Analysing Visual Text
You may be asked to analyse the visual language and arguments that appear in texts as
persuasive devices in their own right, or when they accompany the body of a larger text.
Visual texts include cartoons, photographs, illustrations, graphs, and tables.
Steps for visual analysis:
1. Identify the context of the cartoon. Describe what issue is being presented.
2. Comment on the central figures/characters/symbols that appear. What are they
doing or saying? What do they represent?
3. Give a detailed description of the background. Explain how this links to the
central figures in the image. What does it highlight, exaggerate or play down?
4. Are there any words, captions or dialogue that contributes to the impact of the
cartoon? What do they mean?
5. What is the overall purpose of the cartoon?
6. What ‘side’ is the cartoonist on?
7. How is the reader/viewer being positioned to accept the contention through the
use of these techniques?
Other visual features to consider when working out the meaning and message:
Colours/shades – what is emphasised in the image? What do the colours
Layout – where is the focal point? Where is the eye drawn to and why?
Motifs/symbols/icons – certain signs or images have an inherent meaning in our
culture and represent ideas, for example a rose signifies love, the skull and
crossbones signify danger, and a dove represents peace.
TASK: View and analyse each of the visual texts in this document, answering the above
See also pages 171-172, 183-185 and the colour insert for some more examples and
activities on visual texts.
The political or social comment cartoon is usually found near the opinion and editorial
sections of the newspaper. The cartoon is designed to reflect upon an aspect of an issue
that has caused public debate. The purpose of such cartoons is wide and varied, but it is
persuasive because it comments upon an area of public or political life.
A photograph often accompanies a news report or feature article. It is an important
tool in attracting the initial interest of the reader and it supports the content of the print
matter. A photographer makes conscious decisions about the style of photograph that
is taken. They will determine the shot size and angle or what other subject will appear
in the shot. The framing, cropping, airbrushing and editing of the shot also contributes
to the shaping of the reader’s view on the issue.
This picture appeared in the Herald Sun on the 8/3/11 with an opinion article entitled
‘Sex no path to revenge’. The article was written in response to the ‘St. Kilda schoolgirl’
This article featured on the front cover of the Herald Sun on the 8/3/11. It is also part of
the ‘St. Kilda schoolgirl’ issue.
A hand-drawn image that accompanies a text can be a tool to exaggerate, emphasise or
play down particular elements of an issue. The artist has the ability to shape every
detail that appears in this kind of visual according to the message to be conveyed to the
reader or viewer.
Graphs and tables
These are added to texts to provide statistics and facts to support the written material.
They will often be simple in format so the reader can gain a quick understanding of the
figures and then move back to the print matter. It is important to remember that scale
and size greatly affect how graphs can skew the appearance of data, and that
sample/group sizes can be chosen specifically to manipulate statistics also.