Visuals include artwork like pictographs (simple line drawings), photographs, anatomic diagrams, comics, and other images that convey actions or ideas. Many people enjoy and learn from visuals. They include visual learners (those who learn best when seeing, reading, or being shown) as well as people with limited literacy or language skills who benefit from illustrations, not just words.
Here’s how-to include visuals in your health communication:
- Choose visuals that not only are realistic but also show people at their best. This is a way to demonstrate your sensitivity and show respect. For instance, when writing about general health issues, include some people who are active and not just ill or infirmed. As possible, represent the culture of your audience. This might include pictures of men wearing berets or turbans, not just baseball caps.
- Show people in their entirety, not just body parts. When writing about just one part of the body, such as the spleen, it’s tempting to show only this aspect of the anatomy. Try, instead, to include at least one picture of the whole human body with the spleen clearly identified. This way, readers have a “road map” to see how large the spleen is and where it is located. Also, you avoid “disembodied body parts” which may be upsetting, especially to people traumatized by violence or war.
- Combine pictures and text. Visuals alone are seldom sufficient, especially when explaining complicated information. To improve understanding, include simply worded captions beneath each visual. Captions not only help readers know what they’re looking at but also reinforce key ideas and actions.
- Appreciate that symbols are not always understood. Symbols, just like other types of visuals, are subject to interpretation. For example, a picture of a pill bottle alongside a knife and fork may be intended to show that medication should be taken with meals. But for those from countries where food is taken by hand from a common serving bowl, this symbol may not have meaning or relevance.
This month’s How-To Tip is adapted from “Visuals,” a chapter in Helen Osborne’s award-winning and best-selling book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition (Updated 2018). Available in print and as an e-book.
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