Analyzing Modes of Communication in Everyday Texts

While reading the Writer/Designer textbook I was challenged to pay particular attention to the unique ways in which information is been presented to me, in order to compare and contrast how different texts use modes to communicate ideas. Sitting in class, I looked at the different ways in which teachers display their lessons. Scrolling through Facebook, I looked at the different mediums in which I learned about the latest news from friends, family members, and even businesses. I even spent more time analyzing videos, fliers, and stickers on computers.

The first text that I noticed was chapter from my Writer/Designer that I had just finished reading. It is formatted as a textbook, with visual aids throughout the paragraphs. Throughout the chapter I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Linguistic
  • Visual

I’ve attached an example of a visual aid used within the chapter to describe the topic of multimodality. The spatial mode accounts for how the authors arranged the text, using a circular visual aid on the right, with accompanying text on the left. This decision makes me believe that the authors wanted to describe the aid first, giving insight on what it is depicting since a reader usually looks from the left to the right. The linguistic mode accounts for the author’s word choice that is relatively basic and informal, which is indicative of the broad audience of those attempting to better their writing skills in an educational manner. The visual mode accounts for the images chosen to represent information, which in this case is bright and colorful, looking to draw and retain the reader’s attention.

I continued to look at texts other than my textbook in the same manner. On a Facebook page called Jewlish, a media source for both modern and traditional Jewish recipes and food-related news, I watched a video on how to make Apple Challah because of the recent High Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. While watching the video, found at https://www.facebook.com/sojewlish/videos/856792114478285/ , I noticed these modes being used:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic
  • Aural
  • Gestural

The spatial mode accounts for how the bowls, spoons, and ingredients are arranged throughout the video, in a visually appealing and neat manner. The visual mode accounts for the black background, gray table, and clear bowls that are used in order to not distract the viewer from the actual food. The linguistic mode is less prevalent with this medium and is only used to allow the viewer to read the ingredients and amount being used for the recipe. The aural mode accounts for the background music that is light and fun, as well as the exclusion of sounds that would be made if someone were actually cooking. The gestural mode, in this case, is the hand motions of the actor making the food uses throughout his cooking, that are precise and professional.

In an online flier for the Mass Meeting for an entrepreneurial club on campus, called InnovateUM, I noticed several modes being used, despite its simplicity:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The spatial mode is seen with the arrangement of the words in order to draw attention to the club name and the reason for the flier, the mass meeting. I think this decision of arrangement is used because if the reader is interested in the club and going to the mass meeting, then they will read on to see the date, time, and place of the event. The visual mode accounts for the color choice, using maize and blue as a homage to the University of Michigan, and the choice of using a gear and lightbulb in order to represent innovation, the basis of the club. Although there are only a few words on the online flier, they fit into the linguistic mode and show a precise use of language.

Over the weekend I read a review article for a product, called SafeSound Personal Alarm, I was looking into buying. The alarm acts as a substitution for pepper spray in states that it is illegal to carry. The article gives a personal account from a user as well as facts on the product and can be read here. I noticed these modes throughout the reading:

  • Spatial
  • Visual
  • Linguistic

The author of the article, in my opinion, had little consideration for the spatial arrangement of the information. Text and pictures, as well as hyperlinks to other pages were crowded throughout the webpage, making it hard to read as there were many distractions. This was a problem for me with the visuals on the page too, which were important to include because they showed the product, but too large which also distracted me from other information. The linguistic aspect was a series of choices that led to a more informal tone, even when presenting facts, which I thought was important in order to appeal to the audience of mostly women looking to purchase a product to put their minds at ease from attackers.

While scrolling through Facebook and stalking friends of friends this weekend, I came across my a picture my sister’s friend from high school posted. It was of her and her husband on their wedding day. In the picture I noticed these modes at work:

  • Visual
  • Spatial
  • Gestural
  • Linguistic

As a picture, the visual mode is indicative of most of the information being presented. Even though she did not write, “I just got married,” that is the news that is brought to light. From a spatial and gestural perspectives, the arrangement of them as a couple and how they are interacting with each other, shows their love for each other. At first glance, I didn’t notice a linguistic aspect to the picture, but after further examination, I realized that the signage in the background gives key information of the place, Buffalo. In addition, the watermark in the bottom right corner shows the viewer who the photographer is.

