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Review of  Introduction to Multimodal Analysis

Reviewer: Mashael Ayed Althobiti
Book Title: Introduction to Multimodal Analysis
Book Author: Per Ledin David Machin
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 32.2209

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Thirteen years after the publication of the first edition of “Introduction to Multimodal Analysis”, Per Ledin and David Machin have introduced a revised version. The first edition focused on providing an accessible introduction for students and mostly provided various analytical examples (Ensslin, 2008); however, Ledin and Machin (2020) felt that a new edition was needed to keep pace with the new references in the field of multimodal studies and to update the analytical examples. This book comprises theory and practice of multimodality and visual communication and is aimed at students, teachers, and designers. Some of the first edition chapters remain, as does the same main toolkit approach. However, a new section about the theory of multimodality has been added. There are also two further additional chapters, which contain texture, materials and diagrams. In addition to the summary at the end of each chapter, there are tasks for students that encourage the reader to do some actual analysis to apply what they have read. The second edition thus contributes an efficacious update to the list of presently accessible introductory books about research into multimodality/multimodal analysis. In the second edition, the authors’ emphasis is on visual design and the choices made to develop meanings and construct connections, as well as concepts and values in and for specific artefacts. Their point of departure is that individuals who focus on the way artefacts connect tend to lack the tools that allow them to know how these work. Hence, the authors have constructed the topic of the book based on these tools.

The first chapter concerns the theoretical foundation of the book and shows how people should consider communication on the basis of choices implemented for specific communication aims in different contexts, since when analysing a multimodal text we must have an understanding of the contexts and standard usage patterns. Also, Chapter One elucidates the huge transformations in the nature of communication so that, to understand contemporary designs, we need to understand that change. Finally, this book uses the social semiotics approach, a theory of communication introduced by Halliday (1978, 1985). Chapter Two addresses the concept of iconography, which leads us to look in more detail at various types of visual elements that can carry meaning and at the concealed meaning of such images. To understand the denoted meaning of these discourses, we need to consider the compositions as a whole.

The focus of Chapter Three is on modality, which refers to how we are able to experience the world as it is characterised in visual communication. Pictures could be formed to construct our understanding and experience of the worlds that are represented around us. In turn, these pictures represent an action in a specific time and place, which could allow us to make assumptions about our impression of those pictures. Moreover, being conscious of the analytical process of visual communication can allow us to reach the ideology of the representation. There are eight modality scales, which can be applied to assess the modality formation for an image. Degree of articulation of detail is a scale running from the simplest line drawing to the sharpest photograph. Degree of articulation of the background can range from an empty background, through a lightly sketched background, in or out of focus, to a very sharply detailed background, while degree of articulation of depth extends from the lack of any depth to the maximum deep view, with other possible options in between. Degree of articulation of light and shadow, with other possibilities in between, starts from zero articulation to the highest number of degrees of shade depth. Degree of articulation of tone ranges from just two tonal gradation shades—any colour’s light and dark version—to maximum tonal gradation. Whereas degree of colour modulation starts from flat, unmodulated colour and extends to the representation of a given colour’s fine nuances, in degree of colour saturation the colours range from black and white to maximally saturated. degree of colour differentiation extends from maximum colour distinctiveness to a limited palette of colours and monochromes. In this way, the authors provide the reader with the meaning of modality and eight modality scales.

Chapter Four is mainly about colour. While most people tend to think about how a specific colour or colours denote particular meanings, this chapter focuses on the colour dimensions and potential meanings. These dimensions are hue (which is a range of warm red to cold blue), brightness (which is the opposite of darkness), saturation (exuberance, which is unlike tenderness and subtlety), purity (modernism and clearness), modulation (as in real colours, are there different shades?), differentiation (is there a full colour and monochrome range?), luminosity (does the colour become invisible or does it shine with light?), and fluorescence (does the colour shine with vitality?).

Chapter Five covers typography, which focuses on the meaning of various types of letter shapes and sizes. Typographic form is used to achieve different types of communicative purposes and these functions are representations of ideas (for example, using a bold font could denote a certain idea like toughness), attitude (using an irregular font, such as uneven, could suggest an attitude like informality), and giving coherence (using the same font throughout the whole document could denote the meaning of coherence).

Chapter Six deals with textures and material, which are deeply interconnected. Texture does not express any kind of meaning in isolation; it is hard to say that a rough surface denotes certain things. Materials are the substances organised as we create things and these can have the impact of sending some specific meaning. In other words, the choice of material can communicate different meanings, for example, a wood surface in a café has a different connotation to a plastic one.

