Visual Argument Analysis

Class Activity                                     Visual Argument Analysis                            Ed Lessor

Preparation: The students come to class after having informally responded to visual arguments that have been posted to the class blogs. We have read Blair on visual argument, worked through examples from ix visual arguments and i-claim (cd-roms recommended by Cheryl Ball), and have read the visual argument chapter from Aims. When in a tech supported classroom, I have pre-posted several visual arguments to either the class blog, or the writing studio. In a traditional classroom I would bring in some hard copies of visual arguments and work through these in small groups.

Objectives: The goals of this activity are to get students to begin examining visual arguments by using traditional rhetorical strategies, and then to move beyond these strategies to account for the more “design” oriented principles that characterize the affordances of visual media. A secondary goal is to prepare students to begin to make critical response claims about visual arguments.

Activity: I ask students to respond to the following prompts about the visual arguments:
What is the exigency for the argument?
What is the rhetorical context?
State the claim.
State the reasons.

Make an observation about any of the following that seem relevant to the argument:
Its level of professionalism
Arrangement of elements

Are meanings created by any of the following?
Visual Analogy
Visual Accumulation
Visual Symbols

Claims: construct a claim about each of the following relative to the visual artifact:
Its content.
Any subtext(s) it has.
It’s effectiveness (a claims of analysis).
We do this in the form of a class discussion. As claims are made about each element of the visual argument, we discuss how the visual would change given different choices by the designer. For example, an anti-smoking ad featuring the “Marlboro Man” cowboys is colored with dark blues and browns—the sun is setting. How would the meanings change if the image were left as a sunny “Western” scene? In a Sky vodka ad, what if the woman was positioned over the man with a bottle of Skyy vodka in her hand (instead of the reverse)? By the end of the activity students generally have enough information to outline some useful response claims to the visual argument.

Unit Goals:
To prepare students with a tool kit for making analytical claims about visual arguments.
To help students understand the similarities between visual and alphabetic arguments.
To help students to understand some of the key design elements that must be accounted for when composing and responding to visual arguments.

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 experience in composing processes, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Critique one’s own compositions and the compositions of others
  • Use a variety of composition technologies (research and composing tools)
  • Evaluate sources for accuracy, relevance, credibility, reliability, and bias

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
  • Anticipate and address audience questions and objections
  • Use specialized vocabulary, format, and documentation appropriately

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