Visual Images Add Clarity in Your Writing – and They’re Fun!

visual images

My face is getting smaller and smaller

A quote in a recent New York Times article was the inspiration for this post. I felt the pain of a Princeton professor who rues the slow demise of humanities majors. According to the Times, many distinguished humanities professors feel their status deflating.

Using an analogy, Anthony Grafton, a Princeton history professor, said he sometimes feels “like a newspaper comic strip character whose face is getting smaller and smaller.” Can’t you just visualize it?

Business writing can be awfully dull, especially when it’s a topic that is unfamiliar to the reader. Haven’t your eyes ever glazed over when you’ve been trying to make sense of what something means?

That’s why visual images in the form of analogies and metaphors are so powerful in conveying your intentions.

Analogies

An analogy compares two things that are seemingly different but actually have something in common. The comparison starts with either “like” or “as.”

Take the analogy that inspired a previous post on this topic:  “China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids…it has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body.  To the West, it can look like a monster.”  You can visualize this monster in contortions and out of control. That’s scary to the rest of the world.

That analogy is so much more powerful than if the writer had said something like, “China is getting very large but it’s finding it difficult to manage its growth.” Boring.

Have some fun filling in the blanks for these analogies:

President Obama is like a ­­­­­­______ in his fight for health reform.

Comparing the Western world to the East is like comparing _______ to ________.

The cheerleaders are like ________when they go through their routines.

Metaphors

Unlike analogies, which compare two different things, metaphors say that something is something else. Metaphors don’t include the words “like” or “as.”

It’s football season, and if you’re a fan, you’ll appreciate what’s meant by, “He was a beast tackling the quarterback.” Here the human is transformed into the image of an animal. How much more interesting than, “The defensive lineman got to the quarterback.”

Using a metaphor more akin to business, “The CEO was a tiger in beating the competition at its own game.”

Try filling in the blanks for these metaphors:

The opera diva Deborah Voight is a ______________ when she sings.

He was a __________ piling the logs in the driveway.

She was a __________ in driving to become head of the company.

Do you have some interesting analogies and metaphors that you can share? Please leave them in the comment box.

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Comments

  1. Have always loved analogies and allegories to explain and to teach. I find that if I can pull the listener or reader into a story, I can then bring them to an understanding in a different form and from a different point of view, a lesson if you will. That said I love this post on many levels. :).

    • Thanks, Susan, for the compliment which I appreciate so much coming from such a great story teller as yourself!

  2. Agree with both you and Susan Cooper about the importance of analogies.

    Unfortunately a lot of writing on subjects like business and international relations are written in ways to make the writer appear intellectual and distinguished, Frequently the only thing that’s accomplished is that the majority of readers don’t understand what it’s all about.

    When you want to get your message across, no matter how complicated the subject is, you have to simplify and use analogies and metaphors to capture the reader’s attention. Pity far too many writers take themselves too seriously to do so.

    • Catarina — that’s what is so great about analogies and metaphors. Comparing something that is complicated, or unknown, to something that is very familiar, simplifies and adds to a reader’s understanding.

  3. I like using analogies in my articles Jeannette as they are easily understood. One thing about analogies and metaphors is if you use them you need to make sure they will appeal and be understood by your readers in my opinion.

  4. Analogies, power-phrases, metaphors – they all make any reading interesting. And presentation, too! No wonder all those blog posts which are based on analogies are so popular – a particular post comes to mind – how being a freelance writer is like training for a marathon. Great food for thought – thanks, Jeannette!

    • Diana — if I recall, you created the marathon analogy. And it really drove home the point about freelancing. Not for the feint of heart.

  5. On occasion when a few minutes would remain in class I would have students offer up some sort or simile or metaphor. Sources of inspiration varied, such as photos or people in the news. They always really liked doing it because usually the funnier kids would share, but everyone got the exposure to the concept. Language needs to be concise, but it also needs to be fun. Not as in funny haha but in a clever way that challenges the reader. Without a doubt, I always think how I agree or disagree with word choice when I come across a comparison, but I’ll engage less with more straight-forward dull writing more often than not.

    • Jeri — That’s what is so compelling about analogies and metaphors, they grab the reader and engage them in your content, at least I hope so!

  6. As a fiction writer, metaphors and analogies are something I depend on! Getting them “right” can sometimes be a challenge, but they are powerful in terms of painting a picture with words! Great article!

    • Thanks, Jacquie. Analogies and metaphors can bring fiction to life. I’m a fan of mysteries and thrillers. I love when I read a particularly powerful one.

  7. I seem to write my blogs using analogies. I find it makes the article more interesting and it also gets the reader thinking. I wrote a blog about my doing agility with my dog and it relates to business. Overcoming Obstacles – Business Lessons Learned from Agility Training.

    I was speaking to a friend of mine and she says, you know you have an analogy for everything. So I guess from reading this article, that it is a good thing.

    • Thanks, Arleen. Glad to know you share my enthusiasm for analogies. They do get readers thinking because a thought is expressed in an unexpected way.

  8. Entertaining versus Dry and Boring? No contest! Not only that but entertaining sticks with you better and your eyes don’t glaze over. People are not impressed when they have to work at understanding what you are trying to say.

    • Cheryl — we always need to remember that a reader is not necessarily interested in what we have to say. We’ve got to lure them in with colorful writing and images.

  9. Using analogies and metaphors is a great way to connect with your readers Jeannette. They help make your content sound more appealing like you’re speaking in a natural conversational style.

  10. HI Jeannette,
    Interesting topic. I use images literally, quite a lot in my posts for this very reason. To spice them up. But I had not thought to use more visual writing, as I guess I am not really used to it. It is a great idea though, because as you say, what we write about is often not the most exciting thing in the world, right? So good to keep people excited somehow :>
    Have a great week
    ashley

    • Ashley — your visual images are important but you add a lot of visual imagery through the words you use and paint an even broader picture.

  11. Definitely, the use of analogies and metaphors make writing much more engaging. I have often felt my eyes glaze over when reading something on a topic that is hard to grasp or just not really something that is of interest to me. If you can engage me in a topic that really isn’t something I would normally care for, then that is a sign of a good writer.

  12. I am an extremely visual person, so try to use words pics (highly descriptive phrases) in my writing as often as possible. And I love incorporating actual visuals into my writing as often as possible. It’s a good thing I write primarily about chocolate travel, as that lends itself easily to word and visual pics.