21W.016 | Fall 2016 | Undergraduate

Writing and Rhetoric: Designing Meaning


Essay 3

While rhetoric has long been associated primarily with spoken oratory (political speeches, arguments in court, etc.), much recent analysis has been devoted to considering the rhetorical (i.e., symbolic and persuasive) functions of visual images, and of “texts” that are produced in multiple media—websites, advertisements, posters, films, even video games. In this unit, you will both analyze and produce rhetoric in multiple media. The unit includes 3 interrelated assignments: An essay analyzing the rhetoric of MIT’s homepage, a web design for the MIT homepage, and an oral presentation of your web design.

Your third essay assignment asks you to analyze the rhetoric of MIT’s homepage. As the images shift day to day, what argument is being made about MIT? How are viewers being persuaded (explicitly and implicitly) to accept particular ideas in relation to MIT? What do these designs suggest about the cultural identity that MIT constructs for itself?

To address these questions, you’ll need to perform a detailed rhetorical analysis of multiple homepage designs, and develop an argument about MIT’s use of visual rhetoric based on that analysis. Note: your argument in the essay is a critical analysis that addresses and evaluates what MIT does construct as an identity through its homepage; you are not being asked, here, to argue for what MIT should construct as its image (that can be addressed in your own web design and presentation).

As always, your essay should have a clear focus and purpose, a logical structure, and an argument based on evidence and reasoning. All sources (including the primary sources of MIT’s homepage) must be cited according to MLA format.

Useful invention activities: To prepare for the longer essay, begin by analyzing 2-3 separate images from MIT’s homepage this semester. You can choose any 2 or 3 images that you like, but at least one needs to be an image posted in November. Using the chart for comparing visual rhetoric of the homepage will help you organize your insights, and make comparisons, so that you can develop its ideas based on considering the images in relation to each other, rather than simply developing separate analyses. What appeals does the website make? What do we begin to learn about MIT’s use of visual rhetoric by examining these examples? What do these specific images tell us about MIT’s image of itself? (For instance, what is the focus of each image? Is “education” or “research” or “community” or “innovation,” or something else, being emphasized? How serious or playful, accessible or challenging, traditional or innovative are these constructed images? What do the images connote, and what visual tropes are at play? How does the web design develop ethos?).

One important note about this essay: Because this essay analyzes visual evidence, you’ll need to think carefully about how to incorporate visual evidence into your essay. Unlike in the first two essays, you won’t be able to “quote” your evidence, but you will have the same options of either presenting evidence directly (here, not in a quotation but through incorporating the image (or part of it)), or paraphrasing by rendering the evidence in your own words (in this case, describing the image). You will also need to consider, should you present the evidence directly, how you will integrate that into your text—will you simply attach the image and refer to it throughout? Will you crop small parts (perhaps frames or close ups) and integrate them as separate figures? If you paraphrase, will you describe the image all at once, or in smaller chunks? How will you move throughout the image in your analysis, and how will you orient your reader to the frame of the larger image as you do? As you work on early invention activities such as comparative analysis, also experiment with different options for incorporating information about the visual images in your text, and determine which is most conducive to the analysis you need to perform.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples