SIPSymbolWorldWidgit Health

Guide to Symbols:

Creating a symbol highlight


The purpose of a symbol highlight is to increase the accessibility of a section of text by communicating its main point to people who struggle with reading, using as few concepts as possible. There is a simple process for creating this symbol support:


1) Think of a ‘headline’ that will communicate the very basic message of the text you want to add symbol support to.

A symbol highlight communicates about the same amount of information as a headline would about an article in a newspaper. The fi rst step in creating a symbol highlight is to think of a ‘headline’ style sentence that communicates, in plain English, the basic message of the text you are giving symbol support to. A good place to start is to think, if you could only pass on one important piece of information to the reader, what would it be?

‘These crops are healthy and
help with a balanced diet’

example 1



2) Choose three to six symbols which could convey your ‘headline‘ in the most simple way possible.

Symbol highlights usually consist of a very short and simple sentence, with a ‘subject verb object’ formula as a minimum, which is symbolised using ‘transparent’ symbols (see Levels of symbols).

In order to choose the most appropriate symbols for your highlight, you need to think of the message the symbols illustrate as if it were a ‘formula’. Thinking of the message in this way will ensure that the symbols convey an easily understood process.

highlight example 2


It is important to think of the symbols as being independent of the text they support at this stage. Once you have chosen the symbols for your ‘formula’, you can decide on the most simple way to express the message in words. There are detailed guidelines on choosing the right symbols to illustrate your message in the ‘Meaning’ section of Symbolising your content.

Symbol highlight ona sign

On the Eden Project information display, the symbol highlight sentencereads ‘crops make medicine’, rather than ‘medicine is made from crops’. Highlights should use the most simple and concise terms possible, presented in the most clear and logical order.




3) Change the text of your ‘headline’ to fit the symbols.

When your symbol ‘formula’ is ready, think about how to phrase its message in words in the most simple way you can, to create text to display with the highlight symbols.

It is best if the order of the words in this sentence form a simple process (e.g. ‘a and b make c’), which may mean rewording your original headline.

It is important to remember that this sentence does not need to have been taken directly from the text that the symbol support is being added to; the symbol highlight ‘stands alone’ as a message about the text’s content.

highlight example 3