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Chapter 14: Visual Arguments

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Ken Billings

on 11 March 2015

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Transcript of Chapter 14: Visual Arguments

Chapter 14: Visual Arguments
Shaping the Message
Analyzing Visual Elements of Arguments
Analyzing the visual elements of arguments is a challenge, especially when you encounter multimedia appeals on the Web. Here are some questions that can help you recognize and analyze visual and multimedia arguments:
Using Visuals in Your Own Arguments
You can and sometimes should use visuals in your writing. Many college classes call for projects to be posted on the Web, which almost always involves the use of images. Other courses invite or require students to make multimedia presentations using software such as PowerPoint or even old-fashioned overheard projectors with transparencies.
These responses will be due on Friday, 1 November.
The Power of Visual Arguments
Take a look at the two images, and consider how they're composed. What attracts your attention? How do your eyes move over the images? What immediate impressions do they create? Also notice other features of the stamps--tinting, text placement, font, and wording. What arguments do these stamps make about America?
Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy in a televised debate, 1960
About the Creators and Distributors
Who created this visual text? Who distributed it?
What can you find out about these people and other work that they have done?
What does the creator's attitude seem to be toward the image?
What do the creator and the distributor intend its effects to be? Do they have the same intentions?
About the Medium
Which media are used for this visual text? Images only? Words and images? Sound, video, graphs, or charts?
How are the media used to communicate words and images? How do various media work together?
What effects does the medium have on the message of the visual text? How would the message be altered if different media were used?
What role is played by the words that accompany the visual text? How do they clarify, reinforce, blur, or contradict the image's message?
About Design
How is the visual text composed? What is your eye drawn to first? Why?
What's in the foreground? In the background? What's in or out of focus? What's moving? What's placed high, and what's placed low? What's to the left, in the center, and to the right? What effect do these placements have on the message?
How are light and color used? What effects are they intended to have on you? What about video? Sound?
Is any information (such as name, face, or scene) highlighted or stressed to attract your attention?
What details are included or emphasized? What details are omitted or deemphasized? To what effect? Is anything downplayed, ambiguous, confusing, distracting, or obviously omitted? To what end?
What, if anything, is surprising about the design of the visual text? What do you think is the purpose of that surprise?
Visual Arguments Based on Character
Look for images that reinforce your authority and credibility
Consider how design reflects your character
Follow design conventions
Visual Arguments Based on Facts and Reason
Organize information visually
Use visuals to convey data efficiently
Follow professional guidelines for presenting visuals
Remember to check for copyrighted material
Response #4
Go to the Web page for the Pulitzer Prize archives at http://pulitzer.org. Pick a year to review, and then study the images of the winners in three categories--editorial cartooning, spot news photography, and feature photography. (Click on "Works" to see the images.) Choose one image that you believe makes a strong argument, and write one paragraph that describes the image and the argument that it makes.
Test Case #1
About Viewers and Readers
What does the visual text assume about its viewers and about what they know and agree with?
What overall impression does the visual text create in you?
What positive or negative feelings about individuals, scenes, or ideas does the visual intend to evoke in viewers?
About Content and Purpose
What argumentative purpose does the visual text convey? What is it designed to convey?
What cultural values does the visual evoke? The good life? Love and harmony? Sex appeal? Youth? Adventure? Economic power or dominance? Freedom? Does the visual reinforce these values or question them? What does the visual do to strengthen the argument?
What emotions does the visual evoke? Are these the emotions that it intends to evoke?
Test Case #2
An Associated Press photograph of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin at a campaign rally in October 2008
The photo started a controversy as commentators raised questions about the content and purpose of the image. Some found it sexist and prurient, but others called it upbeat and emblematic of a new kind of feminism.
Did the photographer and AP (which had been accused of both left- and right-wing bias in its overall political coverage) have a political agenda in taking and distributing the shot? Or did people read their own arguments into it?
Visual Arguments That Appeal to Emotion
Appreciate the emotional power of images
Appreciate the emotional power of color
The December 2002 issue of the Atlantic Monthly included the following poem and the photograph that may have inspired it (photo and poem will be given as a separate handout to the students assigned this response). Look carefully at the image, read the poem several times, at least once aloud. Working with another person in your class, discuss how the words of the poem and the image interact with one another. What difference would it make if you hadn't seen the photo before reading this text? Write a brief report of your findings, and bring it to class for discussion.
Response #1
Response #2
Find an advertisement that has both verbal and visual elements. Analyze the ad's visual argument by answering some of the questions from the previous slides, taking care to "reread" its visual elements as carefully as you would its words. After you've answered each question as thoroughly as possible, switch ads with a classmate, and analyze the new argument in the same way. Then compare your own and your classmate's responses to the two advertisements. If they're different--and there's every reason to expect that they will be--how do you account for the differences? What differences appear between your own active reading and your classmate's?
Response #3
You've no doubt noticed how visual design and textual materials are presented on the Web. In the best Web pages, text and images work together rather than simply compete for space. Even if you've never used the Web, you still know a great deal about graphic design from newspapers and magazines. Your own high school newspaper uses design principles to create effective texts.

Find three or four Web pages or magazine pages that you think exemplify good visual design--and then find three or four that don't. When you've picked the good and the bad designs, draw a rough sketch of each page's physical layout. Where are the graphics? Where is the text? What are the sizes and position of the text blocks relative to graphics? How is color used? Can you discern common design principles among the pages, or does each good page work well in its own way? Write a brief explanation of what you find, focusing on the way that the visual arguments influence audiences?
BP's attempt to shape the argument
An anti-BP attempt to shape the argument

Everything's an Argument, 5th edition, 2010
Editors Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters
Case Studies #3 and #4
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