Rhetoric on the Internet:
The Screen as Rhetorical Space

A Summary



Anne Agee, Executive Director of DoIIT, focused her remarks on what she referred to as "visual rhetoric" and our need as teachers to become aware of ways to help our students become proficient in this new rhetoric. Defining rhetoric as "the art of finding in any situation the available means of persuasion," Agee noted that gone are the days of the complex formatting machinations required in using the typewriter. Word processing software allows students easy access to formatting options, from margins, fonts, and centering to footnotes, graphs/table, and clip art.

However, Agee asserted, "students may be very media-attuned, but they can't necessarily articulate the rhetorical strategies behind their formatting choices. What can result is a tendency to show off technology with an attitude of 'the more plug-ins the better,"'orical rationale for such choices. And since visual literacy isn't a high priority in the educational system at about the 3rd grade when they stop giving out crayons, teachers of writing generally have not developed a strong visual literacy."

Since electronic communications tend to blur the distinction between the visual and the verbal, teachers of writing in all contexts need to develop an awareness of the different literacy expectations of print text and electronic hypermedia. For example, the roles of the reader and writer are less distinct in electronic hypermedia with a reader choosing her own path through a hypertext. While organization in a print text tends to be linear with a clear beginning, middle, and end, organization in a hypertext is associative, recursive, and nonlinear. Consequently, the unit of development, which in print text is the sentence and the paragraph, becomes the screen, the page, and the web in hypermedia. Coherence in print text is accomplished through transitions and repetition; in hypermedia, coherence is accomplished through such mechanisms as visual cues, templates, consistent fonts, and graphics. And while a reader of print text will sometimes scan and perhaps even read the text, in hypermedia, a reader tends to search, scan, print, and read, since reading on the screen is 25% slower than on the page.


Return to Media Bytes