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Remix: Multimodal Presentations.


What is a multimodal text?

What do academic papers, biology posters, and Power Point presentations about statistical analysis have in common with Doge? They are all multimodal. That means that they use different “modes,” or types of communication, to present ideas. For example, Doge, a well-known Internet meme, is multimodal. The meme combines photographs of Shiba Inu dogs with deliberately misspelled text and humorously jumbled grammar to communicate various messages and to be funny and entertaining.

Is Doge really a text? Yes. While “text” traditionally means written words, in the discussion of rhetoric we use the term text to refer to any piece of communication as a whole, including images, sounds, gestures, and more.


Authors (writers, speakers, painters, etc.) choose modes of communication for every text that they create.  Sometimes these choices are conscious, like my choice of the Doge Meme to title this assignment: I chose the image and the words and where I placed them on the page. Some choices are not, like the automatic margin settings in Microsoft Word, which I used to make this handout. There’s no wrong way to compose a multimodal text—just relevant or irrelevant, effective or ineffective in light of audience and purpose. Writers must be able to use modes consciously and deliberately to successfully communicate their ideas.


The Five Modes of Communication

Linguistic:  the use of language, usually written or spoken; includes consideration of word choice, delivery, organization, development, and clarity of words and ideas, among other possibilities.  For example,

  • Speeches

  • Television commercials

  • Newspapers

Visual: the use of images and other components that readers see; includes consideration of color, layout, style, size, perspective, and other possibilities.  For example,

  • Billboards

  • Flyers

  • Websites

  • Package design

Aural: the use of sound; includes consideration of music, sound effects, ambient noise/sounds, silence, tone of voice in spoken language, volume, emphasis, and accent, among other possibilities.  For example,

  • TV program theme songs

  • Shouting

  • The rhythms of a preacher from the southern US

Spatial: the use of physical arrangement; includes consideration of organization, location, and proximity between objects. For example,

  • The arrangement of objects on a Twitter feed

  • How a brochure opens

  • Where a speaker stands in a room

Gestural: the way movement, such as body language, can make meaning; includes consideration of facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, and interaction between people. For example,

  • A news anchor standing or sitting behind a desk during a newscast

  • A movie villain whose facial expressions are incongruous with the situation (eg, smiling when angry)

  • Skype or Facetime versus voice-only conversations

Modes, Media, and Affordances

Let’s say you want to tell people how much you love your cat. You have lots of photos. These are your media (singular=medium) that you could share. The medium is the way the text reaches your audience. Other media that you might use are video, speech, or paper.


Different media use different combinations of modes and are good at doing different things. We’ve all heard the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Sometimes it is much easier and more effective to use an image to show someone how to do something or how you are feeling. Say, for example, that you want to show people how adorable your cat looks when she’s curled up on the couch. A picture will more quickly convey this information in this situation than will a written description.


At other times, words may work better than images when we are trying to explain an idea because words can be more descriptive and to the point. An animation might work better for another situation.

The different strengths and weaknesses of different media and modes are called affordances and constraints.

Now you try it!

For this assignment, you will be assigned to teams and asked to prepare a multimodal presentation to the class explaining a concept. The presentation should not be longer than five minutes and should include some sort of technology. Previous student presentations have used technologies such as

  • Audacity

  • Screen-o-matic

  • Comic Life

  • Prezi

  • Xtranormal

  • Video/YouTube

  • Puppets

You will collaborate with your group to choose the most effective modes and media for your audience (incoming freshmen) and purpose (to help them understand your concept, why it's important, and how to apply it). Regardless of the modes and media you choose, your presentation must be recorded. For example, if you stage a sock puppet show, you will need to record it as a video so that we have a record of the presentation.


We will do our presentations during the last weeks of the semester as time affords. Each group must submit a short report explaining/defending its rhetorical choices. Just copy and paste the following list of headings and fill in the blanks.  (And make sure all of your names are on it.)

  • Project Overview

  • Purpose

  • Audience Analysis

  • Modes:

    • Linguistic

    • Visual

    • Aural

    • Spatial

    • Gestural

  • Media:

    • Affordances

    • Constraints

Individual Process Analyses

Each individual group member will also submit a confidential one-page process analysis describing the process of how the group worked together to create and present the final project. When and where did you meet/communicate? What did each person contribute to the process? What did you learn? How did this help you understand rhetoric?


Your presentation will be evaluated on content, presentation, and discussion of your multimodal rhetorical choices in your reports. Your group grade will be averaged with your individual process analysis grade.

All reports and process analyses are due after the last presentation.


While your group will need to conduct further research on these concepts, the following definitions should provide you with starting points. (from Writing about Writing, Wardle and Downs)


Accommodations: The ways that writers/authors from one group understand and write about texts written by another group--for example, how journalists write about ("accommodate") scientists' research articles.


