Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
Citation Practices, Copyright, Creative Commons Licensing, Fair Use, Multimodal, Multimodal Composing, Research Materials, Rhetorical Effectiveness, Rhetorical Elements, Rhetorical Strategies, Source Manipulation
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
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Downloadable docs, eBook, Interactive, Text/HTML, Video

Education Standards (1)

Media & Design: Course Map & Recommended Resources


How to Use This Guide

This document is intended to highlight resources that can be used to address the topic of Media and Design -- reading, analyzing, and composing multimodal texts -- in a Second-Year Writing Course. All resources are Open Access and can be downloaded or added to a Course Management System via hyperlink.

Introduction, Basic Definitions and Concepts and Learning Objectives


Because college students navigate scores of multimodal texts daily and seem to be constantly composing with media or technological devices, instructors might assume that they are adept at thinking critically about such texts. However, that is not necessarily the case. Teaching students to think critically, analytically, and rhetorically about multimodal texts is crucial to their development as writers in a communication landscape that requires sophisticated digital media and information literacy skills to navigate successfully.

This module recommends texts that align with learning objectives focused on analyzing and composing with multimodal resources. Many of the suggested readings and activities described in the other modules of this guide can be applied to multimodal texts (e.g., analyzing multimodal texts instead of or alongside of primarily alphabetic texts). This resource suggests additional multimodal-centric resources.

Basic Definitions and Concepts

Throughout this module, the term multimodal is used to refer to any text that uses communication modes other than or in addition to written language to make meaning. Some other communication modes are images, gestures, space (of a screen, page, frame, stage), sounds, symbols, and language. There are many other terms used to refer to such texts, including digital, visual, multimedia, rich media, computer, technological, and electronic. But multimodal was chosen because of its inclusivity and adaptability. Multimodal texts are often digital or technologically mediated, but they need not be, and so instructors and students who don’t have means of accessing and composing digital texts in the classroom can still read and compose multimodal texts.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives for this unit align primarily with Ohio’s TAG Guidelines regarding Composing in Electronic Environments; however, they also reinforce many of the other TAG categories, in particular Rhetorical Knowledge; Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing; Knowledge of Composing Processes; and Knowledge of Conventions. The objectives for this module are separated into three categories: Reading and Analyzing Multimodal Texts; Composing and Designing Multimodal Texts; and Understanding Source Integration, Copyright and Attribution in Multimodal Texts.

Many of the objectives are identical to those for First-Year Writing, with the assumption that Second-Year Writing classes will help students continue to develop their skills in a given area (or introduce students who have tested out of First-Year Writing to reading and composing multimodal texts). Objectives that are unique to Second-Year Writing are listed in boldface.

  1. Reading and Analyzing Multimodal Texts
    1. Define terms associated with multimodal texts
    2. Analyze rhetorical elements of multimodal texts
    3. Compare rhetorical strategies of multimodal and traditional/alphabetic texts
    4. Assess rhetorical effectiveness of multimodal texts
    5. Describe common ways that multimodal texts can be manipulated
    6. Identify original contexts for multimodal elements in order to recognize source manipulation
  2. Composing and Designing Multimodal Texts
    1. Determine affordances and constraints of different composing media
    2. Apply rhetorical strategies to multimodal composing
    3. Utilize a recursive process for multimodal composing
    4. Understand and practice accessible design
    5. Develop strategies for using multimedia to support the composing process
  3. Understanding Source Integration, Copyright and Attribution in Multimodal Texts
    1. Understand basics of copyright and fair use
    2. Determine original context of source materials in order to determine copyright status
    3. Understand Creative Commons licensing
    4. Demonstrate ethical use of remixed materials
    5. Demonstrate appropriate citation/attribution practices in multimodal compositions
    6. Locate, evaluate, organize, and use research materials from electronic resources

Although many of the objectives are identical to those in the First-Year Writing Adoption Guide for Media and Design, the sources listed in this guide are slightly more advanced and therefore suitable for second-year writing, though they accomplish similar goals. However, depending upon institutional context, instructors may wish to use sources in both of these related chapters for either level of writing course.

Course Map

This section is organized by the categories of learning objectives listed above, with resources appropriate for second-year writing suggested for each category.

