An image of the painting “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gough. It shows the moon and stars over a town in the hills.

Source: VanGogh-starry night, Vincent Van Gough, Wikimedia

As you have learned, many texts are easier to understand with the addition of photographs and other visuals. Depending on the text, visuals might also be used for aesthetic appeal. Writers and designers working with a text must make decisions about which images to include so that the illustrations offer both information and visual interest. While reading other online lessons for English II, you may have noticed the many photographs and illustrations. The graphics are there to both support the text and add visual appeal.

an extended family casually posing for photo in the summer

Source: 2011 Wise Family Reunion 168, roger_mommaerts, Flickr

Imagine trying to describe a family reunion or special gathering to a relative who couldn't attend by writing about it. You might write pages of text. A better option might be to write a description of the event and accompany it with a group picture or a photograph of an activity at the reunion.

Often authors of complicated quantitative data and technical jargon use this strategy in their texts. Pictures and graphics make these concepts easier for you  to understand.

Professional authors, editors, and graphic designers carefully use pictures and graphics to communicate a message. Visual appeal also depends on the correct placement of graphics and images and the choice of complementary colors, fonts, and other visually stimulating elements. As you will see, the next example includes helpful illustrations and other informative graphics but lacks visual appeal.

Ink drawings of a garden and greenhouse showing where plants and trees should go and how to plant them according to height is at the top of the page. A headline in the middle of the page says stacking. The paragraph beneath headline reads “unlike many contemporary cultivated gardens, nature does not neatly compartmentalize her landscapes with ornamental trees growing in one place, vegetables another, and fruit trees yet a third location.” seven different “layers” of gardening are shown on lower section page as an illustration labeled forest garden” showing these layers according to height, from a tree down to a very small plant. The drawing is black and white. There is a lot of information on the page and a low-tech design.

Source: Permaculture a Beginners Guide sample page, London Permaculture, Flickr

screenshot of 2 page government brochure about composting

Source: Source: compost-guide, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

To access the text for the image above, click here.

take notes icon Use your notes to respond to this question: Why might you make the decision to use one illustration over another one if you were choosing illustrations for an an essay on gardening, assuming that the essay addresses the topics of both “stacking” and “composting”?

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

The drawings in the first article suggest a more intimate, casual approach to the essay. You might get this kind of information from a knowledgeable friend. In the second example, the photographs and colors are more polished and professional. The use of the photographs and colors helps to break up the text in the discussion of composting and adds visual interest to the text.