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Visual Literacy

This guide defines visual literacy, explains what visual literacy skills are, and lists resources related to this topic.

Defining an Image Need



When trying to define your image/visual media need, it is important to have at least a general idea of what you are looking for. The questions in the graphic above are meant to help with that process. Please note, these questions are only meant to help you start thinking about this process and you don't have to answer these questions in order to identify your image need. Depending on your specific situation, you may need to consider more than the questions above or different questions. However, they are a great starting point! Below, I go into why each question in the graphic is useful.

  • What is the purpose of the image/visual media in your project?

Before you start looking for a visual, you need to know what purpose that image/visual media will serve in your project and/or research. Consider why you need that visual and how it will add to your current project. What specific message will the visual send? Is that message important to what you are saying? If so, why and why does it have to be sent visually? All of these questions (and more) are important to consider when trying to define the purpose of an image.

  • What criteria needs to be met by the image/visual media?

Another important thing to consider is what specifically you need from an image. Some things to think about are image format, subject, color, accessibility, etc. Simply put, what MUST this image have in order to meet your needs and goals. Making a list of this criteria before you start your research is one way to start thinking about your criteria.

  • Do you know of a reliable source where you can find this image/visual media?

Starting with the IU image databases is a great way to ensure that you are using a reliable source. However, you don't have to use an image database. You can look for images in other locations if you know the use restrictions listed on the website that you are referencing. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me!

  • What search terms would you use to find this image/visual media?

Coming up with some basic search terms before you start looking for an image or piece of visual media is a great idea. This may even help you with defining your image need. Once you start your research, make sure to keep track of the search terms that work for you. This will help you understand how images are described and organized in a variety of contexts. This may also help with trying to describe your image when writing an image caption or when looking for similar images that are described with the same subject term.

  • What specific image/visual media format would you need?

It is ALWAYS important to consider what image/visual media format that you need in order for the visual to work for your project or research. What file format does the image need to be in? What size? If you are looking for a video, how long does the video have to be? All of these questions are important to consider when deciding which format you need and what will work 

  • Who is the audience of this planned visual media use and in what context will it be viewed in?

Being able to define your audience is always an important part of the research process. When trying to define your image/visual media audience, try thinking about the message they will get from your visual. How do you think the audience will understand your visual? Why? What connections are you hopping for them to make between your visual and textual resources? How will those connections be important for your overall message?