Visual Techniques: Let Me Show You What I Mean

Visual techniques

You probably use a variety of visual techniques – things that are designed to appeal to the eye.

Obviously, they are used widely in what are primarily ‘visual texts’ – e.g. advertisements, brochures, flyers, and posters. They might be images, banners, shapes, etc. that accompany text. They might or might not include words.

There are other important visual techniques, though, that add an extra dimension to texts that are primarily written.

Mostly, they are meant to:

  • Attract attention
  • Create a first impression or a sub-conscious reaction
  • Direct the readers or clients to specific features
  • Separate or organise various aspects of the text
  • Show how a topic, idea or argument has been broken down (or built up)
  • Create an emotional response.

Visual techniques for immediate impact in written texts

These are some of the ‘first impression’ techniques you might use. Your readers will perceive them immediately – even before they read a word – and your choices can orient them towards (or away from) your writing.

Consider these:

  • Font size and style? Think about how you respond to others’ choices when you read and then consider your readers
  • Use of columns? Is it appropriate for your content?
  • Large, or prominent words? They grab attention but be wary of overusing them. The same applies to uppercase and other accentuating features ( bold, italic, underlining)
  • Spacing? Depending on the font, letter and line spacing might need attention. Crowded text can create reader tension.

Visual techniques as structural features

These are visual techniques you can use to shape and organise your text. They add greatly to your readers’ perceptions of meaning.

Some examples are:

  • Headings / headers / headlines
  • Sub-headings
  • Cross-headings
  • Paragraph spacing
  • Lists
  • Tables
  • Bullet / dash / dot / numbered points
  • Text (and image) boxes.

Don’t underestimate the use of empty space

It improves readability but also creates a pause (however tiny) for focus, a change of idea or direction, or even for reflection. 

All of these features are related to the way your readers engage with, interpret and respond to your words.

Images are visual techniques with bonuses

You already know that images in your text are more than ‘pretty pictures’.

As well as the technical and visual appeal of images, which you probably have covered, also think about how images add unity or consistency to your text. 

For example:

  • Does the type of image appeal to the same audience as your text does?
  • Do the images have a symbolic meaning or association that furthers the message of the text?
  • Do the size, colours, borders or decorative features of the image complement the surrounding text or overwhelm it? 
  • Do the images appeal to the senses or to the emotions in the way you want your text to do?
  • Are the captions in sympathy with the style of writing, or ‘voice’, of your text? Do they ‘look like you’, to the same extent the text ‘sounds like you’ – whatever you’ve decided the ‘you’ of your writing should be. 

And finally

The most important point is a simple one:

Whatever visual techniques you use, it is essential you know why you have used them.

Ask yourself:

  • How are they related to your purpose?
  • What effect would you like them to have on your audience?

Whatever doesn’t serve your purpose and audience well probably shouldn’t be there.

Read about more ways to Lift Your Language.

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