- Images from UW Libraries
- Open Images
- Image Analysis
- Citing Images
- University of Washington Libraries
- Library Guides
- Images Research Guide
Images Research Guide: Image Analysis
- What do you see?
- What is the image about?
- Are there people in the image? What are they doing? How are they presented?
- Can the image be looked at different ways?
- How effective is the image as a visual message?
- How is the image composed? What is in the background, and what is in the foreground?
- What are the most important visual elements in the image? How can you tell?
- How is color used?
- What meanings are conveyed by design choices?
- What information accompanies the image?
- Does the text change how you see the image? How?
- Is the textual information intended to be factual and inform, or is it intended to influence what and how you see?
- What kind of context does the information provide? Does it answer the questions Where, How, Why, and For whom was the image made?
- Where did you find the image?
- What information does the source provide about the origins of the image?
- Is the source reliable and trustworthy?
- Was the image found in an image database, or was it being used in another context to convey meaning?
- Is the image large enough to suit your purposes?
- Are the color, light, and balance true?
- Is the image a quality digital image, without pixelation or distortion?
- Is the image in a file format you can use?
- Are there copyright or other use restrictions you need to consider?
developed by Denise Hattwig , [email protected]
National Archives document analysis worksheets :
- All worksheets
Visual literacy resources :
- Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide (book, 2016) by Brown, Bussert, Hattwig, Medaille ( UW Libraries availability )
- 7 Things You Should Know About... Visual Literacy ( Educause , 2015 )
- Keeping Up With... Visual Literacy (ACRL, 2013)
- Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2011)
- Visual Literacy White Paper (Adobe, 2003)
- Reading Images: an Introduction to Visual Literacy (UNC School of Education)
- Visual Literacy Activities (Oakland Museum of California)
- << Previous: Open Images
- Next: Citing Images >>
- Last Updated: Nov 15, 2023 12:45 PM
- URL: https://guides.lib.uw.edu/newimages
How to Analyze a Photograph
Introduction: How to Analyze a Photograph
We tend to look at images and decipher their meanings right away. Often times without giving much thought towards how we are drawing conclusions about the image. Through this step-by-step instructable we will learn to answer the question of how we come to understand an image.
1. An image to analyze.
Step 1: Find an Image to Analyze
Find any high quality commercial image (stock photos, advertisement images, documentary stock, etc.). I have chosen an image (above) that I found on a website called Unsplash. Keep in mind the key search term that you typed in to find your image as it can be useful in analyzing the image in further steps.
For the exercises in this instructable you can follow along with the image that I have chosen, and/or if you so choose conduct your own analysis after!
Step 2: Observe Your Image
Now that you have your image, you can dive right in!
First, write out the key words that come to mind when viewing the photograph. What do you think the image hopes to depict? Here you can also pull out the key search term or tags that you used/ or would use to find your image.
For the photograph that I have chosen, the search term that I used was "mindfulness".
Other terms that come to mind:
- Serenity/ Tranquility/ Peace
- Self Love, Self Reflection, Self Connection
The above exercise will provide you with the answer to the question: What reaction the image elicits from you? This is one of the best ways to gage the purpose(s) of the image. Did you make connections to potential contexts of the image? Yes! You did make connections, think about how you came to the conclusions about selecting key words. Remember we are looking for the "HOW?" How are we reading the messages that we are receiving from the image? We are going to use this exercise in order to get a hold on what this image hopes to achieve. This will essentially allow us to understand the individual elements that compose this overall meaning.
Step 3: Analyzing People
The individual aspects of the image can give insight into where the key ideas in the previous step are derived. These factors can include analyzing the setting, people, activities, perspectives, and objects depicted.
Q: Who is depicted in the image?
Notice the gender, posture, and clothing of the person. Is he facing towards the camera or away? The non-verbal behaviour of the subject is connoted with social ideals leading the viewer to believe that they posses specific traits. This process of encoding and decoding allows for multiple meanings of the image to be produced.
In this photograph:
- Appears to be 20-30 years old because of physique and
- Casual clothing (hoodie, jeans, baseball cap worn backwards) items often worn by boys and young men.
- Clothing and physique essentially allude to youthfulness.
