HU Editorial Design: Typography Layout and Reading Strategies

Description

Please make sure you that you have read the instructions and that you understand them as I don’t HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO WASTE. You only answer the 2nd question only and you need to deliver both the 2000 words document and the PHOTOSHOP document/image as required from the instructions . This work must be free from plagiarism and AI. attached are the question paper and some readingsThe Information Society, 28: 236–252, 2012
c Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Copyright
ISSN: 0197-2243 print / 1087-6537 online
DOI: 10.1080/01972243.2012.689609
PERSPECTIVE
Graphic Literacies for a Digital Age:
The Survival of Layout
Robert Waller
The Simplification Centre, London, United Kingdom
Page layout is dominant in many genres of physical documents,
but it is frequently overlooked in academic analyses of texts and
in digitized versions. Its presence is largely determined by available technologies and skills: If no provision is made for creating,
preserving, or describing layout, then it tends not to be created,
preserved or described. However, I argue, the significance and utility of layout for readers is such that it will survive or reemerge.
I review how layout has been treated in the literature of graphic
design and linguistics, and consider its role as a memory tool. I
distinguish between fixed, flowed, fluid, and fugitive layouts, determined not only by authorial intent, but by technical constraints.
Finally, I describe graphic literacy as a component of functional literacy and suggest that corresponding graphic literacies are needed
not only by readers, but by creators of documents and by the information management technologies that produce, deliver, and store
them.
Keywords
graphic design, layout, literacy, multimodality
This paper is about page layout—the juxataposition of
text elements (for example, chunks of prose, illustrations,
and headlines) in multi-column pages. It is an aspect of text
that has not been as widely studied as some others and that
is easy to overlook. It is largely (but not entirely) absent
from literature, and it is therefore correspondingly absent
from literary studies of text, and absent from theories of
text that originate in literary studies. Instead, it is assoReceived 17 October 2011; accepted 7 March 2012.
Thanks to Leopoldina Fortunati, Judy Delin, and Martin Evans for
their helpful comments. Leopoldina also suggested the useful concept
of layout as infrastructure for reading and writing.
Address correspondence to Robert Waller, Simplification Centre,
CAN Mezzanine, 49-51 East Road, London N1 6AH, United Kingdom.
E-mail: rob.waller@simplificationcentre.org.uk
ciated with nonliterary genres such as children’s books,
user manuals, catalogues, and newspapers, which have
been less intensely studied. Because layout is a nonlinear,
holistic quality of text, it is hard to define and to quantify.
And it tends to get forgotten when new technologies for
creating, storing, and retrieving text are developed.
In this paper I want to position layout as a less peripheral feature of text than it has often been considered—as
an important infrastructure for reading and writing in an
age when few make time to engage with long linear texts.
I demonstrate its function and the key role that technology
has played in enabling or suppressing layout in different
eras. I then discuss its role in enabling effective reading,
and I review some of the theoretical approaches that have
been proposed within different disciplines. Then, looking forward, I discuss future types of digital text, arguing
for the continuing requirement for graphic layout even in
digital text, and for its incorporation in our definition of
communication competence and literacy.
Traditionally, readers have almost always encountered
text in the context of a document: an object with borders,
with a declared aim, with a defined authorship, and within
a recognized genre—with all the conventions, rules, authority, and audience expectations that are implied by that.
Text (language string) has usually been situated in a text
(document).
In the new digital culture, though, text is frequently
encountered as search results—fragments detached from
their document context, alongside fragments of the vast
unmediated mass conversation that is social media. And
similarly when scholars discuss language and information
as an abstract concept, it is often in the form of strings
of text that we can easily store (for example, in language
corpora), search, and analyze, rather than contexualized
in physical documents.
There is general agreement that through technological
change we are experiencing a very major shift in the way
236
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
we communicate, and what we communicate—perhaps
equal to the development of printing. There are wellknown arguments1 that the way in which we frame
our thoughts for the communication and preservation of
knowledge has a profound effect on how we think. In our
own era we face the loss of authority, as knowledge becomes crowd-sourced through social networks, and with
the loss of coherence as we experience information in
fragments via a search engine. Both of these are reasons
why layout might be going out of style—representing, as
it does, a carefully considered, editorially mediated, and
designer-crafted presentation of a complete message.
Paradigm shifts (and some would claim that is what is
represented by digital communications) are traditionally
carried out to the sound of exaggerated debate between old
and new, which can be difficult for those who appreciate
aspects of both positions. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates
famously remarks to Phaedrus that writing would “create forgetfulness.” He was right—we no longer memorize
very much by rote, but we use writing as a memory tool instead. Like any physical tool it extends our reach, gives us
focused functionality, and multiplies our strength through
leverage.
Experience shows that new communication technologies rarely render old ones completely extinct. Instead,
they more typically occupy a new niche that was not previously possible, with the old technologies often surviving
but in a less dominant position than before. Theatre, cinema, TV, DVD, and YouTube happily coexist. While the
devices that deliver them might converge, it appears that
there will still be distinct audiences and occasions for live
performances as well as stored ones, shared experiences as
well as private ones. People still memorize the alphabet,
mathematical tables, songs, poems, and speeches. And
even parchment scrolls still exist for ceremonial functions
such as academic degree ceremonies, in which a document
plays an important performative role.
That having been said, there is an inevitable moment
during a communications revolution when a traditional
channel or technique seems to be doomed to extinction,
and this is a good time to assess its usefulness. Page
layout is a little-discussed aspect of text, but it connects closely to a range of fundamental issues concerning the nature of text, documents, writing and reading.
Do we still need it, what are at the apparent threats to it,
and are there any reasons to suppose it might survive or
reemerge?
A book reviewer of this area remarked that
one problem besetting the theorization of multimodal discourse is that most senior scholars entering the field have
been monomodally educated: they are linguists, or musicologists, or art historians. Inevitably, they are thereby biased
by their original field of study, and limited by their restricted
knowledge of other disciplines. (Forceville 2007, 1236)
237
To declare my own focus and bias: My field of study
(and practice) is typography and graphic communication,
a relatively immature field largely focused on professional
practice rather than theory.
WHAT LAYOUT DOES
Let me first use a practical example to establish what I
mean by layout, and to explore what layout adds to a text,
and what is lost if it is absent.
Consider this double-page spread from The Guardian
newspaper (Figure 1). The long dark bar at the top groups
the whole spread under its wing. It says this is all one story.
The bar is dark red in the original—it is worth noting that
once we reproduce an actual, material text in an academic
journal we lose key aspects of its reality: color, size, depth
and texture. And feel, sound, and smell—often remarked
on by readers of paper documents.2
The larger heading, on the left, dominates the spread,
and, reinforced by the dominant image, sets up the
metaphor that defines the editorial direction for the spread.
The image communicates on an emotional level—both in
setting up the atmosphere of discomfort, and in reducing
the word count on the page to make it more inviting for
readers who might be daunted by two pages of solid text.
The charts (bottom left) and glossary (column 2) add an
authoritative tone that backs a view that might otherwise
be seen as just editorial comment (signaled by the author
being identified not only by name but with a photo). The
evidence about the human impact of a stagnant economy
is supplied by the case study in the center (on a beige
background in the original), and a supporting voice is
supplied on the right by a column headed “Analysis.” All
this is visually signaled by distinct graphic zones, and
hieriarchies of differently sized headings that supply the
discourse cohesion that in a purely linear text would be
signaled in words.
One way to judge the function of layout in a spread
like this would be to remove it—to turn it into a single
linear text, with no differentiation between sections (a
commutation test, in effect3). That is exactly what the
newspaper does on its own website (Figure 2).
The same story in its Web version is stripped of its
layout. The connected stories (the case study and the analysis column) have disappeared from view—they do exist
elsewhere on the website, but there are no direct links to
them. And although the paper version includes just one
unrelated element (the advertisement), the Web page has
numerous links to unrelated stories and sections that seek
to distract or divert the reader.
The reader of the paper version can slip easily between
related stories because cohesion within the set is provided
graphically: their physical location, the typographic hierarchy, and visual genre distinctions all provide cohesion
238
R. WALLER
Left. FIG. 1. A spread from The Guardian, 26 January 2011. In the colour original, the
panel below the photo, and the glossary, have a tinted background. Original size 470 ×
315 mm. From Guardian News & Media Ltd (2011).
Right. FIG. 2. Composite screen image from The Guardian website, accessed January
26, 2011. It may not be clear from this reduced-size reproduction, but the links in the
middle and right columns do not relate to the story on the left. From Guardian News &
Media Ltd (2011).
cues that in the Web version are absent or are entirely lexical. Importantly, the related stories are physically parked
on the same page as the story being read at any one time.
This means they are hard to lose track of, and remembering
their presence adds little to the reader’s cognitive load.
LAYOUT AND TECHNICAL AFFORDANCE
Although the Internet is usually assumed to be the more
interactive experience, the reader of the online version actually has the more linear experience at the page level,
although readers can still look back and ahead within the
story—and, of course, they have the huge benefit of being able to search electronically, and connect directly to
intertextual references or citations.
E-readers are very well accepted by readers of fiction
and are overtaking paper books in sales. But they are
less well accepted by people who need to study. Users
of e-readers or smartphones have a restricted view, and
evidence is appearing that suggests that currently available
devices are struggling for acceptance by readers whose
tasks are not simple and linear (see review by Thayer et al.
