Terms to Know and Use

Did you know that Merriam-Webster added 1,700 new words to its unabridged dictionary in 2015? (CNN) That’s one indication of how rapidly our technology—and vocabulary—changes every year.

It’s fun to keep up with new sayings like NSFW, click-bait and other slang that creeps into our everyday vernacular, especially if you want to converse with teenagers.

 [Cool dad Phil on “Modern Family”; retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDeqc8sTLpc ]

However, we as information designers, content specialists, technical communicators and educators must also keep current with important terms in our rapidly evolving field of study.

This list of digital rhetoric terms will evolve, and please feel welcome to offer suggestions or leverage this information for your own purposes. The deadline for our final paper this summer is closer than it appears in your rear-view mirror. 🙂


I recently worked on a (nightmarish) project in which we updated small-print disclaimers displayed as global footers, on screen, and on-tap of two links for three types of mobile devices. I got confused when technical partners kept referring to binaries. I learned that meant codes that cannot replicate to other devices. Small wonder that project was so darned hard.


In the introduction to Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media, Hocks and Kendrick (2005) cite Latour (1993), who designated modern practices as “two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective” (p. 10, as cited in Hocks & Kendrick, p. 3). This is binary thinking.


Hocks and Kendrick challenge us to rethink traditional dichotomous binary pairings—such as verbal/visual, theory/practice, critique/production, and formal/ideological. These are historic principles that have existed together for a long time but live apart. The authors challenge our thinking to convert these opposing forces instead into more balanced new media hybrids, which the authors define as “a way of parsing components of various media theories and practices as hybrids” (p. 4). As graduate students, we are in a unique position to recognize and do our part to alleviate the tensions between new media theorists and 9-5 practitioners.


Wikipedia is the ultimate hypertext. It’s the ideal place to learn a definition or find a fact and then—squirrel!—off we go on a somewhat related tangent down the interactive digital rabbit hole of online encyclopedia content. So is this paragraph.  [The distraction-prone dog from Disney Pixar’s Up!]

Tangents are made possible by hyperlinks embedded in texts, images, and buttons that function as navigational elements. On selection (click or tap), the blue-underlined words become “a functional device acting as an interface rather than an image or text” (Strain & VanHoosier-Curry, p. 259).

Hypertext has transformed how we consume digital content. Wysocki challenges the notion “that hypertext creates politically engaged and empowered readers in new media studies and that images weaken readers by making interpretation too easy” (Hocks & Kendrick, p. 6). Writers of hyperlinked navigational elements could manipulate readers. Readers, in turn, may choose to engage with the content, misinterpret the meaning, or dismiss it entirely. No more is the written word a cul-de-sac but instead a two-way street.

New media

Hocks & Kendrick apply this term applies to interactive digital media including but not limited to Internet-accessible documents, pages and screens, CD and DVD titles and a broad array of text and images formerly available only in text by print (p. 1). In Eloquent Images, they examine the social, philosophical, and applied approaches to new media and how it changes the way we think, educate, learn, and communicate with each other. On the other hand, old media generally refers to print media, though my 14-year-old who’s never known a non-digital world might include picture tubes, land lines, tape decks, and CDs in that mix. As McGrane noted in Content Strategy for Mobile (2012), companies still operating in old-media world need to get with the program and update their processes, content distribution channels and messages in the new world, because their customers are already there (p. 3)


This term, according to Jenkins, Ford, & Green (2013), “refers to the potential—both technical and cultural—for audiences to share content for their own purposes, sometimes with the permission of rights holders, sometimes against their wishes” (p. 3). Jenkins et al. used Susan Boyle’s audition video as an example of spreadable media. Most of us would nod and agree that video of a rather homely Scottish woman who could sing the surliness out of judge Simon Cowling “went viral” as it was viewed 77 million times on YouTube (p. 9).

The authors of Spreadable Media, however, demonstrate the power of the people who “make active decisions to put content in motion by passing along an image, song, or video clip to friends and family members and on to larger social networks” (p. 9). True, Britain’s Got Talent producers professionally edited the video to “maximize its emotional impact” (p. 10). However, social media users propelled her to worldwide fame, not the television show owners. This is only one well-known example of how we can examine the participatory nature of the Internet to connect with content and with each other.


This term, according to Jenkins, Ford, & Green (2013), “refers  to centralizing the audience’s presence in a particular online location to generate advertising revenue or sales” (p.4). When applied to information design, stickiness reflects the content owner’s desire to place certain elements in a prominent location to increase engagement with the reader. For example, most big companies place their logo in the upper-right corner of every page on its site, and embed a link in that image that leads the user back to its home page. The image of the logo would create a longer and hopefully positive experience that “sticks” with the user.

Web 2.0

Jenkins et al refer to this term as the “era of…user-generated content that has somehow displaced mass media in the cultural lives of everyday people” (p. 15). The authors credit O’Reilly who introduced this concept at a 2004 conference as Internet-based companies that sell products online, design apps, and engage in electronic commerce that leverages this evolving participatory culture. As I start to read chapter 2 in Spreadable Media, I think of Web 2.0 as the offspring of the dot.coms at the start of the 21st century. YouTube was Web 1.0 when “You” were named Time magazine’s person of the year in 2006, and the so-called e-business power users that depend on YouTube to turn a profit are Web 2.0.


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