- Slouching back posture = sign of relaxation or unwinding. Crossed legged seating position = meditation, contemplation, relaxation.
- Man is facing away from the camera, he does not engage with the viewer and isolates himself = solitude, disengagement, independence.
- Man is more deeply set into the foreground creating distance between the viewer and subject. = self contemplation, dissimilarity, alienation.
Step 4: Analyzing Setting
Where activities are taking place are relevant in determining the connotations that can be drawn from the image. Spaces are linked to expected affordances built by social and cultural constructions on what can be done in them.Therefore, settings can extremely valuable in guiding the photograph decoding process.
The man in this case is situated within nature. The composition frames him in such a way that he is surrounded by nature in all directions. This gives the man the connotation that he is distant, even extracted from everyday life. It also reinforces the pre-conditioned meaning of ‘connecting with nature’. The horizon defined by the outline of mountains and the direction he faces can connote looking towards a positive future. At the same time, the sunset has the potential to connote the ending of old cycles. The still water that surrounds the individual activates a sort of human sensory resonance with the space. It brings to mind the terms ‘tranquility’ and ‘peace’. The rocks scattered in the still waters act as metaphors both within the physical landscape and as a potential reflection of the individual’s mental space. Overall, the setting influences the mood of the image and frames the context of the outside reflection of desired meanings.
Questions to ask:
1) Is the subject placed in nature/outdoors or indoors?
2) Is there an environment in which the individual is placed that aligns or disengages with the nonverbal behaviour of the individual?
3) Are there any metaphors between symbols in the setting and subject?
4) How deeply into the frame is the individual placed? How immersed is the subject to the setting?
5) How does the setting contribute to enhancing the potential connotations of the image?
Step 5: Looking at Generics Vs. Specifics
Facial expressions are important indicators of emotion, people often prioritizes the face when reading body language. Facial expressions are removed from viewer’s access, the individual distances himself from the viewer. Since the man’s face is not visible, the mood in the image can range from bliss to sadness, depending on how the image is read and/or manipulated in use. The race of the man is not as clearly decipherable from what is visible of his skin in the image. This indicates a further generalization of the subject portrayed in the image. The man becomes just a figurative representation of a person and/or concept rather than the focus of specific discourse.
1. What is visible? What is invisible?
2. What elements are open to interpretation?
3. What elements are closed off from interpretation or are clearly defined?
Step 6: Looking at Colour
Colours are useful in creating links between various elements that may otherwise be different. They have the ability to influence the mood and therefore the connections and meanings made from it.
To truly understand the way that colour has such a great impact on the connotations that can be derived from the image, you can alter, for example, the hues of various pieces of the image (the sky, the water, the person, etc.). By doing this you will be able to see how connotations perceived from the unaltered image may lean in particular directions than others.
The dimensions of colour that can be analyzed:
In this image...
The subject is seated and is coloured in such a way that he blends in with the rocks, furthering the assumption of ‘connecting with nature’. This is reinforced by the large rock positioned to the right of the image which balances out the visual weight of man on the rock towards the centre. The image heavily maintains a natural palate of hues, playing with earth tones of moderate to high saturation. The naturally occurring complementary colours of blue and orange, as well as the tonal variations of the primary colours harmonizes the objective elements as it casts reflections of their colour values onto the objects. This is specifically visible in the way that the luminosity of the yellows and oranges in the sunset reflect onto the water and the darker shadows cast as a result encompass the rest of the image, making the rocks and figure appear of similar colour value. These darker areas appear to be reduced in modulation, depth being highlighted by distribution of objects and their size.
1. Are warm colours used in the image or cool colours? Which are the most dominant?
2. Do dark tones or light tones have more prominence?
3. How saturated are the colours used (exuberance of colour vs. subtlety)? What about purity?
4. Are there different shades of colours that overlap? Is depth of the image enhanced by the colours? Or is depth reduced by colours?
5. Are there any points of abundant light?
Step 7: Looking at Viewer's Positioning
The way that the viewer can interact with the image can also be guided by the way that they are positioned in relation to the subject of the image. There are two aspects to positioning analysis: 1. the angle (vertical, horizontal, oblique) and 2. Proximity (of the viewer to the subject).