2011).
Attempts to introduce e-readers for academic study
consistently disappoint:
Students often mark up texts, seek out and assess references,
multitask while reading, and generally do more than just read
the words on the page or screen. Similarly, academic work
involves a variety of navigation techniques, such as crossreferencing information within a text and across multiple
texts. Studies of e-readers in academic environments indicate
they are imperfect devices for these activities. (Thayer et al.
2011, 2918)
It is not entirely surprising that e-documents of this
kind seem to have missed the mark for readers—it has
happened before. When new technologies are developed
for text, when we discuss it and analyze it, when we design
systems to store and retrieve, there is a consistent default
assumption that text is little more than a linear string of
words and sentences.
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
Viewing medieval manuscript books one is struck by
their typically close integration of the visual and the verbal. I could cite any number of examples and collections,
but the Schoenberg Collection (as represented in Black
2006) is particularly striking as it consists largely of information documents, rather than religious or philosophical texts. But when Gutenberg developed moveable type,
a side effect of his communication revolution was that
the typically high integration of image and text found in
manuscript books was largely lost, only reappearing on a
large scale with the invention of chromolithography and
photo-engraving, and with the growth of mass literacy,
newspapers and magazines. Printing had such an impact
on the spread of knowledge, science, and education that the
relative poverty of its graphic form could be overlooked.
Something similar is happening, possibly temporarily,
with the development of electronic publishing. When hypertext emerged in the 1980s it was heralded as a release
from the pure linearity of text, as if we were still in the days
of cuneiform, with no headings, contents lists, indexes or
diagrams—for example:
Unlike the static form of the book, a hypertext can be
composed, and read, non-sequentially. (Landow & Delany
1991, 3)
Text is typically presented in linear form, in which there
is a single way to progress through the text, starting at the
beginning and reading to the end. (Foltz 1996, 109)
These quotes (which I could have selected from any number of papers on hypertext in the 1980s and 1990s) perfectly illustrate the linearity assumption—that text, like
speech, is linear by default; that it is produced in a linear
way, and that it can only be consumed in a linear way.
Figures 3–6 show books relating to the cultivation of
plants from circa 1100, 1929, 1965, and 2010. They typify
the age of manuscript, of letterpress, of offset lithography,
and of the first generation of digital books. Page layout
breaks out when freed from linear production technologies, but is suppressed when the next technical development reverts to the linear default.
Adobe Systems Incorporated, maker of page layout
software, is unapologetic about the lack of support for
layout in its eBook format, in this note from its support
page:
“Why does my eBook look different than my InDesign document? The EPUB format does not define page structure,
so all the content flows together in one continuous linear
stream. This can present a problem for publications that have
an elaborate design. For example, if your InDesign document
contains a lot of sidebars and images that are surrounded by
text, they are linearized in the eBook, so it will look quite
different than the original layout. However, if your layout is
quite simple, you probably won’t notice much of a difference
between it and its eBook equivalent. (Adobe Systems, Inc.
2010, 2)
239
This rather retrograde assumption of a linear norm will
probably be temporary, and some newer formats announced for online textbooks have paid rather more attention to the needs of readers and the demands of complex
content.4
LAYOUT AND READERS
Strategic Reading
Why are some kinds of e-documents accepted by readers (novels) and others (textbooks) less well liked? When
we read a novel we engage in a style of reading that is
sometimes called “receptive,” “linear,” or “close” reading.
Unless we are reading it as a student or critic, we follow
the narrative at a fairly even pace, controlled by the writer.
Studying, in contrast, is an example of what we might
call a selective or strategic reading process (Paris & Myers
1981; Pugh 1975). Strategic readers use a document,
or a set of documents, to achieve a goal. They engage
in receptive reading for some of the time, but monitor
their understanding, and their progress toward the goal,
in a process known as metacognition (Brown 1980) or
executive control (Britton & Glynn 1987). They then
adjust their style of reading in response to this internal
metacognitive feedback.
Strategic reading is enabled by what the typographer
Beatrice Warde5 called the “three great privileges of printing” (to turn back, to look forward, and to stop and think),
and is echoed in Daniel Pennac’s (2006) classic The Rights
of the Reader (his 10 rights include “the right not to read,”
and “the right to skip”).
Pugh (1975) identified five strategies: Receptive reading is reading from beginning to end with little variation
in pace—appropriate for the novel reader, and well suited
to e-readers, but less appropriate to intensive study or
problem solving; responsive reading means an active engagement with the arguments in the text, with frequent
changes in pace, pauses, and rereading; skimming is a
quick read to overview the structure or content of a text,
either before or after a full responsive read; searching
means looking in a general way for answers to a question; and scanning means searching for a specific word or
phrase. Of these five strategies, electronic documents are
particularly well suited to receptive reading, skimming,
and scanning (using the search facility in a browser or
e-reader).
Studying is not the only strategic reading activity. Information documents of all kinds need to be read strategically. No sensible person chooses from a catalogue, sets
up a DVD player, selects a hotel from a travel guide, or
looks up a word in a dictionary by starting on page 1 and
reading through until the end.
240
R. WALLER
FIG. 4.
FIG. 3. An 11th-century herbal: Ps. Apuleius, Herbal England, St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. 11th century, circa
1070–1100. Ashmole 1431, fol. 018v-019r. Copyright Bodleian
Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with permission.
FIG. 5.
Page from The Rose Expert (Hessayon 1967).
Spread from Everyday in My Garden
(Farthing 1929).
FIG. 6. Kindle edition of Allotment Gardening (Berger 2005;
Kindle edition 2010). Note that page breaks have no regard to
content, so widows (isolated words and lines at the top of pages)
are common.
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
Strategic reading is at the heart of document literacy.
Along with prose literacy (which measures the fluency
of receptive reading) and quantitative literacy (the basic
arithmetic needed for everyday life), document literacy is
a key aspect of a wider term, “functional literacy” (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
[OECD] 1997). It refers to the ability to use documents
to achieve purposes and solve problems. The tests used to
measure it mostly use visually organized documents rather
than continuous prose: for example, forms, timetables, instructions, and user guides (Evetts and Gauthier [2005]
include many examples). In many schools and in adult
literacy classes, readers are taught active reading strategies: the use of access structures such as contents lists
and headings, the use of multiple sources, and ways to
approach different document genres. In fact, the concept
of literacy has become increasingly broad, and the International Reading Association now includes visual literacy
in its definition (Edwards 2010).
Of course, the deployment of these skills depends
on documents that afford, allow, and encourage these
strategies: providing readers with what they need to read
strategically. Textbook designers know that students need
information to be broken into chunks, and well supplied
with headings, illustrations, notes, and meta-level study
aids.6 Together, these comprise what Anderson and Armbruster (1985) call a “considerate text”—a term that might
be more widely applied to any text that reflects the needs
of readers, rather than just expressing the topic structures
and arguments of the writer.
Linearization in Language
At its most basic level, language is obviously linear—in
most languages, word order is critical within the
sentence—and explaining the sequential, or syntagmatic,
relationship between words has been a major preoccupation of linguistics. Together with the principle of the
primacy of speech, this explains why until fairly recently
linguistic scientists rarely acknowledged graphic aspects
of text.
Above the sentence—at the level of paragraphs, sections, chapters, or stories—we become increasingly less
dependent on syntax and more on the presence of explicit
structural or cohesive cues. As a simple example, the expression “on the one hand” in English tells us that one
aspect of an argument is about be presented, and then
contrasted with another, which will be announced by “on
the other hand.” In effect, a diagram is being constructed
verbally. “On the one hand” is an example of a cataphoric
(looking ahead) reference, which requires readers to create a mental representation that is referenced by something
they later read. “On the other hand” is an anaphoric (looking back) reference, requiring readers to consult a mental
241
representation of the text they have already processed.
In other words, it requires to them answer the implied
question “other than what?” from their memory of the
preceding text.7
It is a small step for designers to see those kinds of
structural cues as opportunities to turn that putative mental
representation into a diagrammatic representation8—for
example, through bulleted lists, diagrams, numbered steps,
or marginal panels. These are instances of documents as
memory tools, reducing the need for readers to construct
and refer to mental representations of content structure.
Layout for Strategic Reading: Overcoming the
Linearity of Language
Our writing system has also evolved in support of these
rhetorical structures: Documents in their modern form
work as tools for overcoming the linearity of language.
Although this is often cited as a unique advantage of digital channels, it is not new. The history of paper documents shows the development of an increasingly rich
range of ways to overcome the linearity of language and to
make written information accessible: word spacing, punctuation, the codex, headings, page numbers, typographic
structures, indexes, and multimodal layouts evolved over
centuries. They moved the act of reading from a slow
oral process to the fast, silent, and strategic process that
we have discussed, in which effective readers deploy a
range of strategies to achieve their goals: searching, skimming, recapitulating, and note-taking, as well as linear
close reading.
It is not completely clear when silent reading developed,
but Saenger (1982) argues that it was the development of
word spacing in the early middle ages (seventh and eighth
centuries) that freed readers from the linearity of slow oral
reading, and transformed the way we study, and by the
late Middle Ages, this had developed into a sophisticated
system for the visual organization of text.