Reading and Analyzing Multimodal Texts

Recommended Resources

  • Semiotics for Beginners by Daniel Chandler provides an introduction to the theory of semiotics and demonstrates sign/symbol analysis of multimodal texts with many examples. Semiotics builds on the multimodal analytical resources suggested for first-year writing by encouraging students to focus on patterns of signs across media and the cultural elements of multimodal texts, including the ways in which Americans are conditioned to interpret particular symbols in particular ways. What is Semiotics? is a video that explains the semiotic concepts of icon, symbol, and index in a brief and visual format, including some examples from digital culture. This video would pair well with Chandler’s text.
  • A Confusion of Messages: The Critical Role of Rhetoric in the Information Age by Sarah Hardison O’Connor discusses the factors associated with how we receive information and includes exercises for students to learn to read, in particular, argumentative texts through a rhetorical lens.
  • Data visualization, particularly in science fields, can be a useful example to talk about visual manipulation and distortion in the communication of information. False Visualizations: Sizing Circles in Infographics, a blog post by Randy Krum, provides an extended example of how graphic design can lead to readers misinterpreting data. How to Spot a Misleading Graph is a TedEd lesson by Lea Gaslowitz focusing on data manipulation in infographics.
  • Journalism is Never Perfect: The Politics of Story Corrections and Retractions by James McWilliams considers the question of accuracy in journalism through an extended example of incorrectly reported information that the Associated Press refused to retract. For more resources associated with “fake news,” see the Media and Design chapter of the First-Year Writing Quick Adoption Guide.
  • Dove: Evolution of a Model, Lip-syncing Obama: New Tools Turn Audio Clips into Realistic Video by Jennifer Langston, and New AI Tech Can Mimic Any Voice by Bahar Gholipour are several texts that demonstrate different ways that multimodal texts can be manipulated.
  • Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers (also recommended in the First-Year Guide) by Mike Caulfield provides a rhetorical and practical process for determining whether information, including images, found on the internet is accurate and reliable.

Supplemental Texts

  • The Language of Multimodal Texts (also recommended in the First-Year Guide), a publication from the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, provides a glossary of basic terms associated with multimodal texts and includes definitions of multimodal compositional and design elements as they are generally used in the field of writing studies. Therefore, this is a good resource to use as a general reference and for creating heuristics for analyzing multimodal texts.
  • Rhetorical Terms from Writing Across the Curriculum at Appalachian State University provides terminology definitions and links to two rhetorical analysis handouts.

Composing and Designing (Accessible) Multimodal Texts

Recommended Resources

  • Adobe Creative Cloud Across the Curriculum: A Guide for Students and Teachers by Todd Taylor provides students and teachers with a guide to Adobe Creative Cloud applications within a rhetorical framework. It has an introduction about the intersections of creativity and critical thinking, as well as chapters focused on different types of texts that students might create (images, sounds, printed documents, and presentations). Each chapter includes a discussion of rhetorical techniques for that genre and practical instructions for using Adobe’s software (though those sections could be skipped if students are not using Adobe’s software for multimodal composition). This text is geared toward WAC/WID classes but is a good resource for any second-year writing class.

  • Accessible Data Visualizations by Ansley Colclough is a post on the University of Texas’s Digital Writing and Research Lab’s blog. The post helps students understand different dimensions of “access” in digital texts, and provides links to online resources for creating accessible color schemes for graphical elements of texts.

  • A Rhetorical View of Captioning by Sean Zdenek provides examples of captioning that demonstrate the rhetorical elements of what is often considered a technical task. The chapters help students think about the functions of captions, the interpretive choices of captioners, and the politics of captioning.

  • A Student’s Guide to Collaborative Writing Technologies introduces students to different ways to use social media and other applications for collaboration and communication (e.g., peer response) about their writing.

Supplemental Texts

  • Collaborating Online: Digital Strategies for Group Work by Anthony Atkins is a good supplemental text for classes that require students to compose collaborative texts. It covers several aspects of composing as a team, including document sharing, assessment, and preparation.
  • The OER Accessibility Toolkit (also recommended in FY Guide) provides explanations and examples of best practices in accessible design for several modalities. It is designed for creators and is a good resource for students creating multimodal texts. But it is also useful to spark discussions about accessibility and provide terminology for students to use when discussing the accessibility of texts.

Understanding Source Integration, Copyright and Attribution in Multimodal Texts

Recommended Resources

  • The Information Literacy User’s Guide by Allison Hosier, Daryl Bullis, Deborah Bernnard, Greg Bobish, Irina Holden, Jenna Hecker, Tor Loney, and Trudi Jacobson is a textbook available in several formats that introduces students to critical reading skills associated with finding and using information from the Internet in research. It includes many exercises and examples, as well as case studies from different disciplines.

