How to Write a Visual Essay

How to Write a Visual Essay
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Visual essays are different from other types of essays. A traditional essay focuses on opinions and facts, while a visual essay provides information using images instead of text.

First, let’s figure out what a visual essay is in this guide from our writers at It’s a type of writing assignments that requires you to provide images in order to illustrate some topic. Quite often, essays of this kind focus on topics that cannot be properly explained without images. Such essays may consist of images only, or images may serve as an addition to the written content.

Some students think that such assignments are easier to complete. On one hand, you won’t need to write a lot. On the other hand, this task is challenging because you still need to create an academic paper.

As a student, you may write visual essays on different topics, including history, social issues, and fine arts. You may be asked to submit your essay as a Word document or a .pdf document, as well as just a string of images in a video format.

A traditional 1,500-word essay is equivalent to 10-12 pictures and up to 700 words of text. Since a visual essay doesn’t contain much text, its success is determined by your images. Thus, you have to choose images carefully and make sure they are related to the topic.

The Purpose of Graphics in a Research Essay

The main purpose of a graphical representation is to make your visual essay more interesting for readers. For example, you may use charts to provide statistics or images that will help your readers feel certain emotions.

If your essay contains numbers, your readers will be able to better memorize any statistics if you present your data in a graphic form. This approach is great when you have to illustrate some trends or patterns.

Short videos and photographs allow you to tell about a certain historical event in a more interesting and engaging way. Obviously, visual essays are also irreplaceable for those who study fine arts. This format allows you to illustrate some artistic movement or to present a series of paintings.

Images also have a number of other advantages:

  • they expand your audience;
  • they have a strong emotional impact on the audience;
  • they allow you to convey more information while using less text.


A visual essay doesn’t require you to follow strict rules, which makes this type of essays easier compared to other writing assignments. However, you still need to create a proper structure. We suggest that you stick with the classic structure that includes an introduction, a body, and a summary.


This section of your essay should include a graphic that familiarizes your audience with the topic. Add captions that will explain images and make your viewers pay close attention to your content. The following pictures should illustrate the topic, also having vivid descriptions that correspond to the overall tone. At the end of your introduction, write the thesis statement that explains the main idea of your essay.


The main body should develop your idea and support it. We suggest that you use at least three arguments in order to support your thesis statement. Every argument should include pictures and additional information that cannot be conveyed in a graphic form. Once you’ve set the context for your argument, provide examples so that your audience can understand the necessary details.


At the end of your essay, remind your viewers your main arguments from the body section. Here you can include a statistical chart or a thought-provoking image that will encourage your audience to think about something.

Your visual essay should have a clear structure and it should be easy to perceive. Therefore, we suggest that you don’t make your captions longer than a hundred words. Your captions may include your own words or quotes from other sources. The main thing is to make sure they are directly related to the topic. You should also make sure that every caption corresponds to the content of the image. They may also provide different information but complement each other in some way.

How to Choose a Topic

A good topic is a topic that actually needs graphic representation. We suggest that you select a subject that requires some statistical data. You may also choose a topic that will benefit from beautiful images. In the first case, you can use charts, while the second type of essays will allow you to add eye-pleasing graphics.

We also recommend that you choose a topic that is really interesting to you. In this case, the research process will not be boring. You may write about your favorite artist or some important social issue — both types of topics allow you to create a great visual essay.


First, you have to figure out what is the main idea of your essay. You can find the necessary sources only when you understand what message you want to deliver. Once you’ve written the thesis statement, answer the following questions:

  • What images can illustrate your main message?
  • What evidence proves your thesis statement?
  • Is there any information that contradicts your ideas?
  • How can you respond to the opposite point of view?
  • Quotes from which sources can make your essay more trustworthy?
  • Can you support your graphics with some music?


Once you’ve answered the questions above, start planning your essay. We recommend that you follow these simple steps:

1. Research all the relevant sources in order to support your thesis statement.
2. Find images related to your topic and your thesis statement.
3. Create a simple outline and organize the information you have.
4. Think of the overall tone of your essay and choose a proper font.
5. Write your first draft according to your outline.
6. Edit and proofread your first draft.
7. Show your essay to somebody else and then polish it.

How to Use Images

The main thing about visual essays is to choose proper images that illustrate your topic in the best way possible. This task requires you to approach it in a creative way, since you will also need to add captions to your graphics.

If you don’t know what images to use, we suggest checking out similar assignments completed by students in the past. You can also find good sample essays online.

We also recommend that you follow our tips:

  • Your graphics should be either emotion-, thought-provoking, or informative.
  • To illustrate statistics, use charts.
  • Make sure all your facts are accurate and relevant.
  • Show your essay to somebody else so that you can see their reaction and improve your essay according to it.
  • Make sure your pictures follow each other logically.
  • Your captions should be organically integrated into the essay. They shouldn’t draw too much attention. However, they also shouldn’t look unnecessary.

When searching for images online, keep in mind that you cannot use some images. Make sure to check copyright before adding any images to your essay. To avoid copyright issues, use such websites as Open Clip Art, Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay, etc.

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