Writing visually

People process visual information (pictures, colours, layout) instinctively and quickly. We had to learn how to read and so generally we do that only after we have made judgments about how useful a piece of information looks.

Often users only take in a few words before giving up. The reasons are varied, but they amount to the same thing: reading is hard work.

You can make your writing easier if you write visually — if your writing projects images in your reader’s head. It is particularly effective in heads, intros and picture captions because those are the places where the reader’s brain will make the transition from working visually to dealing with words. If the words are visual the transition is easier.

The way to work out if your writing is visual is to ask yourself “could I draw a picture of this?”

I have under consideration the implementation of a canine training strategy

is difficult to draw.

I’m going to teach my dog to jump through a hoop

is easier and therefore better.


Words that are easier to picture:

  • Short
  • Familiar (we learnt them at a young age)
  • Learned in direct relation to the thing (by our mum pointing a dog, for instance) rather than in relation to other words (oh, canine means the same as dog, doesn’t it?)
  • Specific (jump can only mean one thing; give could be pictured in a number of different ways)