An Example of Notes Considering Argument on a Website

in draft 22 Sep 2015

This page presents an example of reading a set of web pages for how the rhetor works with argument. Read chapter 3: Argumentation in L&M first to become familiar with the terms and some of the common practices in argument. I'll present here some examples of how moving through pages can be seen as encountering individual enthymemes that are structured into an epicheireme, and how the rhetor, using design and links, manages reasons and evidence in practical reasoning. To follow this, you need to be familiar with the terms from chapter 3.

This is not a complete analysis so much as a set of notes I have composed towards an analysis to see how the rhetor is managing claims and evidence. I'm looking at links, organization, placement., images ... and working from ground up: I'm interested in seeing what the rhetor is doing rather than judging that doing as effective. Because this is a new set of pages, I can't be sure what's going to be important and what not. I'm drawing on the concepts of argumentation presented by L&M to help me notice things and consider how they are being used.

This is not the only way to handle notes. You'll find others, you might take your signals from this example and DEVELOP THINGS FURTHER!

First, here's an illustration of what we're looking at. Below are links to two different pages on the BSU web site. Open them in two browser windows so you can see them side-by-side. You'll want to compare them.

Same site, two different pages, two different strategies of argument

Refer to L&W, "More Classical Terms: Topics and Stases of Argument," pp 71 - 80 > uses one strategy, drawing on the topic of Facts and Figures > uses another, drawing on the topic of History


What we're interested in is how each of these pages creates kairos and manages an argument. We're not interested in coming to any conclusions yet, just getting a sense of how a web page and its links presents an argument.

How to look at the site

View the web site as a forum and genre, and view the site as a whole as making an argument made up of enthymemes. The major claim of the BSU web site is You have made a good decision in attending BSU. I derive this from BSU's recent promotional campaign, that gets summed up - capped - in the statement "Best Decision Ever!"


View the site OVERALL as a forum making the argument that "You have made a good decision in attending BSU."

BUT ALSO, view each web page as its own site for making the same argument or a sub-argument that goes to support that claim. So, the two pages you're looking at side by side are making the same argument but in two different ways. They use SOME of the same web elements - the layout, headings, sub-headings, bulleted lists, side-bar navigation, text assembled with images with captions, and VERY IMPORTANTLY embedded links: links embedded in the text of the page. Links are fundamental rhetorical elements on the web and in other digital realms, so we want to pay special attention to how they are used to manage an argument.

Some Guidelines for Rhetoric of Web Page Elements

The specific web page is a site of rhetorical potential - a forum of its own - embedded in a larger forum. Think of a reader moving from room to room.

Page titles, headings and sub-headings tend to define the rhetorical topics (L&W, p ? [needs cite]).

Link text (the text of the link as it appears on the screen) creates a moment of kairos. The presence of a link creates an exigency for the intended audience to follow the link. The rhetor places a link in specific sites on the page, and in particular manifestation (as text, image, button) as a way of managing how the argument progresses. This means that how link text is phrased, if it's placed in a sentence, and if it's placed in a sentence, what part of speech it takes, and so on, is significant to managing the argument.

Navigation links (sidebar gives local navigation, the horizontal bar gives global navigation) are part of the overall argument of the site, but for now, focus on the embedded text links. These are moments of kairos the rhetor constructs in the specific page.

Design and the Argument in the Facts and Figures page

The Facts and Figures web page announces its topic in the page title (We will present here some facts and figures about BSU.) and the opening led (the led is the large text that starts the page) and following text. It ends this opening with a rhetorical question:

Bemidji State University, Home of the Beavers, has been named a top-tier Midwest university by U.S. News and World Report. (led)

We’re not only renown for our beautiful lakeside campus, but also for our innovative, nationally recognized programs in Industrial Model-Making and Exhibit Design. We are known for our commitment to serving our native populations and preserving our environment, and we are unsurpassed in affordability; we offer in-state or reciprocity tuition rates to all qualified students.

What else is there to know about BSU? Plenty.

The next section of the page is defined by a heading, The Basics, and starts with an image with a caption, and uses a bulleted list of some campus-oriented demographics. The rest of the page uses the heading - image with caption - bulleted list pattern with the topics

Academic Programs
Fun Stuff

In those topics and the items listed under them and the images, BSU as a rhetor presents those values and interests that serve as support - evidence - for the claim, "Best Decision Ever." By isolating these bullet points from other support, the rhetor is managing the argument managing kairos.

How does it manage kaios? Re-read the opening of the page. The text is creating a local exigence - a need - for the coming support. The rhetorical question that caps this section of the page is a sure signal. "What else is there to know about BSU? Plenty."

