From Textbooks to Thank-You Notes: Describing Multimodality in Everyday Texts

After perusing the Writer/Designer guide to making multimodal projects, I began to view the world around me through a different lens. Rather than simply accept the information presented to me as I progressed through my day, I started to study the various components of these texts, analyzing them to understand the modes at work within them.

While waiting in-line at Starbucks, I observed my first multimodal text, a bag of Starbucks French Roast coffee. The text includes a few modes of communication:

  • Linguistic
  • Visual
  • Spatial

Linguistically, the text uses simple, straightforward language that emphasizes the fact that it is a Starbucks-brand of French roast instant coffee. The author chooses to include wording, “100% Arabica,” that is intended to persuade audiences of the coffee’s quality. The visual mode for this text includes the prominent Starbucks logo, as well as an image of a dark cup of coffee set against a purple background containing a fleur-de-lis symbolizing that the coffee is a French roast. I thought that this design was particularly appealing since it subtly yet effectively conveys the notion of a sophisticated European coffee. Lastly, the spatial mode accounts for the central arrangement of the coffee cup image and the placement of the text directly above and below the image to strengthen its appeal.

I recognized my second instance of multimodal text immediately upon entering the Ross School of Business to meet a friend. The text, an informational kiosk, contains several modes of communication:

  • Gestural
  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The gestural mode of this text includes several different features–such as “Ross Campus Maps”–that can be accessed through physically touching one of the kiosk buttons. These buttons are used to improve navigation within the text. Spatially, the text is organized efficiently and places the most critical information in the center, with more periphery information on the top and bottom of the text. As my eye was instantly drawn to the center of the kiosk, this arrangement is effective at presenting its content. In terms of its visual mode, the text features several distinct colors and fonts that serve to organize and separate different types of information. In contrast, the linguistic mode of this text contains eloquent wording regarding a General Motors corporate presentation, yet simple phrasing of less critical information, showing that the text has multiple audiences it is attempting to reach.

The third example of multimodal text that I noticed came in the form of a chart in the textbook for one of my political science courses. The text has the following modes of communication:

  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Linguistic

Visually, this text is defined by a bar graph emphasizing the difference in response rates for emails to state legislators. Although the graph is effective, I take some issue with it because it contains only two bars, which shows that it is not entirely necessary and that the information it is conveying may be expressed more efficiently through words. The spatial mode accounts for the prominent placement of text describing the “Difference between the Response Rates” and the arrangement of the graph’s source directly below it to illustrate its empirical support. Lastly, the linguistic mode involves direct, concise language that is a strong fit with the unadorned design of the graph itself.

While opening a gift from one of my family friends, I observed my fourth multimodal text, a thank-you note from my parent’s godson Nate. The text contains four modes of communication:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Gestural

The text’s spatial mode accounts for the central placement of text within the thank-you note, and this arrangement at the top of the middle of the page makes the information easy to locate and comprehend. I had slight issue with this spatial decision since it leaves space at the bottom of the text and makes it appear unbalanced, though this is understandable given that Nate is only ten years old. Visually, the text is defined by a myriad of vibrant colors on the thank-you note that allows this text to separate itself from other, similar thank-you notes. The linguistic mode of the text includes its usage of simple, focused language to succinctly relate its message. In terms of its gestural mode, this text is defined by having its audience open-and-close it physically, a feature that enables the text to effectively blend transition between linguistic and visual modes of communication.

From these everyday examples of multimodal texts, I noticed that each text contained visual, spatial, and linguistic modes of communication. Among these modes, I observed that, spatially, most texts chose to center their most critical information to make it more readily accessible. Additionally, I observed that, linguistically, these texts largely relied on direct, concise wording to appeal to their audiences. I found these strategies to be wholly effective, and I aim to implement them in my first experiment.

One thought to “From Textbooks to Thank-You Notes: Describing Multimodality in Everyday Texts”

  1. Connor,

    I thought your examination of the thank-you card was very in-depth and insightful because honestly I would have just described it as a blank card with a picture on the front and some space to right a note. However, the way that you noticed the writing is usually placed on the bottom half of the blank space, below the crease. I also like how you talked about the context of the note, and how the author was 10 which can account for the messy handwriting, and unbalance of the spatial mode.

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