Rhetorical characteristics of wikis

By virtue of being open and on the Web, and by virtue of the design as "the simplest database that can be implemented" (Leuf and Cunningham), wikis encourage and support a dialogical, collaborative, essayistic or associative rhetoric over a monological, thesis/support rhetoric. The openness of the wiki makes it difficult to lock it down to a final, authoritative, complete, single-voiced version.


that is, written and structured by TopicalWriting spaces (Bolter)

Writing on a wiki is linked topical writing. That is, writers have to create topics - named spaces in which to write - which are linked together or otherwise structured, and structured more ways than linear order. On a wiki, we don't write in just words, sentences, paragraph, parts, but collect those units into topics and arrange those topics in various ways. The topic - the node, the space, the lexia - that's created when a writer creates a WikiWord is not the same as any other unit of compostion. TopicNaming begins to address the rhetorical and compositional issues. WikiSupportsTopicalWriting.

An essay on a wiki becomes a NetworkOfTopics. An essay in print is a network of topics, too, but the network isn't navigable. On a wiki, it is. A wiki establishes the TopicAsAffordance.

Naming nodes to construct this NetworkOfTopics demands cognitive overhead writers haven't had to face before. Linking nodes ditto. These are new choices writers have to make and new practices to learn.

Topic naming

One powerful inventional (heuristic) feature of wikis is the ease with which writers can create nodes and links: Jam two words together or somehow create an intercap, and you create both a new, named space to write in, already linked into the document, and ready to further link to. But this apparent ease conceals the overhead: writers have to do two things: they have to find a place to put the node, and they have to name the node before writing in it. This suggests that we know where we're going at the moment we start: a good place to be but often more wishful than accurate and possibly constraining. In the course of addressing the topic, the we might take an unexpected direction, which will demand, in turn, renaming the node and possibly changing the starting point. This means that writers need to learn node naming strategies.

Every node has to live somewhere, even if it's hidden in the Index.

dialogic / dialectical

and so structured to essay, for counterpoint, for heteroglossia, for rhetorical dialogue: for collaboration


open to multiple, returning contributers, and so written to invite collaboration and SupportingCollaboration

Writing on the wiki can be collaborative, which demands that we find a way of organizing and managing the collaboration.

But even if it's not collaborative, wriing in the wiki space demands that we find ways of handling writing that evolves over time and revisits. We're also writing in a fairly small form field with mimimal formatting. Keeping notes, partial drafts, bits and pieces at hand in the same place - or others - becomes both a technique we need to learn and a cognitive burden.

essayistic or associative rhetoric

While wiki pages might be structured by thesis / support (to better increase the signal to noise ratio), the wiki as a whole opens to more complex, web-like structures than this. Typically, topics are related hierarchically: one topic is more important than or equally important as another, as in an outline. On a wiki topics can be related associatively by linking; and, further, the relationship named by the link text and placement of the link. So, a wiki page can link to TheCauses and TheEffects both; and can lead to each or both at different places in the page.

Essayistic or associative logic isn't chaotic or spurious or idiosyncratic logic. In fact, on a wiki, by the nature of the way topics are created by naming, a logic tends to come to the surface. But associative organization does mean writers have more organizational choices to take into account.

in flux

the state of the text, the state of knowledge, by its nature of being online and being so easy to work with.

Wiki writing by its nature of being online and being so easy to work with - is always in flux. We used to make this claim about writing with word processors. But word processed text typcially led to fixity in paper; so while the text was in flux on the way to print, writers aimed at fixity. The wiki changes that.


open to all comers, and taking place in a public space. Performance is an affordance of the wiki, and so draws in ideas of rhetorical performance. Open to all comers, at different levels engagement. Readers don't have to write, but may read or read the thread of development. Buskers.


part of the larger web of local pages and global sites. TB-L envisioned the web as a read-write-web, but it fell short at first. Wikis bring the rhetoric of composition back into the mix, and so web becomes a verb. That is, writers have to weave their pages into both the local wiki and the larger web outside the wiki. And this means that one aim a wiki might have is an outlet into the larger web: a page, pages, or other means (category?) that provides input from and outputs to the web at large: no wiki is should be an island.

For more on this, see XXX on networks and mapping the web. One of the rhetorical functions of a participant may be to monitor and provide inputs to the wiki and outputs from the wiki, in order place its position.


CategoryWikiHandbook CategoryWritingTheWiki
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