Bernhardt: Seeing the Text

Bernhardt, S. A. (2004). Seeing the Text. In C. Handa (Ed.), Visual rhetoric in a digital world : a critical sourcebook (pp. 94–106). Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s. Orig. pub. 1986.



Begins with the "physical fact of a text" which "must be seen" (94). What about Braille? 


"If we were to encourage students to experiment with visible features of written texts, we would increase their ability to understand and user hierarchical and classificatory arrangements" (94). Notes graphical quality of texts and how differ from flow of speech. Typesetting opened up "new possibilities for spreading type on the page, possibilities which were not open to scribes" (95). Leads to more exactness in grouping related ideas, using visual cue to represent cognitive organization. "By studying and writing texts which display their structures through white space, graphic patterning, enumerative sequences, and so on, student writers can gain a heightened sense of categories, divisions, and orderly progression" (95). 


Classroom / practice division (the essay organization vs. "visually informative prose" [95]).


"At all levels of structure, texts which are highly informative visually share features not characteristic of texts which do not exploit the graphic potential of written language" (95). In traditional essay, for example, use familiar strategies (e.g., intro, body, conclusion partitioning; topic sentences, etc.; low visual identity [except, for example, for paragraph indentation]).


Uses Great Lakes Wetland info sheet (part of series) to demonstrate and analyze using Gestalt theory. 


"With a visible text, it may not be fruitful to talk about paragraphs in terms of topic sentences and support, or opening and closing sentences, or sentences of transition. In fact, it may not be useful to speak of paragraphs at all, but of sections or chunks" (101). Subordination by typeface, type size, headings. Heightens demands for parallel form; usually tends to reduce syntaxt from full sentences to phrases ("expanded sentences"). 


Points to conflicting research on reader response to text and design (visually informative vs. low visual prose).


Table-- Visual Organization of Written Texts (104): contrasts visually informative vs non-visually informative.


"By studying actual texts as they function in particular contexts, we can gain an improved understanding of what constitute appropriate, effective strategies of rhetorical organization. At the same time, we can learn from such studies how successful texts are composed and what part schools can play in encouraging students to become able, creative composers" (105).