Analyzing Multimodal Arguments

Lesson 2 Forum

Analyzing Multimodal Arguments

As your textbook editor notes, “Many images are subtly and elaborately persuasive, and you can learn to recognize, analyze, and evaluate them as arguments, just as you would print materials.”  For this forum, please review the “Steps for Reading Multimodal Argument” on page 10 and then select ONE of the following images to analyze: Figure 1.1 or 1.2  (pages 8-9) or Image 1 (page 30). After viewing each image and reading the context/commentary provided, try to answer one or more of the following questions:  What is the issue?  How would you state the claim (the point of view on the issue that is communicated by the arguer)?  What reasons and evidence are given to support the position?  What makes the image interesting and effective as a multimodal argument?

Page 10

Steps for Reading Multimodal Argument

1. Step 1: Understanding Context: What background information do you need to know in order to read this image intelligibly?

2. Step 2: Describing What You See: What are the key details or features here that stand out? What images? What text? What supporting details?

3. Step 3: Identifying the Issue(s): Based on the picture it presents, what issue does this visual seem to be referencing?

4. Step 4: Defining the Perspective: What perspective on this issue does this visual seem to take?

5. Step 5: Defining the Argument: What specific claims about this issue does the visual seem to be making?

6. Step 6: Thinking in Terms of Audience: What sort of response does this visual seem to want from its viewers? What messages or lessons does it want to convey? Is it successful?

Recognizing Multimodal Argument

1. 1.4 Identify multimodal arguments.

At the beginning of this chapter, you were advised to look at news Web sites, newspapers, or magazines to identify some current issues. Did you also notice how these news stories included different kinds of graphic, visual, or video images? Their purpose is often to reinforce or examine an idea in the written stories, making them more immediate, compelling, and convincing to audiences. Such images function as parallel arguments using different multimodal elements to extend the ideas in the written argument. Other images may stand alone, making an argument themselves, without an accompanying story or essay. Stand-alone arguments of this type are usually accompanied by a few words to explain their significance as arguments.

Let’s look at two images on pages 8–9 that have been used to either further develop and enhance the ideas in a written argument, or to make an independent argument with only a few words of explanation to highlight the argumentative significance. As you look at these images, view them from the perspective of argument; that is, determine whether or not each image is about an issue that has not been resolved or settled and that potentially inspires two or more different perspectives or views. Describe the issue and the position the image appears to take. You will often have to infer this information because it will not always be directly stated in words either on or near the visual itself.

Page 8

Figure 1.1  is one of the countless photos that have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and Web sites over the last couple of years as the effects of a drought afflicting the residents of California have grown steadily more dire. This drought has had a dramatic impact on both residents and businesses in the state, leading to drastic new restrictions in water consumption and water use. The photograph in  Figure 1.1  offers a snapshot of the drought’s effects, documenting the precipitous decline in water level in northern California’s Lake Shasta. Take a closer look at this image. What sort of message—about the drought and the damage it has wrought—does it convey? What kind of reaction does it seem designed to evoke in its viewers?


This image serves to reinforce the messages in the broader media coverage about the effect this drought has had on the residents of California. What issue does it address? What position does it take? What effect does it have on you as a viewer? What makes it effective?

Page 9

Figure 1.2  is a stand-alone multimodal argument about global warming. Notice that it is accompanied by a few words of text that explain some of its significance as argumentation. Look at these two images, read the captions, and answer the questions that accompany them to help you think about them as arguments.


Like a polar bear adrift on a shrinking ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, many of us have held on to the dwindling hope that global warming is a vague concern for the future. As extreme weather patterns disrupt lives everywhere, it is clear that climate change is an immediate threat to our planet that must be addressed now.

This is a photograph of a polar bear trying to get its bearings in a place where most of the ice pack in its native environment has melted. This is a stand-alone visual argument that is accompanied by a single word of explanation. View it as an argument, and read the word in the photo. What issue does it address? What position does it take? What effect does it have on you? How effective is it?

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