Date of Award

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Julia Romberger

Committee Member

David Metzger

Committee Member

Dan Richards

Committee Member

Stewart Whittemore


If communication’s purpose is to enable action or belief (Johnson-Sheehan, 2012), then communication will be more effective—and thus more ethical—if the audience can easily remember it. However, the study of memory has long been neglected in English Studies. Therefore, communicators lack strategies for enhancing documents’ memorableness and an ethical framework for assessing (un)memorable documents and composing processes.

To develop an “ethic of memory” and identify strategies that enhance a document’s memorableness, I asked twenty subjects—ten teachers and ten college freshman—to walk down a high school hallway in which various posters and flyers had been posted by the administration, teachers, or students. Then I interviewed the subjects about their recollections, reasons for remembering this information, and the likelihood that they might apply it. One week later, I conducted a follow-up interview to determine which information “stuck,” the subjects’ self-reported reasons why, and their likelihood of applying it. I counted the number of information units and specific details that the subjects remembered at each interview, and I also categorized the types of details they recalled. I coded the subjects’ reasons for remembering and (not) applying information according to commonly-accepted design and psychological terms drawn from Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell et al.

The subjects’ memories were very consistent in both quantity and quality from the first to the second interview, indicating that documents influence long-term memory. Certain posters and flyers were remembered much more often than others, demonstrating that rhetorical and design strategies affect a documents’ memorableness. The codes “schema” and “relevance” were very consistent themes in the subjects’ interview responses; so-called “self-schema” shape judgments of relevance, which then affect efforts to encode information into memory. This study describes six strategies for engaging an audience’s collective self-schema, prompting the audience to ascribe relevance to documents and thus endeavor to encode them: convey practical value; use the familiar; use contrast, color, and imagery; use unexpected elements; arouse emotion and build social currency; and “break-and-remake” existing schema.