The Visual as Invisible in Online Journals
 
 
Richard Lanham argues that the integration of visual and verbal messages, so prevalent in desktop publishing and the Web, challenge the tradition of transparent text. He says that electronic texts oscillate between the transparent­something one looks THROUGH­and the opaque­something one looks AT. Do online academic journals fulfill Lanham's promise of texts that oscillate between the transparent and the opaque, or do they perpetuate the transparency of print journals? What role do visual elements play in whether we look AT or THROUGH online academic journals? In order to answer these questions, I surveyed about 20 of 77 refereed humanities journals listed in the e-journal list.*

The journals fall into three categories in their use of visual features. Not surprisingly, the largest group of journals uses almost no visual design features. Journals in this group are simply print transported to the Web. Other than use of hypertext in a minimal way (tables of contents, footnotes), there is nothing about these journals that distinguishes them from print journals other than their manner of distribution. The articles are virtually impossible to read on screen; they follow none of the conventions developed for effective Web writing These conventions include 1) chunking information so that the reader can link from one section to another, rather than scrolling through a very long page; 2) layering of information so that readers who seek more depth or who have little background can choose to hyperlink to a page that provides more information; 3) keeping paragraphs and pages fairly short; 4) narrowing the text column to avoid the strain of reading long lines; 5) including navigation features that enable the reader to move around from one chunk of information to another (Bonime and Pohlmann). By ignoring these conventions of Web writing, these journals are even less effective visually than their print counterparts.

The next group of journals use some visual design features available on the Web. They may do this by including illustrations or by creating a visually rich home page. An example of the former is Architronic," a scholarly refereed journal, exploring the new ranges of architectural communication available through digital media." This journal includes high quality photographs and sketches of buildings to illustrate the articles. This is a very small group of journals, however, only about one fifth of those I surveyed.


 

Figure 1: from Architronic


The final group of journals consists of those that clearly embrace the visual potential of the Web. Interestingly, I did not find journals of cultural studies or journals specializing in film or other visual media in this group. Rather, the three examples I found were all journals in the field of composition and rhetoric. They are: CWRL, the e-journal for Computer Writing, Rhetoric and Literature,
PRE/TEXT Electra, and Kairos, a journal for teachers of writing in webbed environments. All three are published out of rhetoric programs that specialize in computers and composition.

 
 
  Introduction
Looking AT and looking THROUGH
The Visual as Invisible in Online Journals
Visual/Verbal Integration #1: Webtext as Visual Text
Visual/Verbal Integration #2: Academic Writing as Grunge
Visual/Verbal Integration #3: Visual Structure and the Online Journal
  Works Cited