Chapter Seven concerns the visual composition and how various qualities and characteristics are worked together into whole designs. This chapter also presents a toolkit for studying the way that different aspects of designs can be employed to establish a meaning. The chapter first considers salience, which is about how a specific component can be made to stand out, to focus the viewers’ attention on it. Considered nextis framing, where, by using the frame’s devices, there will be a connection between the components in the design. Considered lastare images on the page, which entails the utilisation of images composed on one page or in relation to text.

Finally, the main focus of Chapter Eight is diagrams. It illustrates how the different classifications and procedures are symbolised in various kinds of diagrams. The chapter is concerned with how diagram shapes can be helpful in classifying and representing processes, people, and social and work associations. Additionally, this chapter focuses on how these visual communications (i.e. using graphs) are used to explain “how things work in their essence” (p. 167). In these kinds of visual communication, the most significant semiotic resources utilised are language and graphs (i.e. shapes and lines), whereby these two elements work together in the produced material such as paper or on screen.


Overall, “Introduction to Multimodal Analysis” provides an approachable introduction to multimodal analysis. Its analysis particularly concerns communication forms, investigating two types of platforms, printed and digital, and the volume achieves its main objective in a systematic way by providing more contemporary examples and activities. These are appropriate for the target audience, namely, designers who want to improve their knowledge about multimodal analysis and, more generally, design or visual communication students. This book is organised in a systematic way which is easy to follow, with each concept explained and linked to other sub-concepts. For example, Chapter Four is about the concept of colours and is ultimately linked to smaller concepts like the dimensions of colour. At the end, there are also activity sections, which add further to the book and make it useful to students to learn and practise.

Approaches to multimodal analysis have changed over the last decade as a result of the interest in studying forms of communication aside from language (Royce & Bowcher, 2007). Many scholars have studied multimodality differently by focusing on just one aspect, which has led to many different sub-fields of multimodality, although there is a connected bridge between them. “Introduction to Multimodal Analysis” fits with many works in the field of multimodal studies, such as the Jewitt’s “Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis” (2011). These two works are explicitly aimed at showing a wide range of theoretical and methodological aspects. In addition, they are complete research toolkits in the field of multimodal studies. Ledin and Machin have succeeded in explaining, presenting and drawing a whole picture of multimodal studies and, most importantly, they have provided extensive modern examples. In this way, their book provides important input to the field of multimodality.

Looking at the structure of the book suggests two points for improvement. First, since the book contains several concepts in the field of multimodal analysis, there is a need to link all these ideas together at the end by providing a summary. Second, it would have been clearer and more attention-focusing if the pictures in this book were in colour. However, the book has a linear construction, which guides the reader thoroughly and successively builds information based on the previous chapter, which helps in creating a clear and interconnected perspective. Looking briefly at two chapters, for example, moving from visual composition in Chapter Seven (pp. 146-166) to a more specific topic like diagrams in Chapter Eight (pp. 167-187), these are interconnected and there is a flow in presenting the information. These examples let us see the smooth construction of ideas. Undoubtedly, the authors have improved the approachability of the book for the audience and have expanded the contemporary examples and the tools that can be used to comprehend the mechanism of multimodality. In sum, “Introduction to Multimodal Analysis” is a useful book that can guide both students and, more generally, people who have an interest in the field of multimodality. Overall, it provides an interconnected, clear, and very well-structured elaboration.


Ensslin, A. (2008). Introduction to Multimodal Analysis by David Machin. “Journal of Sociolinguistics”, 12(3):393-398

Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. (2013). “Halliday's introduction to functional grammar”. Routledge.

Jewitt, C. (Ed.). (2011). “The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis”. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Ledin, P., & Machin, D. (2020). “Introduction to multimodal analysis”. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Royce, T. D., & Bowcher, W. L. (Eds.). (2007). “New directions in the analysis of multimodal discourse”. Psychology Press.
Mashael Althobiti is a lecturer in English language and literature department at the Taibah University in Saudi Arabia. Her main research interests are Syntax, Discourse Analysis, Corpus linguistics, and Media discourse. She finished her Master degree in University of Reading 2019 in the field of syntax. Now, she is working on her PhD. research, which carried a combination of her research interest in the field of CDA and corpus linguistics.

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