Looking comparatively at each mode used to convey information, I noticed that there was much crossover between what the perceived genres are and the modes used. For example, every text includes visual, spatial, and linguistic modes regardless if it is a video, photograph, textbook, article, or flier. It was just the extent of the use of the mode that differed. The only modes that were unique were aural, that was only included in the video from Jewlish, and gestural, that was seen whenever people were physically involved such as the cook from Jewlish and the man and woman in their wedding photos. However often each mode appeared, they all gave further insight on the subject they were attempting to explain.

A Date to Remember

We pulled up to the restaurant, the parking lot was packed with cars. It was a bit of a shock because on a normal weeknight this would have been empty. I looked over at my date. He smiled.

“Maybe we should have gotten reservations?” He said with a nervous laugh. I looked down at my hands, they were shaking, I was nervous.

“I’m pretty sure they do not normally take them.” I replied.

We walked into the building and were greeted with a longer line. He walked up to the hostess. I pushed my hands against my jeans and waited to see what would happen.

My date came back with a smile on his face, “It’s only a fifteen minute wait.”

I nodded. I scanned what I could see of the room. Every table was filled with an even number of people. This is what Valentine’s Day looks like at the only restaurant in the county.

Soon it was our time to sit. As soon as the waitress took our order, conversation just flowed. We talked about everything, from childhood memories to opinions on the current popular songs. I realized how easy it was to talk to him and my heart pounded on, faster. Is this what I think it is? Could this be?

Before I knew it we had finished our food. The waitress came up to our table. “Your meal has been paid for, would you like dessert?”

I couldn’t believe it, had someone seen what I had thought? Who was this kind person? Where were they sitting? I looked at my date, my wide eyes and mouth open were mirrored in his face. I couldn’t believe it.


We got lucky this first Valentine’s Day date. Four Valentine’s Days later, we have yet to repeat getting our meal paid for by some kind soul. But those feelings I felt haven’t gone away. We got lucky that first V-Day, but I am lucky every day with Joel by my side.

 

Joel and I, Cru’s Christmas Formal 2016

How Do You Overcome Writer’s Block?

Sex and the City

It could be that I’ve been watching a lot of Sex and the City recently or that I’m still not over having written a 15-page paper last semester, but I can’t get the idea of writer’s block out of my head. I’ll start by sharing my own personal definition of what I believe to be “writer’s block.”

(noun) The maddening inability to translate one’s thoughts into words, or to even form these thoughts in the first place.

While I can’t pinpoint an exact instance where I suffered from writer’s block, I know that many of my peers have–including my roommate currently sitting next to me staring blankly at her computer screen, waiting for “inspiration to strike.” She feels creatively blocked, as if her brain is resisting any urge to form coherent thoughts. To me, this sounds physically and emotionally painful. And as I watch her opt for procrastination instead of perseveration, I wonder…how do you, as writers, overcome writer’s block?

Perhaps this post is a preventative call for help from fellow Minors before I dig even deeper into my Capstone project, but I do wonder if anyone would be willing to share their go-to process or activity for overcoming this terrifying condition–one that infects all writers: fiction and nonfiction, professional and amateur. It could be anything from meditating for 20 minutes (as I suggested to my roommate), going to the IM building for a quick workout, or even staring at your computer endlessly waiting until the thoughts start to flow.

Meditation

Any and all tips are appreciated (and I’ll be sure to share them with my roommate).

Music Magazines

As both an aficionado of music and writing, I have always found music-related magazines to be very entertaining. Last summer, I had the opportunity to write a few articles for my friend’s pop culture blog, and I found the experience to be amazing. Taking an audible instrumental art form and reinterpreting it linguistically is extremely challenging, but provides an entirely different understanding of the original piece. It is also interesting because one original song/album/genre/style/etc. can be interpreted and/or described in an infinite amount of ways. Reading these interpretations in music magazines, such as Rolling Stone and Billboard, opens my eyes to new ways of thinking about music, one of my deepest passions. Writing for or working for a music magazine would be an experience that I would love to be able to experience one day.

