A Writer’s Tools

This week’s reading from Stephen Bernhardt, Anne Wysocki, and Gunther Kress made me think of some of the more widely known tools available to writers such as fonts and genre selection. We all use these tools, and members of the general populace learn about them early in their educations. However, I still consider them to be some of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. I think the selection of elements like font and genres are in large part what makes the writing of different authors distinctive and powerful in different ways.

I seldom consciously notice the fonts used in texts, but that does not mean they are unimportant. As Wysocki writes, “Because typefaces are a major visual strategy for a text’s composers to signal the genre into which the text is to fit, and because the choice of different typefaces can signal argumentative moves in a text, it is worth giving typefaces—their categories and histories—some attention” (127). The choice of font can create the mood and atmosphere for a reading or viewing experience. For example, I do not think many academics would take a scholarly article composed using comic sans font seriously. Fonts can also draw attention to certain elements of a text, especially when bold-faced fonts are used. Bernhardt writes, “Figures which are more strongly defined against their field will tend to appear more important than other figures which share the same ground” (72). I think it is clear that the choice of fonts, though seemingly simple, can have a large impact on the rhetorical power of a text.

This conclusion is supported by the vast number of resources available to writers who are attempting to choose a font. It is easy to find a database of fonts organized by genre if a writer has an idea of the typeface he or she is searching for. If the writer needs guidance, he or she is only a Google search away from an article like one that appears in Smashing Magazine which painstakingly describes how one should go about choosing a typeface. A suitable typeface dresses up writing for success; a poorly chosen typeface can distract and disorient readers to such an extent that they will abandon a writer’s text for one which is more visually appealing.

Genres are often much more readily acknowledged by readers than fonts. It is hard for them not to be acknowledged when genre indicators like the one to the right are splashed all over large signs in bookstores and libraries. The awareness of genres in our society means that an author’s choices in this regard will help to define his or her audience. If an author writes a traditional academic article, he or she can expect that the only people to read it will be other academics. If he or she crafts the writing to fit into the genre of romance, the audience attracted would be very different.

I think one of the most powerful tools a writer has is the ability to manipulate genre to fit his or her needs. Kress forwards the idea that all genres are mixed genres (52), and I think he is right in regard to most texts. For example, many texts that would be grouped under the heading of mystery also include romance. A novel can also mix elements which seem to conflict to great effect. The clip below is from a movie based on the classic novel Jane Eyre.

It is easy to see elements of both gothic horror and romance within this clip, and one could also say the mystery genre is utilized. Jane Eyre is an excellent example of how one who is accomplished in the use of rhetoric may use an audience’s expectations of genre as a tool to glean success. When I first read Jane Eyre many years ago, I was enraptured. I found the mix of emotions invoked by the influence of different genres captivating. The ability to create such feeling amongst readers should not be underestimated, as it is a powerful writing tool.

I think tools like fonts and genres are in large part what makes certain texts more powerful than others. Those who can conceive the best strategies for the use of fonts and mixing of genres can attract more audience members. For this reason, I think it is of vital importance to remember the basics even whilst expanding one’s abilities as a writer to include ever more complex rhetorical devices.


2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Tools

  1. meghanoneal says:

    I completely agree with you here. This is a big reason why I enjoyed the readings this week. I think that the difference between good writing and great writing is the refusal to overlook the smaller things. I know that, for me, I always saw genre as something that was decided at the beginning of the composition process and you wove your story or piece or article with that genre in the back of your mind. However, Kress made me realize that genre has much more importance than you realize and it is something that you should be constantly thinking of. I actually found the Kress piece the most difficult to understand because he presents such a new way to look at genre. It’s almost overwhelming in a way, but it excites me because it brings up a whole new way to approach writing.

    As for fonts, I think it’s interesting that teachers limit you so much when it comes to which fonts are appropriate to be used. I think that there is so much room for creativity in the font department. We have left the world of Times New Roman for academic texts and have entered the brave new world of the other fancier ones that I can’t think the names of at the moment. I think that these fonts can have their place in academic text or non-fiction as long as the writer makes the careful, deliberate choice to use them and not just because they’re pretty. Although, I do agree with you that comic sans has no place in any form of writing except in a 2nd grade classroom.

  2. Erin says:

    I harbor an inexplicable fondness of Comic Sans, mainly because I know several academics who despise it. Hence I used this much-belittled typeface in my A/V short.

    As for genres (which is actually a much larger component of what you’re talking about), I have a likely-unfounded tendency to think of them as a forced labels. Perhaps I feel this way because I as a writer would prefer to write a text which suited my own tastes, and then simply investigate which audience would be most suitable as a marketing target after completing the piece.

    But then, why would any critically-thinking writer craft a novel to begin with if he and she weren’t writing at least partially in response to a real issue? (To toss an extremely vague yet open term out there.) It does make sense for a purposeful writer to follow the format of a genre or two from the outset so as to hold more power over the audience in this rhetorical situation.

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