The complex structure of the written page of a fourteenthcentury scholastic text presupposed a reader who read only
with his eyes, going swiftly from objection to response, from
table of contents to the text, from diagram to text, and from
the text to the gloss and its corrections. (Saenger 1982, 393)
This is how designers intend us to read modern structured
books, too, although there is only a limited published literature accounting for their layout principles.
THEORIZING LAYOUT
Layout in the Literature of Graphic Design
We can find several alternative approaches to layout in
the graphic design literature. This is typically presented in
the form of manifestos, textbooks, portfolio collections,
242
R. WALLER
and memoirs—not peer reviewed in the academic sense,
although often intelligently curated by an editor or publisher. And of course most designers speak through their
work, rarely stopping to articulate what they are doing
except to teach students or coach employees in a studio
setting. Schriver (1996) provides a good account of the
graphic design literature, linked to related traditions in
technical writing and usability research.
First, designers use perceptual principles established
by the Gestalt psychologists (Wertheimer 1938) to account
for graphic relationships among elements of a page. For
example, whatever their actual content, we tend to assume
that things that are physically close on the page are related
in some way (the proximity principle), and that things
that look similar are members of the same category (the
similarity principle). Although no longer current among
psychologists, for designers these principles usefully comprise what might loosely be called a visual syntax of the
page, and they are widely used in design education.
There is also a strong tendency among design textbook
writers to focus on formal or aesthetic qualities such as
rhythm, contrast, tension or balance. The use of visual
form to direct readers’ attention was well articulated
by designers from the Bauhaus and New Typography
traditions, influenced by the Gestalt psychologists, as
well as art movements such as de Stijl and Constructivism
(see Kinross [1992] for a good history and analysis). In
particular, the Czech designer Ladislav Sutnar, a pioneer
of designing in double-page spreads, articulated and
demonstrated coherent theories about what he called
function, form, and flow (Heller 1993; Sutnar 1961;
Sutnar & Lönberg-Holm 1944). However, it still remains
for such ideas to be integrated into a broader functional
account of layout as a component in discourse, and as
an infrastructure for writing and reading. In the hands
of many design textbook writers these formal graphic
qualities are treated as the counterpart to poetic and
expressive qualities in verbal language, so they relate
more to reader engagement than comprehension.
Twyman (1979) demonstrated the wide range of graphic
language that can coexist within a single taxonomy that
distinguishes between the mode of symbolization (prose,
numbers, pictures, schematics) and the mode of configuration (how elements are ordered and accessed in linear,
semilinear, and nonlinear ways). This tradition of thought
led in turn to the idea that typographic pages are diagrammatic, extending the function of punctuation within the linear text to the page level, displaying relationships such as
segmentation, sequence, balance, and salience graphically
rather than lexically and syntactically (Waller 1982; 1987).
This work was an attempt to account for the illustrated reference books that emerged in what we can now see as a
golden age of layout, the 1970s and 1980s. Publishers such
as Time-Life, Reader’s Digest, Dorling Kindersley, and
others developed a new genre that, inspired by magazine
design,9 used the double-page spread as a unit of meaning. The diagrammatic quality of these books—typically
on hobbies, sports, history, or travel—brought layout to
the fore. They were developed by multidisciplinary teams
in much the same way as films are produced: Unlike the
traditional book, in which the author’s voice is primary, in
these books, the writer fills in spaces to order, and provides
functional text such as descriptions and captions on request
from editors, illustrators, photographers, and designers.
Then there is a generic perspective used in design.
Layout is the main signifying feature of many familiar
document genres: for example, newspapers, magazines,
textbooks, user guides, packaging, and reference books.
These everyday genres owe their very being to their layout. When readers see them, they know what they are, and
what to do with them. The graphic layout of such genres
effectively contains the rules or affordances for their use:
Engaging layouts and large headings invite the magazine
reader to browse; the orderly layout of a user guide invites systematic reading, referencing a task outside of the
text through diagrams, and providing large numerals as a
visual target to the returning reader.
Considered as “rules for use,” such aspects of layout
can be thought of as access structures. In earlier work,
I have distinguished this from the complementary use of
layout to convey topic structures (Waller 1991), which
are motivated by structures inherent in the author’s topic
as distinct from the reader’s task. Together with artifact
structure (which arises as a by-product of manufacture
and is unmotivated by communication goals), characteristic combinations of these structures account for the typical
structure of document genres of the kinds just listed. Delin,
Bateman, and Allen (2002; see also Bateman 2008) further developed this model into a fuller account of genre
structures, elaborating in particular the notions of artifact
structure and topic structure.
Genres are natural categories identified by a language
community—the primary evidence for their existence is
the development of a name: magazine, newspaper, textbook. When we need a new name we invent one (“blurb,”
for example, to describe publishers’ eulogies), and sometimes we subdivide genres into new subgenres (newspapers became broadsheets or tabloids).
A related concept is pattern language, with the key
difference being that this is an exercise in naming common configurations that exist but, unlike genres, have no
naturally developed name. It originated with the architect
Christopher Alexander (1977), who developed names for
successful configurations in towns and buildings. His pattern descriptions include definitions of common problems
together with recommended solutions. They not only offer
architects a repertoire of solutions that, Alexander argues,
reflect the way human settlements naturally evolve, but
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
they provide names that enable the patterns to be discussed and specified. This approach was taken up in a
significant way by software engineers who needed to find
a way to describe common programming objects (Gamma
et al. 1994), and from there it was picked up by interface
designers (Tidwell 1997/2005) and eventually by document designers (Waller & Delin 2010; Farkas, Larson, &
Naranjo 2011).
These approaches (formal, diagrammatic, genres, and
patterns) have one thing in common: They assume that
readers combine a focal awareness of the words they are
reading or the part of a picture they are inspecting, with a
subsidiary awareness of the whole graphic page. “Focal”
and “subsidiary” are the terms the philosopher of science
Michael Polanyi (1969) used to describe a form of holistic
perception he called “physiognomic.” At one level reading
a page is a little like recognizing a face—you don’t inspect
the eyes, the nose, and the mouth separately but in one take.
This makes layout challenging for technologies or analytical frameworks that fail to go beyond the linear default.
Linguistics, Semiotics and Layout
Given that for the most part there is little authorial control of layout, and therefore little intentionality imputed
to it (in a novel, for example), it is not surprising that for
many years it was largely ignored within linguistics. But
during the 1990s there began to be growing interest in multimodality, and in the extension of discourse analysis to
graphic aspects of documents. This work typically drew on
structural linguistics, discourse analysis, and genre theory
as its starting points. In an important early contribution,
Bernhardt (1985) ranged genres on a spectrum from the
visually informative (in which layout and typography variation are prominent) to the visually uninformative (linear
text), and explored the parallels between the two in terms
of Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) structural linguistics.
Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) similarly used
Halliday’s structural linguistics as a starting point but
within a social semiotics perspective. They develop an
influential account of the “grammar of visual design” that
they apply to a range of multiple modalities. Addressing
layout, they suggest that verbal and visual elements
interact in three key ways to create cohesive pages.
Salience refers to the manipulations of the viewer’s
attention through such things as relative size and contrast.
Framing refers to the dividing off or enclosing of text
elements. So far so good, but their concept of information
value is more controversial. It asserts that different
zones of a page—left, right, top, bottom, center, and
margin—carry distinct significances. For example, they
assert that the left-hand side of a multicolumn page carries
given information (things the reader already knows) and
the right-hand side carries new information (extensions to
243
the given, things at issue). Although they produce some
examples of, in their terms, grammatical or ungrammatical pages, these are quite limited in number, seem
to be selected to demonstrate the point, and underplay
the variety of layouts that can be found. Moreover, the
left–right distinction appears to assume we read pages in
a linear manner, whereas the way information is, in their
terms, framed or given relative salience may encourage
alternative sequences. Consider the examples I introduced
earlier. In Figure 5, the left-hand page shows how to plant
three kinds of rose. Each is given a similar heading, and the
order is almost certainly dictated by the proportions of the
pictures: Standards and climbers are both tall and narrow,
so fit well side by side, leaving bushes and the descriptive
text to fit in with each other. I cannot see Kress and
van Leeuwen’s semiotic significances instantiated in this
page, beyond the uncontroversial notions of framing and
salience.
Of course, if we are studying at the level of the
word or sentence, we have access to vast databases of
real language, known as corpora, with which to test
our hypotheses. Corpus linguistics has become a major
resource for contemporary linguistics, supplanting the
limited sets of idealized or sampled text used in the past.
So scholars studying multimodal sources also need access
to this kind of resource—for example, to test Kress and
de Leeuwen’s proposed information values.
Bateman, Delin, and Henschel (2004) critique Kress
and de Leeuwen and address the issue of how a multimodal
document corpus might be constructed. Bateman’s (2008)
major review of the field reveals some of the difficulties
to be faced. In particular, he notes that
A substantial set of problems is raised by the fact that the
object of study is not linear, either temporally or in terms of
the principles for its consumption; moreover, its multichannel
nature makes it difficult to reconcile and peg together the
methods of recording, transcription, analysis and annotation
that have been developed separately for each mode. This
makes empirical study and validation of theory particularly
problematic: we have not had the “orderly arrangement of
the objects upon which we must turn our mental vision” (cf.
