There has tended to be an overemphasis on the teaching and analysis of the mode of writing in ‘academic literacies’ studies, even though changes in the communica- tion landscape have engendered an increasing recognition of the different semiotic dimensions of representation. This paper tackles the logocentrism of academic lit- eracies and argues for an approach which recognises the interconnection between different modes, in other words, a ‘multimodal’ approach to pedagogy and to theoris- ing communication. It explores multimodal ways of addressing unequal discourse resources within the university with its economically and culturally diverse student body. Utilising a range of modes is a way of harnessing the resources that the students bring with them. However, this paper does not posit multimodality as an alternative way of inducting students into academic writing practices. Rather, it explores what happens when different kinds of ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu, 1991) encounter a range of generic forms, modes and ways of presenting information. It examines how certain functions are distributed across modes in students’ texts in a first year engineering course in a South African university (specifically scientific discourse and student affect) and begins to problematise the visual/verbal distinction.