Blog 12: Closing Time One Last Call for Alcoh….**Advice

Courtesy of giphy.com
Courtesy of giphy.com

I always feel a little weird giving advice because I’m usually like why should I know better than anyone else about something? But, if there’s anything I’ve learned throughout the course of this class, it’s that you’re capable of so much, and you know more than you think you do. We’re always the hardest on ourselves, but you won’t know or realize how capable you are at first. That’s what this class will do for you. It will force you to come to terms with your capabilities, recognize them, accept them, and ultimately, push boundaries once you begin to understand them. Once you realize you’re not actually a completely inept and incapable human being, both in terms of your writing and life in general, you’ll feel more comfortable branching out to try different forms of composition. Your projects will rock, you’ll surprise yourself, and it will feel bizarre actually wanting to put so much effort into school work, not even for the grade, but for the sheer idea of being able to take pride in something you’ve created. Effort into school work for quality rather than the letter grade itself, WHAT IS GOING ON? DO YOU EVEN GO TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN?

So, if there’s any piece of advice I can give to you, my young and newly declared Sweetland writing minor sweethearts, it’s to let yourselves come to these realizations and to have faith in your capabilities. I don’t care if you’re an English major who has always dreamt of writing like Shakespeare, or if you you’re in Ross and you thought this minor would be a “valuable skill that would make you a great asset to company,” you’re here because you want to be here, you deserve to be here, and I swear you’re capable writers, that’s why you’re in this minor. You might not realize how capable you are of producing video or audio or photography, and right now you might not even realize that all of these things do, in fact, constitute as writing? <—- NOTE: (this question is still up for debate, and will not be fully answered, but you’ll come up with your own interpretation/solution, and you’ll rock on with your bad-self from there.) But, once you dabble in these various forms, you’ll realize you can do it- even if you can’t do it that well. This class will ignite your passions, spark your fires, and inspire you in all different ways. It’ll show you your capabilities, and it will force you to confront what you think are your incapabilities, no matter how much they scare you. Yes, I’m fully aware of how cheesy and preachy this all sounds. Isn’t this is just a class after all? But, I can’t help it. It might be just a class, but it’s a class that has done more for me than I could have ever imagined, and it will do all this for you too. You just have to trust that it will.

Emotion in Motion in Writing

At an early age, writers are instructed to show, not tell.  Exercises help writers improve their ability to transport readers to any place imaginable, and depict all five senses through words.  From the moment I began work on my Capstone Project, which focuses on a trip I took to Japan 8 months ago, I knew that showing my writer the places I visited through writing would be key to completing a well-rounded piece.  I tried, and have succeeded, in painting vivid images through words.  Yet one area of my project that has been a serious challenge has been the portrayal of my emotions during my trip through writing.

One of the difficulties in writing about emotion stems from experience: different people experience emotions different ways.  Identifying the proper metaphors or descriptions to portray emotions can be challenging.  One helpful tip I received was to use physical descriptions as a conduit for emotions.  For instance, describing beads of sweat forming above an eyebrow is a nice and easy way to portray nervousness or fear.

Another difficulty is striking the balance between over-encumbering a reader with emotional descriptions, and leaving too much up to the reader’s imagination.  We always strive to force our readers to do some work as they process our writing and imagine our descriptions.  Yet leaving readers with too much work to do, or creating descriptions that are not tight enough, can damage the lens and message that a piece is attempting to deliver.

I’m curious to hear if other writers on the Minor in Writing blog have struggled with depicting emotion in their writing. What methods or tips can you share for crafting emotional and thought-process descriptions that are both accessible and deep enough for readers?

Personal Paradox

So, for this week we were asked to discuss competing thoughts which were at least partially contradictory as far as our evolution as a writer. These thoughts manifest in the evolution essay and are something that we must grapple with to create a solid, meaningful essay. I have two that go hand in hand.

Revision is important vs. I’m good enough to not revise.