Descartes, Rule V of Rules for the Direction of the Mind,
1701) and, partly as a consequence, analysis has remained
overwhelmingly impressionistic. (Bateman 2008, 272)
There remains the question as to whether the annotation of material going into such corpora could ever be
automated, or whether it will always remain dependent on
“impressionistic” analysis. Will computer pattern recognition ever be sophisticated enough to emulate the gestalt
structures seen by human readers, to use physiognomic
recognition, or to spot generic resonances—those visual,
holistic features of a visual display that go beyond what is
defined in the markup languages (such as XML) that lie
behind many modern documents? And will anyone ever
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R. WALLER
think it worthwhile spending the time and money reaching
that goal?
A study by Thomas (2009; see also Thomas, Delin, &
Waller 2010) illustrates the challenge of handling layout in
a multimodal document corpus. A multimodal document
corpus must allow users to search via the usual verbal
strings and tags, but also to search by layout properties
and to view the actual document in facsimile. This means
a considerable amount of expert annotation at the input
stage, which discourages the development of large enough
corpora to make computer analysis worthwhile.
LAYOUT IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Digital Genres
The genre approach asserts, in effect, that if there is a
consistent human need to communicate in a particular
way, then a corresponding genre will probably emerge. Or
if, as with letterpress printing, that need is not met, it will
reemerge when technical developments allow it.
Although the digital age has made massively more documents available to each user, it is still struggling to evolve
a common basis for a digital literacy—an agreed set of
tools and techniques that enable us to study, understand,
and retrace our steps through information, as well as to
find it and connect it (both of which the digital age does
supremely well). It is an evolutionary process; for example, when publishers turned to interactive CD-ROMs in
the 1990s, they were rejected by the marketplace. Now
those same publishers are tentatively moving back to similar formats for the Apple iPad, which provides a smoother
delivery path and a better user experience.
Paper documents often evolved through a process of initial exploration and natural selection, followed by conservatism as production patterns settled and formats became
familiar. Document genres—categories such as “book,”
“newspaper,” or “leaflet”—typically evolved out of the
functional requirements of their producers and users. Even
when the original production constraints change, genres
survive because their users have conservative expectations. So readers of novels expect serifed typefaces and
straight right-hand edges; readers of newspapers expect
narrow columns. Readers are conservative and want to
minimize their effort to understand—genres represent a
secure way in which writers can meet readers’ expectations, and in which readers can understand the rules for
reading any genre-conforming document. We know from
its format what the status of a paper document is, and what
to do with it: whether to keep it or discard it; whether to
read it carefully or skim; even whether to treat it as entertainment, or as of serious import.
Something similar has to happen with digital documents, and it will happen through creative explorations of
compelling interfaces and devices, rather than through the
deliberations of academic researchers. It has been noticeable that the popularity of tablet computers has spurred on
magazine publishers to experiment with innovative page
based formats.
As a New York Times piece put it:
You’ve got to hand it to the magazine publishers. They continue to throw spaghetti against the iPad and other e-readers
trying to see what will stick and what falls to the floor. (Bilton
2010)
To date, most present their readers with defined, bounded
content that, even when using interactive or video content,
retains the page model and eschews the infinite extension into hypertext and social interaction that characterizes
most newspaper websites.
Documents as Memory Tools
Digital genres are developing, and will continue to develop, particularly where they afford some functionality
that was previously impossible. In particular, the digital
world has not yet finished evolving usable formats for
managing the conversational dimension of websites. The
same format is used for a handful of comments on a blog
as for thousands of comments on a national newspaper’s
website: a continuous scrolling page (sometimes sliced
into multiple pages), unsorted and unedited. Just as we
learn to filter out irrelevant noise when have a conversation in a crowded room, we have to develop effective
filters in order to find, read, and store online information
discerningly. As with other areas of human activity, we
just need the right tools.
Online channels give us incredibly effective tools when
we are hunting for information. The question remains,
though, whether we yet have the right tools for dissecting, cooking, and eating the information we have hunted
down. Conceptual thinking is about manipulating ideas.
For example, with paper documents we might:
• Focus on an idea, integrating representations of
it from different sources—for example, a set of
different documents, viewed together, open at relevant pages.
• Compare more than one document, point for
point. People often do this by annotating documents or transcribing concepts into tables or diagrams.
• Park an idea, so that it is in view but not in play,
to remember the fact of its existence. People typically write notes for this, or leave books open on
a desk.
• Connect a number of concepts, from inside and
outside of the document to hand. People sort
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
documents in piles, use color-coded bookmarks,
or make lists and sketch diagrams.
• Prioritize among a set of possible directions for
our thinking. People may transcribe ideas into
numbered lists, or sort documents into piles.
• Annotate a text element, to capture a thought before it escapes. People underline or highlight documents.
Some of these commonplace behaviors are still hard
to achieve with the current generation of digital documents. This is why Harper and Sellen (2002),10 in their
seminal study of document use in organizations, noted
that the default pose for many readers they observed (not
just writers) was with a pen in their hand, ready to annotate the text or jot down new thoughts. In fact, their
remarkable conclusion was that in the digital age paper is
primarily an interactive medium, not a storage medium.
The life cycle of a document, as they observed it, moves
between digital and paper versions: marshaling and extracting information (digital for search, paper for integrating multiple sources), writing (paper for planning,
digital for drafting), editing/proofreading (paper), finalizing (digital), distribution and workflow (mostly digital),
reading/consuming (paper better for longer documents),
archiving/filing (digital). Paper is used by many as a temporary interactive medium: Documents are printed out for
reading, annotation, comparing, and sharing—then recycled while remaining accessible in digital form. As they
put it:
We argue that we are not headed toward offices that use less
paper but rather toward offices that keep less paper. This
is because we will continue to need paper for some of the
critical work activities we do, but in these roles it will be very
much a temporary medium. (209)
Of course, the judicious use of memory, and therefore of
memory tools, involves forgetting as well as remembering. In a recent critique of the concept of “lifelogging”
(the ultimate digital capture of every memory), Sellen and
Whittaker (2010) suggest using psychological principles
from studies of human memory as design principles for
digital memories. Keeping the memory-tool metaphor in
mind, this means designing digital formats that “strategically target the weaknesses of human memory.” They
outline what this means: for example, selective capture of
information, aiding metacognition and metamemory, and
designing effective retrieval cues. This more or less describes a book: curated, coherent, and designed to support
strategic reading. But in the digital age this can be done
in a way that is personalized, up-to-date, and configurable
by the user.
Paper is not only essential for people wanting to spread
ideas on the table and annotate them. It also has speed and
continuity advantages over many current digital formats,
245
such as the Guardian spread in Figure 1. Its readers must
move around not only with their eyes (as did Saenger’s
medieval readers) but via trackpads and keyboards, and
perhaps even search boxes, with resulting time delays and
additional cognitive load. Neilsen (1993) reported that
time delays during the use of interfaces causes readers
to be distracted by a loss of fluency and loss of direct
control.
In addition to the time delays, the physical position of
content in linear digital documents is usually not constant.
This fluidity is also potentially disruptive, as there is experimental evidence to back up a common observation
that readers use their memory of the physical location of
ideas on a page when searching for previously read (see,
e.g., Dillon 1991; Rothkopf 1971).11
Four Aspects of Digital Pages
Hypertext prophets used to speak as if the advent of digital text were a paradigm shift, incommensurate with past
ways of thinking and acting through text. It is perhaps
more common now to speak about the convergence of
technologies and channels. In that spirit I identify four
page archetypes that reflect generic resonances from the
past, the continuing need for traditional functions of the
document, and the technical capabilities and connectness
of the current world (Table 1).
Fixed pages are the most diagrammatic. Because they
are locked in place, the reader can assume that relationships between elements (text blocks, pictures, headlines,
etc.) are intentional and potentially meaningful. A page
break signifies the end of a unit of text, in the same way
as a sentence or a paragraph. The designer and writer, for
their part, can craft graphic relationships, knowing that
they will survive the various technical transmission processes and reach the reader.
Flowed pages are represented by traditional novels, or
by e-reader books. The author’s words are flowed in and
fill the pages one by one, with page endings that are as
arbitrary as the line endings are. But those page endings
are fixed for the life of the document (or, in the case
of e-documents, until the text is reflowed after a change
of font). Readers can therefore move back and forth between pages and use the constant geography of the book to
navigate.
Fugitive pages are formatted temporarily and perhaps
also populated with content temporarily. Pages are created
afresh for each reading, and may change when revisited.
A common example is an online newspaper, which offers
a reasonably coherent appearance and user experience but
is constantly updated. If you return to a story later in the
day, you may find that it has been relegated to a lower
position in the hierarchy or even disappeared from view.
Even if it is still there, the content may have been edited.
246
Magazine.
Reference book designed in
pages or double-page spreads.
Content and layout fixed,
although may be scaled up or
down.
Designer controls and crafts, with Writer controls and crafts, with Writer may craft linear text
words edited to fit. Complete
advisory and proof-reading
within content management
control within restrictive canvas
support from editor. Minor
system. Designer creates
constraints (page boundaries).
role for designer.
templates for text to flow into.
Unconstrained by page
Little control or crafting.
boundaries.
Content and layout managed
through programmed rules.
