The article, “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments,” by Mary Hocks is about the rhetoric that is found in digital writing environments. The article talks about how teachers can teach their students to write about the visual rhetoric in digital environments.

New Definitions of Writing

Mary Hocks begins by talking about how visual rhetoric has become more important because of the increased prevalence of interactive media. (Hocks) Digital writing places mix together words and visuals. Due to the “complex relationship between verbal and visual meanings,” the way writing is identified must be changed to adjust to this new relationship. Teachers taught how to teach rhetoric in print are now trying to teach their students visual rhetoric. Changes have to be made to recognize that new writing is a “hybrid” of “verbal, spatial, and visual.”

Visual Digital Rhetoric

Hocks defines audience stance, transparency, and hybridity related to visual rhetoric. She focuses her analysis on native hypertextual writing and reading processes, but she says that what she points out can be used to understand other digital media. (Hocks) She goes on to describe an essay by Wysocki which talks about “the continuities between book design and Web page design.” The essay was written to help teachers better grasp the “histories of design.”

Audience Stance

Hocks defines audience stance by the level of interactivity that the audience gets. Audience stance in Wysocki’s essay is also analysed by Hocks, and the different ways it is utilised are shown.


Transparency is defined as “how the writer designs a document in ways familiar and clear to readers.” Again, Hocks shows how Wysocki’s essay demonstrates this aspect of digital media. One of these ways is how easy it is to navigate for readers.


Hybridity is defined as the “interplay between the visual and the verbal in one constructed, heterogeneous semiotic space.” Hocks talks about how Wysocki merges images and text in “thoughtful and unconventional ways.” She provides various examples from the essay, and says that the essay allows readers to experience a new way of learning.

The Ballad of the Internet Nutball

An example of Xena, from Xena: Warrior Princess. Image found at: TechnoBuffalo

“The Ballad of the Internet Nutball” was written by Christine Boese. This dissertation focused on the “online culture” of a television show called Xena: Warrior Princess. Hocks continues to talk about how this essay displays the three aspects of digital media mentioned above, and provides various examples  of each one that can be found in the essay.

Hocks goes on to compare both of the articles, according to what they did concerning the three aspects of digital media that are mentioned.

Teaching Visual Digital Rhetoric

The author suggests that in order to teach visual digital rhetoric, students need to be shown how to use multimodality in order to build new knowledge. They also need to use technology to produce this new knowledge. Then she goes on to talk about how students need to be taught how to sift through the “saturated visual and technological landscape” that they are in. She also mentions that teachers need to incorporate new types of texts into their classrooms. Hocks takes an example of a project by a student at Spelman to demonstrate how students can be “designers of knowledge.”

How can we keep from being overwhelmed by all the information in digital landscapes? Image found at: Insight Into English

After this, Hocks describes the ways teachers can teach visual digital rhetoric to their students in two steps. First, she says that assignments that “complement the goals of the course” must be assigned. Second, students need to be taught how to “storyboard their projects.” They storyboard their projects in order to help them plan their projects out.


Mary Hocks article describes aspects of digital writing environments. She defines audience stance, transparency, and hybridity. She stresses the importance of being able to understand meanings behind texts that are mixtures of text and visual cues. She also provides examples to help support her points. Then, she wraps it up by explaining how a teacher can teach their students to understand the visual rhetoric of digital environments.


Hocks, Mary. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments,” College Composition and Communication 54.4 (2003): pp. 629-656