Rhetoric objects

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Chunking Content: Toward a Rhetoric of Objects
Jonathan Price
We need to develop a rhetoric of objects to understand the new way in which we must create and deliver content over the Web. We are facing a new multiplicity of audiences—niche groups, and even individuals, to whom we offer customization and personalization. With our new tools and new ways of thinking about what we create, we areinventing informative objects that address the needs of our audiences, letting go of the concept of a document, as we plunge into a world of small chunks of content. In this presentation, I consider how this new approach to technical communication affects our ideas of audience, invention, arrangement, style, delivery, memory, and character—the canons of traditional rhetoric. As we move documentationonto the Web, we often carve up the original documents into smaller pieces identified with tags created in XML, then put together various collections of those little chunks, assembling pages on the fly with content tailored differently for particular groups or individuals. In this situation, our old ideas about documents no longer hold. We are creating discrete units of information that can bereused in many contexts, fitting together into multiple structures. Now, instead of thinking about a speech having a natural sequence of parts, or a book having an introduction, chapters, and appendices, we are contemplating an array of meaningful objects. Instead of making a document, we are discovering classes of information, building information structures, populating databases, and issuinganswers to queries. We are thinking more like database developers than we ever have before. But our goal is to communicate with other people—and, increasingly, with software agents acting on behalf of those people. Because we still care about “talking” with other people—and their software— in this new environment, we need to come up with a new way of thinking about the process we go through when weinvent new material, including the media we work in, the things we arrange, and the many audiences we address. In effect, we need a rhetoric of informative objects. • The responsibility of that type of object, which is to answer a particular type of question from users. For instance, a step answers the question, “What do I do next?” The relationships between this object and other objects. Forinstance, a step is contained by a procedure. And the step itself may contain an explanation. An internal structure. For instance, a procedure contains components such as an introduction, steps, and explanations. The attributes of this kind of object. For instance, a procedure might have attributes such as the date created, date modified, subject, and author. Each instance of a procedure, then, might havedifferent values for these attributes.







Messages that the object can send out, or receive. Essentially, these are links, requesting another object to show itself. A rhetoric of objects, then, borrows concepts from object-oriented programming (7, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21, 26, 30, 31, 33, 36, 38, 40, 44, 46), but focuses on communicating content—not building transactions, or processingdata. This approach is theoretical; it does not depend on any particular software, tool, or environment. A rhetoric of objects offers a new way of thinking about what we are doing. In fact, with this perspective, we can sharpen our awareness of the structural patterns inherent in our existing documentation, improving the efficiency of editing, and making writing go more smoothly—even on paper.Comparing this new approach with the ideas we currently consider “traditional” in rhetoric (3, 6, 8, 17, 20, 25, 27, 28, 39, 43), let us walk through traditional canons such as audience, invention, arrangement, style, delivery, memory, and character, to see just how our understanding of what we do—and what we produce—is evolving.



CLASSIFYING OBJECTS
The thinking is a bit abstract. First we...
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