If a picture can paint a thousand words . . .

. . . why are they all questions?


What is that? Where is it? When was it? Why was it there? What was the point? Who did it? Is it still there? Is that an inflatable? What gas was used to inflate it? Who chose the colours? Where did it come from? Will it be there again? Is that a mountain or a hill? Is it inland or on the coast? What are those brown patches on the hill/mountain?

That’s already 15 questions in just 72 words, so just think how many questions you could ask in a thousand words.

So does that mean words are more effective for communicating than pictures?

Of course not: both are useful in different ways. A picture or photograph can grab attention specifically because people want to find out more about a stunning image. For example, the BBC England website news page often has an ‘England’s Big Picture’ feature showing a partial image to tease viewers into opening it up to see if it is what they think it is. Stunning photography or images that tease can be useful in PR and marketing to attract people to read accompanying text.

In the same way, intriguing headlines can grab readers’ attention so that they read an accompanying article or text. News papers and websites make imaginative use of words in this way and, within reason, press releases and articles can do the same, as long as they do not mislead.

So what are more effective: words or pictures?

Neither. When applied with skill, one will not be more effective but will complement the other. If anything, a great photo will be let down by lousy writing, while a well-written article can be buried by poor illustration or layout.

When they work well together, the reader won’t take any notice of the composition of a photograph or style of writing but be totally engrossed in the message they convey.

That’s certainly our aim.

I don’t know

Somewhere there is an answer to every question we could ever think to ask. This is incredibly useful as I certainly don’t know everything in this age of social media experts, specialists and gurus.

And that’s one of the wonders of social media: if you ask a question, often someone will come back with the answer or, at least, a helpful suggestion.

But it can also work the other way: anyone professing to know everything about a topic can be ‘found out’ if their knowledge is deficient. It’s a bit like Viv Stanshall’s character Reg Smeeton whose favourite question was “Did you know there is no proper name for the back of the knee?” Apparently, the term ‘popliteal fossa’ undermines Reg’s claim.

Rather than imposing our knowledge on other people, asking questions can help to develop social media relationships. Many people are willing to share their knowledge and will do so for someone not afraid to ask. A way to pay back this generosity is to answer other people’s questions on topics about which we are knowledgeable.

Will we look silly if we admit to a hole in our knowledge? I don’t think so. My experience is that when someone asks a question others are often glad because they also want to know the answer.


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