WRIT 501 header

Choosing and analyzing a website from a rhetorical perspective

Aristotle taught us that rhetoric consists, in a particular circumstance for a particular audience, of discovering the appropriate means of communication. That principle allows us to analyze texts from a rhetorical perspective, dissecting how the various rhetorical elements of the text work to achieve the author's purpose with the intended audience. We're going to apply that principle to our next assignment. As with most of the assignments in this class, this one has more than one purpose.

  1. I want you to practice locating electronic publications using a variety of tools and understanding how search tools work.
  2. I want you to work with the basic design principles discussed in Lynch and Horton’s Web Style Guide.
  3. I want you to start analyzing what a web-based publication might be like through analyzing examples that are already out there.


  1. Using at least four different search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, MSN, or others of your choice), attempt to find several student-produced electronic publications or journals on the web. I'm not looking for student newspapers here, but for literary magazines, non-fiction journals, opinion journals, etc. As you search, note how each search engine produces results. Do you need to use different search terms? Do search terms need to be in quotes? as strings? in Boolean query language? Why do different search engines return different results? How does their spidering work?

    Here is our master list of websites to choose from:

  1. Choose one of the student publications in the list above and subject it to a closer analysis. Again be attentive to color choice, how a webpage fills the browser window, how your attention is directed around the page, what typefaces & sizes are used, how you find your way among the different pages of a site, any use of sound or animation or video—anything and everything that sticks out to you as welcoming you or pushing you away. Make a sketch map of the site to help you understand the organization. Note those elements you think have been particularly chosen to appeal to that publication's target audience.
  2. As you put your analysis together, ask yourself questions like these, which were generated by Penn State University faculty:

    Rhetorical Design

               Who is the primary audience for the site? Is there a secondary audience?

    What is the main purpose of the site (e.g., to inform, educate, persuade, and/or entertain)? Are there multiple purposes?

    What is the context for the site? That is, what is the mission of the organization sponsoring the site? 

    Interface Design 

    What overall metaphor informs the design of the site? Does it seem to work for the audience?

    Discuss the navigation structure. Are the navigation aids clear?

    Does the site include basic document elements? I'm referring to the Who-What-When-Where issues listed in Lynch and Horton. Are they helpful?

    Is the interface design simple, consistent, and functional?

    Does the interface provide sufficient feedback and dialog? 

    Site Design 

    Does the site organize information effectively and logically?

    What structures does it employ (e.g., sequences, grids, hierarchies, webs)?

    Does the chunking strategy aid navigation and use?

    Comment on the home (main) page. What design strategies are used here? Do they seem to work for the audience?

    Does the site rely on tables of contents, indexes, site maps, "what's new" pages, search features, or FAQ pages? Are additional features such as these needed to clarify the overall site design?

    Does the site accommodate disabled users? 

    Page Design 

    Analyze the layout of pages. Can you discern a grid or grids that structure the pages in the site?

    Do the pages reveal a strong, consistent visual hierarchy?

    What page elements do the designers rely on (e.g., tables, headers and footers)? Are there missing elements that could be useful to the audience?

    Does the site employ frames? If so, comment on the issues of flexibility, functionality, interactivity, and aesthetics as discussed by Lynch and Horton. 


    Discuss the characteristics of the type used on the Web site. Is it effective? Why or why not?

    Be sure to cover legibility, alignment, white space, and emphasis markers.

    Editorial Style 

    Analyze the writing style on the Web site. How would you characterize it?

    Is the prose organized for protocols of reading on the Web (e.g., skimming and scanning)?

    Does the site use titles and subtitles (as all technical communication should)?

    In what ways are links integrated with prose? 


    Analyze the graphics on the site. What types of graphics are used?

    Do the graphics have clear rhetorical purposes, or are they just ornamental?

    Do the graphics load quickly? 


    Does the site use audio, video, or animation? If so, are these elements used effectively? What rhetorical purposes do they serve?

    How well do these elements perform on your machine? That is, do they load quickly? Did you have to install software to look at them? 

    Overall Impressions 

    What did you like best about the site?

    What did you like least about the site

    Given your experiences on the Web, how would you rate the site? Excellent? Average? Poor?
    Source: http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/j/a/jan179/AssignmentFive.rtf


  3. Assemble your analysis into a set of web pages that has a carefully-designed and accessible site architecture. You may wish to cut and paste elements of your target into these pages, add callouts or other overlays, and use other tools to help you emphasize the points you wish to make in completing your analysis.


Post a link to your analysis from your central class webpage on our class Ning site
before noon on Sept. 22 so that people have a chance to at least "surf" your page before class time. (Earlier announcements will of course be gratefully welcomed!)