Visual-rhetoric Ethics: Beyond Accuracy and Injury

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Visual ethics discussions usually consist of accuracy or injury issues. We note a third area of visual ethics that has been largely unexplored: the ethics of choosing decorative or indicative graphics over informative graphics. Oral presentations particularly tend to favor decorative and indicative graphics when informative ones would be more useful. Using philosopher C. S. Peirce’s three-part typology of rhetorical goals, we discuss the ethical implications of choosing the most effective graphics possible for visual communication, especially for visuals used in oral presentations. We distinguish among three types of visuals in terms of goals: decorative and indicative images with perception-mediating goals versus informative graphics with language-mediating goals. This distinction between perception-mediating images and language-mediating graphics serves as our primary focus, the core basis of our ethical critique of visual communication in general and of technical presentations using PowerPoint slides in particular.

Document Type: Journal Article

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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