Look and read.
Read.
Using gestalt perceptions of
Building mental
structure. Moving from focal to
representation of structure.
peripheral awareness of static
Reading strategically to
information to view, and place
check and reinforce those
memory of information already
structures. Moving back and
viewed.
forth between static pages.
Impact on content
and layout
Editorial control
Reader control
Content fixed. Once flowed
into template, layout is fixed
until new edition produced
(or, in the case of e-readers,
new design parameters
applied by user).
Traditional printed book.
E-reader book (e.g., Kindle).
Search results. Aggregator
software (e.g., Flipboard).
Enquiry.
Pages assembled from multiple
sources.
Fragmented
Click and read.
Similar to flowed text, but with
less reliability when revisiting
previously found information.
Click, read, click, read.
Building mental
representation from multiple
sources. Sophisticated levels
of inference needed to
integrate fragments.
Reader sets and tests rules.
Little crafting or editorial
control, except through
strategies such as
search-engine optimization.
Pages created afresh from data + Pages created from search
rules, so looks different on each
system, so assembled from
channel or device.
multiple sources.
Online newspaper.
Community.
Example
Narrative.
Explanation.
Pages are created dynamically at
point of use.
Typical purpose
Linear text flowed into page
templates.
Fugitive
Text and image locked in fixed
positions.
Flowed
Definition
Fixed
TABLE 1
Traditional and emergent page types coexisting in digital documents
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
Fragmented pages are compilations of page elements
from a variety of sources that may not have any relationship predictable by their authors. An example is the
results of a search, or an aggregation application such as
Flipboard (which assembles content from a range of the
user’s favorite sources, such as blogs or social networking
sites, into a magazine-like format).
These page types may exist in pure form or coexist in
combination. For example, an online newspaper may have
fixed layouts into which fugitive content is flowed, and a
column of fragmented advertisements drawn in through
personalization rules.
Illustrated textbooks and catalogues are a common hybrid of fixed and flowed text: Pictures or marginal notes
need to be related to specific points in the text, so two
columns may flow together through the book.
LAYOUT AND GRAPHIC LITERACY
I have discussed the relative difficulty in delivering fixed,
laid-out pages via digital channels that are designed to
deliver flowed, fugitive, and fragmented text. I now consider a different kind of barrier: the skills needed to produce effective layout, and the low priority that it is given
within many information-providing organizations. I use
the term “graphic literacy,” although this is to extend a
term that is more often associated with the ability to interpret pictures and charts.12
In everyday usage the term “literacy” usually refers
both to the ability to read and to the ability to write prose.
Most Western countries have very high rates of prose
literacy—around 99% is typically claimed—but much
lower rates of functional literacy:
[E]ven the most economically advanced societies have a literacy skills deficit. Between one-quarter and three-quarters
of adults fail to attain literacy Level 3, considered by experts as a suitable minimum skill level for coping with the
demands of modern life and work. (OECD 2000, xiii)
As we have seen, adult literacy tests go beyond prose
literacy to include document literacy and quantitative literacy. Tests of document literacy claim to measure the
ability to use complex documents (which include many
different text features in addition to continuous prose) in
order to do tasks that involve departing from the linear
structure to search, compare, make inferences, and solve
problems.
So we might construe graphic literacy (or more specifically, typographic literacy) as the key difference between
prose literacy and document literacy. In other words: document literacy = prose literacy + graphic literacy.
The documents used in tests of document literacy include forms, timetables, instructions, and other everyday
functional documents. Some of these are highly conven-
247
tionalized, and in those cases, literacy must therefore
involve familiarity with conventions typical found in
particular document genres. Hamilton and Barton (2000)
criticized the IALS test, as used in the United Kingdom,
on exactly this point (among others):
Looking more closely, there are US ways of using language
and US conventions of design and layout. The bus timetable,
for instance, follows the twelve hour clock with a.m. and
p.m. The morning is written in normal font and the afternoon in bold. This is fine, it is comprehensible and it may
seem innocuous. Nevertheless, these are US conventions;
in Britain bus timetables normally use a twenty-four-hour
clock; morning and afternoon buses are not given a different
font. Font differences are usually used to distinguish through
services from ones where a change of bus is required. These
are small points, but they are indicative of how the seemingly
culture-free bus timetable may in fact be quite a different text
in two countries and be clearly perceived by respondents as
originating outside of their own culture. (383)
It is arguable that to be unaware, as a literacy test designer,
of the localized nature of document genres is itself a form
of graphic or document illiteracy, tantamount to not realizing that in other countries they speak foreign languages.
The test question for the document in Figure 7 is: “Suppose the annual budget statement will be 105 pages and
you need to distribute 300 copies. Would Quick Copy do
this job? Explain your answer.” The document is poorly
designed on several levels: It fails to use well known genre
rules, it fails to use layout and design features to direct attention and afford effective use, and its content relates to a
highly local and specific system. If a user fails this literacy
test, whose literacy is lacking: that of the user or of the
document creator?
Hamilton and Barton are key figures in the “new literacies” movement, where specific literacies are identified
among different discourse communities (usually called
“situated literacies,” but for clarity in this context I call
them “conversational literacies”). They define this approach in the same article:
Our approach is based upon a belief that literacy only has
meaning within its particular context of social practice and
does not transfer unproblematically across contexts; there
are different literacy practices in different domains of social
life, such as education, religion, workplaces, public services,
families, community activities; they change over time and
these different literacies are supported and shaped by the
different institutions and social relationships. (Hamilton &
Barton, 2000: 379)
So ideally, then: document literacy = prose literacy +
graphic literacy + conversational literacy.
Conversational literacy describes our understanding, either as creators or users of communication channels, of
how a particular communication is shaped by its conversational context. It recognizes that each participant brings
248
R. WALLER
FIG. 7. An example of a level 3 IALS test item, from the Literacy Task Assessment Guide, National Literacy Secretariat, Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada (Evetts & Gauthier 2005, 114).
his or her own motives and experience to a conversation,
and it understands how any document is likely to be interpreted in a particular context and the range of inferences
that it is reasonable for readers to make.
Producers and Consumers: An Imbalance of Access
and Skills
When discussing document or digital literacy, we sometimes forget that traditionally we speak of literate people
as being able to both read and write. Applying the same
principle to document literacy, this means that a failure
of communication may be blamed on the literacy skills of
both producer and user.
The most sophisticated written documents are produced
by individuals who have highly developed skills of writing, editing, and design, working in industrialized systems
of production and distribution. Their skills are held in the
form of procedural knowledge developed among communities of practice, and learned through apprenticeship,
rather than declarative knowledge taught through formal
grammars.
Page-based (normally, paper) channels, in their most
evolved forms, involve an imbalance in the access to communication channels of elite producers (in the form of
authors and publishers) and consumers. Digital channels
are now open to all, but the skills required to communicate
effectively are not universal.
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
FIG. 8. An official notice about a traffic violation (from Waller
2012). Original size A4.
The problem of competence is a key problem when
we consider layout as an aspect of text that carries meaning. When linguists study spoken language by recording
speakers, they accord them respect by attributing variations from “standard” forms to such things as dialect,
mood, or context. But when we study written language,
and in particular typographic layouts, it is hard to avoid
distinguishing between trained and untrained writers and
designers. Although they are typically called “expert” and
“lay” designers by researchers (see, e.g., Walker 2001),
if they were to be considered equally competent, there
would be no such profession as graphic designer.
How, then, might we extend the concept of relative document literacy to the document producer? Fully documentliterate document creators (whether persons or organizations) must work at three corresponding levels, measurable
through user testing:
Prose level: They must be able to write fluent, and
readable prose—the traditional criterion for an educated,
literate person.
249
FIG. 9. A redesigned version of the Penalty Charge Notice (a
speculative draft by the author, not implemented).
Graphic level: They (if necessary collaborating with a
designer, or using templates) must be able to use layout and
typography to create a usable environment for searching,
skimming, and seeing content structures diagrammed, as
well as the close reading of prose. We could go further
and say that they must be able to use alternatives to prose,
such as pictures, diagrams and charts, where these would
be more effective.
Conversational level: They must create an encounter
of user and document in which a range of appropriate behaviors, reader roles, and critical stances is made obvious,
and in which key prior knowledge or postreading actions
are made plain.
An example might help to explore the distinction between the graphic and the conversational levels, shown in
Figure 8. The official document in Figure 8 fails on all
three counts:
250
R. WALLER
• Prose: It is written in bureaucratic language unsuitable for a general audience.
• Graphic: Its structure is poorly articulated graphically, with numerous ways to structure and highlight information used simultaneously.
• Conversational: It does not make its function
clear, or the process of which it is a part.
In some ways, this documents reflects the IALS test in
Figure 7. It shows a similar lack of design competence,
and is similarly adrift from the range of everyday genres
that readers are used to. Successful readers of either document have to imagine a possible world in which it makes
sense, and within which they can make inferences about
intention—in much the same way as when reading an ungrammatical sentence, we try different meanings until one
of them appears to makes sense in context.
The redesigned version of the Penalty Charge Notice
(Figure 9) has a clear visual pathway that corresponds to
an explanation pathway: This is what happened, here is
the proof, this is what to do next, and this is how to do it.
