Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication


Scott Lunsford


Through its many digital platforms, The Semicolon Project, a suicide and self-harm prevention initiative, offers its users a creative means of using writing to heal. As its name suggests, the semicolon is an essential mark for this group—grammatically a semicolon represents a place in the sentence that an author could have ended and for the members of this prevention initiative, the semicolon acts in a similar way. By tattooing or drawing a semicolon on the body, the semicolon bearer embody a sense of authorial agency, positioning herself as author and using the semicolon as a representation of her dedication to continue the sentence that is her life. In this small though significant way, the tattoo bearer engages in a form of narrative therapy that enables healing to take place, thus enabling the individual to move away from self-injurious behavior and find more positive means of coping with moments of emotional distress.

Though these negative coping mechanisms plague individuals all over the world, the lack of societal discourse surrounding these issues prevents many from seeking the help needed to overcome these struggles. Even today, many of those battling mental illness or self-injurious behavior remain voiceless—silenced by stigma and fear of societal backlash, rejection, even shame. The Semicolon Project aims to provide one outlet for these voices—a safe space that encourages candid sharing and employs writing as a means of healing.

Using two separate theories, this project analyzes the writing left on The Semicolon Project’s Facebook page. The first uses theories of material rhetoric to shed light on the rhetorical significance of the semicolon tattoo, both as a performance and as a material product. The second approach applies narrative therapy to the tattoo bearers’ verbal and visual Facebook posts, analyzing how these images and reflective comments enable tattoo bearers to heal from personal trauma. Analyzing the users’ writing practices in this space can help to determine why this initiative is successful and how these successes might be replicated in future organizations.