I don’t like the word rhetoric. It brings to mind snobbish greek men who wore white tablecloths and spent their days thinking about how much better they were than everyone else because they spent their days thinking up words such as “rhetoric.” I also don’t like the word digital because it reminds me that one day robots will take over and we’ll all be too socially awkward to develop a plan to eliminate them. That being said, when these two terrible words are strung together like a garland of cranberries and popcorn? Well, the result is pretty cool and highly applicable to our daily lives.
According to Sean Morey (2017), author of The Digital Writer, digital rhetoric refers to communicating via digital means (p. 1). To expand upon this, he states in chapter two of his book that rhetoric is a necessary tool for persuasion (Morey, p. 37). So, by combining these two thought processes we can understand that digital rhetoric refers to elements of a digital artifact that are directly or indirectly used to persuade an audience.
Do you send text messages? BAM! That requires digital rhetoric. Do you engage in social media? Boom! Digital Rhetoric. Do you watch television? Pow! Digital rhetoric was involved here too.
Below is a boring video that breaks it down really slowly but really well so that you can get an even better idea of what I’m talking about.
Why is digital rhetoric important?
Morey makes it very clear that this day and age, it is difficult not to be involved with digital rhetoric because our modern world thrives off of using digital things like files, codes, computers, and other electronics in order to make some sort of a point (Morey, 2017, pp. 7-44). However, there is a difference between knowing what digital rhetoric technically is, and using it well. Natasha Jones and Stephanie Wheeler argue that one must carefully design documents with respect to several tried and true graphic design principles such as balance, contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (pp. 657-8.) Ultimately by considering these less obvious but crucial aspects of digital rhetoric (and more), an author is better able to communicate with their intended audience.
Douglas Eyman (2015) mentions the work of a scholar who goes beyond graphic design components by reminding us of the importance of studying rhetorical elements such as informativity (amount of new information being presented) and situationality (context) (Section 1). Although these concepts are important, there are far too many of them and they are much too complex to state them all here. Basically, if you really want to get a certain message across, take the time to make sure that message is actually heard (and properly!). Look at your work from all angles rather than from a purely linguistic standpoint.
Let’s say that I’m writing a serious blog post about the terrible impact of climate change. If I want people to take me seriously, I might cite several credible sources, include a link to Leonardo Dicaprio’s documentary Before the Flood, add a related graphic, and arrange all of these elements in a way that is pleasing to the eye rather than too cluttered or too spacious. I wouldn’t want to undermine my message by including distracting gifs of Paula Deen riding butter or by making the web page so ugly that it lands on Tosh.O.
What I hope to learn…
As time goes on, I hope to learn how to communicate effectively by utilizing the various elements of digital rhetoric that we cover in class. Although in other classes I learned many of the principles that we are currently covering, I have only ever applied them to things like social media mock-ups and developing a brand as opposed to working on an ongoing blog. I look forward to honing my digital rhetoric skills by having one consistent project to work on and in what I feel is a very supportive environment.
Eyman, Douglas. (2015). Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Ann Arbor, MI.University of Michigan Press.
Jones, N. & Wheeler, S. (2017). “Document design and social justice: A universal design for documents”. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Morey, Sean. (2017. The Digital Writer. Southlake, Texas: Fountainhead Press.
Sarah Yousri. (26 April 2016). Sarah Yousri on What is Digital Rhetoric. (Video File). YouTube. Retrieved 6 September, 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8x4lUH0QBFo
Header Image courtesy of Viktor Hanacek