Creating a visual essay is an entirely different task than a traditional one. While a classic essay relies solely on facts and opinions expressed in writing, here, there’s almost no text involved at all, as the bulk of information is conveyed through images.

What Is a Visual Essay?

A visual essay is a writing assignment given in situations when images serve as a better illustration of a certain topic than a piece that consists only of text. Such an essay can exist in the form of a set of pictures dedicated to a subject, or a mix of images and written passages that help support and explain the visual content.

Some students are misled by the name of such an essay, thinking that it’s far easier to make than any other kind. However, putting together a high-quality visual essay can be as challenging as creating an academic writing piece.

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This type of essay can be written on a wide range of topics from fine arts to history and is especially popular in social studies. A visual essay can be done both in the form of a Word or .pdf document with embedded pictures or as a string of .jpg images edited together in a video.

Lengthwise, an equivalent to a 1500-word traditional essay would be about ten to twelve pictures paired with 500-700 words of supplementing text. As a visual essay doesn’t contain a lot of written information, it heavily relies on graphical aids. That’s why it’s essential to make up for the lack of academic text passages with carefully chosen images that are relevant to the topic.

Why a Writer Use Graphics in a Research Essay

The primary purpose of using graphical representation in a visual essay is to make the reader interested in the provided information. Up-to-date statistical charts or emotion-provoking photographs grab the attention of the viewer and will help you get a good grade.

It’s a fact that numbers and comparisons are more easily perceived and memorized when presented in the form of graphs and bars. Such means are efficient in illustrating different trends or logical patterns.

Using photographs or short video clips is a great way to add life to a topic about a historical event or a cultural phenomenon. A visual essay is particularly useful for Fine Art subjects, as there’s no better way to represent a series of paintings or an artistic movement than through images.

Among other reasons behind the usage of graphical representation you can find these:

  • It has an emotional impact on the reader.
  • It grants the essay a chance to appeal to a wider audience.
  • A correctly chosen picture can convey more information than several paragraphs of text.

Visual Essay Structure

Unlike other types of writing assignments, a visual essay doesn’t demand that you follow strict rules when making it. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t structure your writing piece as you usually would. It’s recommended that you plan it as a classic essay, with it consisting of an introduction, a main body, and a summary.


This part should begin with a graphic that acquaints the viewer with your topic. The first image should be accompanied by a caption that raises the interest of the viewer and motivates them to pay close attention to your essay. Subsequent pictures are used to establish the theme of your work. It’s recommended to pair them with vivid descriptions that stylistically fit the overall tone.

The introduction should end with the thesis statement containing the main idea of your piece.

Main body

The purpose of the main body is to support and develop the main idea of your essay. It’s recommended to use at least three arguments that can prove your thesis statement. Each point should consist of a couple of pictures and several sentences containing information that couldn’t be conveyed in a graphic form. After you’ve provided the context of your argument, back it up with several examples. Images used in this part of the essay have to reflect the specific details of your findings.


In the conclusion of your visual essay, you have to remind the viewer of the arguments you brought up in the main body. This is the place to use a statistical chart that sums up the information provided above or a thought-provoking photograph. Next, you have to rephrase and reiterate your thesis statement.

To maintain a clear structure of your visual essay, it’s recommended that you write no more than a hundred words under each image. The caption can contain your own words or a quote from one of the sources you’ve found during your research. Additionally, it’s important for each text fragment to match the content of the image. However, the caption shouldn’t be a mere description of the image or the other way around. Both these elements have to contain similar, yet different information, as they serve to complement each other.

How to Choose a Visual Essay Topic

The best topics for a visual essay are the ones that would greatly benefit from the inclusion of graphic representation. Thus, it’s recommended to pick a subject that possesses a substantial amount of statistical data or deals with eye-pleasing images. The former can be converted into charts, while the latter will attract the viewer’s attention with aesthetical beauty.

Another advice you can take advantage of when choosing a topic is to pick something that you are interested in yourself so that the research process doesn’t bore you. Whether it’s a social issue you or those closest to you have suffered from or an artist you admire, such topics will help you create an engaging essay.


Before you can start downloading images and other visual aids, you have to figure out what will be the main point of your essay. Only then you can know for sure which materials to search for. Once you’ve created your thesis statement, try to answer these questions:

  1. What images will help you better represent your main idea?
  2. What kind of facts can you use to prove your thesis statement?
  3. What information can be used to contradict your main idea?
  4. How can you respond to those facts?
  5. Which sources can you quote to make your opinions more trustworthy?
  6. Can you use music to support your visual aids?
  7. Do you need to write a script to voice during the display of your images?

Creating a Plan

Once you’ve figured out the answers to the questions listed above, you can start planning your visual essay. It’s recommended that you follow these steps:

  1. Start researching all the sources that are relevant to your topic and will help you support the thesis statement.
  2. Find images and other kinds of visual aid that you will use during the creation of your visual essay.
  3. Create a rough outline and structure the information you’ve found.
  4. Choose relevant images that depict the situation or event you’re describing.
  5. Think about which font and text colors you will use, as they play an important part in establishing the tone.
  6. Create the first draft of the essay according to the structure described in the respective paragraph.
  7. Edit and proofread your draft.
  8. Show your essay to others and make final adjustments.

Using Images

The most challenging aspect of creating a visual essay is choosing the pictures and graphics that will suit your topic the best. This task demands a lot of creativity on your part as well as writing suiting captions to those images.

If you lack knowledge on which types of pictures are better fitted for an essay or how to organically use them in the text, it’s advised to look at similar assignments completed in the previous years.

Other than that, you can also follow these guidelines to make sure that you’re creating your visual essay the right way:

  • Add graphics that are either informative, thought- or emotion-provoking.
  • Use charts to represent statistical information.
  • Double-check if all the facts you present are relevant.
  • Consider showing your draft to your friends or family to see which images get the best reaction and which need to be replaced.
  • Make sure that every subsequent picture is tied to the previous one so that they all would create a unified whole.
  • Integrate captions in a coherent manner so that they neither draw away too much attention from the image nor look like an afterthought as well.

When searching for pictures on the Web, it’s vital to remember that you can’t freely use any image you find due to the danger of copyright infringement. It’s wise to look for pictures at sites like Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay, and Open Clip Art to avoid any potential trouble.

Visual Essay Examples

If you’re still uncertain about which subject to write about, here’s a list of ideas that may help you come up with a topic of your own:

  1. The effects of climate change in 2017
  2. The real face of the great depression
  3. What is domestic violence?
  4. How valuable is college education in the 21st century?
  5. The dangers of texting in traffic
  6. Teenagers that succumb to peer pressure
  7. The secret of Mona Lisa’s smile
  8. Symbolism in the Renaissance art movement
  9. Types of photography
  10. Should alcohol advertising be banned