The Rhetoric of WordPress Blog Plugins

Now that I have had some experience this year with building several self-hosted WordPress blogs and sites, I have become very interested in the rhetorical tools enabled by plugins that enhance WordPress for organizational blogs and websites.

Plugins make blogs more functional than the “naked” version of WordPress.  For a person who is not an expert in HTML or PHP, they are tools given for free by those who do write the code, and they enable customization for the rest of us who are just beginner to intermediate blog administrators.

However, it’s hard to choose plugins.  It’s a jungle out there!  WordPress currently says there are over 17,000 plugins available.  For a given tool or function, there may be multiple plugins to choose from. Sure, like downloading an “app” to my Android smartphone, the plugin selector (available only in self-hosted WordPress sites) tells you how many people have downloaded it, they give you ratings, etc. but in the end, it’s still hard to decide without taking the time to try each of them.

Here are some suggestions.  On my blogs I have appreciated these plugins.  I provide my rhetorical feature commentary in green text.

Page layout and text formatting

  • Yellow post it notes on the corkboardApril Super Functions Pack: enables shortcodes for buttons, icons, and page layout tools like pull quotes and columns. Comment: These are truly “super” tools. They make the blog more like a magazine.  For example, pull-quotes on the right or left (with word-wrap around them and a thin line setting them off), can help create emphasis. They make a quote function somewhat like an image would, breaking up the monotony of paragraph after paragraph in the same format.
  • WordPress Tinymce Visual Editor Buttons: “Adds extra buttons like Font Family, Font size, hr and more.” Comment: Without this tool, I could not use tiny fonts very easily on some WordPress templates.  Typography is an important tool for rhetorical emphasis and de-emphasis.
  • Google FontsChange the fonts site-wide instead of staying with the default font for the theme.  Comment: I and many others prefer reading online text in sans-serif fonts, and it needs to have good line spacing. It’s good rhetoric to make users’ eyes comfortable with a font that expresses one’s style and mood.  But don’t go overboard: can you imagine reading this post in Comic Sans or old English black letter fonts?
  • Formidable: “Quickly and easily create drag-and-drop forms” that allow users to fill out a form online (like a membership form, or contact form); the info gets emailed to the blog admin or another email that may be concealed from public view. Comment: Increasingly I loathe having to send cheques in the mail for memberships, and I’m not sure I want my email address viewable on my blog, attracting more spam. Good rhetoric is efficient and respects privacy ethics.
  • Twenty Eleven Theme Extensions: If you use the Twenty Eleven theme, it enables you to easily change left to right sidebar, allows you to customize colors, and enables the “Sidebar” post/page format, which makes single posts and pages appear without the sidebar disappearing. Comment: I don’t know why the Twenty Ten theme makers decided to make the sidebar disappear when viewing a single page. Why would I want users to lack all the navigation tools I set up for them?
  • Table of Contents Plus: enables you to enter [toc] to insert an automatically generated table of contents near the top of any long page. It populates the table with the page/post’s headings using h2 or h3 tags. Comment: long pages can be rhetorically effective if you structure them well and enable the reader to scan a table of contents at the top (rather than forcing them to scroll).

Accessibility tools for users

  • Google AJAX Translation: “allows your blog readers to translate your blog posts or comments into other languages.” Comment: The internet is international, so why not make one’s rhetoric more accessible to people in other languages?
  • Print Friendly and PDF: “optimizes your pages for print. Help your readers save paper and ink, plus enjoy your content in printed form.” Comment: Sometimes I’d like to save a visual copy of a page but it’s not convenient to print it out with all the images and color borders, etc.  This tool enables a user to archive your rhetoric in PDF form while customizing it for printing or readability as a standalone document.

