Creative ProcessCreativity Hacksinspiration

How to Paint a Picture with Words

Artist's pallette with paintbrush and words instead of paint

By Dr. Sandra Folk

You’re probably familiar with that old time worn adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. No doubt, it’s the reason organizations spend large sums of money perfecting their corporate identities. But a picture isn’t the only powerful tool at hand when it comes to promoting client recognition of a corporation/company.  Images, such as logos, especially those belonging to Starbucks or the New York Yankees, immediately recognizable, also tell a story. Just as these logos are the symbols of corporate identities, slogans and tag lines also conjure up images and ideas in our minds. Off the top of my head, here are half a dozen that easily come to mind:


McDonalds: i’m lovin’ it

Volkswagen: Das Auto


These slogans are just a few examples of how words create an image or appeal to our emotions to reinforce an idea or a concept. But there are times, e.g. when you’re trying to describe a service or to explain a complicated situation, when more than just a few words are needed to capture your audience’s attention. A more detailed communication is needed to describe your service or to promote your latest and best product to convince that potential client or the newly minted one. And a picture just won’t do it.  To avoid losing the new or the potential client and ensure your business communications are clear and convincing, try these 3 tips:

Artist's pallette with paintbrush and words instead of paintHow to Paint a Picture with Words

1) Precision: Precise words have the ability to paint a picture, to explain a situation.  When writing instructions or technical documents, precision is key. As you decide which word to use in your written communication, ask yourself, “Is this the most accurate word, the one that best conveys my meaning?” Just like your mother may have told you, when you were a kid, “Go to the dictionary and look it up!”

2) Power: Action-oriented verbs are one of the keys to strong written communication. You can find many of these verb lists online. Here’s one from Harvard University. And be sure to use verb forms over noun forms.  Avoid nominalizations! “So what’s a nominalization?” you ask.  Compare the following two sentences, taken from a smart and funny New York Times opinion piece called “Zombie Nouns.”

“The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.”


“Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.”

3) Persuasion: As always, with all business communication, your audience comes first. Ask yourself. What kind of language is appropriate for my audience? How can I connect with them? What images, that will best resonate with that audience, can I paint with my words?

The three principles above will certainly help steer your communications, in the right direction.  You might also have a look at Ten Tips to Effective Business Writing for a few more ideas.

Remember, although a picture may have an immediate impact on its audience, it’s also true that a thousand well chosen words can explain a complex situation in a way that a picture never could.

Dr. Sandra Folk, founder of the Language Lab, which offers on line business writing training. Sandra understands how poor communication affects business and how costly it can be. She specializes in improving the business writing and presentation skills of executives and their employees. Her unique approach of “practice over time” to learning ensures client success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.