Designing Scholarly Multimodal Texts: A Peer Review Process

S. Brenta Blevins, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Stacy W. Rice, University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Russell G. Carpenter, Eastern Kentucky University

Developing scholarly research for publication generally involves transforming information from one medium into a new medium. For example, scholarly research may initially be shared through print, such as via a poster. It may also be delivered first in-person as a slideshow or animated presentation at a conference. Developing such academic work into a new medium, such as a journal article, involves the process of “remediation,” which Bolter and Grusin (2000) describe as developing information in one medium and re-presenting it in another medium (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Remediation occurs in the movement of content from one medium to another.

For Bolter and Grusin, remediation is a process whereby new media absorb previous media. Remediated texts employ visual, audio, and written elements to improve the reading experience of audience members. An instance of remediation is turning a print-based piece into an online publication using visual, aural, and spatial design elements (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Converting a poster presentation into an online article is one instance of remediation..

While all scholarship involves rhetorical design decisions, online scholarship has design decisions different from those necessitated by print publication (Ball, 2004; Gould, 2009). For online publications, authors may include dynamic components, such as videos, sound files, and interactive components like hyperlinks. Composing for online, or digital, publication makes visible processes of remediation that occur while preparing any scholarly work for a journal.  Scholars preparing for online publication can effectively engage with remediation by addressing the affordances of online media. By incorporating online media, such as visual, audio, and video content, in addition to traditional text, digital publication offers avenues that extend the capabilities of academic genres. When content is remediated into digital publication, it engages in showing, not telling, how the concepts function by using a variety of online media to illustrate and enact its messages. Online scholarship employing multimodal digital publication presents new possibilities for engaging in and continuing discussion beyond that of traditional print forms.

This article offers suggestions for authors to design scholarship into compelling, scholarly multimodal submissions for The Peer Review (TPR), a peer reviewed, open access, multimodal online journal. Specifically, this article explores the process of remediating scholarship presented via poster into content suitable for a multimodal online publication. This articulation of rhetorical design decisions provides an addition to writing center scholarship by identifying processes for considering and discussing multimodal texts during consultations as well as a valuable resource for aspiring TPR authors as they develop their submissions.

Emerging Trends: The Increasing Need for Multimodal Scholarship

Multimodal communication (see Figure 3) is that which uses multiple semiotic modes (Kress and Van Leeuwen, 2001; Lutkewitte, 2014). These modes include the visual (George, 2002; Handa, 2004) the aural (Shipka, 2006; Selfe,  2009) and the gestural and spatial (New London Group, 1996). In other words, multimodality means considering a combination of senses to design, to produce, and to distribute as well as to approach and to interpret a text. Although multimodality has always existed outside the digital (Selfe, 2009; Shipka, 2013), the online environment provides new and expanded affordances not only for multimodality but also for multimedia, communication forms that use more than one medium, such as combinations of text, audio, and static or moving images.

Figure 3: Multimodal communication can take advantage of multiple semiotic modes of communication in a variety of combinations of the aural, visual, spatial, gestural, and alphabetic.

With rising recognition of the inherent value of multimodal and multimedia online scholarship, the amount of such content published will increase in the coming years. Online multimodal scholarship has developed in tension with print conventions (Krause, 2002a; Krause 2002b; Ball, 2004; Eyman and Ball, 2014 a, 2014 b). While all texts possess multimodal content (Kress, 2000; Wysocki, 2003; Shipka, 2011), online journals blend multiple modes–the visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes (New London Group, 1996)–as well as multiple media (see Figure 4), the means of distributing texts (Lauer, 2009). Ball (2004) argues that while some online scholarship retains print conventions, “new media scholarship” is that which uses “audio, video, images, and/or animation in addition to written text to make meaning” (404). New media scholarship will become more common in the coming years, and authoring texts will increasingly become a multimodal endeavor.

Figure 4: Multimedia texts contain combinations of media, including photographs, videos, animations, alphabetic texts, sound files, and interactive features, such as readers choosing hyperlinks to choose their experience or to view new content..

