A Picture Paints a Thousand Words…

“In this latest blog post, Jeremy LeLean talks about how using visual aids can help to make your work better”

… or pieces of data.  How and where you deploy your visuals is every bit as important as how you write your articles as discussed in this series of blogs.  You will develop your narrative in a similar way to your written material and developing this visual narrative is a great way to record your research project’s progress.  But let’s begin at the beginning with profile photos.  Photos serve many functions as social tokens, e.g. they can remind you of a treasured memory or remind us of family and friends when they are absent.  But a profile photo serves one function only which is to be a recognisable picture of you.  In Figure 1 you can see my profile photo which is pretty much how I look.  The second is a treasured memory of mine but won’t do as a profile photo as it could be anyone in it.  And I no longer look like the last one – do keep your profile phot up to date!  Mostly you don’t change that much but keep it current so people can recognise you from it.

Figure 1 What makes a good or bad profile photo

The guidance for using photos in general is about the same.  You’ll read in many guides that you should always post/tweet with a photo.  But I suggest only posting a photo if it’s relevant and recent.  Stock/library images are alright but not if used over and over again.  A side note here on stock photos, make sure that images are either copyright free and/or you make the appropriate credit.  There is some great technology available to you to make/take/create a good phot so use no photo over a bad photo!  Equally don’t spend hours on editing, an okay photo today is better than a perfect photo tomorrow.  Also using too many effects or filters can cause the photo to lose its authenticity and immediacy.

The same applies to videos, smartphones or tablets can be used to make perfectly acceptable films for online – 8-10s for everyday or 60s if you want to go feature length.  If you’re making a lot of videos you may want to consider buying a tripod and clamp and a separate microphone can be handy for exterior filming (especially if it’s windy).

Figure 2 Filming in the field

If you need to do some post-production work Dan Evans recommends Adobe Premiere Elements (and I’d have to say I agree) as it is user friendly and produces excellent results with not that much time.

Apart from capturing moments in stills/videos to build up a visual narrative of your research you will (or already have) needed to convert some dusty data into an attractive infographic.  If you have the budget it is worth getting professional design to make one for you.  For example, Cognitive Media make amazing infographics explaining how works.  If you don’t have the budget you can still turn your data into something attractive with a small investment of your time.  Sites like Piktochart and Canva each of which offer a free service and I’ve used both with success.  But it may be that a simple chart or table is best depending on the data and who you are communicating with.  Excel and Word both offer a host of options to customize tables and graphs, make the most of them.  And PowerPoint is equally good for making flow charts and diagrams.

I’ve gone over my self-imposed limit (again) so well done for sticking it to the end! In brief always remember the three Ds – visuals should be:

Direct

Distinct

Diverse

Author: Jeremy LeLean is a seasoned communications professional who works for the Soil Security Programme.  He has a background in biochemical research with more recent experience in the e-commerce sector where he sold collectible and antiquarian books, a passion that has stayed with him.

Twitter: Jeremy LeLean