English 165/Essay 2
Checklist for analyzing visual aspects of print ads and websites
This outline is intended to help you with analyses of the visual aspects of advertisements and websites for the essay assignment. It is just a list of features that are often worth looking at; you need not try to look at all these features for any one ad or site. The best essays are likely to focus on a few aspects or the relations between words and pictures.
Note: For those of you who are evaluating a website, these criteria are only to be used for the visual aspect of your analysis. In terms of textual content, the logical criteria we've already been using, dealing with premises and conclusions, quality of evidence, and hidden assumptions are still to be used when evaluating the site's argument as expressed through the language.
* bold and underlining
Consider first the obvious features -- just how the print looks on the page. The meanings of these devices aren't fixed; for instance, underlining and bold are used in tabloid newspapers to suggest stress, giving leader pages the sound of informal speech. But by and large, the larger, highlighted print is meant to stand out and draw attention.
I and you can obviously be used to suggest a sense of interaction, but so can he, she, we, they, because they draw on some sense of shared knowledge between writer and reader, and on a sense of social categories. For instance, pronouns used without an introduction of who they refer to can give readers a sense they are involved in the situation described.
Words like here, there, today, now, Wednesday, then, come, and go all have their meaning relative to a particular place or time. They are a powerful device in some texts. Is the place and time assumed that of the reader or that of the writer?
Verbs and meaning
Keep an eye out for the way shifts between two ways of saying things can affect the meaning. For instance, the present tense (works) can be used to suggest facts, while a continuous aspect (is working) can suggest something on-going. Like some pointing words, tense positions the reader at a particular point in time.
Speech acts are the actions one can perform by speaking: requesting, blaming, promising, inviting. In an Oxfam leaflet, there are different ways of making a request:
* I have to ask you if you can possibly increase the amount of your donation * Please could you consider increasing your donation . . . * if you could find an extra £7 a month it would be a marvellous help
Often these acts are done indirectly; for instance ads rarely tell you directly to buy the product. However, as Fowles argues, the ad will be making some type of disguised subliminal appeal. And in the case of websites, there will often be both indirect appeals along the lines of Fowles categories, AND direct appeals for support, money, or membership.
Words from others
Most written texts include some quotations or reports of what others say or think: references in students' essay, testimonials in ads, sound bites in newspapers. In the Oxfam letter it was in a cassette, not quoted in the text. But there is also a slip saying:
"Yes, Iıd like to help the people of northern Tanzania"
This is attributing words to us, the readers.
Puns and rhyme
Look for puns (double meanings for the same word or phrase, like enlighten), rhymes (repetition of end sounds, like forget and yet) alliteration and assonance (repetition of consonant or vowel sounds).
This feature is interactive because it requires us as readers to see how the parts go together into a whole or a series:
The town is suffering
Local government canıt cope
The threat of disease becomes ever more menacing . . .
Together we're tackling the lack of clean water,
helping people towards self-sufficiency
and supporting schools
Note how many statements require us to infer some meaning beyond what is literally said. An Oxfam letter states:
* Every penny of your increased gift will go directly to helping the suffering people of northern Tanzania.
The Oxfam people don't have to say why we might suspect otherwise.
The visuals of a site or ad may consist of objects and symbols, or collages that combine these. All graphical elements should be looked at closely. If they don't have an immediate relationship to the stated purpose of the ad or site, take some time to figure out why they are there. What do they represent or symbolize? How are they meant to function as part of the site's or ad's overall message? In an increasingly visual-rich world, we need to take time to consider how images are used to communicate a variety of things to us as viewers and consumers. The tricky part is that visual communication often happens subconsciously.
Many websites and most ads will feature at least one human figure. There are three different ways the people in pictures can relate to the viewer: posed facing us, as if aware of our gaze, in the distance working at something, close up but doing something like intently studying, as if unaware of us.
For the discussion of analyzing pictures as interaction, you must consider the issues of
* Distance (medium)
* Framing (close)
* Angle (off vertical)
Do any of the figures in the pictures gaze at the viewer? A direct gaze by one or more models may definitely tie in with Fowles' fifteen appeals.
Denotation is what the pictures show; connotations are the associations we have with what is shown. So the denotation of an Oxfam image may be a picture of three Afican boys; connotations include their studiousness, seriousness, determination to become educated and to succeed.
Words and pictures together
* words first vs. pictures first
* text fixes meaning of the image
* text and image complementary
* image fixes meaning of the text
The key here is to go back and forth between words and pictures as you would reading. In the Oxfam series, the three pictures taken together create a story of progress. Whether in an ad or on a website, the words and pictures work together to convey the message and shape the interpretation. However, the words and pictures can also work against each other, so that the pictures tend to contradict or weaken the message of the words. Sometimes they do both.