Now look at how the rhetor uses embedded links in the opening paragraph to further support the claim. There are three links in the paragraph:

beautiful lakeside campus >
serving our native populations >
preserving our environment >

The first is a noun phrase, and two are verb phrases. The first goes to a page in the About section of the website the reader is located in that has more images and description of the campus. The other two, however, go to different sections of the web site: the landing page for the AIRC, and the landing page for The Sustainability Office. All three of the pages are dominantly, like the page we're looking at, promotional prose - epideictic! - rather than, say, strictly informational prose or forensic prose.

What's happening rhetorically is that the links are embedded to create another enthymeme. Like this -

Best decision ever because BSU is the kind of place that serves native populations - and here is the evidence of that ...
Best decision ever because BSU is the kind of place that does things to preserve the environment.

Rather than the enthymemes being argued sequentially - as L&M mention (54) and as is typically done in scholarly argument - these enthymemes seem to be presented in parallel groups. That's fitting because the forum of a web site does not enforce a reading sequence. Intended readers decide which link to follow when.

What's important to see is that both these landing pages are placed by the rhetor to make a further argument for Best Decision Ever. The rhetor, by linking in the context of the paragraph, is using the page as an argumentative cap. By being links from a page that ostensibly lists Facts & Figures, the intended audience's encounter with the page is being managed as This, too, is Fact.

If you now notice how weak the first link now seems

Best decision ever because BSU has a nice campus

you can get a sense of how the rhetor is managing even the emphasis on particular arguments.

Artistic and Inartisitc Reasons and Evidence

The Facts & Figures page is ostensibly assembled as a set of inartistic pisteis, a set of evidence that is "simply collected and used" (48). That's illustrated in the organization of the page, the links to selected other pages, and the selection of and phrasing of the link text. I write ostensibly to emphasize that the evidence is not just found but is created and managed as a set of artistic pisteis. If we notice what the rationale for including these facts and figures in these particular groups is, we can see that the selection is constructed to support the rhetors ethos and logos: This selection, these links, this page, together argue that BSU is a specific kind of place, with these specific values and opportunities (that's ethos), that taken together, as a set of facts (that's logos) lead to Best Decision Ever. The other web pages are being offered up as evidence.

But here's another signifiant point. Each page is actually another argument, with its own enthymemes at work. The linking by the rhetor places the separate enthymemes in relation with one another, illustrating how enthymemes can be presented to construct an epicheireme: a collection of arguments. (p 54).

Now follow the other links on Fact and Figures page, and notice

  1. what the rhetor is placing in front of the intended reader,
  1. at what point in the page,
  1. with what kind of framing and priming
  1. in what structure and organization (note the headings, uses of images, etc.)

On these pages, it look like the rhetor can prime the intended reader with a comment on the link, and can frame how the cap will be interpreted by placing the bullet item and the link under a specific head.

For instance, under Athletics, the link text NCAA Division I is not a bullet point in a list. Instead, the rhetor comments on where the link leads to with, "Men’s and Women’s Hockey (men’s team has the highest winning percentage of any NCAA Division I team)." The intended reader is being primed to notice an aspect of the evidence, in this case, the winning percentage. A similar move to prime the reader is going on in the caption to the image. In this case, it might be the image itself that's priming the reader. The caption contains a link to the Women's Soccer page on the site.

Compare what's going on in priming the NCAA Division I and the Women's soccer links with the other three links in the list. Not all the links in the Athletics subhead go off the BSU website to There's a perhaps accidental argument being made there.

As you follow the links, make note of what's being used as link text and where the link goes on the web site.

Next: Do it yourself
Exercise - AFirstPassAtArgumentsOnWebSites

A side analysis: Pop up images on the BSU home page

The pop up images on some BSU pages provide enthymemes for the major claim that BSU is using: Best Decision Ever. Here, on a page captured in the first weeks of the 2015 school year, the popups hold portraits of new BSU faculty. (That's the rhetor managing kairos: new university year, new faculty parallel the presence of new students, new enthusiasm in the portraits.) Most of the popups also contain a caption phrased as a headline and a short text. Some contain a link.

The popup included here is an example of testimony being used to support the claim. As Thomas Dunn testifies, atmosphere, winters, forests, and lakes are the basis for his decision to teach at BSU. They may be Dr. Dunn's reasons for coming to BSU, but as they are presented and use they are not just reasons but evidence.

While each popup serves the argument, not every popup works as into the argument in the same way this one does. Each one needs to be looked at before drawing any conclusions. The presence of links, where they lead, and how that target becomes part of the argument also have to be considered. The selection of this set of people as a group needs consideration. A final consideration would be the framing of the head shots in white circles, the popup of the caption alone when they are moused-over, the zoom-in effect and revealing the text when they are clicked, and, perhaps, the overall aesthetic of the layout and interaction as game-like (It's been compared to a Whack-A-Mole game) and what signals about the intended (as compared to the real) audience.


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