  • What is Creative Commons is a video that explains what copyright is and how Creative Commons licensing works. It can help students think through issues of fair use in their composing processes and would be good to pair with a discussion of plagiarism.

  • Copyright Protection: What it Is, How it Works from Stanford University Libraries introduces students to the basics of copyright in an FAQ format.

  • Summary of Fair Use Cases from Stanford University Libraries summarizes actual fair use cases involving traditional texts, multimedia works of art, and music. It presents the facts of the case and explains why the cases were deemed either fair use or copyright infringement. It can help students better understand how copyright and fair use work in “the real world.”

Supplemental Texts

  • There are a variety of resources for finding Creative Commons licensed materials for use in student productions. CCSearch is a search engine on the Creative Commons website that allows searches of a variety of types of media for various purposes (non-commercial, commercial, etc.). When using Google Image Search, clicking on Tools will bring up several menus, including one called “Usage rights,” which can filter results by license type. See the teacher supplement for this module for more resources for finding Creative Commons licensed and public domain media elements.

Class Activities: Analyzing Representations of Race/Gender/Class/Etc. in Multimodal Texts

Analyzing Representations of Race/Gender/Class/Etc. in Multimodal Texts (Learning Objectives 1.1 through 1.4)

Analysis of multimodal texts can be reinforced in second-year writing classes by engaging in text-based analysis that focuses on argumentative strategies and persuasive appeals. For instance, Pritha Prasaad, Michael Shirzadian, and Sherita V. Roundtree suggest class activities analyzing the representations of people of color compared to white people in public multimodal texts. Such an investigation, they argue, can reveal the ways in which public knowledge is rhetorically constructed to advance arguments and help students complicate their notions of “unbiased” information/knowledge (particularly visual). Specifically, students could look at the visual representations of public figures in Wikipedia (athletes, musicians, leaders, etc.) and discuss ways in which people of color are portrayed differently from their white counterparts. In addition, using Google image searches or Instagram hashtags, students might consider visual representations of Black Lives Matter protests and discuss the implications of the photographers’ compositional choices and of media outlets’ publication choices.

Another resource for discussing the socially constructed nature of knowledge through rhetorical analysis of multimodal texts is the Ad*Access collection within the Duke University Libraries Digital Repository. The collection contains thousands of advertisements from 1911 to 1955, in the categories of beauty and hygiene, TV and radio, transportation, and (American) WWII propaganda. A variety of activities can be designed using this repository, including comparing constructions of gender in advertisements across decades or tracing ways that the style of advertisements changed across decades and how those changes relate to changing media landscapes.

Sample Questions:

  1. What is the primary mode of communication of this text (e.g., linguistic, visual, etc.)? What other modes are used? Why do you think the designer(s) of this text chose those particular modes?

  2. How is this text like others of the same kind? (This question can be used to build a genre analysis and determine generic conventions.)

  3. To what conversation or situation is this text responding? In other words, what is the rhetorical situation of this text?

  4. Who is the ideal or intended audience for this text? How is that audience implied in the text?

  5. How is the language of design used in this text to communicate meaning? What is emphasized and how is that significant? How is repetition used? Describe the way the image is balanced and what the balance signifies.

  6. How are typefaces and colors used to create meaning for readers/viewers of this text?

  7. Who is left out of this text and why? What are the implications of that omission?

Semiotics for Beginners also contains a list of questions useful for sign/symbol analysis of multimodal texts.

Class Activities: Thinking About Media Manipulation Rhetorically

Thinking About Media Manipulation Rhetorically (Learning Objectives 1.5 and 1.6)

Students can continue to build their rhetorical understanding of digital textual manipulation by considering questions such as the following:

  1. How does the Dove video use pathos to advance an argument? How do Photoshopped images of women advance an argument about beauty? What is this Dove commercial selling? In what ways is Dove complicit in the distortion of notions of beauty?

  2. What are the reasons (given in the Scientific American article) that the new lip-syncing technology was developed? What are some potentially positive uses for this technology? What are some potentially abusive/deceitful uses for this technology?

  3. Watching the lip-synced version of Obama’s words, what are some differences you notice between the actual video of his speech and the synthesized version? How might these differences help you to discern synthesized from actual documentary video?

