December 19, 2014

Now you see it

Graphic storytelling teaches better than text

The studies are in: If you want to communicate more clearly, use comics, cartoons, storyboards and other graphic storytelling approaches instead of or in addition to text.

Here’s a sampling of the research:

  • Parents answered 25% more questions correctly when they watched an animated cartoon explaining the need for polio vaccines than when they read a leaflet covering the same material. (M. Leiner, et al, in a 2004 study at Texas Tech University)
  • Studentslearned 51% more from cartoons with captions showing how lightning forms than from 600-word passages describing the process. The cartoons were also more effective at teaching the material than cartoons and passages combined. (Richard E. Mayer, et al, in a series of 1996 studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Students scored almost twice as high at knowing the differences between confusing word pairs (accept vs. except, for instance) if they looked at cartoons illustrating the examples instead of written examples only. (L. Brent Igo, et al, in a 2004 study at a large Midwestern university)
  • Patients were 150% more likely to give correct responses when they received cartoons about wound care instead of text explaining the same information. (P.E. Austin, et al, in a 1995 study at the East Carolina University School of Medicine in Greenville, N.C.)
  • In fact, cartoons communicate better than other forms of illustration, including stick figures, representational illustrations, symbols or photographs. (J.M. Moll in a 1977 study by at the Sheffield Centre for Rheumatic Diseases in England)

Comics, cartoons, storyboards and other graphic storytelling devices also increase readership, improve retention and move readers to act. Tap the power of cartoons, comics and other graphic storytelling devices when you want to:

1. Tell a story.

Did something interesting happen? Tell your story in a comic strip.

A comic book artist recently transformed a hospital’s monthly “Safety Moment” story from 200 words and a picture of a guy standing next to an electrical socket into a comic strip, complete with a hero who saves the day.

SAFE BET Comics tell dramatic stories better than 200 words and a lame photo

2. Communicate complex concepts.

Want to help readers understand brain surgery or rocket science? Comic strips, cartoons and other graphic storytelling devices clarify complex concepts.

Southwest Airlines, for instance, uses cartoon characters to teach employees the business. In its campaign “Knowing the Score,” it breaks down the financials, shows what happens to its revenue pie and makes sure employees understand what the numbers mean.

IN THE KNOW Southwest Airlines uses cartoons to teach employees “the numbers.”

3. Make history.

Celebrating a big anniversary? Want to share your organization’s story or contributions to the industry?

A graphic novel can help. Children’s education publisher Harcourt uses graphic novels to profile the Wright brothers and Amelia Earhart.

UP IN THE AIR Did something interesting happen? Why not tell it in a graphic novel?

Comic strips, graphic novels and cartoons are also great ways to:

How can you use graphic storytelling to communicate your message?


Sources: M. Leiner, G. Handal, D. Williams, “Patient communication: a multi-disciplinary approach using animated cartoons” (PDF), Health Education Research, 2004, Vol. 19, pp. 591–595

Richard E. Mayer, William Bove, Alexandra Bryman, Rebecca Mars, and Lene Tapangco, “When Less is More: Meaningful Learning From Visual and Verbal Summaries of Science Textbook Lessons,” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 88, No. 1, 1996, pp. 64-73.

L. Brent Igo, Kenneth A. Kiewra and Roger Bruning, “Removing the Snare From the Pair: Using Pictures to Learn Confusing Word Pairs,” The Journal of Experimental Education, 2004, Vol. 72 (3), 165-178

P.E. Austin, R. Matlack, K.A. Dunn, C. Kosler, C.K. Brown, “Discharge instructions: do illustrations help our patients understand them?Annals of Emergency Medicine 1995, Vol. 25, pp. 317–20

J.M. Moll, “Doctor–patient communication in rheumatology: studies of visual and verbal perception using educational booklets and other graphic material” (PDF), Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, 1986, Vol. 45, pp.198-209.

Peter S. Houts, Cecilia C. Doak, Leonard G. Doak, Matthew J. Loscalzo, “The Role of Pictures in Improving Health Communication: A Review of Research on Attention, Comprehension, Recall, and Adherence” (PDF), Patient Education and Counseling, Vol. 61, 2006, pp.173-190

J.E. Readance and D.W. Moore, “A meta-analytic review of the effect of adjunct pictures on reading comprehension,” Psychology in the Schools, 1981, Vol. 18, pp. 218–24

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