Here, the viewer is distanced from the man, separated by a body of water. The rocks behind him however, compositionally directs the viewer’s gaze towards what becomes the focal point. Metaphorically, the rocks positioned behind the man can be interpreted as being a pathway towards his ‘state of being’. The subject is seated The viewer is distant but can choose to interact with the subject as there appears to remain a level of human resonance.
In the photograph, the viewer is positioned to look at the subject from almost eye-level. The angle has the potential to create a narrative of the image. It is as if the viewer is sitting a short distance behind the man, accompanying him both in his thoughts but also in the setting. He is only very slightly raised, as the shot is taken from slightly below. This addition contributes to the subject's sense of independence, as the viewer observes him at a place of strength (positioned higher than onlooker).
1. How far or close is the viewer from the subject in the image?
2. Is the subject being viewed from a high angle (bird's eye view), eye-level, low angle (worm's eye view)?
3. Is the subject being viewed from a vertical angle (indicates: superiority/inferiority, strength/vulnerability, engagement, creativity, etc.), horizontal angle (indicates: detachment, disengagement, aggregation of space, etc.), or oblique angles (indicative of informality, spontaneity, dynamism, etc.)?
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Published March 6 th 2019
What is Image Analysis?
We go through what image analysis is and how brands can use image analytics for consumer insights.
Images are taking over social media. Whether it’s a meme, artsy photo, selfie, or link to an article, our social feeds are increasingly filled with more images and less text. Why? Images are more impactful than text. More memorable. More engaging. More likely to be shared and reshared. It makes sense that they’re everywhere.
But what does the growth of image sharing mean for social media analytics? How can brands track and leverage the growing number of images posted to social media? This post covers emerging image analysis technology and what it means for brands.
Why images matter
As social media and the web as a whole become more visual, brands can’t rely on text alone when analyzing social media data to better understand their audiences.
Here’s Gartner on the importance of image analytics:
“We do expect multimedia posts to become the predominant type of post on social media. Even the text that accompanies those posts is getting shorter and shorter…It becomes increasingly important for companies to be able to understand what’s going on in those images.” – Jenny Sussin,VP of Research at Gartner
Over three billion photos are shared daily on social media according to Mary Meeker. Many of those photos contain brands’ products and logos, but 85% of them don’t include a text reference to the brand ( LogoGrab ). Without image analytics, brands are missing out on a huge chunk of the social conversations about their brand, products, customers, and competitors.
For example, take a look at this Instagram post from Drake:
Drake’s Instagram post prominently features the Bentley logo, but contains no tag or text mention of the brand. If this is an organic mention of the brand, Bentley would surely want to know about it as soon as possible. If Bentley is paying or sponsoring Drake to post about the brand, image analysis technology can help them track exactly when and how Drake is representing the brand.
This is just one example of the power of this new technology and why it matters for brands. The ability to identify brand logos within images may seem like futuristic technology, but it’s actually one of the most basic functions of image analysis.
What is image analysis?
Image analysis (also known as “computer vision” or image recognition ) is the ability of computers to recognize attributes within an image.
Do you use Google Photos or Apple’s Photos app on your smartphone? They both use some basic image analysis features to recognize faces and categorize them in your photos so you can look at all of your photos of a particular person. Type “dog” into the search function within either app to quickly locate your collection of puppy photos or type “beach” to find your tropical vacation pics.
Social media analytics started with, and continues to be based on, text analysis. But image analysis is becoming increasingly important. When applied to social media analytics, image analysis is an extension of text analysis features applied to visual content.
The same methods of categorization apply to image analysis. Instead of looking at all of the posts that contain the word “computer,” object recognition can show you all of the posts that contain photos of a computer.
Image analytics can also identify faces within photos to determine sentiment, gender, age, and more. It can recognize multiple elements within a photo at the same time, including logos, faces, activities, objects, and scenes. The technology can automatically caption images “man and woman standing outside wearing Patagonia shirts with bike and mountains in the background.” And that’s just the basic details.
But that’s just the beginning. As social media image analysis technology evolves, it will be able to provide even more context around photos. For a deeper look at the future of image analytics, download the Altimeter report: Image Intelligence: Making Visual Content Predictive .