  4. What are the implications of digital textual manipulations for public discourse?

In WAC/WID classes, in addition to rhetorical and design concerns, instructors can ask students to consider the ways that source manipulation affects the discipline. For instance, in scientific fields, how might source manipulation affect public confidence in science? What are the resulting implications for public funding and public policy? In art, how might source manipulation technologies be used for creating new kinds of art? What effects might such new forms have on the creation of older forms? The questions will likely be quite different from one discipline to the next, and instructors can bring their field expertise to bear when exploring these issues with students.

“Fact-Checking” Images (Learning Objectives 1.5 and 1.6)

To practice the tools and techniques from the readings about source manipulation, students could be given several articles and photographs (some false and some real) and asked to determine which have been altered or fabricated. Additionally, argument can be considered as a dimension of the analysis. For instance, why do people create such images? What particular arguments do the viral photos under consideration advance? Who benefits and who suffers from the advancement of those arguments?

Class Activities: Multimodal Composition, Accessibility and Digital Collaboration

Composing Multimodally (Learning Objectives 2.1 through 2.3)

  • Practicing Visual Invention by Megan Eatman is an in-class assignment (but could be expanded into a more formal assignment or a homework assignment) that asks students to create a visual version of an alphabetic text. The task helps students to think about the different ways that meaning and arguments are made in different media. It can also be used as a process step in scaffolding a larger multimodal (or even traditional) assignment.  This activity also meets Learning Objective 2e.
  • Enthy/Memes: Making Memes to Teach Logos by Regina Marie Mills is an in-class assignment (but could be expanded into a more formal assignment or a homework assignment) that asks students to create a meme and then analyze it for stated and unstated premises. This activity helps students to learn more about logical argumentation and to practice analyzing and creating visual public discourse.
  • Words in Motion: Kairos and Kinetic Typography by Amy Tuttle is an exercise in interpretation.
    Students are asked to take a verbal/spoken text and animate the words of a portion of it using PowerPoint. This task helps students to see typography with new eyes, recognizing the rhetorical and persuasive power of the shapes of letters (e.g., to support or subvert the original text’s message). It can complement other activities in visual rhetoric or visual analysis, or it can be used as a formal argumentative or interpretive assignment.

Multimodal Composing & Accessibility (Learning Objective 2.4)

  • Visualizing Sound by Captioning Nonspeech Sounds by Matt Breece is a lesson plan that asks students to caption non-speech sounds from a silent movie clip. This activity helps students to consider sound from an accessibility standpoint and to explore the ways that captioning works rhetorically.
  • viewing>writing>listening: Pedagogical Versions of Access by Sierra Mendez is a lesson plan that requires students to create textual descriptions of visuals that are readable by screen readers. This task helps students learn to translate information and meaning across media. It also helps students think about who is systematically excluded from particular types of online communication.

Using Multimodal Composing to Support the Writing Process (Learning Objective 2.5)

  • Essay Revision with Automated Textual Analysis by Michael Widner is a lesson plan in which students use Voyeur, a tool for automated textual analysis, to visualize the argument of a draft of their paper and use that information to revise.
  • There are multiple tools and lesson plan ideas available for different kinds of argument mapping. Using FreeMind to Draft Controversy Maps (which has digital and paper versions) by Sarah Frank describes the use of a program called FreeMind to create controversy maps, which could help students map out the relationships among the arguments of various sources. Mind Mapping from Stanford Teaching Commons provides a list of resources to help students map their own ideas in order to figure out how to arrange them in a paper. And Discourse Community Map by Melanie E. Gagich teaches students to map out a discourse community.
  • There are a variety of digital tools that students can use as notebooks or writing journals, such as Penzu, Padlet, and Popplet. The latter two have collaborative functionality for peer response or group assignments.

Digital Collaboration & Peer Response (Learning Objective 2.5)

  • Collaborative Web Page Annotations with Diigo by Todd Battistelli is a lesson plan introducing students to Diigo, a tool that allows for annotating and commenting on web-based texts. The tool helps students read online texts more closely and actively. Annotations can be shared, making it a potentially useful tool for collaboration and peer response, as well as preparation for class discussion.
  • Annotating Digital Sources from Stanford Teaching Commons provides a list of sources that students can use to annotate a range of digital sources, including PDFs, web pages, images, videos, and more. Some of the tools allow for sharing and collaboration as well.
  • There are a variety of strategies and tools for digital peer response. For instance, Peer to Peer Review by Jake Cowan is a lesson plan for in-class peer response using a course management system. Distributed Peer Review by Stephanie Rosen describes a method of peer response in which students’ drafts are published on a class blog for feedback. Facilitating Digital Peer Review from Stanford Teaching Commons weighs the pros and cons of different formats of digital peer response.