Visual Assignments

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Analyzing Film (Postville)

As a follow-up to the interview unit, students viewed the documentary film Postville (often shown twice by the instructors). The instructors used various approaches in teaching the film (choosing one or more of the following):

  • analyzing film techniques and comparing a documentary to other film forms
  • evaluating the use of multiple interviews/perspectives (connection to the interview unit)
  • discussing diversity issues
  • examining the vocabulary of different faiths
  • analyzing the use of irony and satire in the film (the oral narration often stated one belief and the visuals depicted the opposing perspective)

The film Postville was chosen because it shows religious and ethnic diversity in Iowa when populations of Hasidic Jews and Latinos/as moved into a small Caucasian community. Challenges to this unit included focusing on one or two objectives (rather than the many objectives listed in the bullets) and encouraging students to talk about diversity issues.

Copies of Postville may be checked out from 403 Ross Hall. Postville may be used with a multicultural or global theme or for a general diversity discussion. Instructors may also wish to use it as a way of analyzing a visual form. The materials also may be helpful in teaching other films.

Visual Analysis Assignment

Rhetorical Analysis of Visual Communication
600–800 words


  • Develop ability to rhetorically analyze visual communication by describing how shared context and persuasive appeals [ethos, logos and pathos] determine "meaning."
  • Adopt concepts for the Visual Communication section of the Student Guide for English 150 and 250.
  • Notice how persuasive principles interact with cultural and technological change.
  • Contribute your analysis to the "Romancing the Consumer" team.

What does the artist or designer assume the reader thinks/believes and understands about the subject, and what does the artist or designer hope the reader will think/believe and understand after interacting with the visual elements of the communication?


Your unit I Team, investigating the role of romance conventions in current consumer culture by comparison with ads from a previous time period.


Each team member will choose one example from those selected for your "Romancing the Consumer" presentation—a print or video still. Use this as your specimen or example (integrate a copy into your analysis--not tacked on the end) to support your discussion of how the advertisement uses romance conventions to persuade viewers to buy a product or service. (Not just "see there's a couple in the foreground kissing" or "see there's a sunset on the beach" but how those images are developed to support claims for the specific product or service. How does persuasion work?)

Develop your analysis by comparing your main example to a similar ad from an earlier time period. (Not just, "see, they're kind of the same and kind of different," but how do the differences and similarities support claims you make for the persuasive strategy of your main example.)

Show us specific images, visual features and culturally coded elements which

  • support the credibility or character of the product or producer [ethos]
  • deliver evidence, claims, supporting imagery and detail for the ad’s persuasive purpose [logos]
  • depend on the viewer’s emotional response, appealing to the viewer’s interests and predispositions, anxieties and desires [pathos]
  • assume shared background, experience, and response to romance conventions' culturally coded imagery [context]

—submitted by Jim Noland

Analyzing Visual Communication: Magazine Ad

Analyzing a Visual Argument

Today the average person in the United States is saturated with advertisements–on television, on billboards, buses, and buildings, in magazines and newspapers. Advertisements are used to sell a point of view, promote a charity, or support political leaders. And, of course, they are used to sell commercial products. Think of all the products you use in a day: toothpaste, cereals, tissue paper, shampoo, blow dryers, jeans, t-shirts, soft drinks, bottled water, radios, computers. The list goes on and on. How many of these products do you absolutely need? And how many of those products that you use are brand names? Why do people want Calvin Klein's name on their underwear, "Levi's" on their back pocket, or a favorite team logo on their caps?

Because the purpose of advertisement is to persuade viewers to buy or support something, it is crucial that today's informed citizen learn to analyze carefully the strategies used in advertisements. Through the critical analysis of all kinds of commercial communication, the informed citizen can address fundamental questions like these:

  • What is the ad really trying to sell?
  • What visual and verbal strategies is the ad using to convey its message?
  • Is the ad ultimately persuasive?
  • Are the message and its rhetorical means both honest and ethical?

The audience for this paper will be your teacher and the purpose will be to explain how the ad helps to sell the product.


Locate a magazine ad that you would like to analyze. Colorful, full-page ads will be easier to describe. You might consider ads for vehicles, cosmetics, food, clothes, alcohol, or charities. First, jot down notes that describe the ad. Second, since the customer's eye goes immediately to the visuals, think about how the advertiser has used visuals: people or places in the ad, uses of color, choice of font, movement of customer's eyes, etc. Third, examine the brand name (and its display), the product's slogan, and other print information and analyze why this slogan was chosen. Fourth, consider the types of emotional appeals that are meant to entice the customer. Finally, consider the overall impact of the ad and decide upon a thesis sentence for your upcoming paper. Use the questions on the Visual Analysis handout to help you focus on these areas.


After these prewriting activities, you can judiciously decide which types of information you will use to support the claim within your 2-3 page paper. Be sure to orient your reader by identifying the name and date of the magazine, describing the ad itself, and providing a thesis sentence about the claim you are making about the ad. If you write, "The Mustang ad in Time sells freedom," your reader won't know what you mean unless you describe the man standing alone by his car with a brown desert in the background. And then you'll have to explain how that image represents freedom in U.S. society. Remember to back up comments with specific details. If you say the ads depict beautiful people, describe the characteristics of these beautiful people.

