University of Wisconsin–Madison

Vocabulary for Evaluating New Media Assignments

Writing Across the Curriculum

(Summarized from a recent article in The Writing Center Journal, the following list offers instructors vocabulary to use in class activities and in evaluation criteria.)

Instructors often hesitate to assign new media compositions—film, podcasts, websites, visual essays—because they aren’t sure how to evaluate or respond to them. However, many new media texts share rhetorical features with “old” media texts: they need to be composed to a particular audience for a certain purpose in effective ways. What instructors need, therefore, is a vocabulary for describing and then evaluating these rhetorical features as they appear in graphics, animation, photos, sound, written text, and other modes.

The following three lists, adapted from an article by Professor Jackie Grutsch McKinney at Ball State University, offer some concrete language to help instructors respond to new media assignments. This vocabulary can help instructors describe the quality of different new media techniques and can help students understand how images, sound, or animation can be used effectively as texts.


Visual Assessment Criteria: Cynthia Selfe

These terms come from a chapter of Writing New Media in which Selfe helps writing instructors incorporate new media into their classes. This set of terms is helpful in evaluating the quality of a new media text.

  1. Visual impact: “the overall effect and appeal that a visual composition has on an audience” (85)
  2. Visual coherence: “the extent to which the various elements of a visual composition are tied together, represent a unified whole” (86)
  3. Visual salience: “the relative prominence of an element within a visual composition. Salient elements catch viewers’ eye [sic]; they are conspicuous” (86)
  4. Visual organization: “the pattern of arrangement that relates the elements of the visual essay to one another so that they are easier for readers/viewers to comprehend” (87)


Principles of Design: Robin Williams

Williams’s four basic design principles come from her work The Non-Designer’s Design Book, where she tries to simplify design concepts for those who must design on paper or screen but do not do so as their primary occupation.

  1. Contrast: Difference created between elements for emphasis; elements must be made quite different or else the elements simply conflict with one another (63)
  2. Repetition: How consistently elements (e.g., typeface, color, pattern, transition) are used; repetition unifies (49)
  3. Alignment: How elements line up on a page, the visual connection between elements; “every item should have a visual connection with something else on the page” (31)
  4. Proximity: How closely elements are placed on page or screen: related items should be close to one another, unrelated items should not be (15-17)


Relationships between Modes: Karen Schriver

Schriver’s terms were intended to describe how visuals work with alphabetic text, though they easily translate to the relationships between different modes, too, such as sound, video, and color.

  1. Redundant: “substantially identical content appearing visually and verbally in which each mode tells the same story, providing a repetition of key ideas” (412)
  2. Complementary: “different content visually and verbally, in which both modes are needed in order to understand the key ideas” (412)
  3. Supplementary: “different content in words and pictures, in which one mode dominates the other, providing the main ideas, while the other reinforces, elaborates, or instantiates the points made in the dominant mode (or explains how to interpret the other)” (413)
  4. Juxtapositional: “different content in words and pictures, in which the key ideas are created by a clash or semantic tension between the ideas in each mode; the idea cannot be inferred without both modes being present simultaneously” (414)
  5. Stage-setting: “different content in words and pictures, in which one mode (often the visual) forecasts the content, underlying theme, or ideas presented in the other mode” (414)

Adapted from McKinney, Jackie Grutsch. “New Media Matters: Tutoring in the Late Age of Print.” The Writing Center Journal 29.2 (2009): 42-45.