Course Overview

ENG 317, 3 Credits, Fall 2018
Class Location: Tompkins Hall, G125
Class times: Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 1:30PM – 2:45PM

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you … the minute that you understand that you can poke life … that you can change it, you can mold it … that’s maybe the most important thing.” -Steve Jobs

Course Introduction

As a culture, our understanding of the rhetorical situation (i.e. the static communication triangle of author, text, and reader) and writing has radically changed in a world shaped by information networks, global economies, and new communication technologies. This course will focus on how different types of semiotic systems interact with or are constructed by texts produced and distributed in nonlinear ways that alter our understanding of how writers influence readers and carry out their intended purposes.

We will be reading theories on the complex systems that make up our world today, but we will also be putting those theories into practice by analyzing and producing texts that contribute to the rhetorical ecologies around us. The focus of this course is actually a question: how do we design writing for the web?

We will approach this question with a subquestion: How do reading and writing practices change in digital environments? After all, the Internet is made of writing. Code is writing. Protocols are writing. Web pages are writing. What we call “social media” is usually just a bunch of people writing to each other in a specific genre, say one that has 140 characters or less. Like all writing, writing in these digital environments organizes human behavior. Unlike other forms of writing, however, writing in digital environments also organizes machine behavior. Machines and tools influence the way humans write as much as human writing influences machines; together we make the world.

Designing Web Communications is a class that explores digital rhetoric for both humans and machines. As such, the class will ask you as students to approach a variety of rhetorical and coding situations not from a “coder” mentality but from a rhetorician’s mentality. Some parts of this class are “technical” in nature but you should not let that scare you off (alternatively, you should not think this class will be a cakewalk because you know Python!). Approaching digital environments from a rhetorician’s perspective means paying attention to code but also paying attention to things like writing, cultivating communities both online and off, access, and network logic.

Learning Outcomes

After this class, you will:

  • better understand the multiple and layered elements of digital rhetorical conventions and digital documents;
  • understand the sociocultural dynamics of digital writing spaces;
  • Understand networks as collaborative human/non-human written activities
  • learn the modes, consequences, some of the responsibilities and dangers of different kinds of digital participation, from curation to blogging;

Some of the activities we will focus on include:

  • explore and understand digital writing spaces as deeply rhetorical spaces;
  • recognize the ways the structure and dynamics of networks affect the behaviors of populations, the elements of applying of social network analysis to online culture, the dynamics of social capital online, the steps necessary to cultivate personal learning networks;
  • become more effective writers and communicators in print and digitally mediated spaces;

After this class, you will have produced:

  • A visual/textual analytical argument
  • Contributed and edited in collaborative writing spaces
  • Made a website


Fenton, N., & Lee, K. K. (2014). Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose (1 edition). San Francisco, CA: New Riders.

Krug, S. (2014). Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3 edition). Berkeley, Calif.: New Riders.


Arola, K. L., Sheppard, J., & Ball, C. E. (2014). Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects (First Edition edition). Bedford/St. Martin’s.

I encourage you to obtain your own copies of our books, however, many of them are also available through our NCSU library course reserve.