They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. In reality, a picture is worth closer to 84.1 words depending on a variety of other factors, but let’s face it, that’s not as catchy.
The original point of the saying still stands, though: Images communicate information more effectively than text alone, and they’re best when working together.
And, brands agree with the statement above. In fact, in 2020, infographics were considered the third-most effective type of marketing content, just behind blogging and video.
But before you design an eye-catching infographic, you must first do the research to determine what story you’re going to tell, and how you’re going to tell it visually. And that research stage can be pretty tricky — especially if you don’t have a plan.
That why we put together a helpful guide that’ll walk you through how to conduct research for an infographic, without driving yourself crazy.
There’s a reason infographics are such a popular form of content: Viewers love, engage with, and remember them.
When people hear information, they’re likely to remember only 10% of that information three days later. Meanwhile, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retain 65% of it after the same timespan.
This is clearly a type of content your readers search for, so how do you make an infographic that’s informative, beautiful, and shareable?
Siege Media conducted a study on what makes infographics inherently shareable (the results of which they turned into a great infographic of their own), and as it turns out, the most oft-shared infographics had an average of just 396 words. (For a point of reference, you’re almost 300 words into this article.)
That’s some seriously effective storytelling, and if you want to craft a killer story, no matter what the content format, you have to do great research.
You might think that all research is created equal, but there are specific tasks to ensure that you tell the right story for a graphical interpretation.
Check out our list below for tips on how to begin your infographic design journey with a strong foundation of research.
Before you start conducting research on your topic, it’s essential to think about the audience who will view it. Market research is important because it makes you think beyond just one piece of content and instead about the impact it will have.
Questions content creators should ask themselves before starting infographic research include:
Once you’ve determined who will be searching for your infographic, you’ll want to figure out exactly what they’re searching for.
Key to this process is starting with broad topics and potential search terms, then working your way to more specific terms using quantitative data.
Below is the search history of “blogging” over the past five years. From this result, it’s reasonable to assume that search volume for this term is on a slight decline, and that my research process could benefit from more specific search terms to really pinpoint my audience.
Once you start to conduct research on the topic of your infographic, don’t limit your content by what angle you think the infographic should pursue. It’s smart to do general research on a topic so you gain a basic understanding, but be mindful that it can influence the information you’re searching for.
For example, if you decided to focus your infographic on how to make money from blogging and only researched advertising as a means to achieve that goal, the data you pull won’t provide all of the information necessary to create a comprehensive infographic.
Research a topic, not a particular story or angle, until you have more concrete data.
When you find data during your research process, we recommend the following standards to decide whether or not to use it in your content:
Is it original?
Find the original data source for any statistics you encounter during your research process. Due to the plethora of different blogs and news outlets, many different websites can cite the same statistic without citing its original source. If you find a compelling data point that you want to use in your infographic, trace it to the original research source.
If you can’t find the original source, the statistic is unsubstantiated and shouldn’t be used.
Is it reputable?
Another question to ask yourself when conducting research is where you’re conducting research. Any individual or organization can start a website and publish content, but that doesn’t mean all content on the internet can be taken as fact.
Vertical Measures recommends starting internet research on .gov, .edu, and .org sites, which are associated with governing bodies, educational institutions, and organizations with greater legitimacy than blogs or individuals.
Can it be validated?
Even if you find a statistic on a reputable source, you’re not done yet. Raven Tools recommends that researchers make sure to properly fact-check information they find by a) determining if it’s cited by any other organizations or b) checking the methodology of its original research. If the data point seems unreasonable, trust your instincts and dig deeper.
You’ve put time and resources into researching and designing a great infographic.
Make sure you cite recent data so other sources will be interested in referencing your graphic once it’s published.
We recommend sticking with data that’s one to two years old so your graphic will be relevant for months to come.
As a caveat, some original research data that would make a compelling case for your infographic may have set the standard for its industry more than two years ago.
For example, I’ve referenced research on the curiosity gap that’s from 1994 in previous posts, as this original study coined the term that’s still used today.
The trick is to find more recent research that re-tests and substantiates the original theory so it’s a legitimate data point, instead of simply dropping an older statistic into your infographic.
With the feature above, you can filter your search engine results according to when articles were published and according to their domains (.gov, .edu, .org, .com), among other features.
Remember what Siege Media found?
The most-shared infographics had an average of just under 400 words. This means that the graphics relied on data visualizations, charts, and illustrations to tell the data’s story.
Research for a blog post is different than research for an infographic because visitors expect to read a blog, but they don’t necessarily anticipate close-reading a graphic.
Think about data that can be turned into visuals while you research. Numbers, such as percentages, survey results, and change over time can be easily visualized using graphs and charts.
Are there categories within your data that you can visualize using icons or illustrations? Can you turn a multi-step process into a mini-graphic instead of writing it out?
Analyze all of your research findings wearing the hat of an illustrator and ask yourself if there’s a balance between data that can be visualized and data that must be written out.
When you think you’re done with your research, try to lay out the story that your graphic will tell. You may even want to storyboard your infographic: Write out your data points, and lay them out according to the order they’ll be visualized in the infographic. Does the story make sense? If the story isn’t clear or obvious, then you’re not done researching.
It’s easy to get stuck in the story you think your graphic should tell, but does your research data actually tell the story? Vertical Measures suggests that you let the research drive the topic and narrative of the infographic. If you’re stuck in what you think the data should be saying, you run the risk of citing your research in a way that manipulates the data.
If a data point isn’t self-evident as a visualization, it’s probably not the right data point, or it doesn’t have the right context. Go back and gather more research if you can’t craft a story that makes sense with just the data — If you have to fill in too much with text, it will make for a visually unappealing and potentially incorrect infographic.
Strong infographics are loaded with interesting data that’s beautifully illustrated. These infographics are shared when they prompt an emotional response.
Content that shocks, disgusts, saddens, delights, or scares people performs well: Researchers Jacopo Staiano and Marco Guerini found that content that prompts feelings of valence, arousal, and dominance tends to go viral.
Additionally, in an analysis of photos shared on Reddit, Fractl found that positive emotions were most likely to generate virality, but that content that provoked negative emotions with the right combination of arousal and dominance could be hits as well.
Raven Tools and Killer Infographics suggest finding a data point that gets to the heart of the topic you’re tackling to hook your reader and incite an emotion that will make them share your graphic. Then, use that hook as the infographic’s visual focal point, and build the rest of your story around it.
Check out Siege Media’s meta infographic about what makes infographics popular. They visualize and highlight the most surprising findings first to keep viewers scrolling, and then break down each finding with more research results.
This may seem obvious, but feedback is a critical step in determining when the research phase is over and when writing and designing your infographic can begin. Before presenting a design proposal to your manager or client, tap your peers for their input. Ask questions like:
It’s often challenging to remove yourself from a project you’re immersed in to honestly edit it, so feedback during the research phase will identify any weaknesses that may need to be addressed with the help of further fact-finding.
In most cases, great data is the foundation of a successful infographic, so it’s worth investing time and efforts in finding the most relevant, current, and credible information out there.
Key to the process is remaining open to letting the research inform the editorial strategy, instead of the other way around. And once you’re ready to start designing, check out these infographic examples, as well as these free infographic templates, for inspiration.