Text and Context Exercise

S&P chap 4
Web Style Guide, 3rd ed. Page Design
See SomeTechniquesForObserving

Chapter 4 looks more closely at description, bringing in the context in which the message is created and in which it is read in or encountered. Things get serious here because we start bringing in rhetorical and visual design terms to use for description.

To get started, read S&P, chap 4, paying special attention to the method of planned survey and Approaches to Describing Context section. Then, sit back and read a few sections from the Web Style Guide. You'll need some concepts and terms to get started in your description. Refer to the Web Style Guide for the terms that will help you see page elements.

Read these pages to become familiar with the terms Lynch uses to describe pages: headers, columns, footers ... No need to memorize the terms. To practice with then, you might print out some web pages and outline or map the terms to the pages. The terms will be useful as you engage this exercise.

Text and Context Exercise, Part 1

Start a new page from your WikiName page, titled TextAndContextExercise - followed by your initials. Work in that page, using headings to organize your notes.

Below are three web pages that represent three different web sites, and three different rhetorical contexts.

These three sites represent three difference rhetorical contexts - different implied rhetors, audiences, and situations. The distinctions between them will be fine, and part of this exercise is coming to see those distinctions.

In your work with this exercise, you need to use only the home page I've linked to. You may have to follow links to see what's at the other end, but there's not need to describe other pages.. There are different kinds of text on each, plus images, and there are various methods of organization. The text itself is short but vital to describe and work with - so don't shortchange that.

For each page, do this.

1. Describe the page and then characterize it - as you did in the previous exercise.Use a planned survey (p 48-9), to fashion your description, describing each page as a sort of map: background , banner, navigation bar at the top, columns, footer, and the like. I'd suggest you take some preliminary notes even before you begin composing a description. The notes - along with following a planned survey - prompt you to look and look again, and then look a third time to see what you missed the first and second time.

Refer to the Web Style Guide for the terms that will help you see page elements.

Describe as you did before. But also watch for these elements:

Here are the headings:

=== Notes for description ===
Optional, but a good idea.

=== Description of page ===

=== Characterization of page ===
Re-read of chap 3 if you're not sure.


2. Describe the rhetorical context for the page. These are the elements of the rhetorical situation in which the text is operating. See S&P pp 54ff. At this point, you'll find that description is going to start feeling more like consideration and speculation as you have to infer some of the features of the rhetorical context from the message you're looking at, and from what you know about those contexts. You'll need to consider multiple possible situations and develop a way of presenting those possibles. Keep your language neutral, get as specific as possible in the context, maintain a balcony view, and you'll find you'll be able to consider reasonable possibilities. S&P have good examples of thinking this through on pp 52-58. A final suggestion: Work with what so see in the message, not by what you expect to see or want to see.

Describe the context under three headings:

=== Description of the 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. Consider the season, the year, any current events, and on the (inferable) circumstances of the audience reading the message.

=== Description of 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. Research if necessary: Look at a few other sites addressing similar circumstances - they won't be identical. You can use in the other two pages in this exercise if you wish, or bring in other pages.

=== Description of the (implied) rhetor and the (implied) audience ===
Not just demographics but psychographic information: the values and attitudes and ways of thinking and seeing that the message entails. The message presents the values of the implied rhetor. Consider especially the relationship between the two (S&P 57) as far as that relationship is inferable from the message.


Text and Context Part 2

As S&P say, messages and contexts raise expectations in the audience about how a message SHOULD suit a context. Audiences tend to take a position of right/wrong as a gut reaction when the situation is far more complex. Writing in shorthand without punctuation suits the rhetorical context of teenagers texting each other - it conforms to the situation. But the same moves when used in an email to a professor might not conform to the situation. It's not enough to say, however, that it's wrong or ineffective. That's the proclamation of the audience, not the observer critic.

As a rhetorical critic, you are not an audience member of the message but a more neutral observer of the message in it's context. Balcony view, remember? We need a better set of relationships between text and context than suits/doesn't suit.

S&P draw on Branham and Pierce for four relations between text and context. Pages 60ff detail these.

3. Consider the text-context interaction.
Explain in a paragraph how each page (and the site it represents) responds to the specific rhetorical context. Draw on your descriptions of each page and the context. You'll start with deciding if it conforms, refuses to participate, or engages in contextual reconstruction. None of the sites engages in desecration.

The key word is explain. Make a choice, and draw on the text and context to make your reasoning clear. If the distinction is a fine one, make it clear what you're basing it on.

I didn't select the sites as examples of each type of text-context interaction but I will say that they do not all simply conform to the context. The distinctions might be subtle, might require another look at the SPECIFIC context and SPECIFIC message - a return to close description on which to base your description - and will require drawing on your knowledge of other web sites of the same type: university, community college, maybe even high school web site home pages.

There's no answer key to this problem. You're interested less in getting it right and more in how you bring your understanding and the concepts to bear on the problem: how you make a case for the text-context interaction in each case.

So, dig in.

Deadline, Weds 18 Feb. Weds 25 Feb.





CategoryExercise

Adapted from TextAndContextInFourWebsitesProject
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