Ideally, document designers can take an existing genre
as a model—something shared with their readers in a
given discourse community. Official documents like this
one, however, are encountered too rarely in the lives of
individual to establish strong genre conventions. One of
the problems with the original version is that it shows
evidence of excessive repair: over-signaling is often the
result of attempts to overcompensate for poor reader
responses.
In the absence of a strong genre, the new design falls
back on the core techniques of clear information design:
The content is organized as a narrative, told in the lefthand column, with very clear framing (the horizontal
rules). What happened (and the evidence); what is the
penalty (and how much); then finally a choice of appeal or pay. With a pattern language perspective, it follows a strong procedural “action and result” pattern found
more frequently in user guides. This kind of layout would
not be out of place in a quick start guide to tell users
how to install an ink cartridge in a printer or how to
program a digital watch. The payment area at the foot
of the page borrows a payment slip pattern from utility
bills.
In this section I have tried to place layout at the heart of
document literacy and communication competence. Traditionally, page layout is the province of specialist graphic
designers, who are normally employed only on a limited
range of documents. But if what they do makes an important contribution (and I believe it does), then it deserves
to be seen as a core communication competence that every communicator shares, that every communication tool
enables, and that every student of textual communication
recognizes.
CONCLUSION
Information, knowledge, message, and document: Each
word brings its own personal, social, and technical perspective.
In our discussions of knowledge management in the
digital age (the context in which this paper was orginally
presented), we should not forget that documents are more
than linear text. They are multimodal juxtapositions of
elements whose spatial relationship may be every bit as
intentional, essential, and effective as the order of words in
sentences. Making documents, transmitting them, archiving them, repurposing them, integrating them into the social context of the connected digital world: These are challenges in which the subtleties of crafted displays are easily
lost while we focus on the newer technical challenges involved in managing large numbers of documents, and in
tracking complex conversations.
NOTES
1. Among others, by thinkers such as Ong (1982) on the move from
orality to literacy, Eisenstein (1979) on the move from manuscript to
print, and McLuhan (1962) on the move from print to television. Baron
(2008) has reported how the online world is changing our use and
expectations of language.
2. Fortunati (2010) argues that the involvement of so many of our
senses in the reading of paper documents provides a memory support
not present in electronic reading.
3. A commutation test, in semiotics, tests the relative strength
of a potential signifier by changing it in some way—for example, by
removing or substituting it in order to assess its contribution to meaning.
See Chandler (2007) for a fuller account.
4. For example, the Inkling format (www.inkling.com) and the
Apple iBooks textbook (www.apple.com).
5. In her foreword to Steinberg (1974).
6. Collectively we can describe these as “access structures”
(Waller 1979). Research on their educational effectiveness is reviewed
by Britton and Black (1985).
7. De Beaugrande (1984) presents a typology of linearization in
language, which includes what he terms “core-and adjunct” (which includes contrast, and hierarchical relationships), pause, heaviness, listing, disambiguation, looks-back, and looks-ahead.
8. I developed this analogy further in Waller (1982).
9. See White (1982) for insight into the magazine designer’s craft.
10. Although at the time of writing, this study is already 10 years
old, in 2002 electronic documents, e-mail, intranets, and the Web were
already well established in all large organizations.
11. I wrote a short critique of hypertext in its early days, entitled
“What electronic books will have to be better than,” which highlighted
the role of physical constancy in enabling intensive study, using an
active reading strategy (Waller 1986).
12. The International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA) acknowledges the existence of a multitude of definitions of visual or graphic
literacy, remarking on their website that each scholar has produced his
or her own (www.ivla.org/org what vis lit.htm, accessed February 12,
GRAPHIC LITERACIES FOR A DIGITAL AGE
2012). Brill, Kim, and Branch (2007) attempted to reach agreement
among experts, with limited success.
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EXECUTIVE CONTROL PROCESSES
IN READING
PSYCHOLOGY OF READING AND READING INSTRUCTION
A series of volumes edited by Rand Spiro
SPIRO, BRUCE, and BREWER • Theoretical Issues in Reading
Comprehension
SCHANK· Reading and Understanding: Teaching from the Perspective of Artificial Intelligence
ANDERSON, OSBORN, and TIERNEY· Learning to Read in American Schools: Basal Readers and Content Texts
BRITTON and BLACK • Understanding Expository Text: A Theoretical and Practical Handbook for Analyzing Explanatory Text
GUTHRIE· A School Divided: An Ethnography of Bilingual Education in a Chinese Community
HALL, NAGY, and LINN· Spoken Words: Effects of Situation and
Social Group on Oral Word Usage and Frequency
STEINBERG· Teaching Computers to Teach
ORASANU • Reading Comprehension: From Research to Practice
BRITTON and GLYNN • Executive Control Processes in Reading
EXECUTIVE
CON’I’ROL
PROCESSES
IN READING
Edited by . . . . . .
BRUCE K. BRITTON
SHAWN M. GLYNN
University of Georgia
I~ ~~~1~~n~~:up
NEW YORK AND LONDON
First Published by
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers
365 Broadway
Hillsdale, New Jersey 07642
Transferred to Digital Printing 2009 by Routledge
270 Madison Ave, New York NY 10016
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN
Copyright © 1987 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in
any form, by photostat, microform, retrieval system, or any other
means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Executive control processes in reading.
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Reading, Psychology of. 2. Choice (Psychology)
3. Control (Psychology) I. Britton, Bruce K.
II. Glynn, Shawn M.
BF456.R2E97 1987
153.6
86-24333
ISBN 0-89859-883-4
Publisher’s Note
The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality
of this reprint but points out that some imperfections in the
original may be apparent.
CONTENTS
…………….
LIST 01′ OOlftlllBUTOBS
:Ix
IlITB.ODUCTIOlV’
xi
1 • •.. l!IXBC’UTIVB OOlftllOL IlV’ BBADIlV’G
OOMPBl!IlDlIBBIOlV’
Bichard K. Wagner and Robert J. Sternberg
1
Reading Flexibly, 2
Allocation of Reading Resources, 3
Executive Control Skills, 4
Experiment 1,6
Experiment 2, 12
General Discussion, 18
Acknowledgments, 19
References, 20
a • ••• BEADIlV’G AlO) ‘WBITIlV’G I’OB. BLl!IOnOmO
as
Introduction: Will the New Media Change Reading
and Writing Activities? 23
Research Strategies, 28
Reading Electronic Journals, 33
Studies of Strategies and Control Processes
Used by Academic Readers, 36
New Skills Needed by Readers and Writers, 46
Writers’ Support, 47
Acknowledgments, 61
References, 62
v
vi
CONTENTS
3 . … ~OGBAPBY .ABJ) BlD!ICUflVB COBTB.OL
PB.OCBSSBB IR BlUDIRG
James Bartley
87
Reading and Executive Control Processes, 67
Typography and Executive Control Processes, 69
Designing Text to Encourage Deeper Processing, 74
Summary, 76
Acknowledgments, 76
References, 77
4 • •.• ~OGBAPBY .ABJ) BBADIRG BTB.ATBGY
Robert Waller
81
Observing Reading Strategies, 82
Typography as Paralanguage, 89
Purposes of Typographic Segmentation, 91
The Presumption of Rationality, 96
A Grammar of Typography? 97
Practical Reasoning, 98
Perceptual Reasoning,102
ConcluSion, 106
References, 106
8 . … BlD!ICOflVIli COlftllOL IR BTUDYDI’G
Gary •. Schumacher
107
Wby Executive Control? 109
Models of Executive Control, 113
Summary and ConcluSions, 140
References, 142
8 . ••. TBB ACTIV’AflOR.ABJ) USB OF SCllIPTBD
KROWLBDGB IR BBADIRG ABOft B.O..,U….
1:IT1
1R
…E’II!
.A.CflVHIBB
!’rank B.. Yekovich and Carol B. Walker
The Organization of Scripted Knowledge, 146
Inserting Scripted Knowledge into the Composite
Trace, 161
Knowledge-Based Effects on Comprehension and
Retrieval, 167
The Activation of SCripted Antecedents in Anaphoric
Reference, 166
Concluding Remarks, 170
APPBlIDIX, 178
Going to a Restaurant, 172
References, 176
148
CONTENTS
7 . … KBOWLEDGE ACQUISITlOlV’:rOB..APPLIClA:rIOlV’:
COGBl’l’IVB J’LExmn·rrr A1V’D TBAlI’8I’l!IB.
