Neuroscientists in Scotland have made a surprising discovery about graphics; they do not say a thousand words. In fact, the words appear to say more than the pictures ever can. What the Edinburgh scientists did was compare the decisions made by medical teams based on the “end of bed” charts. Some of the participants in the study had the usual charts of temperature, pulse, breathing and other medical data. Another group of participants were given text-based equivalent information. The researchers found that it was easier and better for the medics to use the text information, than the graphs and charts.
In other words, a picture did not say 1,000 words in this situation. It is an interesting finding because it has always been traditionally thought that we are better able to interpret a graph or chart than text. However, this study shows there is a cognitive advantage to words, rather than graphics. According to the researchers, graphics are open to misinterpretation and we get more easily distracted from them than text.
From the perspective of any website owner this study has important implications. There is a huge online movement steering people towards graphics; websites are increasingly graphical – charts, graphs, polls, videos and so on. Yet, this research shows that people will be able to interpret your message better if you rely on text. Indeed, it shows that people make better decisions from text than from graphics. It therefore raises the possibility that we may well have avoided international financial ruin if the banks and stock markets used text-based systems, rather than the charts and tables they rely upon. Ho hum.
However, what this research suggests is that the most important thing to concentrate on for your website are the words. True, graphics help. True, graphics make your site look more appealing. But it’s the text that will get the most attention. It’s the words that will create the most action amongst your readership. And it’s the articles you provide which will improve your business online.
If you don’t yet have a New Year’s resolution perhaps you could make one along the lines of “adding more and more text to my website”. Designers and the current wave of online graphics may well encourage you to “go pictorial”, but this research confirms that the most important thing to do with any website is provide loads and loads of words.