Tagged: Visual Rhetoric

8: The Importance of Thinking Visually

I was intrigued by some of the angles that Brumberger (2007) took in regards to how teachers can better teach students how to think visually, namely the prohibition (at least, at first) of using computers and rearranging classrooms into more “student centered rather than technology centered or teacher centered (p. 397). Neither of these would have necessarily struck me as crucial to enabling a student’s ability to think visually and think outside of the familiarity of verbal thinking. In fact, I feel like many people might argue with Brumberger that recent technologies like the computer have even aided in our ability to design and to think visually. But I actually favor Brumberger’s position—I think creativity is, like a muscle, something that has to be used in order to make it stronger and to increase its functionality, and I think the creativity-muscle is challenged when there is less assistance from things like technology and teachers. So, it would seem, a more student-centered, technology-prohibited classroom might actually increase visual creativity, as Brumberger suggests. I know I fall into the category of non-visual thinkers. If I were assigned a visual project in which it was highly encouraged to use fewer words and more graphics/colors/images, I know I would freeze in my tracks, waiting to be prodded with more guidance, needing more direction as to what exactly the teacher expects (or wants).

I do think there is an importance to what Brumberger and Lauer and Sanchez are all arguing—that learning to think verbally and visually (or visuospatially) can only enhance a student’s ability to create meaning within a text, that the two—verbal and visual—should not be thought of as binaries. It seems like, for example, many students’ use of slideware for the purpose of presenting to an audience would be far more advanced, meaningful, and captivating if, from the get go, we were taught how to convey meaning, like Dick Hardt, through words and images and colors and white space and page design and typography. There’s a lot to be said for pictorial representation—for showing, not telling, as I was so often reminded to do in my creative writing days. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? But the issue Lauer and Sanchez tackle is interesting—what if we aren’t all capable of thinking visually? What if some are just naturally more gifted in visuospatial awareness than others? I think we have to be wary of relying on classroom projects such as those Lauer and Sanchez suggest on page 209: “These activities are decidedly nonprofessional writing activities and therefore may strike some as an impractical use of time, but they are not impractical if they help low-spatial thinkers to develop options other than words to communicate persuasively.” I feel like projects that seem “impractical,” maybe particularly at the college level more so than high school, do risk becoming a waste of time because students don’t engage with the assignment or take it seriously because what’s the point? They only have to do well enough to get a decent grade, they may think—the project’s not going to go anywhere, be seen by anyone other than the teacher, be used for anything. But I think the poster assignments Lauer and Sanchez provide as examples (comparing high-spatially minded student work to low-spatially minded students) are a good example of in-class projects. Obviously, the resulting work illustrates exactly where improvements can be made to help many students think more visually.


Brumberger, E. R. (2007). “Making the strange familiar: A pedagogical exploration of visual thinking.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 21(4), 376–401. doi:10.1177/1050651907304021

Lauer, C. & Sanchez, C. A. (2011). “Visuospatial Thinking in the Professional Writing Classroom.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 25(2), 184–218. doi:10.1177/1050651910389149

3: From Personality Types to Visual Rhetoric

As my reading began with Nancy Roundy Blyler’s and Charlotte Thralls’s “The Social Perspective and Professional Communication,” my first question was, do divergent social theories represent different personality types? I understand the concept of differentiating schools of thought in order to understand them, but I found the social constructionist, the ideologic, and the paralogic hermeneutic views as parallels for the assertive, the aggressive, and the passive personality types that operate pretty fluidly inside each individual, depending on their role in society.

As a year-old grad student, I often fluctuate between the social constructionist and the paralogic hermeneutic ways of thinking. In my social constructionist self, I feel strongly that knowledge is a “consensual . . . socially justified belief” (128)—I often take each piece of information about a certain field, say digital humanities or professional communication, and build upon my overall definition of the norms, values, and beliefs of that field. I’ve already gathered from the emphasis on the Challenger disaster in class and from the emphasis on staying true to the original text in my digital humanities internship that the current field of professional communication does not render practicality and humanity mutually exclusive—ethics are important to academically-trained professional communicators. A truth I feel is pretty static.

As a student, I also arrive at knowledge in paralogic ways in which truth changes depending on the “agreement reached with other communicants through the process of interacting” (137). For instance, while forming a definition of good poetry, my conceptions often change depending upon who I am conversing with. Jim and Mary Ann will often say divergent things about a certain poem, and I agree with them both in that moment of communication. Multiple definitions of poetry, of the publishing industry, of rhetoric co-exist depending on the conversation/the context.

My ideologic self tries to stay in check because it is easy to become bitter about the “unequal, exclusionary social order embedded in hierarchical relations of power” (133). But I do have an example: in a sociology independent study with a male research partner, I completed a discourse analysis of how the godless are portrayed in the media. While presenting our findings at an undergraduate research fair, browsers would often listen to me intently as I explained the overall project, then direct questions only to my male counterpart. After my initial spiel, I was nearly ignored for the rest of the presentation, unless I piped up, which then might have been construed as a negative quality in a woman. I was forced into the identity of “female” (or maybe “short”; my partner was indeed tall . . .), and I recognized how people unconsciously see men as leaders, even though I took the lead in the presentation. In my professional pursuits, I must negotiate how much I want to appear feminine, whatever that means, and then try not to do that, or to do that, in order to appear powerful . . . It’s all very confusing.

To summarize, my mind categorizes the social theories like this: social constructionist=assertive meaning-making; paralogic=passive meaning-making; ideologic=aggressive meaning-making.

What do these connections mean to the field of professional communication? I think we must prepare to reach broad audiences with our research and our “symbolic-analytic” tasks that require more decisions on the part of the communicator (Johnson-Eilola 182). Comprehension processes fluctuate depending on many factors: we may target a particular audience one day, but that audience may shift meaning-making strategies the next, and a miscommunication occurs.  The answer, then, is to try to strive for that ethnographic text that Mary M. Lay calls for—to expose as much of the truth so that readers can make up their minds by objectively examining subjectivity (153).

Or, another method of appealing to broad audience is practicing visual rhetoric. Johnson-Eilola calls for this when he shifts the emphasis from simple user-manuals to multi-part guides that not only provide instructions for use but also for “broader tasks” for which the user might emply (180). Visual art provides a very specific, concrete view that opens up a world of pleasing abstraction for the viewer to bring to their interpretations of the world. And Johnson-Eilola echoes this sentiment: “everyday instances of technical communication such as interface design . . . and cartography . . . contribute in fundamental ways to how a user thinks, communicates, and acts in the world” (179). The piece of communication, then, is not overly-tailored to a specific user but instead inspires a certain thought process the professional wants the user to practice. By achieving versatility through visual design, the user is taught how to use, and innovation can occur.


Works Cited

Johnson-Eilola, Jonathon. “Relocating the Value of Work.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 175-190. Print.

Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and the Redefinition of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 146-159. Print.

Roundy Blyler, Nancy, and Charlotte Thralls. “The Social Perspective and Professional Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Suart A. Selber. New York: Oxford, 2004. 124-145. Print.