Because communication both inside and outside the university now increasingly involves multiple forms of modes and media, there has been an increasing awareness in writing centers to incorporate and explore not only print in their consultations but also other forms of communication as well (Sheridan, 2010; Balester et al, 2012). This trend acknowledges that readers no longer read primarily words but rely on other forms of text, transforming readers into a new type of consumer. Recognizing this emphasis on the changed reading process of evolving textual forms, Jewitt notes, “The multimodal resources available to readers are central to rethinking what reading is and what it might become in a blended, digital communicational environment” (320). Recognizing this new way of reading is critical for both online designers as well as peer consultants.

Multiliteracy centers have risen into existence to address the need for communication practices that blend words, images, sounds, and movement, among other modes, and often operate very similarly to writing centers (Sheridan and Inman, 2010; Balester et al, 2012). In responding to texts of various natures, both types of centers provide the perspective of audiences engaged in reading a plethora of texts, and thus serve much benefit to writers/designers. Through audience-centered response focus, writing center theory can guide the editorial processes of online journals. Ball (2014) identifies a multi-stage review and mentoring process in which editors work with authors in a writing center-style process: “We do as much as we can to help authors without actually writing or designing any of the text for them – after all, it has to be their work – but we also know that for many of our authors, it will be their first time authoring a webtext, and so we take a Writing Centre approach to helping them develop as authors” (4). Preparing an article for publication requires an iterative process, with editors guiding authors with aims much like those in writing center consultations.

Before delving into how writing and multiliteracy centers address these concerns, it is helpful to first consider how multimodal publications differ from their printed predecessors, a difference encountered in the writing center when authors bring in texts beyond the primarily linguistic.

Printed text–words on a page–presents readers with a narrow range of options. In Western culture, one reads from top to bottom, left to right, left page, then right page. Although posters often involve a wider expanse of images, colors, and reading paths, they still present the reader with a static document; the words and images do not move, and the reading path may still demonstrate patterns of rigid fixity.

Multimodal and multimedia publications, particularly online publications such as TPR, offer more options for the designer and, in turn, for the reader. These texts do not necessarily move from top to bottom, left to right. They might involve multiple screens that can be navigated at the reader’s own choosing and allow for the backtracking, circling, and skipping of material. In other words, the reader is free to exercise more agency and control over how s/he encounters the text, and this freedom must be taken into consideration by the designer during the remediation process. Such platforms do not require the same linearity that older ones did.

Not only do online multimodal journals encourage more creativity and liberty when reading them, but also they promote sustained conversation in ways that differ from print scholarship. Engaging in conversation about the text spans time and space, opening the discussion to multiple audiences in multiple locales, who can read and respond to the text asynchronously. Ridolfo and DeVoss (2009) articulate strategies of “rhetorical velocity” that demonstrate how designers can create texts with the intent of being taken up by others through “a conscious rhetorical concern for distance, travel, speed, and time.”

A further implication of distribution differences between online publication and print scholarship is the relationship between text and audience. Print publications are distributed separately to individual readers (see Figure 5) who have individual copies of texts.

Figure 5: Print scholarship has a relationship of multiple copies distributed to individual readers.

In contrast with the multiple individual copies and readers of print scholarship, web-based publications provide centralized audience access (Figure 6). This online relationship enables a taking up of sustained conversation online that authors can incorporate into their text designs.

Figure 6: Open access, online scholarship is centrally located with readers accessing a single point.

Remediating: The Process of (Re)Designing Scholarship

We now consider how writing and multiliteracy centers address these communication needs and how an aspiring contributor to The Peer Review might also approach this challenge of remediation. Remediating a text entails understanding visual rhetoric and design. Turning a print-based piece into multimodal communication involves considering the ways in which communication modes interact and complement one another.

