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2008). Articles>Education>Rhetoric>Engineering


Web Design: Assuring Credibility

In recent years, we have seen an explosion of medical and health-related information on the internet, and many patients cite the internet as their preferred source for information on their health and that of their families. However, there are concerns, voiced by healthcare professionals and patients alike, that this information is not uniformly accurate, complete, or up-to-date.

Dianthus. Design>Web Design>Rhetoric


Web Design: Define the Purpose

What's the 'mission' of your site? This is the first and, perhaps, most important question to answer before you embark on developing your site.

Tech-Writer (2001). Design>Web Design>Planning>Rhetoric


Web Site Redesign: From Stagnation to Rejuvenation

When surfing the web these days, you often come across web sites that suffer from stagnation—they look old, obsolete or appear to have been designed by an amateur. Your web site needs continuous improvement to capture and engage your visitor’s attention. If not, he or she can easily click away to your competitor’s site. Here are twelve steps to help prevent stagnation.

Drost, Herman. Communication World Bulletin (2004). Design>Web Design>Redesign>Rhetoric


Website Posture and Manner

The way a website presents itself to users is a key aspect of user experience. Effective websites don't interrupt user flow, which is guaranteed largely by posture (how the website uses available resources, particularly visual), and manner (how the website 'talks' to users).

Baker, Adam. Merges.net (2001). Design>Web Design>Writing>Rhetoric


Welcome to the Third Dimension: Spatial Elements in Exhibit Design   (PDF)

Modern exhibit design and conventional technical communication are both concerned with verbal and visual presentation of information. Another aspect, not relevant to written technical communication but fundamental to exhibit design is the use of 3dimensional space. This paper examines two spatial elements in exhibit design: Visitor circulation patterns and the scale of displays. Circulation patterns are the paths taken by visitors through the exhibit area. Scale refers to the size of exhibits and architectural features in relation to the size of the average visitor. By comparing two visitor center exhibits that take very different approaches, I will argue that these spacial elements carry meaning and, like any other message, they can influence the thoughts, feelings, and actions of spectators.

Jackson, Patricia. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric


What Counts as Writing? An Argument From Engineers' Practice   (peer-reviewed)

My argument attempts to add to the kinds of documents seen as worth studying in the discipline loosely known as English. Over the last twenty years, we have moved from thinking that only literature is worth studying to including student writing, business writing, technical writing, and so on as part of our field of study. I think we have to extend our attention to documents which are even less literature-like. Calling these documents 'writing' has consequences for our understanding of both writing and the various fields in which it occurs. As Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford point out, 'We name in order to know, but that naming inevitably limits our knowing. . . . Definitions of writing, of course, reflect a set of ideological assumptions that we ignore only at our peril' (15). The ideological assumptions we ignore here have to do with how knowledge is created and how much control individuals have over their own knowing. Ideology leads both us and engineers to deny that writing has occurred in much engineering practice.

Winsor, Dorothy A. JAC (1992). Articles>Rhetoric>Engineering


What Does Your Audience Want?

Successful visual designers well know the audiences they are designing for, and realize that their audiences exist at multiple levels.

Knemeyer, Dirk. Thread Information Design (2003). Design>Graphic Design>Audience Analysis>Rhetoric



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