Argument: Any of the many means that people use to try to convince others of something. Mathematically, arguments are the individual propositions of a proof. In law, formal arguments are used to persuade a judge or jury to rule in favor of a particular position. In everyday use, arguments tend to consist of people yelling at each other (think of talk radio or "reality" shows) but rarely being convincing or convinced. We call all of these forms of argument agonistic, meaning that they pit people against each other in a win/lose contest. In an academic or intellectual context, argument is inquiry-based or conversational, and it describes the attempt to build knowledge by questioning existing knowledge and proposing alternatives. Inquiry-based argument aims to cooperatively find the best explanation for whatever is in question.


Cognition: Describes anything having to do with thought or mental activity. In Writing Studies, cognitive and cognition have to do with the internal thinking processes that writers use to write. Scholars in Writing Studies have contrasted the internal, private, personal nature of cognition with the social aspects of writing--that is, the writer's external interactions with their surroundings, culture, and audience. Most resesarch about cognition in Writing Studies was conducted in the 1980s and sought to find and describe the mental processes that writers use to solve problems related to writing.


Construct: The verb, pronounced conSTRUCT, means to put together or build. By turning the verb into a noun, pronounced CONstruct, we make the word mean a thing that has been constructed. In everyday use, we use the noun construct only in the realm of ideas or concepts. BIG ideas like freedom, justice, wealth, equality, and politics, for example, are all constructs or ideas whose meanings we've built up over time. Remember that, while constructs seem to be natural or inevitable, they're actually unchallenged claims that can be questioned, contested, redefined, or reinvented.


Contingent: One of the claims of Writing Studies is that meaning is contingent, that is, it depends. In other words, meaning is conditional. For example, "good writing" depends upon the context, purpose, and audience. Meaning depends on context, and principles for good communication depend on the specific situation and are not universal.


Exigence: The need or reason for a given action or communication. All communication exists for a reason. For example, if you say, "Please turn on the lights," we assume the reason you say this is that there's not enough light for your needs; the exigence of the situation is that you need more light. 


Genre: In the field of rhetoric, genres are broadly understood as categories of texts. For example, poetry, short story, novel, and memoir are all genres of literature; memos, proposals, reports, and executive summaries are genres of business writing; hiphop, bluegrass, pop, and electronica are genres of music; and comedy, drama, and documentary are genres of film. Genres are types of text that are recognizable to readers and writers and that meet the needs of the rhetorical situations in which they function. For example, we recognize invitations and understand them to be different from horoscopes. We know that when we are asked to write a research paper, our readers do not expect to get a poem instead. Genres are governed by conventions, agreements among people about the best ways to accomplish particular tasks, such as starting new paragraphs, citing sources, or punctuating sentences. Conventions are a kind of construct (see above).


Heuristics: Approachse or patterns for problem solving. For example, a heuristic for deciding what to have for dinner tonight might be the following: (1) check the fridge, (2) check the pantry,  and (3) choose whatever can be assembled from the ingredients.


Mindfulness: thinking carefully about what one is doing; that is, purposefully and carefully paying attention. It is often used in the discussion of transfer (see below) and how writers may successfully transfer knowledge about writing. For a writer to be mindful, for example, means not only coming up with something to say but paying attention to how she came up with something to say. In the future, she may be able to mindfully try that procedure again, adapting it to a new situation.


Register: In linguistics, register refers to a type of language used in a particular setting. Changing one's register might mean changing the kinds of words used, as well as the way one says the words. For example, a person might say, "I've finished my homework" to her parents, using one register, while she might say (or text), "I'm finally dooooooooone!" to her friends.


Repurpose: When writing scholars talk about repurposing, they are usually talking about how people draw on prior knowledge and experience to help them do something new. For example, a student who has written a five paragraph essay needs to draw on that experience in order to write a reserach paper. However, he can't simply draw on the experience; he must also adapt what he knows how to do in order to accomplish something related but new. In other words, he must repurpose, reshape, what he already knows from a five paragraph essay in order to successfully write a more complex research paper.


Threshold concepts: Some ideas literally change the way you experience, think about, and understand a subject. Researchers call these special ideas threshold concepts. Every specialized field of study (or discipline--like history, biology, mathematics, etc.) has threshold concepts that learners in that filed must become acquainted with to fully understand the ideas of that field of study. Threshold concepts, once learned, help the learner to see the world differently. Threshold concepts are "troublesome"--they might directly conflict with ideas you already have. Once you are aware of them they are hard or impossible to unlearn, "irreversible." They help you understand a whole set of other ideas that are hard to imagine without knowing the threshold concept, so they let you do a whole lot of learning at once by helping entire sets of ideas "fall into place."


Transfer: the act of applying existing knowledge, learned in one kind of situation, to new situations. For example, a writer who learns how to write a summary in English Literature is expected to transfer that summary writing knowledge to her "history of the telescope" project in Astronomy. Transfer is not automatic. People learn many things that they forget and/or don't or can't use in different circumstances. Research suggests that learning in particular ways (for example, being mindful) can increase the likelihood of later transfer.


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