Date of Award

Winter 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Julia Romberger

Committee Member

Kevin Moberly

Committee Member

Stuart Selber


The general term interactivity has been used in a variety of disciplines to describe phenomena that occur in website interfaces; however, definitions and explanations about what constitutes interactivity and how it functions do not consider the specific ways in which interactivity can function and be perceived by users in specific rhetorical situations. In this study, I address the problems with the literature about general interactivity in writing studies and in other disciplines such as computer science, advertising, marketing, and communication studies by distinguishing between two types of interactivity—functional and perceived. I situate the different types of interactivity rhetorically, which can enable interface designers to create potential interfaces to be more rhetorically appropriate for end users based on their purposes or reasons for engaging with an interface.

In this study, I investigated the ways that perceived interactivity appears as a constraint within the rhetorical situation of the Facebook interface. I also was interested in the ways a user's purpose determines which features of an interface are perceived as interactive. In order to answer my research questions, I used the social networking website Facebook as the site of study. I used grounded theory as a framework to guide my interpretation of the data I collected. I triangulated my data using surveys, case study interviews, and genre analysis to answer my research questions. Grounded theory enabled me to develop theory from the data I collected in order to draw conclusions from my data sets, which I then evaluated further to confirm the results I reported.

My results indicate that perceived interactivity functions as a constraint within the rhetorical situation of the Facebook interface enabling users to determine which tasks they can and cannot accomplish through the interface. My research has implications for writing studies—particularly technical/professional communication, rhetoric and composition, and new media. Research that further investigates the ways perceived interactivity functions within specific types of rhetorical situations can enable interface designers to create texts that support users to achieve a variety of purposes for engaging with a website.