Getting the whole story with image + text analysis
The fact that social media is becoming more image-focused doesn’t mean text analysis should take a back seat. The only way to get the complete picture of what’s consumers are saying on social media is to look at text and images together.
There are some big advantages to looking at both text and images when analyzing social media data:
- Images don’t require translation making image analysis extremely useful in a global strategy.
- Looking at a more complete data set enables businesses to more effectively incorporate social insights into decision-making.
- Images can tell a completely different story than text mentions (Example: Text-based analysis of conversation around Disney’s Frozen, shows adults in their 30s. Image analysis of the same conversation shows the movie’s true audience, children.)
The technology behind image analysis is advancing quickly—making it much easier to scale. Images show contextual, environmental, and emotional factors that you can’t get with just text.
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The top 17 image recognition tools.
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How brands can use image analytics
While image analytics is a new addition to the social media analysis technology, it already has a wide number of valuable use cases for brands.
Track brand mentions more accurately
The simplest application of computer vision technology is to more accurately measure brand mentions. Companies use social media analysis tools to track and analyze how people are talking about their brand. In the past, the only way to find mentions of your brand or product within social posts was to look for text-based mentions or direct tags of your brand.
When a big brand like Nike wants to see how many people are talking about their products, one of their first steps may be to analyze their share of voice on social. But, as we’ve discussed, looking at these direct mentions is only one piece of the puzzle. What about the conversation that doesn’t involve text? This is where “share of eye” is important.
Nike would miss posts like this if they are only measuring text-based social conversation about their brand. Image analysis solves this problem by extending social media analysis to visual content, allowing them to identify anything from their logo to any image of containing a particular type of product (for example, running shoes).
Improve sentiment analysis
Many companies use social media analytics to track how people feel about their brand or products . If you’re only looking at text you aren’t seeing the full picture.
Here, Gatorade’s Summit Storm flavor is “gross”:
Both of these posts are great examples of the need to look at text and images together. Just looking at one or the other won’t give the full context. In these posts, text analysis identifies the sentiment while image analysis identifies the brand and product.
Measure sponsorship ROI
How can you determine if paying to place your brand’s logo in a sports stadium is worth the investment? Was it worth it to sponsor that big event? These types of questions have been raised in marketing discussions for years, but logo recognition technology can finally start to give some answers to the “ROI of offline advertising” question.
Logo recognition technology allows you to quantify the number of impressions and exposure that your brand is getting from something like a red carpet sponsorship. Otherwise, you have no way to track those visual-only mentions.
Find visual influencers
Similar to the Drake/Bentley example, this Instagram post from Skrillex showcases the Adidas logo. Whether or not this is an organic or paid plug for Adidas, they would want to keep tabs on how influencers like Skrillex are promoting their brand.
Identify moments of consumption
One of the most interesting and useful applications of image recognition technology is identifying moments of consumption. Every company wants know as much as possible about how, when, and where people are using their products, but the limits of text analysis can’t provide a complete picture of actual product use.
Unlike text, images provide visual validation of the who, where, and how people are using your product. Without image analysis, your fans and customers have to specifically mention your product, which is less likely to happen.
Visual evidence of product usage in the wild provides a much more powerful metric for brands than just measuring mentions. To take it a step further, you can start to correlate sales data with the number of times your product is appears up in social photos. Crimson Hexagon’s research has shown a strong correlation between sales numbers and the volume of social photos that show use of your products.
For more on how images fit into social media analytics, download our free guide: The Fundamentals of Image Analytics .
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Analyze a Photograph
Download the illustrated PDF version. (PDF)
Meet the photo.
- Quickly scan the photo. What do you notice first?
- Is there a caption?
Observe its parts.
Try to make sense of it.
Answer as best you can. The caption, if available, may help.
- Who took this photo?
- Where is it from?
- When is it from?
- What was happening at the time in history this photo was taken?
- Why was it taken? List evidence from the photo or your knowledge about the photographer that led you to your conclusion.
Use it as historical evidence.
- What did you find out from this document that you might not learn anywhere else?
- What other documents or historical evidence are you going to use to help you understand this event or topic?
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4 Steps to Analyze a Nature Photograph
E very day, you will certainly search for photographic inspiration by browsing websites or by turning the pages of photography books.