One answer to the textual remediation offered by Gunther Kress is to consider design. Kress’s (2010) idea of multimodal production, which is grounded in the “implementation of design with the resources available in the world in which the communication takes place” (27),  is a guiding principle that considers the flexibility of semiotic communication. In addition, authors should consider the traditional rhetorical principles often considered when dealing with print-based communication (such as purpose, audience, and genre). A crucial observation that sets multimodal and multimedia communication markedly apart from print-based text is the critical decision that a multimodal/multimedia designer must confront during the design process: that of which mode to choose for his or her particular purpose, audience, and platform. Hull and Nelson (2005) note that different modes “impart certain kinds of meanings more easily and naturally than others” (461). What this means for the designer, then, is that the first step involved in remediation is identifying which mode(s) impart the meaning that needs to be expressed. An initial step for many designers take is to first consider their modal options.

This process of remediating content from one mode to another is thus a design-centric discussion that necessarily examines modal affordances. Such consideration and examination routinely takes place in writing center and multiliteracy center consultations. Yet, this topic can be a difficult one to explore in the context of an author remediating scholarship for online publication, as multimodal and multimedia publication venues are relatively new, and not all potential TPR contributors will have had access to them. If multimodal content creation is a process of design, then remediation is one of re-design. To approach the challenge of remediating text from one mode to another, when revising printed text into multimodal compositions, TPR authors can ask themselves questions during the (re)designing process, such as:

  • How is the content best re-organized in terms of space?
  • How is the content most effectively re-presented through linear or non-linear arrangement?
  • How might the content be re-delivered in ways that speak to multiple audiences?
  • How might the content be re-conceptualized aurally, visually, and via animation?
  • How might the content’s meaning be changed when re-formatted into a different mode, such as remediating spoken word to written text?
  • How might this content be re-mediated in ways that encourage continued conversation, rather than simply making a static argument?

After designers ask themselves such questions to reflectively design a multimodal piece, they must still review the remediated text with a test audience, much as a writer would take a written text to the writing center before submitting it for a class, conference, or journal publication. Although many writing centers are still adjusting to the rising need to consult on multimodal and multimedia pieces, they are increasingly accommodating these texts, the unique purposes they serve, and the various platforms on which they are presented.

Multiliteracy centers specifically geared toward working with designers on these types of scholarship are also becoming increasingly common on campuses. Just as writers might discover that readers approach and interpret their words differently than anticipated, so too might designers discover that consumers of their remediated multimodal text approach and interpret content differently than expected. Consulting with peers about any type of text during the (re)designing process ensures that audiences will gain the meaning the designer intends.

Remediating a text for journal publication involves a number of decisions. A sample illustration can demonstrate more specifically the rhetorical design process for remediating a sample text. As a remediation of the poster presented in Figure 7, this article itself serves as an illustration during the decision process described below.

Figure 7: A poster presentation on Designing Scholarly Multimodal Texts.

TPR authors might consider space, linearity, audience, aurality, mode-meaning, and temporality when designing multimodal texts. The definitions that follow offer considerations for authors.

Space: In remediating a print poster for online publication, the redesigner considers the spatial choices inherent in poster and screen layouts. The poster in figure 7 is organized in four major sections that are primarily visual, while this screen-designed article intermixes text with visuals of different sizes than those on the 4’x3’ poster. Information located in the poster might be included in much the same order, or the online redesign might choose to utilize an embedded video or podcast to present some information, invoking new considerations of space. While storyboarding is often a tool for planning a project, redesigners can also reverse storyboard a finished project, such as a poster, in planning to remediate it into a new design, such as for an online article. Rather than outline the article, storyboarding the online article can support planning for multimodal content.

Linearity: In a poster, a chart, graphic, or other data visualization might be centrally located as a controlling image; remediating the poster into an online publication necessitates rethinking where to locate that image and how to position written text around that image. Remediating verbal portions of the poster presentation into an accompanying podcast presents linear verbal delivery; because it is difficult to randomly access different points of the podcast as opposed to listening straight through, it can be difficult for audiences to meaningfully interact with the content of a podcast nonlinearily. In the example of this article, the poster in Figure 7 was remediated by taking information from the top left, center, and right sections, then the bottom section into a linear article.