Navigation tools for users

  • Communication Breakdown404 Redirected: If someone gets a broken link on your site, this will give them a list of alternative pages rather than the default redirect page. Comment: Someone should do a research study sometime (if there is not one already) on user reactions to standard “Page not found” errors.  WordPress has a default message now that says “Well this is embarrassing, isn’t it?” or something to that effect, which is not exactly the right tone for many organization websites.   
  • Relevanssi: This plugin replaces WordPress search with a relevance-sorting search that you can configure. Comment: The more your website grows, the more easily pages and users get lost… WordPress’s default search tool does not work very well.  This works seamlessly and provides a nicely formatted result.
  • Yet Another Related Posts Plugin:  At the bottom of a post it will insert links to related posts/pages.  Configurable.  Highly popular and well maintained plugin. Comment: WordPress.com does this to advertise other blogs on its network.  When you’re self-hosted you want to keep people on your blog or site clicking around and getting involved in your organization or theme.
  • Author Avatars List:  Creates a list of authors’ user profile images/icons. Enables users to quickly search by author and go to a page with that author’s posts.  Comment: When blogging in a co-authored environment, this gives more ethos and visibility to your co-authors.

Social media tools for users

  • AddToAny: Share/Bookmark/Email Buttons: “Buttons appear at the bottom of posts to help people share, bookmark, and email your posts & pages using any service, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.” Comment: One may not have a Facebook page for one’s organization, but it’s good to have this aid to delivery of one’s rhetoric into other forums.

Blog management

  • how to not follow instructionsSubscribe2:  Blog email-subscription management tool with many customizable options. Comment: A delivery aid with tools for the user as well as the author. This makes it possible for users to subscribe, unsubscribe, and able to register and customize which categories of posts they get delivered to their email inboxes.
  • Ultimate Google Analytics: Enable Google Analytics on your blog for statistics about the use of the blog.  Requires a free Google Analytics account. Comment: WordPress.com sites come equipped with great statistics. However, this boosts the statistics collected and enables a lot more information to be analyzed regarding where your users come from in the world, what browsers they use, etc. This is not as strong as real usability testing and user research, but it does give some rhetorical data to put in one’s CV when claiming that one’s non-academic publications have readers.
  • Akismet: Spam protection.  Works very well.  Needs someone to sign up for a free API Key on the Akismet site. Comment: WordPress.com blogs have this spam protection and I am ever so grateful.  On one of my self-hosted blogs the spam from people selling online rhetorical-technical services (such as Search Engine Optimization) is incredibly frequent and annoying.
  • WP-reCAPTCHA: More spam protection, needed to prevent spam comments.  Type the distorted word when registering, logging in, or commenting. Comment: As one who studies rhetorical history and studies 18th century and older publications, I like the fact that CAPTCHA engines like this are actually collecting data from my guesses in order to assist in the archiving of old books.  It uses my guess to teach text recognition software how to recognize words that have unusual fonts or printing glitches.
  • WP Total Hacks: Provides many tools, but my favorite is that it gives a way to add a favicon.ico image (small image that appears in the browser tab) to self-hosted WordPress blogs and sites. Comment: Now that most browsers enable “tabbed browsing” it is helpful to use an icon from one’s site/blog to signify to the user which tab has your site/blog on it.

741 - Cogs - PatternCaution, though:  Technical compatibility is the challenge.  Like a virtual game of “leap-frog,” WordPress continually upgrades its software, and the plugins also have to be upgraded as they get updates.  Sometimes a plugin will not be compatible with a new or outdated version of WordPress software, or a certain version of a web browser.  I found that out the hard way when another blog I manage crashed in the most recent version of Internet Explorer due to a plugin I had installed that was too advanced for me to know how to configure.

Solution? It’s wise to use only reputable, user-friendly and frequently-updated plugins, keep plugins to a minimum, user-test plugins when installing them, and update them when WordPress notifies you.

Unfortunately many of these plugins are not available on WordPress.com-hosted blogs, so I may be moving this blog to my new Edu*Rhetor site in the near future.

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2 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of WordPress Blog Plugins

  1. Good info, thanks. I don’t agree about fonts, though. Serifs move your eye from left to right across the page. It’s why editors insist on times new roman. They know that power reading is better served by serif fonts.

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