Comics — storytelling that’s 51% better than text

February 14, 2012

by Gail Kent

comics storytelling format
In the ’50s they were the medium of superheros and the bane of parents trying to get their kids to do their homework — the comics. Yet it turns out that comics, cartoons or other graphics are not the big time wasters that parents and teachers thought.

“The funnies” have enjoyed a Renaissance lately, with entire “graphic novels” being published as full-length books and growing in popularity. You can even earn a master’s degree in graphic illustration. Now instead of taking away kids’ comic books, graphic novels are used by educators to encourage reading.

Use comics for storytelling

There’s a good reason for the popularity of cartoons. Research shows that using comics in storytelling is more effective than text. Here are some of the research findings:

  • Parents answered 25 percent more questions correctly about the polio vaccine when they viewed a comic strip compared to parents who read text in a 2004 study at Texas Tech University.
  • Studies performed in 1996 at the University of California at Santa Barbara showed that students learned 51 percent more from cartoons with captions about how lightning forms than from 600-word explanations. Surprisingly, cartoons alone were more effective than cartoons plus text.
  • Students were twice as likely to understand the difference between confusing word pairs (such as its vs. it’s) if they looked at cartoon illustrations instead of written examples only, according to a 2004 study at a large Midwestern university.
  • A 1995 study at the East Carolina University School of Medicine in Greenville, N.C. found that patients were 150 percent more likely to answer correctly when they saw cartoons about wound care instead of text explaining the same information.
  • Another study, conducted in 1977 at the Sheffield Centre for Rheumatic Diseases in England, found that cartoons communicate better than any other form of illustration, including stick figures, representational illustrations, symbols or photographs.

Cartoons can be used to simplify complex ideas or to brighten up drab but important information, such as safety regulations or retirement information for employees. They are also effective to use for marketing materials when you want your message to stand out from everyone else’s.

Cartoons can be effectively used in brochures, on Web sites, on sales materials, in ads, on blogs, in training videos and in many other media. So bring on the comics when you’re telling stories — they don’t always have to be funny to be effective!

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