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.