How To Use Pictures in Your Academic Writing

Young woman using computer for studying

Pictures can add a lot to academic writing because they support the arguments made in the text. They offer readers another way to consider and process information and often create a vivid impression of concepts related to the work. Pictures can also help you convey important ideas or data in an efficient way so that your essay isn’t too long and drawn out! Because pictures vary widely in their meaning and purpose, it’s worth plotting them through different stages in your paper: what do you want to show? why does it matter? how is it connected to your argument?

The best place for an image is within sentences or paragraphs where you’re discussing relevant concepts. For example, let’s say I wanted to talk about “the interplay between observation and affect” (an abstract, vague concept). If I use a picture of someone observing something – like the moon or stars – then my reader can see that I’m talking about “observation.” A picture of someone holding their hand to their head (a common pose when feeling overwhelmed) could convey the idea of “affect.”

Pictures can also illustrate relationships between concepts. Let’s say we want to argue that we should shift our perspective on the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature: rather than treating this relationship as one where we exploit and consume natural resources (which has negative impacts for humans and non-humans), we might consider it more as a type of friendship. In this case, pictures of friends laughing together would be useful because we can see that “friendship” is a type of relationship. This specific example does not work because the concept of “friendship” is too broad and it is unclear how this type of relationship relates to nature or humans’ understanding of it.

The main drawback when using pictures in academic writing is determining when it is appropriate for your reader to make these visual comparisons themselves. If you’ve written a paragraph where you’re showing a variety of concepts, then readers may get confused if you use a picture with only one aspect within the text. For instance, I have not included any pictures of stars or moons in this post – if I were to add one at the end, my argument would lose focus and become muddled. In short: if you’re using a picture, you need to be reasonably sure your reader will see it in the same way as you do.

Pictures can also contribute to the design of your essay by creating consistency and establishing connections between your argument and other elements. For example, if I had included images within every paragraph, any readers could expect that they would always find some type of visual support for my paper’s claims; this expectation might make them more open to exploring new ideas towards the end. The overall look of the text (the font choices, image size/placement etc.) can help set out your position within academia. This is why it is important to consider how pictures are positioned (and where they appear) throughout an entire assignment rather than just at the end.

Best of luck with your future writing!