Wednesday 6 May 2020

'Exploring academic argument in information graphics' in 'Data Visualization in Society' from @AmsterdamUPress #Academicbooks #OpenAccess

Written for design educators and social semiotic researchers who are interested in infographic design and multimodal argument.

Associate Professor Arlene Archer and I wrote 'Exploring academic argument in information graphics', which was recently published in the book, Data visualization in society. Our chapter proposes a framework for analysing and producing argument in data visualisation. This framework is applied in the chapter for investigating two second-year journalism students’ semiotic and rhetorical strategies in making arguments via data visualisation posters. We then discuss the broader implications in Higher Education for teaching students to become critical citizens via infographic poster production and analysis.

Figure 1. Data Visualization in Society book cover, Amsterdam University Press, 2020.

The chapter drew on my fieldwork as a lecturer in the multimedia production course (FAM2017S) teaching infographic poster design to journalism students at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, UCT. I liaised with Professor Marion Walton and Dr Martha Evans in preparing a five-week course for teaching infographic poster production in 2017. Students learnt to explore educational inequalities between two suburbs in Cape Town using's aggregated data and to visualise their findings via infographic poster design. Arlene kindly volunteered as a guest reviewer of students' poster design progress. As novice designers, students' data visualisation arguments produced some interesting inconsistencies and disjunctures that helped inspire this chapter. Its analysis was also informed by a review of students' final posters and accompanying rationales. 

In response to these concerns, Arlene proposed the framework for analysing and producing argument in data visualisation. Its components are illustrated in Table 1 below.
Table 1. A framework for analysing and producing argument in data visualisation. Archer, A. and Noakes, T. 2020.

This framework was applied in an investigation of how two infographic posters drew on semiotic and rhetorical strategies for realising argument: The semiotic strategies included their use of colour, typography and graphics, while the rhetorical strategies include establishing credibility and the use of citation. The effect that the underlying basis for comparison of data had on their contrasting arguments was examined, plus students' linked selection and processing of aggregated data. We also investigated the semiotic encoding of ideational material and the ways relationships were established within the discourse communities constructed via the data visualisations. The investigation highlights the complex entanglement of aspects of data visualisation. These include varied design processes, the underlying discourses and ideological work of data visualisations, as well as their pleasures and aesthetics. We concluded by arguing that this way of looking at academic argument has important implications for teaching these text-types in higher education in order to produce critical citizens.

We are very grateful to the book's editors, Professors Helen Kennedy and Martin Engebretsen, for their feedback and help in refining the chapter. 

In 2018, I retaught infographic poster design to a new group of second years and adjusted the course to allocate more for considering argument and included this framework and the article's cases for students' consideration. Both interventions helped students to improve the critical arguments in their posters. Arlene and I are writing about these changes in a draft manuscript, 'Developing critique and academic argument in a blended-learning data visualisation course'.

There are three ways you can view Data Visualization in Society digitally:
1. Its e-book page is at
2. Its Open Access version is at
3. You can download it as an Adobe Acrobat pdf book via

Or to purchase it in hardcopy, you can order through your local bookseller, via Amsterdam University Press for Europe/Rest of the World, or via Baker & Taylor Publisher Services for North America.

I hope that you will find our chapter informative and welcome any feedback in the comments below.

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