Chapter 7: Multimodality and Non-Traditional Texts

7.2 What are Multimodal Texts?

Melanie Gagich

In college writing classes, you often write “traditional” essays. These traditional essays often look the same: paragraphs made up of black, Times New Roman font spaced evenly on a page of white paper. However, in addition to writing, or composing, traditional essays, you might also be asked to compose a multimodal text. A multimodal text is one that “exceed[s] the alphabetic and may include still and moving images, animations, color, words, music and sound” (Takayoshi and Selfe 1). A multimodal text consists of more than one “mode of communication.” These modes of communication are:

  • textual – this mode emphasizes text such as an essay. 
  • visual – this mode emphasizes what an audience can see such as videos, images, colors, etc. 
  • aural – this mode emphasizes what an audience can hear such as silence or music.
  • gestural – this mode emphasizes movement such as gestures made during a speech.
  • spatial – this mode emphasizes space such as the way an infographic might be composed to make it easier to read/understand quickly. 

Most multimodal texts include a variety of these modes of communication; however, one is often emphasized more than others. For example, while a five-paragraph essay includes visual features such as font size and color as well as the use of space, it emphasizes the textual mode. As such, it is important to consider what mode you want to emphasize if/when you are assigned a multimodal project.

Multimodal composing practice has been integrated in many First-Year Writing classrooms across the US since the 1990s. Examples of digital multimodal texts (sometimes described as “new media”) include websites, infographics, podcasts, videos while non-digital multimodal texts might take the form of posters, collages, zines, comic books, or graphs. While this is not an exhaustive list, it does demonstrate how common multimodal texts are both inside and outside of the classroom.

Why Compose Multimodal Texts?

There are many reasons to learn to compose multimodal texts including its ability to help you understand the importance of rhetorical situations, specifically audience expectations. Responding to a variety of rhetorical situations will also help prepare you for an array of projects and writing assignments in other classes. Additionally, Melanie Gagich, in her article “An Introduction to and Strategies for Multimodal Composing,” argues that:

Perhaps the most significant reason for learning how to compose multimodally is that it provides “real-life” skills that can help prepare students for careers. The United States continues to experience a “digital age” where employees are expected to have an understanding of how to use technology and communicate in various ways for various purposes. Takayoshi and Selfe argue that “[w]hatever profession students hope to enter in the 21st century . . . they can expect to read and be asked to help compose multimodal texts of various kinds . . .” (3). Additionally, professionals are also using the benefits of digital tools and multimodal composing to promote themselves, their interests, research, or all three. Learning how to create a multimodal text will prepare you for the workforce by allowing you to embrace the skills you already have and learn how to target specific audiences for specific reasons using various modes of communication. (74)

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