IlV’ COMPLEX COlftElI’l’ DOIU.llf8
Band J. Spiro, Walter L. Vispoel, John G. Schmitz,
.Ala Samarapungavan, A. E. Boerger
vii
177
Overview, 177
Sohema-Theoretio Knowledge Representation
and the Problem of Transfer, 179
A Note on Related Researoh, 182
Of the “Criss-Crossed Landsoape”:
A Presoription for Transfer, 184
Conoluding Remarks, 196
Aoknowledgments, 197
Referenoes,197
8 • … DTSDUCTIOlV’AL VARIABLES ~ IlD’LUBlV’Cl!I
COGltHIVB PB.OCESSBS D’UB.DI’G Bl!IADIlV’G
llichard B. Mayer
801
Theory, 201
Researoh, 208
Conolusion, 214
Referenoes, 215
9 . … HOW IS Bl!IADIlV’G TIllE IlD’LUBlV’CED
BY KBOWLEDGB-BASBD llO’EB.BlV’CBS
A1V’D WOBLD KBOWLEDGE
Arther C. Graesser, Karl Haberlandt,
David ICoizumi
817
Knowledge-Based Inferenoe and World Knowledge,
218
Three Hypotheses About the Relationship Between
Prooessing Time and Number of Inferenoes, 219
Overview of a Study Investigating the Relationship
Between Reading Time and Inferenoe Generation,
223
Methods, Measures, and Multiple Regression, 226
Preliminary Analysis of Content Words, 235
Analysis of End-of-Clause Reading Times, 238
Conolusions About Inferenoe Prooesses During
Comprehension, 244
Aoknowledgments, 249
Referenoes, 249
10. ..• B.BMBMBEBllV’G Bl!IADIlV’G OPBBATIOlV’S
WHH A1V’D WHHO’UT AWABElIESS
Michael E. J. Masson
Overview, 253
Memory and Automatio Prooessing, 254
8SS
viii
CONTENTS
Dissocia.ted Memory Systems, 257
A Un11Y1.ng Theme, 262
Remembering Rea.d.1ng Opera.tions, 266
Conclusions, 272
Acknowledgments, 274
References, 274
11 . … CHABA.C’rBBIZ1lI’G THl!I PB.OCBSSDI’G OBI’n 01′
BBAD1lI’G: BI’I’BCTS 01′ DI’.rB.A.-.ABD IB’.rBB.WOBD
SPACl!I81l1′ A LBftBB. DBftlCTIOB B8K
.Allee 1′. Healy, Gary L. Conboy, Adam Drewnowski
879
Experiment I, 281
Experiment 2, 285
General Discussion, 288
Acknowledgments, 294
References, 294
A’UTlIOB.llI’DBX
SUBJBCTllI’DBX
897
308
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS . . . . . . . . . .
A. E. Boerger . Center for the Study of Reading, 174CRC, University
of Illinois, 51 Gerty Dr., Champaign, IL 61820
Bruce K. Britton . Department of Psychology, University of Georgia,
Athens, GA 30602
Gary L. Conboy . Department of Psychology, Muenzinger
Psychology, Building Campus Box 34J, Boulder, CO 80309
Adam Drewnowski . Human Nutrition Program, School of Public
Health, University of Michigan, 1420 Washington Heights, Ann Arbor,
MI48109
Shawn M. Glynn . Department of Educational Psychology, University
of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602
Arthur C. Graesser . Department of Psychology, Memphis State
University, Memphis, TN 38152
Karl Haberlandt . Department of Psychology, Trinity College, Summit
St., Hartford, CT 06106
James Hartley . Department of Psychology, University of Keele,
Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, ENGLAND
Alice F. Healy . Department of Psychology, Muenzinger Psychology
Building, Campus Box 345, Boulder, CO 80309
David Koizumi . Department of Psychology, Rutgers University,
Busch Campus, New Brunswick, NJ 08903
Michael E. J. Masson . Department of Psychology, University of
Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA V8W, 2Y2
ix
X
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
Richard Mayer . Department of Psychology, University of California,
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
Ala Samarapungavan . Center for the Study of Reading, 174CRC,
University of Illinois, 51 Gerty Dr., Champaign, IL 61820
John G. Schmitz . Center for the Study of Reading, 174CRC,
University of Illinois, 51 Gerty Dr., Champaign, IL 61820
Gary Schumacher . Psychology Department, Ohio University, Athens,
OH45701
Rand J. Spiro . Center for the Study of Reading, 174 CRC, University
of Illinois, 51 Gerty Dr., Champaign, IL 61820
Robert J. Sternberg . Department of Psychology, Box l1A, Yale
Station, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520
Robert WaDer . Institute of Educational Technology, Walton Hall, The
Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, GREAT BRITAIN
Richard Wagner . Department of Psychology, Florida State
University, Tallahassee, FL 33306-1051
Carol Walker . School of Education, The Catholic University of
America, Washington, DC 20064
Patricia Wright . Medical Research Council, Applied Psychology
Unit, 15 Chaucer Rd., Cambridge CB2 2EF, ENGLAND
Walter L. Vispoel . District 214, Administrative Center, 799 W.
Kensington Rd., Mount Prospect, IL 60056
Frank Yekovich . School of Education, The Catholic University of
America, Washington, DC 20064
INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The first thing the reader of this volume needs to know is: What is
executive control in reading, exactly? We provide some definitions extracted from the chapters. The second thing the reader needs is some idea
of the content of each chapter. We describe each chapter briefly, sometimes using extracts from it. Finally, we tell how this book came to be,
and acknowledge some debts.
DEFINING EXECUTIVE CONTROL PROCESSES
IN READING
Mr. Youmans, a grizzled rustic who used to mow the Britton lawn, once
described one of his customers (whom we knew to be a high-powered
New York executive) in the following words: “Mr. Rosenbaum? Oh, he
don’t do nawthin’, he just tells other folks what to do.” Following Mr.
Youmans, executive control processes are broadly defined here as processes that tell other processes what to do.
The authors of the chapters in this volume define executive control in
reading in a variety of fascinating ways. Here are some of their definitions, which have been extracted from the chapters and freely adapted:
Executive control processes deal with how individuals plan and direct,
select, and orchestrate the various cognitive structures and processes
available to them for attaining some goal. (Schumacher, Ch. 5)
Executive control processes coordinate the functioning of the human
xi
xii
INTRODUCTION
cognitive system. Control functions are aspects of cognitive processes
that contribute to the achievement of particular reading goals. Executive control functions exhibit sensitivity during reading comprehension
and they also have certain responsibilities. Sensitivity can be seen
operating by observing modulations in reading speed, gaze durations
on individual words, and/or regressive fixations. Control functions also
have numerous responsibilities, such as the coordination of the component reading processes (e.g., prioritizing word identification over lexical access), the coordination and allocation of cognitive resources
(e.g., optimizing the use of the short-term memory), and the selection
and use of knowledge to fill gaps in text (e.g., inserting knowledge into
a composite representation of the text and subsequently using this
knowledge for inferencing or reasoning). (Yekovich and Walker, Ch. 6)
We seek to examine how mature, skilled readers use information about
the difficulty and importance of text, and of their comprehension tasks
in allocating their reading time and effort. We distinguish three constituent parts of executive control of reading: (a) devising or accessing
previously devised strategies for optimal allocation of reading time,
and effort given one’s reading goals and text; (b) implementing one’s
strategies, in a manner that does not disrupt the reading process
unnecessarily; and (c) monitoring the success of one’s strategy implementation, which may lead to revision or outright replacement of the
strategy. (Wagner & Sternberg, Ch. 1)
“Executive control” is used loosely here to refer to those deliberate
(although not necessarily articulated) choices that readers must make
to read a text in a particular order or at a particular pace, to start
reading and to stop, to skip or skim. (Waller, Ch. 4)
When reading a text the reader (or executive) is faced with a number of
activities, all of which compete for time and resources. Different sets of
‘activities are consequent upon the decision of whether to read for gist
or for detail. In essence the crucial problem is deciding where to go
next. Should one plough on remorselessly, should one skip ahead,
should one ignore a particular figure for the time being, and so on.
(Hartley, Ch. 3)
There are several alternative ways that executive control processes
may influence inference generation. Perhaps variations in the readers’
goals and conscious reading strategies determine what inferences are
generated and how much processing resources are allocated to different categories of inferences. Alternatively, perhaps executive control
processes merely determine the overall amount of cognitive resources
allocated to inference generation, without any selective allocation to
specific inference categories. As yet a third alternative, perhaps varia-
INTRODUCTION
xiii
variations in executive control processes have no impact on inference
generation. This would occur if inference generation is confined to a
mechanism that is entirely insulated from the reader’s goals and
conscious reading strategies. (Graesser, Haberlandt, and Koizumi, Ch.
9)
BRIEF CHAPTER SUMMARIES
Chapter 1
Executive Control in Reading Comprehension
Richard Wagner and Robert Sternberg introduce a paradigm in which
several different types of questions, differing substantially in difficulty,
can be asked about a passage. Subjects are informed in advance about
which one of the types of questions they will be getting, and then effects
on their reading behavior are observed.
In Wagner and Sternberg’s first experiment, Gist questions were the
easiest type: They asked which of a list of titles would be best for a
passage, or which of a list of themes best represented the topic. Main idea
questions were more difficult, asking for specific information about some
of the main ideas in the passage. Detail questions, even more difficult,
were of the type that students routinely castigate as “picky.” Finally,
most difficult of all were analysis and application questions, which
required not. only knowing the information in the passage, but going
beyond it in significant ways. In the second experiment, Wagner and
Sternberg manipulated the difficulty of questions by using items of known
difficulty from the Graduate Record Examination, and informing subjects
of the level of difficulty.
The dependent measures included the time Yale undergraduates spent
on reading passages that they knew would have questions at specified
levels of difficulty, the accuracy of their answers to the questions, verbal
reports about their strategies, and ability measures of verbal aptitude and
reading skill. The results showed that even after holding constant verbal
aptitude, reading skill, and reading speed, the subjects’ time allocationthe measure of allocation of time resources-was significantly related to
reading comprehension performance.