You analyze and judge each photograph you see, trying to determine why you like certain pictures and not others.
Do you have a methodology with systematic evaluation criteria that allow you to perform the same analysis every time? I propose a tried-and-true method of photographic analysis that I have used for years.
Table of Contents
The meaning of the expression of “photographic analysis”, analyzing a photograph does not mean judging it, why you should know how to properly analyze photographs, the 4 main steps of the analysis of a photograph, step #1: visually describe what you see, step #3: the contextualization of photographs.
- Step #4: The Interpretation
- An Example of the Analysis of a Photograph
The word “analysis” has several definitions. The one I will use in this blog post is:
An analysis is an intellectual operation of breaking down each miniscule element and its relationship among others in the image.
Analyzing an artistic photograph will consist of studying the various elements which compose it to detect the emotional sense, the message transmitted or to identify aesthetic qualities.
Analyzing a photograph is an objective action on your part. Judging a photograph is a subjective action.
You can judge a photograph in parallel among others or after an individual analysis. For my part, during my workshops dedicated to nature photography , I always analyze the photographs that are proposed to me by the trainees and only after my careful analysis, I provide my judgment.
To propose a judgment of a photograph without having provided a coherent, systematic analysis never amounts to much.
It is neither constructive for you, nor for the photographer who created the photo. It is completely counterproductive. On the other hand, a relevant judgment of a photographer is fed by objective elements of a correct analysis. This can be very beneficial.
In this article , I listed some criteria for judging an artistic photograph of nature.
During all these years in which I built my ACANP method to animate photo courses , I have utilized this photographic analytical method.
Correctly analyzing a photograph is an essential act for a nature photographer who wants to create artistic photos.
If you take the time to develop a method of analyzing the photographs you are looking at, you will develop personal qualities that will greatly help you in your future photographic endeavors.
Being able to correctly analyze a nature photograph will help you to:
- Better identify your own artistic style.
- Define, improve, or enrich your artistic approach.
- Outline precise criteria to better identify and limit your creativity. You will not become lost while meandering through your creative mind.
- Understand why you like certain photographs or series.
By knowing how to analyze a photograph in a systematic way, you will better determine your sources of inspiration. You will save time when you do research for your photo projects.
As a professional nature photographer , having created a good methodology has saved me countless hours of creative time. When I search for a client project or for personal photos, I always look at what has been done on the subject so that I do not repeat images. My applied methodology allows me to write a scenario with clear and precise ideas, thus sparking the creation of interesting photos that will stand out among others.
My method of analyzing a photograph is based on four successive steps.
When you find yourself facing a photograph or a series, here is what I advise you to do:
- Visually describe the different elements you see. This is an objective step.
- Perform a technical analysis of each element you see.
- Contextualize the photograph or series in a narrative way with all the elements of which you are aware. This is also an objective step.
- Interpret the photograph or series based on how you feel. It's a subjective step. Be careful because I am not talking about judgment or criticism. This step arises from your personal feelings.
This first step should allow you to answer the simple question "What do I see?”.
You must be able to distinguish if the photo is a landscape, terrestrial, or underwater photograph, or if it represents an animal. You must be able to describe in a few simple words what you see.
Remember that photography is a visual art discipline.
For example, when you look at a photograph printed on paper, broaden your perspective by physically stepping back a few feet. I recommend placing yourself at three times the length of the diagonal. This very empirical method works well. You will better distinguish all the elements that make up the photograph.
Claim Your Free Guide '50 Pages of Tips to Give Impact and Meaning to Your Photos'.
The first vision of a photo must always be comprehensive. During this first phase, try not to look at the details by sticking your nose on the work.
Describe mentally all the different elements that you distinguish. Try to define the different relationships that exist between each of them.
Once you have answered the question "What do I see?”, you should be interested in the following points:
- What is the name of the photographer?
- What is the title of the photograph?
- What is the title of the series?
- What is the relationship between the title and what you are watching?
- What is the nature of photography: illustrative, artistic, conceptual?
This first step is a visual inventory of what you see. It is always done mentally. It is objective.
