Word pictures increase understanding by 43 percent
Abstract words are hard for your audience members to understand and remember.But make your copy concrete, and memory and understanding increased 43 percent in a study by Prabu David and Jagdeep Kang.
Why? Because concrete copy — word pictures — paint pictures in your readers’ minds. (Think of the word pictures you hear on National Public Radio or read in The Wall Street Journal.)
Those mental images serve as surrogates for real pictures, the researchers hypothesize. And real pictures have been shown, in study after study, to make information easier to understand and remember.
For the study, researchers used an infographic and accompanying text from a USA Today article about the effects of nicotine on the body. They tested abstract copy and concrete copy, both with and without the accompanying infographic.
|What the study tested|
|Abstract (low-imagery) copy||The filters in the bronchi, called cilia, are immediately affected and are unable to filter out harmful particles. Tar collects in bronchi, greatly increasing lung cancer risk. Buildup in air sacks reduces lung efficiency and causes disease.|
|Concrete (high-imagery) copy||The tiny hairs called cilia, (which) act as filters in bronchi, are immediately burned or coated with excess mucus and are unable to filter out harmful particles. Tar collects in bronchi, greatly increasing lung cancer risk. Corrosive buildup in air sacks reduces lung efficiency and causes disease.|
|Accompanying visual||A diagram of cilia, bronchial tube and an air sack dotted with tar particles|
The results: Word pictures increased understanding dramatically.
Adding word pictures to real pictures was even more effective, increasing recall by 76 percent.
Learn why word pictures work.
Source: Prabu David and Jagdeep Kang, “Pictures, High-Imagery News Language and News Recall,” Newspaper Research Journal, Summer 1998