• Matthew Davis
    University of Massachussetts at Boston
  • Kevin Brock
    North Carolina State University
  • Stephen J. McElroy
    Florida State University


As an art, rhetoric has long been occupied (at least since Aristotle) with identifying the available means of persuasion in a given situation. Examinations of those means have mostly been restricted to word and speech, and only recently has the scope of rhetoric been expanded to include non-verbal image, sound, and multimodal texts. Despite this historical focus on discursive communication, a growing number of scholars have explored a wider range of persuasive means, turning to space, place, and even information architecture as available tools for suasive action (see Salvo; Brummett; Zagacki and Gallagher; Shipka). Paying attention to an expanded view of “means” may well provide rhetors with access to inventive processes that would otherwise be left unrecognized, unexplored, and unused, thus limiting our understanding of the fuller scope of rhetorical potential.

In this article, we hope to accomplish two primary goals. First, we mean to provide some context for a transition from exploring the available means of persuasion to exploring of the available means of composing. We do this by tracing the historical roots of “available means,” accompanied, we hope, with a number of different resonances: first, with Aristotle's definition of rhetoric; second, with Wysocki's article awaywithwords: On the Possibilities in Unavailable Designs, which asks us to consider how we might build upon or move away from the beliefs and constraints [that] are held within readily available, conventionalized design in seemingly unavailable ways and for unexpected results (59); third and finally, we want to move the work on available means across different digital and physical spaces (insofar as we might argue them separate) with more than an oblique reference to Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel's The Available Means of Persuasion: Mapping a Theory and Pedagogy of Multimodal Public Rhetoric. We have those authors to thank for a push towards the possibilities of multimodal analyses, informing and informed by rhetorical concepts, to offer insight into how composers understand, invent, choose from, and operationalize the available means of composing.

Second, we hope to sketch what it might mean to study the available means of composing in academic settings by looking to three sites of composing: an upper-level undergraduate course in 21st Century writing, a university multiliteracy center, and an upper-level undergraduate course that explored programming as composing. Within those contexts, we ask three questions:

  1. How do people come to invent available means in those contexts?
  2. What are the available means of composing in those sites?
  3. What types of texts do people construct from those means?