Using Sources

Your instructor may direct you to specific articles which analyze ads. If so, you may be asked to include quotes from the articles to support your points.

Visual Design of Your Paper

  • Within your paper, you could use headings or choose appropriate font sizes/styles to fit this type of ad.
  • You could scan the ad into the paper and have your text flow around the ad. Scanners are available in the computer labs–just ask a lab monitor for assistance.
  • You could take a digital photo of the ad and insert the photo in the paper.

Note: Placing the ad within the paper is more effective than placing it at the end. Including the ad does not mean than you can be less thorough in your commentary because showing the ad itself does not make your argument. You will still need to describe the ad and explain which parts of the ad are significant and why.

Evaluation Criteria for the Essay

The analysis should

  • orient the reader by identifying the magazine, its date, the target audience, and purpose
  • contain a clear and interesting thesis supported by specific, concrete details
  • address the ethical dimensions of the ad
  • provide sufficient description of and insightful comments about the ad being analyzed
  • use secondary sources appropriately and cites these sources appropriately
  • integrate text and visuals effectively
  • avoid errors that distract reader's attention


Reflection directions to accompany this assignment


Visual Analysis: Oral Presentation with Poster

Oral Presentation with Poster of Visual Analysis

For this project you will work with group members who have analyzed similar ads or similar magazines.

Planning the Poster

Your group will work together to create a visual display (poster) of your ads. Think about the main point you would like to make in comparing the ads. As you work, consider the principles of visual communication described in class, in the Everything's an Argument text, and in Student Guide: English 150 and 250 (pp. 27-42).

Working as a Team

Since you will be working in groups to compare your ads and create your poster, you will need to be aware of how people work collaboratively. Try to work out procedural issues (task-oriented issues such as when you're planning to meet and who is responsible for what tasks) and affective issues (behavior-oriented issues such as who isn't completing agreed-upon tasks). Then your group meetings can concentrate on substantive issues (content-oriented issues such as your rhetorical goals for the poster and how you are going to showcase that comparison).

Designing the Poster

As you work together to design your group poster, pay attention to the following guidelines about poster presentations:

  • Have an easily identifiable point to your poster. (What do you want your readers to learn?)
  • For the text, select fonts and visuals that are large enough for viewers to read from five feet away. Headings of the same level of importance should be in the same size and type of font.
  • Select a clear and visually appealing color scheme using no more than three colors plus black/white/gray. If the ads on your poster are very colorful, you may want to downplay the color in the rest of the document. If the ads are all black and white, color on the poster may more effectively draw attention to them. (Does the poster attract interest from a distance?)
  • Balance the visual and verbal information. (How has your text served to explain the visuals?)

Evaluation Criteria for the Poster

  • Do you clarify the context and purpose of your work and its various parts?
  • Is your main point clearly identifiable?
  • Are the audience's needs addressed in both oral and visual formats?
  • Is the visual display appealing and readable?
  • Does the visual display balance verbal and visual information?

Oral Presentation

For this assignment, your group is asked to prepare a 3-5-minute oral presentation that discusses the primary point of the poster and offers a rationale for the decisions you made in designing your visual display. You will use the poster as a physical prop during your presentation, and you will need to make sure that everyone in the group contributes equally to the oral presentation.

Planning the Presentation

Your group will be evaluated on content and delivery: i.e. the presentation should have an introduction, body, and conclusion. In the introduction, gain our attention and prepare us to hear the rest of the presentation; in the body, explain two or three key decisions you made in creating the visual display; in the conclusion, pull our ideas together and offer a clear closing line so that every listener will know you have reached the end of your comments. Work on making transitions so that each presenter introduces the next speaker.

Rehearsing the Presentation

These content issues will be enhanced by skillful delivery so become as familiar as possible with what you plan to say and be sure to rehearse your presentation as a group several times before you come to class. Since eye contact and body movement (gestures, posture, and facial expression) are very meaningful to audiences, be sure that your presentation of your visual aid does not interfere with the ways you connect with the audience physically. You will refer to your visual display, but aim to talk to your audience rather than to the poster as you present. Remember that your classmates want to hear your ad analysis, so consider this an opportunity to share your ideas.

Evaluation Criteria: Oral Presentation

  • Does the presentation have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Do transitions help the audience follow your line of reasoning?
  • Do you use effective strategies to help the audience care about your ideas?
  • Do you achieve strong eye contact?
  • Do your voice and gestures clarify your meaning?
  • Do you use the visual display well to enhance your message?

During your group presentation, your teacher will evaluate the oral presentation. After the presentation, turn in the poster for your teacher to evaluate its design and visual appeal. Each member of the group will receive the same grade for the poster, but an individual grade for the presentation.

