How to use infographics like a scientist

By Kerri Wingert - November 2015


Polman, J. L., & Gebre, E. H. (2015). Towards critical appraisal of infographics as scientific inscriptions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(6), 868–893.

Research Design 

This study ultimately sought to inform efforts to design learning environments with infographics. To that end, the researchers asked, “How do different groups of experts appraise science infographics?” Polman and Gebre interviewed 10 professionals with expertise in three fields: science (N = 4), science graphic design (N = 3), and representations in STEM education (N = 3). Each participant interpreted and evaluated two infographics, such as Dirty Water and Animals in the House . Interviews lasted 39 minutes on average. The researchers transcribed each interview and qualitatively coded the interview responses for the kinds of practices the professionals used.

Research Findings

The authors found that the individuals appraised science infographics with respect to five broad categories:

  1. The infographics’ purpose or message
  2. Their relevance to their audience
  3. The quality of their organization and design
  4. Their use of representations
  5. The quality of their data

Polman and Gebre then frame these five categories in three broader dimensions:

Theoretical Basis

Polman and Gebre base their work on sociocultural theories of learning, which posit that groups of people use language to build cultural communities of mutual understanding, called “discourse communities.” They argue that infographics are a part of the cultural discourse that science communities can use in their practice. Thus, teaching people how to use infographics is a necessary part of bringing them into scientific discourse communities.

Implications for Practice

The authors highlight the following implications for how educators could use infographics to support students in scientific practices such as question formulation, explanation, and communication.

Educators could:

Learners could:

Finally, the authors caution that this work is an introductory study in the nascent field of infographics communication. More research is needed to fully understand how to teach learners to interpret, create, or work with infographics.

Related Briefs:

  • Chen, M. (2011). Comics and sequential art can be productive tools for science education: An ISE research brief discussing Tatalovic’s "Science comics as tools for science education and communication: A brief, exploratory study."
  • Matson, C. (2013). Using creativity to fuel physics teaching and learning: An ISE research brief discussing van der Veen, “Draw your physics homework? Art as a path to understanding in physics teaching.”
  • King, H. (2011). Visual and spatial thinking in science: An ISE research brief discussing Ramadas’ "Visual and spatial modes in science learning."