English 518 Course Blog

February 17, 2007

Comments on Visual “Authority” from Wysocki

Filed under: Uncategorized — shenra @ 4:15 pm

On page 184 of the Wysocki article, she discusses how a reader will not give as much credit or “authority” to a piece of scholarship that is written on bits of pieces of paper and that features changing handwriting, different background colors, etc.  She claims that the traditional style will possess more validity because that is what the audience is used to seeing. 

 Just as linguists theorize that 90 percent of oral communication is actually body language and tone of voice, it seems that Wysocki is arguing that quite a bit of written communication if also “body language,” or perhaps “medium language” to borrow from terms we have been using in class.  However, when I stop and think, I feel that with the exception of the computer, there is actually little difference in our modes of written communication.  A creative novel really looks quite like a scholarly text, with the exception of footnotes and endnotes.  They are both typically printed on white paper, bound, and follow a block-text structure on each page.  Newspapers aren’t bound, but still present the block text structure in columns.  Magazines are a bit more creative and colorful, but other than ads and a colorful illustration, the appearance is typically the same as other print media.  Even computer texts aren’t very “creative” in straying from tradition.  And with the continued rush of life, when people need to read quickly and process the needed information, rather than relish and enjoy it, I don’t see a practical reason for the block text of printed materials to change.  Perhaps a new art movement might feature sporadic patterns of writing, but in this one area I don’t really see the need for a change or evolution.

 This is why I take exception to her suggestions to encourage students to consider the “larger visual context” (192) when teaching writing.  I think something like this might serve in a specialized college classroom, like “Visual Contexts in Composition,” but for the typical student, this is not a topic worth bringing up.  The high school student, at this point in time, has too much to study and prepare for (tests) to add more to the syllabus.  The typical undergraduate must learn to write academically, as most undergrads struggle to write well.  Visual contexts should perhaps be offered to advanced undergrads, but more likely to grads and doctoral students.  At the moment, I don’t see any room for this topic in the English classes I’ve taught, and that includes 11th and 12th grade AP.

Sidenote: page 197….is “awarely” a word?



  1. I suppose that if you can use it and people understand what you mean, then it *must* be a word! There’s even an awarely.com website (I’m too lazy to figure out what they do). More later.

    Comment by chutry — February 17, 2007 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  2. But to use newspapers as an example, isn’t there a significant difference beteween USA Today’s psychedelic coloring and graphics and the staid blandness of the Grey Lady, The New York Times? And to your question about the use value for Wysocki’s project in high school classrooms, that’s a useful point. I wonder to what extent these assignments depend upon students who are already institutionalized into academic culture? In other words, do they make sense for (1) high school students who are still learning academic culture or (2) nontraditional college students who are looking to gain access to academic culture?

    Comment by chutry — February 19, 2007 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  3. Yes, this is a good point for us to think about. Like shenra said, the high school students have too much to learn; also in terms of composition, they have to learn to write academically so as to pass the exam, to have the proper writing skills so as to find a decent job. This situation is similar to that in China.
    Then I question whether there is any use of visual contexts in teaching writing? I think if we practise teaching writing as Wysocki suggested, students writing skills will probably have little improvement, for by emphasizing too much on visual elements, students will focus more on this and pay less attention to academic writing skills, and sometimes, studnets will digress from the real subjects they are talking about and shift to visual design. Also using visual design needs much more time, but we know students are busy with all their courses and the real purpose for students learning writing, at least academic writing,is to learn writing skills. But we couldn’t say that Wysocki’s suggestion is useless. I think her idea at least gives us an idea that there are different forms to teach writing. Besides, the visual rhetoric can be modified and properly used by teachers in their teaching, for example, sometimes the writing class is very boring for students, so at this time, teachers can use it as a way to get rid of dullness and let students have some freshness when learning writing. But this can only be used occasionally, it will be not that effective if we practise it throughout the whole semester in teams of aquiring writing skills.

    Comment by sophiesun — February 20, 2007 @ 3:21 am | Reply

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