The best infographics are created when a story comes first. In a completed piece, every data point, piece of copy and design element should support that story. This does not mean, however, that the story an individual or organization wants to tell will intuitively translate to the infographic medium.
Even in instances where all information and data exist on paper, the story may still require adaptation—the crafting of an infographic narrative to effectively communicate the story. While specific needs vary across applications of infographics, for editorial pieces, this process typically involves writing titles, introductory paragraphs, callouts and conclusions—the pieces that weave the story together. Here, we detail the five main goals of an infographic’s narrative elements:
1. Engage the Reader with an Interesting Title and Subtitles. A punchy title is key for drawing in viewers. Alliteration, puns and modifying well-known phrases are often a good place to start. Make sure the title is relevant to its target audience, your objectives and the subject matter. Crafting a title for the piece may be an exercise that spans the evolution of the graphic’s messaging, or it may be the first thing you think of that triggers the story itself. After all, there’s no substitute for a clever header to catch viewers’ attention. Subheaders can also be catchy, but you should place a larger emphasis on clarity here in order to give your audience a high-level view of the graphic’s structure.
2. Provide Context for the Data. Contextual copy can help drive the story by speaking to the relevance of the information displayed, its significance to the target audience and any other background information necessary to make the data visualization impactful. Most importantly, the narrative should tie together various data sets included within a graphic and make the connection between these clear to the viewer. The copy should most often have a conversational tone, while remaining professional. We recommend a 2- to 3-sentence introduction to the whole graphic and 1 to 2 sentences per subheader. In the case of a single dataset, one explanatory paragraph is typically all that’s needed.
3. Guide the Reader through the Graphic in a Logical Flow. Ordering the content in a way that is logical and concise is an essential step in the process. As a general rule, a graphic should start with the background information that gives context to the datasets that help make your main points, then move toward your more specific, compelling data. If you are including more than one dataset, your story may benefit from the exercise of mentally reducing each data set down to a single sentence. This will not only help you make decisions as to how the graphic is ordered but will also allow you to better identify whether you have too little or too much information.
4. Highlight Notable Findings/Insights in the Information. When your objective is to convey a clear and specific message rather than to provide a more explorative visualization, it is important to more directly call out key takeaways. While you may have a clearly defined stance on the issue, your tone should remain analytical, not opinionated. The interjection of opinion makes for a clear bias, which calls into question the integrity of the data being presented. This includes any biases that may come from mentioning a brand or sales messaging in the copy.
5. Provide a Sound Conclusion. Once you’ve presented the findings in a balanced way, it is ideal to lead the viewer to a desired conclusion without spelling it out for them. This can sometimes be a delicate balance between making a strong statement that clinches the narrative for readers and one that allows them to form their own opinions. Finally, it is important for the conclusion to offer some sort of solution or recommendation that speaks to any challenges or hypotheses introduced in the opening paragraph.
The most impactful editorial infographics have narratives that are focused and direct in their efforts to communicate sometimes complex ideas and information. In order to give your graphic the greatest opportunity for success, spend time refining the story you want to tell before you begin, and make sure every piece of copy you write plays an essential role in its unfolding.