Pictures can supercharge your message: A grasshopper story

People absorb messages better when words are complemented by an image. This is a rule that any writer can exploit.

Take my dinner at Casa Oaxaca on a Mexican vacation. It was a multi-course tasting menu, so I could gloss over the chapulines in the taquitos de jicama con  chapulines, quesillo y cuitlacoche. But then the dish captured in the photo to your right arrived.

Do you see the little antennae and the translucent wings?

I could no longer ignore the inclusion of toasted grasshoppers (chapulines) in my food. Good thing they were tasty!

Properly used, photos and other images add oomph to your written communications.

Tips for finding images

1. Look for the noun.

Finding an image is easy when you write about a concrete topic like grasshoppers. Simply search your favorite photo bank for your thing–the noun you’re writing about. Check my earlier blog post for free or low-cost photo sources.

2. Illustrate the adjective, verb or emotion.

What can you do when your subject is more abstract than grasshoppers?

I follow the advice of writer Erik Sherman:

Remember that none of your stories are about abstract topics. They are always tangible to someone. It might help to stop thinking about the topic – the noun – and focus on what people are doing – the verb – or what they’re feeling – the adjective. In a given investment story, someone is either making or losing money. It often happens in some industry, like real estate, high tech, or commodities. There may be regulatory aspects, in which case think about images that could represent regulation, like police holding a hand up to tell traffic to stop, a judge, Congress. The more tangible and simple you get about the topic, the easier it will be to think of a fitting image.

Financial blogger Chuck Rylant cracked this problem in his “Controversy Over Disappearing CalPERS Police Officer Retirement Benefits” blog post, which is no longer live. He illustrated the adjective “disappearing” instead of the difficult-to-depict noun, “retirement benefits.” Plus, the sinking ship in his illustration reinforced the message that the benefits are disappearing.

Can you add any tips for illustrating blog posts and other written communications?

Nov. 20, 2013 UPDATE: If you prefer original photos, read about the strategy used by advisor Sheri Iannetta Cupo. Aug. 15, 2016: I deleted some broken links.

3 replies
  1. David Spaulding
    David Spaulding says:

    Including pictures or clip art in blog posts can be helpful in many ways: to illustrate a point, break up the text, add some color, and perhaps introduce some humor.

    Not only do I include clip art and pictures in my blog, but they typically appear in my PowerPoint slides, too. I try to be creative in associating the right picture with the topic, but sometimes it’s a stretch (for example, when speaking of investing in short positions, I once had pictures of shorts).

    I’m surprised more blog writers (and speakers) don’t use these materials. BTW, my source for clip art is

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