Chapter 2
Reading and Writing for Electronic Journals
In her chapter, Patricia Wright considers how the new computer-based
information management technologies will influence on-the-job reading
xiv
INTRODUCTION
and writing processes of academics and professional researchers. She
focuses on scholarly journals that can be accessed electronically through
a computer-based system, and describes some field- and laboratory-based
research strategies for studying how users interact with these journals.
On the basis of several studies she has conducted, Wright offers some
insights into the kinds of system developments that are needed if electronic journals are to become a fully acceptable communication mode
rather than just a convenient information dissemination facility. She
believes that the most exciting developments for the readers and writers
of electronic journals will come about when the readers themselves are
able to make decisions interactively about the way the information is
displayed to them.
Chapter 3
Typography and Executive
Control Processes in Reading
James Hartley’s goal in this chapter is to suggest how the typographic
design of text can help or hinder the cognitive processes that readers must
perform. He accomplishes this by considering four topics: typography,
layout, typographic cueing, and access structures. He argues that typographic details can assist with automatic bottom-up processing while
layout can facilitate the reader’s deliberate top-down processing.
A common problem that typographic designers face is that they have to
provide one single optimum format for different readers with different
reading purposes. Hartley argues that text, particularly electronic text,
can be designed to encourage deeper processing by readers, but such text
will require considerable typographic expertise.
Chapter 4
Typography and Reading Strategy
According to Robert Waller, the decisions about when to pause, rehearse,
skim, or skip material in a text are all manifestations of executive control.
These decisions are strongly influenced by typography, which Waller
broadly defines as. the visual attributes of written language. He, like
Hartley, points out that typography can either enhance or diminish the
comprehensibility of a text.
According to Waller, comprehensibility is dependent not only on the
reader possessing an appropriate level of skill but also on a text which
makes its structure clear enough for comprehension strategies to be
formulated. Typography is one of a range of cueing systems that the
INTRODUCTION
xv
author can use to signal the structure of ideas in a text. To support his
views, Waller reviews research evidence he has collected about the effect
of typography on reading. He concludes that before our concept of
literacy can be extended, we need a deeper understanding of typography
as an integral part of written language.
Chapter 5
Executive Control in Studying
Gary Schumacher begins his chapter· by arguing that it might be very
useful to view studying through the perspective of the studier, with
special emphasis on executive control. According to him, an understanding of executive control could explain the inconsistencies in studying
research and the powerful role that contextual factors play in studying
activities.
He considers three major ways of conceptualizing executive control
and studying: an information processing model, a cognitive monitoring
model, and a computer simulation model. Each model emphasizes different aspects of how the studier interacts with the studying task, and each
suggests a number of research questions.
Schumacher believes that there is a need for research in naturalistic
settings so that the role of contextual variables important in everyday
studying (e.g., time factors, text characteristics, and exam type) can be
better understood. He also calls for more process-oriented research in
studying.
Chapter 6
The Activation and Use
of Scripted Knowledge
in Reading about Routine Activities
Frank Yekovich and Carol Walker present a subtle, elegant, and detailed
account of the interweaving of the two strands that create the phenomenologically rich experience of understanding a story: the reader’s prior
knowledge, and the bare text. The reader’s prior knowledge is represented as a densely interconnected script, and the bare text activates
different parts of the script to different degrees. Even those parts of the
script that are never explicitly mentioned can achieve very high levels of
activation through accrual of indirect activation. Yekovich and Walker’s
detailed predictions are tested in six experiments with on-line measures as
well as memory measures.
xvi
INTRODUCTION
Chapter 7
Knowledge Acquisition for Application:
Cognitive Flexibility and Transfer
in Complex Content Domains
Rand Spiro and his colleagues Walter Vispoel and John Schmitz emphasize
that success in such areas as text comprehension, problem solving, and
decision making depends on the activation and appropriate application of
relevant prior knowledge. They address a critical issue relating to knowledge transfer: Namely, how should knowledge be acquired and organized
to facilitate a wide range of future applications?
Spiro and his associates contend that in the many real-world situations
when knowledge cannot be routinized, mechanized, or automatized, it
must be flexibly controlled. In their chapter, they present a theory of
learning and instruction and of knowledge representation and application,
for the flexibility-based control that makes transfer possible. The aim of
their research program is the validation of a set of principles and associated instructional practices that will permit students to better apply the
knowledge they acquire in formal school settings to informal, real-life
settings.
Chapter 8
Instructional Variables that Influence
Cognitive Processes During Reading
In this chapter, Richard Mayer summarizes a series of research studies of
the effects of instructional manipulations on learners’ comprehension of
expository text. The three cognitive processes he views as most important for meaningful text learning are: paying attention to conceptual
information, building internal connections, and building external connections. All of his instructional manipulations involve encouraging the
reader to actively connect to-be-Iearned information to familiar experience or concrete models.
Mayer’s results provide some examples of how it is possible to
influence the reader’s cognitive processing and the quality of what the
reader learns from a text. He points out that if his research had focused
merely on the question of whether instructional manipulations affect how
much is learned, he would have found few important results, and he
argues that performance tests should include many different measures,
such as “far” versus “near transfer” and conceptual versus verbatim
recall.
INTRODUCTION
xvii
Chapter 9
How is Reading Time Influenced
by Knowledge-Based Inferences
and World Knowledge?
Readers make inferences as they read. Does it take extra time to make
these inferences? Arthur Graesser, Karl Haberlandt, and David Koizumi
test three hypotheses about how much time it takes to make inferences:
1. The Strenuous Inference Generation Hypothesis proposes that inferences are generated by mental work, so the more inferences are
generated, the longer it takes. This hypothesis predicts a positive
correlation between reading time and the number of inferences.
2. iThe Scanty Knowledge-Base Hypothesis predicts a negative correlation between reading time and the number of inferences. It proposes that sentences that generate few inferences are difficult to
understand because they draw on a scanty knowledge base, and so
take a long time to read, while sentences that generate many
inferences are easy to understand because they draw on a rich
knowledge base, and so take a short time to read.
3. The Automatized Knowledge-Base Hypothesis proposes that certain generic knowledge structures, like the one for eating at a
restaurant, generate inferences automatically and so take no extra
time, but nonautomatized knowledge structures require extra time
for controlled processes to generate their inferences.
Chapter 10
Remembering Reading Operations
With and Without Awareness
According to Michael Masson, the perceptual and cognitive operations
carried out during fluent reading cannot conceivably be under direct
executive control throughout the entire course of their functioning. Instead, he assumes that a number of these operations carryon outside the
bounds of awareness and produce results or data that eventually are used
by centrally controlled processes. In this chapter, Masson considers the
implications of his assumption for (a) the memory representation of
specific reading episodes and (b) the role played by such memory representations when material is read on multiple occasions. He gives special
consideration to a form of memory for reading episodes that appears to
operate outside the domain of executive control processes.
xviii
INTRODUCTION
Chapter 11
Characterizing the Processing Units of Reading:
Effects of Intra- and Interword Spaces
in a Letter Detection Task
In their chapter, Alice Healy, Gary Conboy, and Adam Drewnowski
describe a letter detection experiment in which asterisks or blank spaces
were inserted between characters in continuous text; participants made
significantly fewer errors when the test word subtended a larger visual
angle. In a second experiment, the interword space before the test word
the was found to be more critical for unit formation than the space after
the.
According to Healy and her colleagues, these results suggest that the
size of the processing units used by readers depends on visual angle, and
that the reading units for frequent function words such as the extend
beyond the word itself, include the interword space, and are influenced
more by familiarity than by linguistic function. They discuss these results
in terms of the notions of the cognitive module and input system proposed
by Fodor (1983).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This book was conceived when we were developing our own executive
control model of reading (see Britton, Glynn, & Smith’s chapter on the
cognitive workbench model in Understanding Expository Text, edited by
Britton & Black, 1985). The model is based on the notion that the reading
task is made up of a large number of subprocesses, which obviously
cannot operate optimally in a state of anarchy; they need some executive
control. Around the same time, we heard Robert Sternberg and Richard
Wagner deliver an early version of the paper that appears as a chapter
here, from which we derived the title of the volume.
Those most influential in shaping Britton’s early research in reading
were Thomas Andre, Ellen Gagne, and Ernst Rothkopf, and his debt to
them is acknowledged here.
REFERENCE
Britton, B. K., Glynn, S. M., & Smith, J. (1985). Cognitive demands of processing
expository text: A cognitive workbench model. In B. Britton and J. Black (Eds.),
Understanding expository text (pp. 227-248). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
EXECUTIVE CONTROL
IN
READING COMPREHENSION . . . . .
1
Richard K. Wagner
Florida State University
Robert J. Sternberg
Yale University
Provided we have written a chapter that is to some degree comprehensible (a wildly questionable assumption, we admit!), there are two obvious
prerequisites to an individual’s ability to comprehend it. First, the individual must have mastered the basic decoding skills that serve to attach
meaning to written symbols, including letters, numbers, and words.
Mastery of these decoding operations is, of course, absolutely prerequisite to reading of any kind. Second, the individual must have access to
relevant “world knowledge” so as to interpret and evaluate the presented
information in a meaningful way. We read, understand, and remember
material that we can relate to prior knowledge much differently…
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