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Writing Copy for Infographics: 4 Common Mistakes

Infographics: everybody loves them, but these sharable graphics can be surprisingly tricky to create—and the problems usually start with the writing process. We’ve honed our own infographic-writing process over the years, but now and then we have clients who still prefer to write their own copy, handing it over to our team for design. When we receive the copy, it invariably has major problems and we frequently end up starting over from scratch. In this post we’ll take a look at the most common problems we see with infographic copywriting.

Example of poorly written infographic copy (example has been fictionalized for privacy purposes):

Keeping movie-goers happy was a top pain-point for 20 percent of theater owners. Nearly 30 percent were “extremely” or “very” worried about selling concession food to their customers. More than 40 percent were concerned about whether they’re doing a good enough job reaching out and nurturing future movie-goers. Roughly 15 percent suspect they might not be giving movie-goers the customer service they deserve.

There are four major problems with the segment above:

  1. The infographic copy is way too long.

The example above highlights only one paragraph from a much longer piece that totaled about 600 words. 600 words should really be a blog post, not an infographic. When it comes to writing copy for infographics, remember that fewer words = better!

  1. The statistics are not very compelling.

Do you really want to create graphs showing 20, 30, 40, and 15 percent? Such low numbers are unlikely to appear interesting or exciting to the reader. Obviously it’s impossible to control the results of a survey, but thinking about how to portray statistics in a compelling way is one of the writer’s key responsibilities.

For instance, perhaps you could turn the first statistic around to say, “80 percent of theater owners are confident that movie-goers are happy with their experience.” From a visual perspective, 80 percent is much more exciting than 20 percent. Of course, you would need to look at the survey results to make sure the statement is accurate, but providing compelling data is something that the writer should be thinking about before a piece goes to the designer.

  1. The copy is written like an article, not an infographic.

Infographics are not articles or blog posts, and they should be written and treated differently. (One signal that this writer is not accustomed to writing copy for infographics is his use of the word “percent.” When writing articles, it’s appropriate to write out the word “percent.” In infographics—which are visual and where space is at a premium—we almost always default to “%.”)

If we had handed this copy to our designer she would not know what to do with it. Which words should be kept in the actual design and which words are just there as an explanation or filler? To make the infographic copy easier for our design team to decipher, we write out real instructions for them, including what kind of chart or graphic we envision, what the graph label should be, and any intro or conclusion text.

Using the fictitious movie theater example from above, here is what we might give to our design team:

<Intro text>
When it comes to building their businesses, 100% of surveyed theater owners think there is room for improvement.  
<Pie chart>
  • Customer service and staff training: 40%
  • Facility upgrades: 33%
  • Marketing efforts: 27%
<Label> Areas of business improvement

Now the designer knows exactly what type of graph she should use, along with what the introduction and graph label should be. She doesn’t have to guess. She can focus on her real skillset: creating awesome graphics.

  1. Lack of consideration for how the copy will appear as a design.

The best infographics are conceived by writers who have a strong sense of how the infographic will look, visually, as they are writing the infographic—they are writing with an “end result” in mind. This is probably the most difficult aspect of infographic copywriting, simply because writers (even excellent ones) are not trained to think visually. But when copy is written without consideration for how a designer will visually demonstrate the information—as in the original example above—the resulting infographic is likely to feel long-winded and visually vague or cluttered.

For this reason, as part of our process we help our writers with overall “themes” or “concepts” before they start writing. What story is being conveyed? Will the final design be heavily statistic-focused, with lots of formal graphs? Is there a metaphor we can use to pull the entire piece together? Will the design employ one central image, around which the writer will compile facts? Figuring out these design-focused questions before the piece is written will result in a much stronger deliverable. We also reach out to our designers early in the process, asking them if certain ideas will work. This means we are already troubleshooting future design issues as the piece is being written.

Great Infographics Are a Marriage of Two Arts

We’ve all seen infographics that have way too many words on the page, and other infographics where the copy is great, but the design is subpar or just doesn’t support the story. The truth is that the best infographics are a marriage of two arts: writing and design. And like any good marriage, if you focus heavily on one partner, the other one may suffer from neglect. By thinking about design early in the infographic-writing process, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and your final product will be much stronger, as a result.

Want more info on creating infographics? Check out our article on basic infographic design, or learn how to create an infographic with a central image. Or browse our portfolio for more examples of infographics. 

Emily Paterson

Emily Paterson

As CEO and creative director at Quatrain, I work with clients like Experian, EverFi, Inc. magazine, Virtru, and Liberty Mutual, helping them spread their message in the most compelling and creative ways possible. I also wrangle an amazing and rowdy team of writers, designers, coders, and videographers. We delight in creating really great stuff, getting it done quickly, and having a great time while we do it. What can we create for you?

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