Picture This: Developing a Model for the Analysis of Visual Metadiscourse

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Journal of Business and Technical Communication


© The Author(s) 2015. Corporate documents increasingly rely on visual rhetoric to complement text. Although previous studies have indicated that companies’ local culture may be reflected in the images they employ, scholars have never systematically investigated the use of visual rhetoric as it is used across different business cultures. This study analyzes visual rhetoric using a new model of visual metadiscourse—a set of devices that designers use to convey meaning in order to influence the audience’s interpretation of the text. The study compares the visual metadiscourse in photos used in English management statements in the annual reports of Dutch and U.K. companies. The results show that metadiscourse is inherent not only in the written text of a corporate document but also in the visuals that a design team chooses to include. The results also indicate that despite some similarities, Dutch-based and U.K.-based statements contain differences in their use of visual metadiscourse. Several of these differences can be attributed to cultural differences between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The study underlines the applicability of the new model and warns international text designers not to overlook cultural differences in visual metadiscourse.

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