How to Write Copy for Your Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

Because infographics are a visual medium, the amount of copy — text — is minimal in most infographics. The general rule is that if a piece of text doesn’t add to a reader’s understanding of the topic, get rid of it.

Of course, including copy can be extremely useful. And because copy is so minimal, each word becomes all the more vital. Some different types of copy that you’d see in a typical infographic include the following, as shown in the following figure:

  • Title

  • Introduction

  • Section subheadings

  • Chart and graph labels

  • Data explainers

  • Sources and footnotes

  • Branding and copyright information

  • Supporting narrative

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Infographic title

Your title tells your reader very quickly what the infographic is about. As such, a title should be informative yet also draw in the reader. Good titles are often catchy and creative, but they should also match the tone of your infographic. Here’s an example of how the tone of a title can vary:

  • Straightforward and serious: The Importance of Small Business

  • Clever and catchy: Small Business, Big Impact

  • Provocative and funny: It’s Not the Size That Matters

The approach you choose depends largely on the audience you’re hoping to attract and also where your infographic will be published.

Infographic introduction

The first full sentences in your graphic explain to readers what they’re about to see. In essence, you want these few lines to sum what your graphic is as clearly and succinctly as possible. Of course, the approach you take for your intro matters quite a bit because you ideally want to draw readers in right from the start while also striking the right tone.

Infographic section subheadings

Subheadings are used to identify different topics within the graphic as a whole, and they also help guide the reader from one section to the next. They serve the very practical purposes of directing the reader’s eye and providing visual breaks.

Infographic chart and graph labels

Labels accompany data tables to help explain what’s being shown in the table. They generally consist of only a few words or even just one word.

Infographic data explainers

Close cousins to chart labels, data explainers do just what their name indicates: They explain data, much like a caption explains a photograph. For instance, you might not want to literally use the following: “99.7% of employers are considered small businesses.” Instead, you might present the information as follows:

        99.7%

        Employers considered small businesses

The line of text is the data explainer. Presenting information this way — rather than as the earlier sentence — gives you more design freedom and allows you to heighten the impact of your data. Generally, a data explainer is treated as a standalone phrase, so the first word in the phrase is capitalized, and the phrase does not use a closing period.

Infographic sources and footnotes

Some infographics provide footnotes for each particular piece of data. If you choose to do so, how you cite data is really a matter of following a house style or even just your preference. In some cases, you may need to use a specific academic citation style, such as MLA or APA.

Typically, in a web graphic, simple superscript numbers follow the data point and correspond to a URL at the bottom of the infographic that links to the source of that figure.

Alternatively, you may choose not to use footnotes at all to avoid distracting the reader. In this case, just list all your sources at the bottom of the infographic, generally starting with those that provided you with the most information.

In either case, listing sources is absolutely vital to ensuring credibility. Readers should be able to verify your data.

Infographic branding and copyright

If you’re designing infographics for a specific client, that client will probably require you to publish its name in some way. It may also want to ensure copyright protection. Often, the company name appears with or near source information at the bottom of an infographic. Follow all orders set out by a client’s brand guidelines.

If you’re working on your own, chances are good that you’ll want your infographic to be widely copied and shared. Still, you can protect your work from being stolen, inappropriately altered, or plagiarized by setting up some simple guidelines for reuse. One way to do this is to create a Creative Commons license. It’s simple to set up.

Infographic supporting narrative

Supporting narrative copy frequently appears in text boxes that run alongside your visual elements, and here is where the amount of text will vary greatly depending on the topic and how you choose to illustrate your information. Some supporting narrative comprises only a few words, but the text you write for another infographic could include a great deal of context and analysis.

What you don’t want to do is simply put in writing what’s already evident from your visuals. You need to ask yourself frequently: Is the text adding value?

Writing this type of copy certainly requires a deft touch. Often, you need to condense complex information into a small space without sacrificing accuracy or basic grammar. The key point to remember is that you don’t need to explain everything. Let your visuals do the heavy lifting.