We tend to think of text as, well, text. Most people write or even design their content using plain text. Visualizations might be part of the final product, but we don’t often utilize the power of good visualization in the process of crafting our content.
In this issue, we explore three ways to visualize your content as you design and write it that will help you create more effective and compelling content.
How much space does each idea occupy in a piece of content? Is it balanced? Are there too many ideas in a limited amount of space?
The effectiveness of your text relies on a delicate balance. If you juggle too many ideas, don’t dedicate enough space to each of them, or if one idea occupies most of the space, but you are tempted to squeeze in other smaller ideas, you might not be able to provide optimal value.
Highlighting the text associated with each idea in a different color while drafting your content creates a striking visualization of how you divide the space of your text. There is no strict rule of what works best or the right balance. But if your text is cluttered with too many ideas or is divided unevenly, you will clearly see that. This visualization also makes any potential issue easy to fix — what you should do is evident from this visual collage of ideas.
We read texts linearly, but the flow of the ideas within the text is not always linear. Sometimes we take a detour just to return to the main track with a more solid argument. Sometimes we backtrack to recall or revisit an initial idea. And some texts also branch out and change the scope of the subject as you read the text.
There is no single correct flow for effective content, but any flow you use must be intentful. It should serve your goal and help your audience reach the mental or intellectual place you want them to be at.
Visualizing how the flow is built, how ideas are connected, and whether they are on the main track or take another route can be extremely insightful. When we are in the flow of writing or thinking, we can lose our sense of direction. Visualizing our path will help us make deliberate decisions and verify we design the ideal way toward our destination.
Any piece of content is made of different bits. A bit is a well-defined part of the text: one or more paragraphs, or sometimes even a single sentence. Like a lego block, it is self-contained, but as you connect it to other pieces, you can build grander structures and encapsulate more complex arguments and ideas. A content bit can be part of an idea, a quote, a question, an example, a metaphor, an exercise, or a case study. The essence of this paragraph, for example, is to introduce and define the idea of content bits.
Thinking about your content as a well-arranged collection of bits is super helpful. It is an effective method for making your design modular, rearranging and perfecting it, and reusing parts of it for different purposes. No less important is your ability to visualize the content based on the type of content bits.
By highlighting each type of bit using a different color, we can quickly get a sense of whether the design is balanced and effective. Are we asking too many questions and maybe failing to address some? Is the entire text full of statements without leaving the audience a space to think for themselves? Did we remember to include an example? Or maybe we have too many examples, which overwhelms the audience and shadows the point we are trying to make?
When we visualize the types of bits we use, we often don’t need to ask these questions explicitly. If there is a problem, it will just pop from the colorful collage of bits we have designed.