Transitioning from Alphabetic to Visual Argument

Beth Lechleitner                                                                                            Spring 2011

Preparation:  Students have read a number of alphabetic and visual arguments related to a single topic.  They have completed a rhetorical context document for two arguments which they are now working on analyzing.  We have discussed the basic components of any analysis argument, focusing on evaluation of the claim, evidence, ethos and use of the medium’s affordances, and they have read corresponding chapters in Everything and sections 1 & 6 in ix visual exercises, as well as the McCloud essay about comics.  They have drafted their analysis of an alphabetic argument and are readying themselves to do the same for a visual argument (an episode from a comic which has been assigned to them.).

Objective: This activity helps with the transition from the study and production of alphabetic argument to the study and production of visual argument.  It challenges the students’ usual way of thinking and shows them that all alphabetic arguments, even the most word-centric ones, have visual aspects.  It plants the thought that it is more likely to have a purely visual argument (no text) than it is to have a purely alphabetic one.

Activity: I have students count off to form small groups (2-4).  Each group is given one page of an alphabetic argument, a marker and a transparency.  They are instructed to “create a visual representation of what they see on the page before them.”  I keep the instructions for this activity short,  intentionally, and the word “see” is critical to the activity.  I offer to take questions which any group may have as they are working, but I hold back on guiding them.  After 5-7 minutes, the groups should be ready to present their work.  Each comes to the front of the room, shows their overhead and gives a brief explanation of the page they were given (perhaps showing it as well) and briefly describes why they made the choices they did in their representation of the page.  What usually happens is that every group will make a drawing of what is being said on the page rather than what it looks like physically.  It works well to have some pages from articles which they have already read and others which they have never see:  interestingly the results are usually the same.  I then have some pre-prepared transparencies which demonstrate the visual aspects of the texts they were given:  big and little boxes representing blocks of text and images, rectangles with overhangs representing citations on a reference page, etc.  The exercise works well with differently shaped artifacts: some all text, some with images; I even throw in a poem.   We discuss how we can recognize what type of work it is just based on its shape (academic article, poem, etc.)  This launches us into a discussion about the physicality of text and what contributes to that:  size of paragraphs, indentation and, eventually, we get down to type font.  At that point, if in a computer classroom, I have students open a Word document and type their names.  Then I instruct them to change the appearance and share what they did to effect the change:  make it bold, change the color, manipulate the shape, change the font, etc.  This is followed with some discussion about how the various treatments of their names might make them feel about themselves.

Unit Goals: To help students recognize that visual and alphabetic arguments do not exist in isolation from each other.  To demonstrate that the mode with which they have dealt the most in their course work—text-based communications—are also visual.  To challenge their conditioned way to entering an argument (by reading it), shifting their focus to a more visual approach: seeing it.

Course Goals:
Extend knowledge of rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Compose effective arguments in different genres (such as academic and public media) and different modes (such as alphabetic, auditory, and visual modes, as well as multimodal texts that combine these strategies) designed to achieve multiple and specific purposes for multiple and specific audiences
  • Reflect on the synthesis and communication of knowledge in alternate modes of composition

Extend mastery of argumentative conventions, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Adapt genre, mode, and other compositional choices to meet audience and purpose
  • Focus and sustain arguments in different modes using effective arrangement
  • Select, evaluate, and integrate appropriate evidence for multiple genres, modes, and rhetorical situations

Extend the application of advanced rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Compose arguments in different modes for specific audiences and purposes
  • Adapt content and style to respond to the needs of specific audiences and rhetorical situations