It is a self identified fact that my biggest writing flaw is a lack of revision. I don’t go over my work nearly enough. Because of this I end up with dumb mistakes and shallow messages. Sure I can make this mess pretty, and someone might not realize that I didn’t put extra thought into the piece…but writers know. I know when I look at the piece again. My teachers know when they grade. I’ve gotten a lot of messages that are summed up as: this is good work, but needs more revision to connect and string through theme, or where exactly are you going here, and this is close to potential, but needs more thought. I always seem to come up a little short because I won’t go back and do the necessary re-writes and edits and final polishing and teasing out of a central theme and bringing that theme out through an entire project. I guess I am a lazy writer sometimes. I think I am also a bit vain at times. I do actually feel as if I’ve written a perfect draft after five hours of typing a paper (beginning-middle-end). There are many times that I don’t even go back over this rough, rushed draft…and to be honest it usually works out. However, once I got into upper level writing the chinks in my armor were exposed. I was specifically called out in my evaluations for lack of necessary revision. I still attacked my papers with the same attitude and as a result received the worst grade I ever have in an English or writing class. The kicker here is that my dad has the same problem…and I’m pretty critical of him for not revising like he should. He has published two books, and is about to release his third ( a sequel to the second book).  While I think that he is a good story teller, and I credit him highly for constructing a story that spans 300+ pages and connecting the dots, I think he could be so much more. I know for a fact that he has read literature from all over the world and from many different times. He knows what good writing is, does, feels like, and looks like. He is smart enough to produce writing that at least moves in that direction. And yet, after writing a book for nine months he gives it a two month break and then revises for about a week, maybe two. And bear in mind that he isn’t a professional writer so the actual revision that is happening isn’t two weeks of nonstop revision. The effort into the rough draft is completely imbalanced to the work that goes into the final, he also spends the revision time making the book cover! I’m not knocking my dad, but just pointing out my own problem on a larger scale…5 hours of writing to 5 minutes of revising is basically nothing. Moreover, it’s even worse on me because I know better and I know that it is my primary problem in writing, and yet I still don’t revise like I should. I’m working on it! One great thing about this capstone class is the high stakes which will require the revision or else risk embarrassment and failing grades.

My love for writing vs. Only writing for school

These two connect in the phrase “I guess I am a lazy writer sometimes.” I think writing is potentially the thing I can be best at. I play music and have good reviews by people who here me, but I don’t really like to brag because there are so many better musicians. I was okay at sports. Understanding high level writing at a young age, through reading, and then eventually starting to form complex metaphors and messages in my own writing made me feel gifted. That is the one area that I (at least used to) brag about. Of course there are countless writers out there that are better than I am, but I truly feel like someday I could have my name in a book with them. Maybe not, and who cares either way, but I think I’m good. Even with that confidence and passion though, I don’t really do a lot of writing outside of school assignments. I populate my free time with friends and video games, and an array of social events to the point that I don’t really give myself the free time necessary to write. This is a huge problem. On one hand I don’t feel too bad because I like my life and the people in it and the way I live (mostly). On the other I feel like  I could have written a book by now if I followed this passion and shut out the other stimuli. For this reason, I am very excited for the capstone project. I will actually be forced to apply myself to a writing venture of my choosing, that I am interested in, and that will require the work and level of thought to make it a high quality piece that I can be proud of. I am grading against my own expectations and ambition, not a rubric. I feel that the capstone project will help me to fix…or at least find a path through my writing deficiencies.

All Songs Considered

I’m going to preface this blog post by saying that I do have other interests besides music! I swear! I know I keep bringing it up in examples, but I am capable of thinking of other things!

That being said, the blog I chose is called All Songs Considered. It is an offshoot of National Public Radio and covers current musical artists, issues surrounding the industry, and offers musical reviews. This blog is interesting because it utilizes a variety of forms to reach its audience. There are ‘traditional’ articles, op ed pieces, and advice columns. There is also a radio broadcast of the show on the weekends (also called “All Songs Considered”) and an archive of interviews and podcasts on the website. The most notable – and my personal favorite – aspect of “All Songs” is the “Tiny Desk” concert series. Various artists come and perform for Bob Boilen, host of “All Things Considered”, at his desk (located in his office, which has enormous bookshelves full of books you wish you were cool enough to read). The concerts rarely last more than 30 minutes and feature artists like BanksDiego El CigalaLeon Bridges, and (most awesomely) T – Pain.

The wonderful thing about “All Songs” is the breadth of music it covers. Yes, there are a lot of hipster-y, neo-folk, ambient pop artists and albums that are covered. But, the writers at “All Songs” treat artists like Macklemore and Pink Flyod without a hint of irony or blasé. I have yet to encounter a review that oozes the amount of pretentiousness that competing music blogs display. Although All Songs is definitely aware of their target audience (articles entitled “Songs that Make Us Cry” and “How Can Parents Make Time for Music?” pepper the main feed), their genuinely informative, fun writing style and unpretentious, varied presentation of a myriad of music styles and artists make it a great blog option for any music lover.

