CO1: gain an understanding of rhetorical strategies and processes of analyzing and composing a variety of print, visual, and digital media

CO3: use writing as a way of thinking through topics and ideas

CO4: understand and use writing strategies and processes to analyze and write about issues that are important to specific audiences and specific purposes

CO5: analyze the conventions of and write effectively in the university discourse community

3-4 double-spaced pages
175 points

Examine the image you have chosen and consider the discussions we have had in class about visual concepts, visual rhetoric, and visual analysis. You will write a thesis-driven essay that makes a strong claim about the interpretive meaning of the visual and “proves” that claim with reasonable evidence, especially as gleaned through application of visual concepts.


First review your notes from our visual rhetoric sessions.  Begin your inquiry by “opening up” your reading of the image (that is, move beyond the image itself … but not too quickly, as your focus should still be about the image); then build upon your initial observations.  Consider visual concepts and semiotic (see Solomon) moves when thinking carefully about your image.

If you are having trouble, write first (as counter-intuitive as that may seem).  In writing about how your image employs visuals concepts, you may arrive at some hypothesis; in writing about the results of using the analytical moves that you make, you may arrive as some conclusion.  This writing-as-a-way-of-thinking strategy can help you arrive at a thesis statement (as opposed to artificially coming up with the thesis first, which doesn’t usually work very well).



When writing your essay, consider the three main elements it must communicate to your readers clearly and effectively:

  1. Your main claim. This is the overall point of your analysis and should come very early.  Think of the main claim in two parts: first, the argument itself, what you’re going to “prove” (make plausible); and second, what the significance of that argument is (in other words, the answer to the implied question, “So what?”).  The significance may come later in your essay (perhaps even as the conclusion), but it still has to be there: why is it important to understand the visual in the way that you do?  (The significance usually, but not always, will move beyond the image itself.)
  2. Visual concepts. Why are the observations or the way you’re observing persuasive and meaningful?  (For instance, if something is on the periphery, that means that it is not the focus, that it is less important in some way; or if something is in black and white, we associate that with, perhaps, elegance, or timelessness, or as being “old fashioned”).  It is not that “anything goes” (see WA, 125), but rather that you can explain in some logical way why the observations you make mean what they do.  Another way to think about this is to ask, “How does this image function rhetorically?”
  3. Evidence to prove, support, illustrate, explain, clarify, demonstrate, bolster the main claim. Include what you need to make your “case” plausible. Exclude everything else.  You are not just writing a list of observations or having a discussion that moves in multiple directions.  Instead, you are to narrow your focus, concentrate on one main idea — do not get sidetracked.  There should be a definable, single train of thought that can be followed from the beginning to the end of your essay.

If you consider these three main elements, you’ll see that they’re closely related: you have a claim (of your own) which you’re “proving” with evidence (from your image and perhaps a bit from your experience) which you are showing readers to be reasonable and meaningful by explaining that evidence by examining visual concepts (which are rather universal).


Remember that your image (and the source from which it came) must be cited properly.  For works cited page information see the MLA guidelines documents on Blackboard (the Purdue OWL site) which will explain specifically how to deal with images.

Assessment Criteria:

The paper should . . .

  • have a focused, main claim and include only evidence pertinent to that claim.
  • adequately describe the visual image for the reader, but offer no more detail than is necessary for the analysis itself.
  • identify the source of the image within the body of the written text and provide a copy of the image.
  • make observations concerning the formal elements and principles of the visual text.
  • push observations to conclusions (more about this in class).
  • analyze how the creator (artist, designer, etc.) used the identified visual elements and principles to affect meaning.
  • organize the analysis effectively and logically.
  • provide necessary citations and include a works cited page.
  • be formatted according to MLA guidelines (on Blackboard).