Skip main navigation

Visual Elements in Public Communications

Visuals in Public Communications are used for several reasons. Read on to find out more!
Writing with pictures is a great way to communicate with people.
© University of Hull with lead photograph from jamjar (Flickr)

Visuals in Public Communications are used for several reasons. They can make a piece look more appealing and engaging to potential readers – as a large body of continuous text can be overwhelming, making readers less likely to read it. Their use isn’t just about making pieces of work more approachable and readable, however, they are also great vehicles to communicate potentially complex disciplinary knowledge in a way that the public can more easily understand.

Why do we use visuals?

Here are five reasons visuals can be effective:

  1. They draw in the reader by making the piece attractive and visually stimulating.
  2. They illustrate your point to help backup your claims and reinforce your message.
  3. They can communicate some information more effectively.
  4. They emphasise important points and promoting recall.
  5. They break up the text making it more readable and accessible.

Visual Communications

When speaking of visual communications, we aren’t simply stating how using some visuals such as images, charts and videos help illustrate points. We are speaking of how when these visuals are used effectively to communicate a message, sometimes text isn’t needed at all. For example, we can portray complex emotions through gifs or a single emoji. Sometimes, these can communicate our feelings more effectively than a long message and the receiver will completely understand what we are trying to say.

The way we communicate with one another is constantly changing as we now live in a more visual and fast-paced world. We are constantly consuming information, so effective visual communication will not only grab your attention, but will almost immediately convey information and/or a message to you before you scroll past.

Effective Visual Communication

Effective visual communication will convey information in a concise way that is easy to understand whilst engaging viewers by being attractive and eye catching. You must always keep in mind, your work is for public consumption, therefore needs to be communicated in an effective way.

Spectrum of effective visual communications. On the left there are two images of ineffective communications, posters with a lot of text and elements with barely any neutral space, on the right there are infographics and posters which have a clear message which is communicated effectively

A diagram or graph will help explain complex data in a way your audience will understand. It also gets the message across more quickly than a large chunk of text does. Retaining attention whilst conveying your message is a crucial part of public communications.

Examples of a pie chart, line chart and clustered column chart

Tips for Effective Use

As well as having redundant language, you can also have redundant visuals.

Make sure the visuals you use are relevant to your points and are used in the right places. If you were to use an image to back up your opinion, is it placed near this point within the text?

If you use images (photos, graphs, diagrams etc) do they have alt-text for those with visual impairments? Alt-text should summarise the image and the reason for its use; if it’s there for cosmetic purposes only, this should be stated. Using alt-text helps make your work more accessible.

When using subheadings to break up sections, make it obvious that they are headings and be sure the titles relate to the sections. Use the “style” tool in word processors to indicate headings, this also helps with accessibility, as well as makes the sectioning more obvious.

How you structure your work will depend on the types of visuals you decide to use and the format you’re writing in.

© University of Hull with lead photograph from jamjar (Flickr)
This article is from the free online

Being a Digital Researcher: Digital Skills for Effective Research

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education