Using images

Communication and Health Literacy

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Main points

  1. Images can help get your points across and break up the text.
  2. Use relevant and appropriate images, and abide by copyright requirements.
  3. An image always needs 'alternative text'.

Use relevant and appropriate images

  • Use images that are relevant to your target audience and that will help them remember key points.
  • Avoid irrelevant images, unnecessary decorations, clipart and images of unhealthy, unsafe or illegal behaviour. For example, do not use an image of a person cycling without a helmet or a person smoking.
  • Be sure your images are age and culturally appropriate. For example, if your health clinic provides care for mostly older people, use images of older people.
  • Use graphs and charts if they assist understanding. If you use them, make sure they are simple and the messages clear. Explain what the graphs and charts show.
  • Consider copyright requirements. Seek permission and provide acknowledgements.

An image always needs words

Alternative text

This is important. Whenever you include an image in your document, it's important to provide 'alternative text' for 'screen readers'.

Many people with low vision use screen readers – a software application that interprets what is displayed on a screen (computer or mobile device) and re-presents it to the user through speech, sound icons or a Braille device.

With images, when alternative text is included, the screen reader will present the alternative text in place of the image. If there is no 'alternative text', the screen reader will just say 'picture' for each image. Your audience will not know what information they are missing.

To add alternative text in MS Word:

  • Right click on the image
  • Select Format Picture
  • The format picture dialogue box will appear. Select the Web tab
  • In the Alternative Text box type in the description of the image.

For more information, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 provides recommendations for making Web content more accessible to people with disabilities.


To add further value to your image, include a caption. Consider using the caption to restate your key message.

Colour or black and white?

Avoid using colour to differentiate between variables in graphs or diagrams if it's likely it will be printed in black and white.

If using coloured images, consider whether they will lose appeal, meaning or clarity if the document is printed or photocopied in black and white.

Photos or pictograms?

Photos are useful to show a specific person, event or place. They may strengthen your message to people who see themselves as having things in common with the person in the photo, or for who the event or place is significant. For those who don't, photos may alienate them from your message; they may not see the message as relevant. (Note, if you intend to use a photo, you must have written consent from anyone in the photo. See the Tasmanian Government Communications Toolkit on the Tasmanian Government  Communications website

Pictograms are pictures or symbols that represent words or ideas. They can convey a lot of information quickly and in little space, and help your reader understand and remember your messages. Because they generally don't show personal features they can be more widely accepted than photos.

Be careful to use pictograms and symbols consistently. Don't use a symbol to illustrate one concept then use it elsewhere to illustrate another concept.

January 2019