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Using Graphics & Multimedia in Writing Projects

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a Doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history

This lesson explores different ways to integrate graphics and multimedia into writing. Using newspapers as an example, we will look at how a front page photo adds dimension to a headline. Then, we will examine digital storytelling techniques.

Newspapers in the Digital Age

Faced with the harsh realities of becoming antiquated by social media and online platforms, newspapers like the New York Times have struggled to find ways to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world. One of the strategies adopted by the New York Times has been to develop dynamic interactive storytelling techniques for use in their features. Digital journalism, unlike traditional print-based journalism, takes advantage of online platforms for disseminating information. Their stories integrate digital technologies, taking advantage of Web capabilities, visual graphics, audio, and interactive content that enhance the user experience.

Understanding how images and words can work together is fundamental to creating a multimedia experience. Multimodal literacy pertains to the integration of different kinds of media to tell stories and relay information. The National Council of Teachers of English defines multimodal literacy as the: 'integration of multiple modes of communication and expression.' By integrating different types of communication media, like words, sounds, and images, we 'can enhance or transform the meaning of the work beyond illustration or decoration.'

Alone, text communicates the ideas of the author. But adding a supplementary form of communication, like an image or a video, will support the meaning expressed in the text, making it easier for audiences to soak up the information. Added to a text, images heighten verbal descriptions through visual expression. Graphics and multimedia add emotional value to your essay and express abstract concepts that might otherwise be difficult to comprehend.

In this lesson we will look at several examples of print and digital content that use graphics and multimedia content to enhance the reader's experience. Using innovations in digital journalism as an example, we will look at ways to integrate graphics and multimedia into writing.

Best Practices for Using Graphics

Presenting information in a variety of formats will aid reader comprehension. Choose images that add informational value and strengthen emotional connection for the reader. Pictures should illustrate the meaning described in the associated text. Stated another way, images should not be inserted for their own sake. Even if you like a picture if a cute kitten, it may not be a strong addition to an essay about the humane treatment of animals. Instead, consider an image that supports the topics directly, like a shot of a sad-looking dog chained up in the rain. No doubt that kitten is adorable but she will distract from the meaning you want to convey in the essay.

If you already have an essay written and would like to add visuals to it, brainstorm some of the ideas you wish to communicate. Ask yourself:

  • What is the main concept of your essay?
  • What events or details discussed in the essay might benefit from further illustration?
  • What abstract concepts does your essay contain that could be communicated in visual form?

By identifying the essential content in your essay, you can begin to search for graphics and multimedia that will add to your reader's emotional experience.

Graphics include images of all kinds: illustrations, photographs, diagrams, charts, and maps. They are all graphical, in the sense of visual or pictorial depictions of information. The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, provides both textual and graphic representation of Hurricane Rita in September 2005. A map shows the hurricane approaching Texas from the Gulf while the caption makes clear the meaning of the graphic: 'REALLY SCARY.'

Front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2005.
hurricane rita

The front page of a newspaper formats image and text to create a composition intended to grab the reader's attention and interest. Newspaper editors like to splash their front page with a compelling image, which cues readers in to the topic of the headline. The image is balanced with the text so that one supports the other.

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