Morgan's Notes On Messages Chap 4: Text and Context

see TextAndContextInFourWebsitesProject

Now it gets serious.

from chap 3

Description, as a process, amounts to characterizing the message under analysis. That is, as you look long and hard at a message, you want to be able to grasp the message in such a way that you can present ... the essential characteristics and patterns within the message. ... description doesn’t attempt to retell the other person by getting stuck in recounting superficial details; rather, it points out what makes [the artifact] ... distinctive - it recounts the features that make Karen unique and important. (28)

Your description process may begin with you talking through all the details of the message, but each time you examine the message, your description will become less a retelling and more a characterization of essential elements - those elements or dimensions of the message that make it worth examining. Remember that at this point description is a way of thinking about a message; you are working on discovering an insight about a message. (29)

So, take notes first, whether in bullet points, diagrams, paper, ... Then from those notes, compose a few paragraphs that describe the artifact, ending in a characterization.

... inherent in precise description is a kind of analysis. As we explained in Chapter 3, description and analysis are related and you will often find that some preliminary analysis happens as you work on description. That's good, and you should be prepared to note ideas and message characteristics that merit further investigation when you intentionally begin the analysis of the message. However, it is important that you don’t lose control when describing the message and give in to the temptation to skip the important step of description. You can control your thinking and facilitate your success by creating a plan for description. (S&P, 67, n 1)

Description, as one kind of critical thinking, helps discipline your approach to any message. Description helps you slow down and consciously think about what you observe in the message, which helps you move beyond your first “glandular” reaction. (47) - and is a way of getting to the specifics of the text you're focusing on.

By describing messages,finding the essential characteristics that make messages noteworthy, we become mindful and careful to see them in ways that we don't normally see them in daily life. (48)


Method

Two ways of making observation systematic


Planned Survey

Questions

Recording Your Thinking

The function of taking notes and writing paragraphs of descriptions from those notes.

Your description process may begin with you talking through all the details of the message, but each time you examine the message, your description will become less a retelling and more a characterization of essential elements - those elements or dimensions of the message that make it worth examining. Remember that at this point description is a way of thinking about a message; you are working on discovering an insight about a message. (29)

Take notes las you describe, whether in bullet points, diagrams, on paper or on the wiki ... Then from those notes, compose a few paragraphs that describe the artifact, presenting the essential patterns that characterize it.

Describing Context

see also KairosAndTheRhetoricalSituation

Describe Specific Circumstances
Consider how the site is used and where it will be used. Might need to do some research into the specific circumstances of the site. Consider how it, or portions of it, might be responding to specific circumstances, such as special events or seasonal events ...

Describe Similar Circumstances and Similar Messages
The tricky part here is developing a sense of similar and the variations. For instance, not all university websites are similar. They vary, and they probably vary by the rhetors's sense of specific circumstances and intended audience, which, in turn, is driven by other, local circumstances. A specific artifact in one genre may be more similar to artifacts in another genre:

Describe Rhetor and Audience
Not just demographics but psychographic information: the values and attitudes and ways of thinking and seeing that the artifact entails. The artifact presents the values of the implied audience.

Research

This might seem unnecessary, but it has become so easy to do (Just Google It) that it's obligatory to find something out about the implied rhetor and / or the actual author, the broader context in which the artifact is operating, the historical and cultural context. It saves a lot of time and frustration to read up on the background rather than guessing.

Relation between text and context

Context ... helps us understand messages, but sometimes messages have an impact on how we understand the context. 60

The expectation that a message will (must?) fit a context in a particular way gives rise to prescription, and prescriptive viewing - something we're trying to avoid as rhetorical critics, especially when working in the digital realm, where conventions are still loose and under formation. Our task it to explain how a message works rather than declare that it doesn't.

S&P describe the problem.

The contextual components of circumtances, similar messages, rhetor, and audience give rise to expectations among audiences or members about the way communication should occur. For example, if you know that the president is about to address the nation on television, you implicitly have expectations about the way he will speak, what he will wear, what subject(s) he will address, and so forth. And if you are surfing the Web and find a site for Grateful Dead fans, you implicitly have expectations about the layout of the site, its contents, and its style. The medium and the message maker in these two cases differ significantly and shape our expectations of rhetorical events. ln essence, texts and contexts interact ... and we need to understand what some of those possible relationships may be in order to describe them. (S&P 60)

S&P, drawing from Branham and Pierce, discuss four ways text and context can interact:


S&P use these concepts as "analytical tools" be applying them to rhetorical artifacts. To get a handle on how text and context interact, try this: "The seemingly innocuous context of missing a few days of work is not an uncommon ”exigence” or situation needing an explanation."

think of yourself as a manager in an office or factory where you ask one of your subordinates why he missed the last three days of work. That person’s behavior exists in some context, and, in order to make sense of the story you are given, you may ask:


Text-Context Relations in Digital Media and Contexts

The text-context relationship lets us re-consider some common rhetorical moves in digital spheres. In print, rebuses, shorthand, acronyms (FTW, WTF) and light or missing punctuation are typically seen as violations of print- and paper-based one-to many communication (although they often do occur in personal letters, one to one). When considered within the rhetorical context of a particular Twitter stream, however, these affordances are conforming, while their non-use will appear as non-participation.

Text and context differences on Twitter. Two sphericules w/ their own text-context conventions

By the same idea, here's a list of moves that are often considered poor web design:


But have a look at Ling's Cars. This page is not about being poorly designed - although it violates almost every convention in the web design books. It might seem like non-participation in car sales advertising on the web, but it leans pretty heavily towards desecration. A close look at the context and the text will help us think it through. LINGsCARS: Dragons' Den episode with Ling, and elsewhere.

The StrunkNWhite of web design is The Web Style Guide.

Some more examples


BSU University web site home page < conformity. Recall that we saw two registers at work on the MSU Mankato Tech Writing page: institutional (dominantly in the deliberative text in taxons and links) , and academic in the center panel. Compare this to Washington College. We might be seeing a contextual reconstruction towards marketing register and epideictic rather than deliberative prose. It might be interesting to see where in the site this visual and textual marketing register appears, and where the register shifts.
MIT University web site home page < This might be leaning towards non-participation or contextual reconstruction. Evidence shows up when we consider specific circumstances, and similar circumstances and similar messages.
DeviantArt home page < conformity. I had expected non-conformity.
Worst Websites for 2013 < might be able to find interesting sites to work with here. Describe the context before you make the call. It's not just about being poorly designed.
Middlebury College. < Looks initially like non-participation in the design rhetoric on the home page. But look at the rhetor - the designers of the site (whitewhale. net) - which is part of the context, suggest an attempt to re-create / re-define the situation of the university home page.

text-c0ntext interaction in a couple of music videos







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