Audience: With a poster presentation, the audience is more immediate, located in the same space as the presentation, while the audience for an online publication can locate the text immediately upon its publication or any time subsequent to that initial release. A poster presentation provides an opportunity to interact spontaneously with the audience while an online publication encounters asynchronous reader-text interactions. As such, online redesigners will want to incorporate text they may have articulated in person and may wish to recall or to anticipate audience questions in planning other information. In redesigning the poster for online publication, this article contains more alphabetic and visual text than the prior medium, in which presenters stood and delivered a presentation beside the poster.

Aurality/Visual/Animation: Relationships between ideas and concepts sometimes are not easily represented in a flat, static, two-dimensional diagram or drawing. Multimodal publications offer the ability to capture such relationships with visual movement that can include sounds. Concepts that were once represented on a flat web can now be shifted to show how some points of that web interconnect with other points on a different plane, taking the once flat, 2D relationship to a more complex, 3D one. This not only helps audiences understand these connections more fully, but also provide moments wherein new relationships are conceived between concepts that on a flat web do not seem to be related. The redesign of the poster for this online publication contains additional and reconfigured visual images, as well as the removal of images not well suited for screen delivery. Presentations using animation use movement to enhance meaning-making beyond that of static text and images.

Mode-Meaning: Different modes provide different affordances for conveying meaning. For instance, when discussing the overall tone of an image as melancholic, providing the actual image carries the potential to convey more meaning than simply using words alone. To fully understand what someone who sings soprano sounds like, sound clips provide fuller meaning than images. What these two brief examples illustrate is that certain modes provide fuller meaning than other modes that might not fit the situation as well. Moreover, some modes provide information that other modes simply cannot. When remediating a poster, for example, into an online multimodal piece, the redesigner should consider what meanings he or she wants to convey, and how an array of modes might be necessary in order to meet that need. This article retains much the same color scheme used in the poster because the redesigners felt the different colors drew attention to and contrasted different elements in ways that were as suitable to the article as the poster.

Temporality/Sustained and Ongoing Dialogue: Posters, like print, are static documents that often exist at one point in time, and can often reach only a limited audience at any given time. When remediating a text into an online multimodal publication, the redesigner is opening up the possibility that a wider audience will be able to access the text, and over an expanse of time much more broad than that of a more traditional medium. What can result, then, is an ongoing dialogue that would otherwise not be as easily sustained. This opportunity for continued conversation results in further investigation, new discoveries and reconceptualizations of a given topic, and increased critical thought and discussion. The redesigners look forward to sustained online conversation about print to online remediation.

Conclusion: The Future of the Multimodal Online Article

Online publication is marked by “kairotic instability” (Lee, 2012) in which new media’s technologies, audiences, and contexts change rapidly and thus change how we make and use arguments. As new media arise and existing digital media evolve, online publication will likewise continue to change to account for the new affordances. The rhetorically focused design processes present in writing and multiliteracy center conversations can guide journals and scholars in moving forward and extending the explorations and conversations surrounding emerging scholarship. Rhetorical design decisions provide strategies for centers and consultants to engage in conversation with authors and designers about remediating texts, whether for journal or other publication.

Many questions remain and call for further investigation of how writing centers might continue to incorporate and support multimodal designers. Practices currently employed by centers tend to privilege static print, and though the push towards multimedia and multimodal consulting is rapidly changing the nature of consultations on many campuses, there is still a need for further examination of how colleges and universities can continue expanding their services. Future research needed includes how centers train their staff to accommodate new media texts, and how this accommodation will radically change the way we understand and approach all types of text, from print to digital.

Other questions for further research focus on the way shifting identity from “writer” to “designer” influences the way individual creators understand their own rhetorical and communication options and strategies. When scholars who previously identified as writers of the written word on a static page become designers who have the capability–and exigency–to create something multimodal on digital platforms, the underlying foundation of rhetorical choices expands and can create both a sense of creative freedom and overwhelming possibility. Further investigation into how this identity shift can be managed–and how writing and multiliteracy centers can be part of that management–is still wanting.


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