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Analyzing Wikipedia

This unit uses Wikipedia.com to demonstrate ways of engaging in rhetorical analyses of visual and digital rhetoric. Some of the terms originate from classical rhetorical analysis; others are specific to analysis of multi-modal forms.

Analyzing Wikipedia

The Rhetorical Situation Informed by Aristotle, Burke, Foss

The Rhetorical Situation Informed by Aristotle, Burke, Foss

Speaker: Anonymous, collaborative writers. Contributors are not necessarily experts in their field Rather, the texts ethos is constructed by the sites policy of openness, neutrality, and its extremely high number of viewers and editors.

The Rhetorical Situation Informed by Aristotle, Burke, Foss

Audience: Receives 684 million visitors/year Holds 10,000,000 articles in 250 languages Free to view Is ranked among the 20 most popular websites in the world (Black 76)

The Rhetorical Situation Informed by Aristotle, Burke, Foss


The purpose of Wikipedia is to encourage the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge. (Wikimedia Foundation Home)

The Rhetorical Situation Informed by Aristotle, Burke, Foss


The function of Wikipedia changes with the user, as Sonja Foss tells us (215). For some users, the function is to provide an outlet for developing and distributing information But for others, Wikipedia is solely a place to find information.

This user-based concept of function perhaps explains the conflicting relationships that different users have with Wikipedia.

Design: The argumentative work [] is contained more in their visual structurestheir screen and temporal arrangements, colors, typography, and use of photographythan in their verbal (Wysocki Seeing the Screen 601)

Design: The argumentative work [] is contained more in their visual structurestheir screen and temporal arrangements, colors, typography, and use of photographythan in their verbal (Wysocki Seeing the Screen 601)

Arial typeface, a sans-serif spin-off from Helvetica, denotes modernism, transparency, neutrality, and rationalityall highly valued qualities of factbearing resources

(Helvetica: The Documentary)

What order is reinforced by a design, and what designs give us chances to re-order? (Wysocki Monitoring Order)

What order is reinforced by a design, and what designs give us chances to re-order? (Wysocki Monitoring Order)

Standardized page designs limit the capacity for redesign in all Wikipedia articles.
Thus, Wikipedia limits design creation by its contributors. Such standardization is one of the only ways in which the site actively limits its contributors capacity for creation.

This limit over design reinforces the transparency of the interface.


By standardizing the visual design, Wikipedia suggests that form is not intrinsically tied to content. Additionally, the format reflects Wikipedias desire for authority.

Design: The argumentative work [] is contained more in their visual structurestheir screen and temporal arrangements, colors, typography, and use of photographythan in their verbal (Wysocki Seeing the Screen 601)

Design analysis informs many of the following slides as they work through analytical terms, such as hybridity and transparency

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Not a permanent part of Wikipedia, this call for donations nevertheless supports the ethos of collaborative, grassroots research produced by and for the everyday Internet user.

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

History tab allows users to readand return the article to the state ofall previous iterations of any article.

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Call for citations demonstrates desire for reliability, a touchstone for accuracy and credibility. This also nods to scholarly conventions and cultural expectations of authorship and ownership.

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Linked contents allows quick scanning and navigation. It also develops an ethos of order and control, suggesting a hierarchy of the informations importance and chronology.

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Hyperlinks to related articles allows for audience interaction with text

Audience Stance: the way the author creates an ethos inviting various kinds of audience engagement/participation (Hocks 632); this stance results largely from the author creating an ethos and a connection with readers that encourages different kinds of audience participation (Hocks 642)

Ubiquitous edit links confirm the ethos of collaborative knowledge building

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

These tabsDiscussion, Edit this Page, and Historyall allow for user interactions with the text that clash with print conventions. Hocks would call this defamiliarizing the design and editorial capabilities of Wikipedia in order to highlight the possibilities not present in print forms (643)

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

Table of Contents conforms with standard book-printing practice, allowing for manageable and familiar browsing

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

Blue text perpetuates the HTML standard for hyperlinks, supporting an established convention of hypertext

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

Footnote citations follow a standard academic format for research writing in print form. (The addition of hyperlink mixes print and new media conventions.)

Transparency: The ways in which online documents relate to established conventions like those of print, graphic design, film, and Web pages; the more familiar, the more transparent (Hocks 632).

Wikipedias frame-within-aframe interface follows fairly pervasive conventions for many Websites, allowing meta-site navigation at all times.

Hybridity: Refers to the interplay between the visual and the verbal in one constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space (Hocks 637). Hybridity works to the audiences advantages by increasing the experience of pleasure through identification and multiplicity (Hocks 643).

Hybridity: Refers to the interplay between the visual and the verbal in one constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space (Hocks 637). Hybridity works to the audiences advantages by increasing the experience of pleasure through identification and multiplicity (Hocks 643).

Icons pervasive to all of Wikipedias pages provide site-wide cohesiveness. The sites visual metaphorthe globe being built by puzzle pieces reinforces its mission: a worldwide collaboration of Internet users piecing together knowledge.

Hybridity: Refers to the interplay between the visual and the verbal in one constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space (Hocks 637). Hybridity works to the audiences advantages by increasing the experience of pleasure through identification and multiplicity (Hocks 643).

A frugal approach to images (except for scientific diagrams and charts) establishes the staid, text-based encyclopedic tone of Wikipedia.

Image rights to: Pennsylvania State University Library, http://www.libraries.psu.edu/speccolls/rbm/images/burke.jpg

Analyzing Wikipedia

A series of questions designed to help students conduct similar analysis of Wikipedia and other digital/visual materials is included in the CD handout you received for attending todays showcase. Youll also find writing assignments based on such analysis.
Thank you for attending!

Works Cited
Black, Erik. Wikipedia and Academic Peer Review: Wikipedia as a Recognised Medium?Online Information Review 32.1 (2008): 73-88.
Foss, Sonja. A Rhetorical Schema for the Evaluation of Visual Imagery. Communication Studies 45 (Fall/Winter 1994): 213-24. Helvetica, The Documentary. Dir. Gary Hustwit. Plexifilm. 2007 Hocks, Mary. Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments. College Composition and Communication 54.4 (Jun. 2003): 629-56. Voss, Jakob. Measuring Wikipedia. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics. 24-28 July 2005, Stockholm Sweden.
<http://eprints.rclis.org/archive/00003610/01/MeasuringWikipedia2005.pdf>

Wysocki, Anne. Monitoring Order: Visual Desire, the Organization of Web Pages, and Teaching the Rules of Design. Kairos 3.2 (1998). <http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/3.2/features/wysocki/mOrder.html> ---. Seeing the Screen: Research into Visual and Digital Writing Practices. Bazerman, Charles, Ed. Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008. 599-611.