Cartoons increase understanding by 633%
Comics, cartoons and other techniques that combine words and pictures get more attention than text alone.
That was the finding of two University of Michigan professors in a 1996 study.
For the study, researchers C. Delp and J. Jones gave 234 patients who visited an emergency room with lacerations printed instructions for caring for their wounds at home.
- Half of the patients received text only.
- Half received the same text plus cartoons illustrating the information in the text.
Three days later, researchers called the patients and asked a series of questions to discover whether the patients read, understood and acted on the instructions.
Cartoons increase readership by 24%. The patients who’d received the cartoon instructions were more likely to have:
- Read the instructions. Some 98% of those who’d received the cartoon instructions said they read them, compared with only 79% of those who’d received the text-only instructions. That’s a difference of 24%.
- Understood the instructions. More than 45% of those who’d received the cartoon instructions answered all the questions correctly, compared to just 6% who’d received the text-only instructions. That’s a difference of 633%.
- Acted on the instructions. More than three-quarters of those who’d received the cartoon instructions were compliant with daily wound care vs. about half of the text-only patients. That’s a difference of 43%.
Patients who had less than a high school education were even more likely to read, understand and act on the cartoons than their peers who’d received the text-only instructions.
Words + pictures can also help you:
Overcome information overload. Visualizations — from comics to cocktail napkin graphics to learning maps — are among a handful of ways to overcome information overload, according to “Preparing Messages for Information Overload Environments(PDF),” a report by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Research Foundation.
Get read — and re-read. The average comic book is read seven times by three people, according to Custom Comic Services.
“Comics are for re-reading, not reading,” says Art Spiegelman, an American comics artist best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book memoir, Maus. “They’re harder not to read.”
Close the gap.
Despite this evidence, communicators rarely turn to comics, cartoons and other visualizations.
As Martin J. Eppler and Jeanne Mengis, researchers for IABC’s “Preparing Messages for Information Overload Environments” study, write: “We emphasize visual solutions because the IABC member survey showed a huge implementation gap in this area.”
How can you take advantage of this highly effective,
but often overlooked, power tool for communication?
Sources: 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.
C. Delp and J. Jones, “Communicating information to patients: the use of cartoon illustrations to improve comprehension of instructions,” Academy of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 3, 1996, pp. 264–70.
Dr. Pegie Stark Adam, Sara Quinn and Rick Edmonds, Eyetracking the News, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 2007