(Included are some random tracks from my own music library in attempt to mirror the wide range found on All Songs Considered)

 

 

Organic writing

Writing is a craft that has been present in the world for thousands of years, with its definition becoming more ambiguous as time progresses. I believe, in a very simplistic manner, that writing is simply the expression of thoughts and ideas by etching them onto another surface. Even though these etches can take variety of forms, they all have one thing in common; each one has a single defined meaning or can be joined with others to obtain a meaning, regardless of the language. Looking at the class’s gallery of what counts as writing, all of the answers had some form of text in it, which I believe to be a crucial component of writing.

As for what writing has to do with me, I believe it to be an integral part of who I am today, leading me to disagree with the notion that writing is artificial, external, and alien in Ong’s piece. While it may appear that way in society today, with politicians having their written pieces being politically correct to prevent public wrath, there is still that desire to express one’s true thoughts in the written domain, to be genuine in the content that is written (at least, that’s how I feel about writing). I can understand the idea that learning to write is artificial, since there are various rules and regulations to master in order to communicate a thought or idea effectively. However, once they are mastered, the writer can start to truly become genuine in his or her writing, allowing that person to truly become a writer in the sense of the word.

In high school, my English teacher would often say that my writing was inorganic. To him, organic writing didn’t mean to try and comply with his standards in order to obtain a good grade. He would argue that this is not the point of writing, that it was about letting your thoughts flow freely without fear of regulation or backlash; otherwise, you can’t express what you want to express to the fullest extent. This belief ties in with my goal for the minor, where I want to be able to have my writing become inherently expressive of who I am without needing to make it feel artificial.

Writing and Rewriting

All writing is rewriting.

My professional writing professor last semester drilled this idea into my head and, at first, I didn’t see the connection between that statement and the question of “what counts as writing?” that we discussed during class.

However, after the readings by both Ong and Brandt as well as the gallery composed by our class, I’ve found the multifaceted and totally ambiguous answer. What counts as writing is constantly in revision, which is why it is so difficult–I’d even argue, impossible–to narrow down what “counts” as writing.

Writing, to me, has always been a form of communication. The physical act of putting pen to paper or writing code on a computer is in an effort to relay a message. When I write, I have some sort of audience in mind, whether it’s myself when I’m writing in my five-year diary or my boss when I’m crafting a blog post for work. What distinguishes writing, for me, from other forms of communication is the physical nature of creation, which Ong iterates. “There is no way to write naturally.” Ong explains, “…writing is completely artificial” (81). Whereas oral speech can come about organically, writing requires agency and action. The gallery showcases this “action” in the form of videos, Google Maps, and recipes–things I wouldn’t usually think of as writing–and supports the artificiality and physical nature of writing Ong presents.

Another aspect of both Ong’s and Brandt’s readings that challenged me had to do with the idea of trust that the reader instills in a writer. Academic institutions constantly reinforce how unethical plagiarism is and the consequences of carrying out such an act. Still, plenty of students copy and paste sentences from papers they find on the Internet or even take another student’s paper and submit it as their own. Clearly, this paragraph mention in the syllabus isn’t working. However, as Brandt points out, “Plagiarism is a form of material theft but what makes it so morally egregious is that it betrays the trust fundamental to the act of reading; it interrupts the moral transfer of the good from the writer to the reader” (143). This idea of trust and lack thereof places writing on a moral pedestal and requires us, as writers, to think of our obligation to the reader, which is something that I have never considered over the 15+ years I’ve been writing.

When I write, I am telling my reader that I can be trusted. I am telling my reader that my words and thoughts are my own and that, even if they don’t agree with me, they come from a genuine place of communicating.

What I look forward to most about this course is being challenged. I believe that it’s easy to get into the habit of agreeing with others because the potential for failure exists and being vulnerable is unnatural. I feel that the minor will challenge me to take my preconceived notions, my vulnerability, and my passion and create work that provokes others to push themselves out of their comfort zones.