Keep in mind that this is an opportunity to exercise your growing abilities at oral and visual communication. Work to do your best, learn from watching your friends and peers, and, most of all, enjoy this part of the process.

Art-On-Campus Essay

English 104 Essay 4: Writing about ISU Art-on-Campus (500 words)

This assignment is part of the 5th Annual English 104-105 Foundations Essay Competition. Four $125 awards will be given in the spring of 2006. Instructors will submit the best essays to the Director of First-Year Composition by or before midterm of Spring 2006.

Purpose and Audience

The purpose of this essay is to describe and analyze art or cultural artifact(s) at ISU. Your essay should be of interest to the general public or people who have ISU connections.


Some planning activities that you might do include the following:

  • Spend some time with the object, writing down what you see and what kind of emotions or thoughts you have as you look at the object.
  • Look at the visual communication principles in the Student’s Guide: English 104 and 105.
  • Read pages 33-48 in Getting the Picture.
  • Check out the ISU Museums web site ( to see if it has information on the object.
  • As a class or in groups, interview an ISU museum curator about the object.
  • In pairs or small groups, interview people who frequent the site of the object.
  • As a team, describe, analyze, and interpret the art piece.
  • Jot down quotes from your team members.
  • Take a photo, draw an image of the art piece, or locate and import a photo from a website


After you have picked a focus, you need to decide what evidence to use to support your focus and how to organize your material. For example, can you come up with one or two adjectives that best describe the object or people’s reaction to it? Those adjectives might become the focus of your essay.

Remember that your introduction must orient the reader. To do that, your introduction will identify your focus or thesis. It will also identify the object (what it is, who created it, when it was created, what its title is, and where it is located), explain why the object is worth writing about, and forecast the arrangement of your essay.

Include a picture of the object. Label the picture (i.e., figure 1), and then refer to the picture when you first describe it and, if appropriate, elsewhere in your paper.

Be sure to back up terms and comments with specific details. If you say the object is beautiful, you will need to describe specifically what makes it beautiful. It you say the object is bewildering, you might want to use interviews from bewildered passers-by. Be sure to include their statements on why they found the object bewildering.

A note on documentation: Correctly identify and quote or paraphrase interview material that you use in your essay. If you use information from the ISU Museums web site, indicate within your sentence the source of the information: (Example: The ISU Museums web site states that Josiah Wedgwood was successful because of his "scientific knowledge, artistic taste, administrative ability and business acumen.") If you have questions about the documentation, see your instructor. With your final draft, include any drafts, notes, etc.

Evaluation Criteria

  • contains a clear and interesting thesis supported by specific, concrete details
  • has an introduction that attracts the reader's interest and orients the reader
  • provides a sufficient and interesting description of object
  • contains insightful inferences about the object
  • interweaves quotes from team members
  • demonstrates an understanding of visual elements and principles
  • has a conclusion that brings the essay to a thoughtful close
  • is well organized
  • avoids errors that are distracting to the reader
  • includes appropriate documentation
  • includes some type of visual image of the art piece integrated into the essay

Revision of Art-On-Campus

Revision of Former Essay

For this assignment, you will revise either your art-on-campus essay or your report. Revision here means more than editing: It means “re-seeing” the subject. As such, you should plan on including additional material, reorganizing your thoughts, and doing a significant amount of writing and rewriting. Your original paper, then, is simply a springboard for your revision.

Planning and Drafting

As you begin this assignment, look over your original paper as well as the comments on it. Which areas of the paper need the most improvement? Where can you offer additional development or clarification? Where can you offer more introspection or a discussion of significance? Have you changed your mind about anything that you wrote in the original paper?

Then set aside the paper and begin writing down some new ideas about your subject that may have come to you since your first writing. Go back and forth between the original material and your new material and begin to weave the two together. Be careful not to dig a hole for yourself by getting stuck on the phrasing in your original: Just begin from scratch and see what happens.

Read or reread appropriate reading selections in Writing in a Visual Age (pp. 175-177) and The Brief Pelican Handbook (Ch. 5, pp. 55-61) for advice in revision, focus, and development. After you have rewritten your paper, check your paragraphs for topic sentences, edit each sentence carefully, and evaluate the effectiveness of each word choice. The paper you finally submit should synthesize the writing and thinking skills you have developed throughout the term, so you should take care in constructing your final draft.

With your final draft, include any drafts, notes, etc. Also include the draft of this assignment that was previously graded. In addition, attach the sheet that explains your revisions.

Some Evaluation Criteria: Paper

  • demonstrates a thorough rethinking of the subject
  • contains additional material appropriate for audience and purpose
  • is well organized—contains a clear thesis and coherent paragraphs
  • avoids errors that are distracting to the reader

Revision of Former Essay

  1. Describe large additions that you made to your paper and explain the benefit of these additions.
  2. Describe portions of your paper that you chose to delete and explain the benefit of those deletions.
  3. Describe how you re-organized your paper and explain how this benefited the paper.
  4. Describe any other changes (editing for mechanics, visuals added, etc.).