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  • Ask: on average how may letters do you get a week—things that come through your mailbox? What about email?


  • 1. Ars DictaminisThen and Now: Toward a Multimodal Approach
    Chanon Adsanatham
    March 25, 2011
  • 2. 117 billion letters were processed in 2009.
    2.8 million emails are sent every second.
  • 3. “There is scarcely any Species of Composition deserves more to be cultivated, than the Art of Writing Letters, since none is of more various or frequent Use, through the whole Course of human Life.” Charles Johnson, The Complete Art of Letter-writing, 1770
  • 4. Focus
    How has letter writing been theorized in the past?
    How do contemporary business textbooks teach letter writing?
    How might we recast the canons of rhetoric as a multimodal heuristic for letter writing in the 21st century?
  • 5. History: Antiquity
    Demetrius’s On Style (1st century BC)
    “virtual image of the writer’s soul”
    not too long nor too grand in style
    Language = plain, simple
    Julius Victor (4th century CE)
    2 kinds of letters
    Familial: use plain style
    Official: use ornamented style
  • 6. History: The Middle Ages
    Birth of ars dictaminis (1087)
    Alberic: Letter = 5 standard parts
    Exordium (goodwill)
    Narration (background)
    Petition (request)
    Style: cursus or rhythmic prose
  • 7. History: The Renaissance
    Erasmus (1469-1536)
    Argues against rigid formula
    Advice: adjust style and arrangement to fit the purpose and audience
    Places the rhetorical situation at the heart of letter writing
  • 8. History: 17th to 19th Century
    George Snell’s (1649) 5 parts of a letter:
    Proper greeting
    Respectful phrases
    Smooth closure
    Appropriate length
    Style = plain style
    Importance of grammar, politeness, grace
    Letter as a reflection of one’s class and character
    19th century: taught as a subject in school
  • 9. In sum
    Emphasize style + conventions
    Theory of style + arrangement
  • 10. Contemporary ars dictaminis
    How do contemporary textbooks teach letter-writing?
    8textbooks published between 2005-2011
  • 11. Common Textbook Features: In Order
    Linear writing process/analysis of the rhetorical situation
    invention = brainstorming and clustering
    revision = proofreading and checking accuracy
    Genres: letters, report, instructions, proposal, presentations, resumes
    Grammar manual in the appendix
    What do you notice about this ordering? Any implications?
  • 12. Letter Writing Coverage
    Writing that Works (Oliu, Brusaw, Alfred, 2010)
    Writing Email & Instant Messages
    Design consideration
    Writing & managing instant messages
    Designing Letters
    Inside address
    Signature block
    Routine and Positive Message
    Responding to inquiries
    Sales & promotions
    Negative Message
  • 13. Design Considerations in the Email Section
    How to use
    Block signatures
  • 14. But email messages are looking like this:
  • 15. And this:
  • 16. In Sum
    Rhetorical: focus on audience, purpose and context
    Focus on language, format and conventions (required elements)
    Current-traditional, “objective rhetoric” (Berlin, 1987)
    Logocentric: graphics and design not a part of letter-writing chapter
  • 17. What’s Missing: Why oh why?
    Emails are now like web interfaces.
    Why aren’t textbooks (and we) teaching students to pay more attention to design?
    What can we draw from rhetorical theory to help us address this gap?
  • 18. Ars DictaminisNow:
    Recasting the Canons of Rhetoric as a Heuristic for Letter Writing
  • 19. Invention
    Drawing from common topics
    Content often merge from various communications before writing (e.g. meetings, phone calls)
    Analyzing the rhetorical situation
    Using the heuristic as a thinking tool/aid
  • 20. Arrangement
    Following conventions with rhetorical flexibility
    Creating a professional ethos
    Using arrangement for emphasis
    Employing design and layout strategically
  • 21.
  • 22. Style
    Understanding why and how the following matter:
    Accuracy and perspicuity
    Emphasis and subordination
  • 23.
  • 24. Delivery
    Paying attention to how the media/medium impact
    the mode of delivery
    Distribution/circulation (Porter, 2009)
    Access/accessibility (Porter, 2009)
  • 25. Memory
    Using the elements in the canon to create a correspondence that is efficacious and enable readers to remember, retain and recall the message.
  • 26. goal
  • 27. What can we do with this theory?
    Does NOT replace the importance of alphabetic writing
    Use the heuristic to generate possibilities for how to compose a correspondence
    Conceptualize style as both a matter of language and visual design
    See the relationship between arrangement (the 3rd canon) and design and think about arrangement in a non-linear manner
  • 28. Pedagogical Application
    Breakdown and reframe the
    canons into exploratory
    questions and havestudents
    blog to them beforeconstructing
    a business correspondence.
    What type of media/medium can one use to compose and deliver the correspondence; what kind of “feel” and “look” are you going for; and how might this impact the quality of the message?
  • 29. In conclusion…
    A greater awareness of ars dictaminiscan help instructors and students become a more rhetorically and historically informed composers and readers of letters in the 21st century.
    By now over 300 billion emails would have been sent.