Captions get 16% more readership than text
Too often, editors crank out captions (aka cutlines) in the 15 minutes before happy hour on a Friday night.
“No task involved in producing a newspaper has a greater disparity between its importance to the reader and its attention from most newsrooms than writing cutlines,” writes Steve Buttry, American Press Institute’s director of tailored programs.
“Too often, they are the first thing the reader reads (sometimes even before the headlines) and the last thing the newsroom slaps together.”
Handled well, captions can be workhorses of communication. That’s because:
- Images get the most viewership on a print page. (Online, eyetracking is very different.) That makes the caption, or caption under the image, a power point for communication.
- Captions get 16% more readership than text.
- Telling students what to look for in a picture increased comprehension, according to research by W.H. Levie and R. Lentz.
- Removing the captions from a series of cartoons reduced recall by 81%, according to a study by Richard E. Mayer, et al. And it reduced problem-solving, or the ability to apply the information, by 66%.
- Text that’s larger or bolder than body copy gets more readership. Caption style at most publications stands out from the text.
As a result, captions offer an opportunity to draw the reader in and communicate to flippers and skimmers.
“(Captions) can be to stories what trailers are to movies — intriguing, compelling previews,” says Monica L. Moses, deputy managing editor/visuals for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
So don’t slap yours together at the last minute.
How can you reach non-readers with words?
“Readers” don’t read. Even highly educated web visitors read fewer than 20% of the words on a page.
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Sources: Monica L. Moses, “Sell Stories! Write Great Captions,” More Eyes on the News, The Poynter Institute, Jan. 10, 2002
Mario R. Garcia and Pegie Stark, Eyes On the News: The Poynter Institute Color Research, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 1991
Steve Buttry, “Writing Alluring Cutlines,” NoTrain-NoGain.org
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, p.173-190.
W.H. Levie, R. Lentz, “Effects of text illustrations: a review of research,” ECTJ 1982, vol. 30, pp. 195-232
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.