Activist, Genre, Persona


Digital texts present significant challenges to technical communicators in terms of genre and persona. Because of the ubiquity of electronic media, we increasingly embrace digital formats over print-based documents. As a result, technical communicators must now devise the means to cue audiences to the purposes of digital documents in any given discourse community. We can only convey meaning to our Internet audiences through the use of appropriate standards and elements recognizable generic forms and rhetorical cues that we designate as conventions in specific digital discourse. Just as we use file and folder office metaphors for information stored on computers, digital activist communities use campaign metaphors to signal the intentions of their electronic pages. Although these electronic pages, such as Take Action, Donate, Lobby, and Speak Out, have the same names as their print-based counterparts, they represent digital generic forms, such as letters, flyers, and receivables, which occur in a virtual world rather than genres that exist in a physical community. If we examine activist sites in terms of digital-format texts, we can become familiar with the genre and forms of activist sites and determine site-visitor responses to the personas of the sites, which will help us to determine our ability to inform our audiences and call them to action. This study looks at six activist websites in terms of genre and persona to identify electronic-text conventions and forms that must be recognizable to site visitors in order for digital activists to effectively communicate. Activist organizations were among the first to understand the power of digital media as tools to disseminate information, lobby decision-makers, boycott corporations, broadcast opportunities for real and virtual legal protests and civil disobedience, and engage in subversive activities. Activist websites already use a number of text forms and visual rhetorical elements to cue the site visitor; many of these text forms are common to the activist websites examined for this thesis and constitute an identifiable and distinct genre. In terms of persona, this study examines the electronic public self of activist websites. The arena is a metaphor for the virtual world; the rhetors are the activist sites; and the debate the intertextual conversation is the digital discourse that occurs among website users, activist sites, and targets. By categorizing activist sites in terms of their primary activities helping, protest, and revolutionary - we determine which elements of genre repeat according to categories and we ultimately gauge the intensity of the outcome that the website rhetor hopes to create in the user. Designers and owners of activist sites have goals which can only be reached by means of effective, well-considered, digital genre and persona. Because many technical communicators and students of technical communication first experience the profession through service learning for a nongovernmental organization often an activist organization this study will help those technical communicators to reconsider their own assumptions about genre and persona and may lead those students to understand the importance of privileging genre and persona when designing and redesigning digital texts. This study provides a framework that both experienced and new technical communicators can apply to documents in order to (1) cue site visitors to the meaning of electronic texts and (2) construct effective public personas in the digital forum.


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Graduation Date





Bowdon, Melody


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

January 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Activist; Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic; Digital discourse; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences