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Supporting Student Writing with Infographics

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Participate and share : Poster
Poster presentation

Saturday, December 5, 8:00–9:00 am PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Dr. Penelope Collins  
Undarmaa Maamuujav  
Dr. Jenell Krishnan  

When created prior to writing, infographics serve as a way of organizing ideas and communicating them to teachers and peers. This session shares the results of a pilot study and provides step-by-step guidance for educators interested in incorporating infographics into their process-based writing instructional approach.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Professional developers
Skill level: Intermediate
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Topic: Curriculum planning & evaluation
Grade level: Community college/university
Subject area: Language arts
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.
  • Use technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students and inform instruction.
Additional detail: Graduate student

Proposal summary


1) Overview of study
2) Students' perceptions (benefits and challenges)
3) Ways students used their infographics in their text-only research papers
4) Step-by-step guidance for adopting this instructional approach


Many students struggle to write because developing writing proficiency is dependent on cognitive processes and affective components (Bazerman et al., 2017). A writing task, whether crafting an initial draft or revising a subsequent draft, presents a set of demands (Lindemann, 2001), and writers often have to juggle between a variety of mental activities (Olson, et al., 2018). Flower and Hayes (1980) contend, “As a dynamic process, writing is the act of dealing with an excessive number of simultaneous demands or constraints…, [and] a writer in the act is a thinker on full-time cognitive overload” (p. 33). In their initial drafting phase, writers move back and forth between two major cognitively-demanding processes: 1) the ideation process which involves sub-processes of generating new ideas and organizing those ideas, and 2) the transcription process which includes translating idea into words and transcribing ideas into coherent paragraphs (Torrance & Galbraith, 2006; Flower & Hayes, 1981; McCutchen, 2006).

We posit that mindfully integrating technology, such as infographic software, into the curriculum, has the potential to alleviate processing constraints of writing and ease the cognitive loads developing writers encounter when drafting. In traditional process-based writing courses, students are asked to produce a full-text first drafts and often juggle between idea generation and text production. Producing an infographic as a first draft disrupts this traditional approach and separates these two major cognitive processes. The task of creating infographics involves “proportionally less [linguistic] and more visuospatial processing than realizing [the] content in full sentences” (Kellogg, 1999 cited in Torrance & Galbraith, 2006, p. 70). Indeed, infographics, may be considered semiotic mediators and tools, engaging students in a writing practice that uses multiple modalities—words, images, graphs, and other symbolic systems (De La Paz & Graham, 2002; (Englert, Mariage, Dunsmore, 2006; Selfe, 2004). Further, infographics incorporate universal design for learning principles, enabling students with diverse learning needs to fully engage in the writing process through the use of multiple modalities, such as words, images and graphs, to express their thoughts (Rose, Harbour, Johnston, Daley & Abarbanell, 2006).
Student Writing Motivation
Undergraduates’ decisions to engage in writing activities are influenced by affective factors. This study also applies contemporary motivation theory (Eccles, 2005) and self-efficacy theories (Bandura, 1997; Pajares, Johnson & Usher, 2007) to explore students’ values and beliefs in relation to their writing development. The affordances of infographics, such the use of multimedia, the availability of templates to create attractive infographics, and the reduced linguistic demands may reduce some of the emotional threats that students face when writing traditional essays. Thus, attending to both the cognitive and affective needs of students may have immediate and distal impacts on their writing behaviors and development.


This study employed a qualitative case study approach (Yin, 2017) to examine the phenomenon of developing infographics as a procedural and facilitative tool during process-based writing instruction. We explored undergraduate students’ use and perception of infographics during one writing-intensive course to develop a rich account of affordances of infographics for supporting the cognitive and affective factors that shape undergraduates’ writing development.
This study is guided by the following two research questions.
RQ1. What content and organizational elements of students’ infographics are observed in their academic text?
RQ2. What do students think are the benefits and challenges of using infographics for planning and scaffolding writing?
Context and Data Collection
We collected data from one upper-division, undergraduate writing course at a large, public university in California. The class included culturally and linguistically diverse students (n=22), and they were given the opportunity to research an interest-driven topic on which they would base their infographic and subsequent, traditional academic paper (see Figure 1). The data that was collected digitally using Canvas, a learning management system, included each student’s initial draft of their infographic, revised draft of their infographic, initial draft of their research-based paper, the final, revised version of the paper, and open-ended survey data. Topics that students researched included the value of multicultural education, methods of supporting English Language Learners in the classroom, the school-to-prison pipeline, and problems with American STEM education (see Figure 2).

RQ1. What content and organizational elements of students’ infographics are observed in their academic text?
Data Sources: Student developed infographics (1st and 2nd drafts)
Student written academic papers (1st and 2nd drafts)
Analytical Approach: Content Analysis (Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2014); Pattern coding (Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2014)

RQ2. What do students think are the benefits and challenges of using infographics for planning and scaffolding writing?
Data Sources: Open-ended survey questions on students’ perceptions of infographics
Analytical Approach: Open Coding (Saldaña, 2009); Thematic Coding (Saldaña, 2009)

Coding Team
The coding team consisted of three members—a doctoral student with experience teaching college composition courses, a college lecturer with experience using technologies for writing instruction, and a professor of education who has studied literacy development at the elementary, secondary, and college-level. The coding team used the constant comparative approach (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2013) to code the data for the rhetorical moves (i.e., topic, focus, key points, order of ideas, and structure) in the infographics and the researcher papers, and students’ reported benefits and challenges of using infographics to support academic writing. The team also used the process of “investigator triangulation” to improve the reliability of this study (Merriam, 2009, p. 216).


The findings suggest that incorporating infographics in a process-based approach to writing instruction provides both cognitive and affective support for writers. In what follows, we provide the results according to each research question.

RQ1. Infographics were used more for planning followed by planning and revising ideas

We analyzed how students used infographics in writing their research-based papers, and six patterns emerged in the data. Infographics were used by 44% of students for planning subsequent research-based papers. In this way, students used their infographic as an outline and the ideas and structure of the infographic was transferred into their written texts. Infographics were also used by 23% of students as a springboard where their research papers extended beyond the content provided in their infographic. Eighteen-percent of students used their infographic to develop the key points that they would write about in their papers, but the order in which these points are made in their infographics is different from the order in which they are presented in their paper. Other patterns include using the infographic to identify key points but narrowing the focus in the research paper (i.e., 9% of students), using infographic to identify sources. but ideas are structures are not present in the paper (i.e., 5% of students), and infographic and paper reflect different topics entirely (i.e., 5% of students).

RQ2. Students see the benefit of infographics as a planning tool; challenged by its creation
We analyzed students’ open-ended survey data that included questions about their perceived benefits and challenges of developing infographics as part of the writing process. The majority of students (i.e., 19 out of 22) reported that developing an infographic helped them write their subsequent research paper. First, students reported that the instructional approach that invited students to create infographics as part of the writing process helped them make rhetorical moves like attending to audience, organizing ideas, focusing on key points, and creating a conclusion. One student reported that, “creating my infographic made me realize what I really wanted to focus on.” A second theme that emerged concerned the way that infographics reduced the cognitive load associated with writing. Specifically, this instructional approach lessened students’ linguistic constraints. One student reported, “I was able to get the point without having to worry about sounding very scholarly.” A third theme concerned the lessening of affective constraint (i.e., writing anxiety). To students, developing infographics was “new, but a lot of fun.” and “made [a student] feel confident going into the research paper.”


The results of this study have both practical and theoretical implications. Practically speaking, this work showcases one, free, technology-based method that educators can use to support students’ writing development when it is incorporated into a process-based approach to writing instruction. Specifically, the findings suggest that there are cognitive and affective benefits to incorporating infographics into a process-based writing instructional approach at the undergraduate level. The theoretical implications of this study concern the ways that semiotic tools (i.e. infographics) offload the cognitive constraints of writing as well as the ways that these tools influence writing affect.


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Dr. Penelope Collins, University of California Irvine
Undarmaa Maamuujav, University of California, Irvine
Graduate student

Dr. Jenell Krishnan, UC Irvine
Graduate student

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