Seeing is believing, which is why there is a saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” However, sometimes you cannot use a picture, as the subject is underground or underwater or even way out in cyberspace. However, you can still use words to paint a picture, giving the reader an image to which he or she can relate.
One example is to compare a large area, say 120 acres, to a certain number of football fields. This reminds me of the time I was a librarian at Texaco and I got an unusual “stump the librarian” question: how wide is a football field? I knew the length was 100 yards, but I didn’t know the width off the top of my head. Note: this was before Google was invented; today it’s easy. Answer: 160 ft wide or 53.3 yards. But my point is that a football field area is something familiar to most people, and far more familiar than 120 acres. And by football, I mean the kind they play in the US while wearing shoulder pads and helmets using an oblong ball. A soccer field may be more familiar to the rest of the world (same 100 yards in length, but a bit wider at 60 yards).
So how can you use imagery with words to illustrate technical concepts without graphics? Michel Fortin, a writer, author, speaker, and consultant in the field of direct response selling, recommends using “upwords,” or “Universal Picture Words Or Relatable, Descriptive Sentences.” Here’s how he defines them:
“Upwords are words that paint vivid pictures in the mind, or expressions that describe an idea to which the mind of your reader or prospect can quickly and easily relate to. [Pardon his dangling preposition here.] In other words, upwords are metaphors, similes, analogies, examples, comparisons, mental imagery, stories, illustrations, etc. – anything to help the mind instantly visualize what it is being told, without the need for critical thinking.”
Not that I’m trying to discourage critical thinking, mind you, merely trying to enable the reader to grasp a complex concept more easily. If you put yourself in the readers’ shoes, you will be able to select word pictures that the readers will be able to decode, making the synapses in their brains link up to something they already know. It’s like greasing the skid to help get your ideas into their heads. Hey, that’s a perfect example!