Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric and Technical Communication (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Humanities


Anne F Wysocki


This dissertation addresses the need for a strategy that will help readers new to new media texts interpret such texts. While scholars in multimodal and new media theory posit rubrics that offer ways to understand how designers use the materialities and media found in overtly designed, new media texts (see, e.g,, Wysocki, 2004a), these strategies do not account for how readers have to make meaning from those texts. In this dissertation, I discuss how these theories, such as Lev Manovich’s (2001) five principles for determining the new media potential of texts and Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen’s (2001) four strata of designing multimodal texts, are inadequate to the job of helping readers understand new media from a rhetorical perspective. I also explore how literary theory, specifically Wolfgang Iser’s (1978) description of acts of interpretation, can help audiences understand why readers are often unable to interpret the multiple, unexpected modes of communication used in new media texts. Rhetorical theory, explored in a discussion of Sonja Foss’s (2004) units of analysis, is helpful in bringing the reader into a situated context with a new media text, although these units of analysis, like Iser’s process, suggests that a reader has some prior experience interpreting a text-as-artifact. Because of this assumption of knowledge put forth by all of the theories explored within, I argue that none alone is useful to help readers engage with and interpret new media texts. However, I argue that a heuristic which combines elements from each of these theories, as well as additional ones, is more useful for readers who are new to interpreting the multiple modes of communication that are often used in unconventional ways in new media texts. I describe that heuristic in the final chapter and discuss how it can be useful to a range of texts besides those labelled new media.