Step #2: Technical Analysis
This second step will allow you to dissect the different components of the photograph. It requires a certain photographic skill and some technical knowledge because you must name specific points of the photo. Without this technical knowledge, you will lose yourself in useless details. The foundations of photography have been established over decades. All photographers agree on these terms.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of components:
- The impact. It is certainly the most important component for me. This is the famous "Wow" effect. The impact is described as the “shock” you feel immediately after the first look, caused by the visual effects of the photo. This is the essential component for an interesting photograph.
- The foreground.
- The background.
- The negative space.
- The centers of interest.
- The elements of reading reinforcement.
- The attributes.
- The colors.
- The management of the masses.
- Harmony and balance of forms.
- The framing.
- The composition.
- The format.
- The sharpness.
- The contrast.
- Modeling management.
- Etc. There are more aspects that could be explained for quite some time, but for now, this is a brief list.
All these components are part of a list that is my own. You must add your own criteria. But do not forget to stay simple and concise.
A technical analysis is always completed mentally. It is objective.
If you apply a complex system, you will forget some components that may be very important.
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How to analyse a picture.
Analysing a picture is an attempt at revealing the meaning or message communicated by the work. We study devices used by the artist, and consider what is accomplished by using these devices.
Analysing a picture
We can divide the process into three steps:
Start by presenting the picture. The presentation should include the title, name of the artist, any additional text the artist has chosen to include, information about when the work was made, and where it was first displayed or published.
Study the picture. Start by describing what you see. Look at shapes and colours. In this first phase it is important to leave out the interpretation. It can be good practice to describe a picture that comes from a different culture than your own, so that you meet it fresh without preconceptions.
Describe this image:
- Are the people in the image children or adults?
- What are they holding?
- What does this image depict (represent)?
- What other design elements are part of the image?
A picture can be interpreted in many different ways. The way we interpret a picture is influenced by the culture we are a part of, and our personal experiences.
A picture's message arises from the interaction between the work and the viewer. Images used in newspapers, or images used in advertising, have been placed into a context which limits interpretation. Here the sender wants an image to be interpreted in a certain way.
A picture is made up of individual elements that have been put into a specific context. The picture has been composed in a specific way. Visual devices such as colour, contrast, and symbols also influence how we perceive the work. The next step in the analysis is to describe the composition of the work, what visual devices we notice, and how this influences our experience of the work.
- What is the focus of the work? What has been included, what has been left out?
- Point of view. From what point of view do we see what is depicted. What is the effect of having this point of view?
- Foreground, middle ground, background. Where are the different elements placed? What is the effect?
- Balance and lines in the image. Which elements draw the eye? What is the effect?
- Light and shadow. What is lit, what is in shadow? Where does the light come from? What is the effect?
- Colours and contrasts. What do they express, and what is the effect?
- Icons and symbols. What significance do they have? Why are they used?
- Does the picture refer to other well-known images? If so, which? What is the effect?
- Is there a caption? If yes, what interpretation of the picture is indicated in the caption?
Any picture is a representation , an interpretation of reality. When we analyse the picture we 'decode' the message in the image. The picture usually has a purpose . The creator may want to inform us about something, influence, or give us a certain experience. When we interpret the image, we try to explain as clearly as possible what purpose we believe the picture has.
A picture contains a lot of information about the time and the society in which it was created. At the same time, the content of a picture can be understood differently when it is placed into a new context. This should be commented on in an interpretation.
- Who is the creator, and in what context was the picture made and published?
- Why was the picture created?
- What is the picture's message?
- What does the picture tell us about the time and the society in which it was created?
- What influence or effect does the picture have today?
- Analysis of a Painting
Exampe text: painting analysis.
Cite or use
- Rhetorical Analysis
- A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream
- Simplified Version: A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream
- Staying Motivated Through the School Year
- Letters to the Editor
- How to write a short story
- Analysing Computer Games
- How to analyse a picture You are here
- Reading Academic Texts
- Words and Phrases to Avoid in Academic Writing
- Academic Honesty - What's the Big Deal?
Tasks and Activites
- Tasks: Rhetorical Analysis
- Tasks: A Rhetorical Analysis of I Have a Dream
- Tasks: Staying Motivated Through the School Year
- Tasks: Letters to the Editor
- Write a Gothic Short-Story
- Study a News Article
- Phishing Scams
- Tasks: Academic Honesty - What's the Big Deal?