A while back, I wrote an ebook for Meltwater called “In-Sourcing Your Content,” with advice on how to empower team members within your company to write great pieces of content.

The good news is, people liked it enough that I was asked to transform the book into an infographic.

The bad news is, um, how do you do that? My book was something like 14 trillion words–how do you get that down to something fun and visual, yet digestible?

Well, having struggled through the process, I thought it useful to share what I learned along the way.

First, let’s assume you’ve written an informative, useful piece of content.

Where do you go from there?

1. Decide why you need an infographic.

At this point, you’ve no doubt seen all sorts of infographics. There are silly ones, promotional ones, educational ones, or, in rare cases, an infographic you might want to hang up as a poster for its beauty. Or maybe because it contains information you’d like to consult on a regular basis.

For the one I made, I wanted it to be educational–some people will have no idea about in-sourcing before seeing the infographic, so it’s important to introduce the idea. But mostly it gave tips in a digestible format. That way, if someone wanted to start in-sourcing content, they would have the most pertinent tips right there in one place, rather than having to comb through a whole ebook to find everything.

2. Reverse-engineer an outline.

If you’re anything like me, when you start writing a piece, you might put together an outline of all the main points to cover, and sub-points to support them.

Now, let’s reverse that process. Take the text of your long-form piece, and start breaking it up into sections, sub-sections, supporting content, and on and on. If it helps, you can even give them titles, labels, and summaries: this is the central idea, this is a supporting anecdote, this is advice, etcetera. We can visualize this. Divide a section of content into the main idea and supporting points, with titles/labels for each.

Your end goal is to have the whole piece broken up into sections, each with an easily identifiable purpose.

3. Edit, then edit some more!

It’s not easy to let go of words you spent hours sweating over, but make sacrifices in the name of infographic goodness. Here are tips for hacking away bulky content, so you’re left with the best:

3a. Lose stuff that runs counter to your goal in #1.

This one should be done pretty quickly. You’ve already decided the infographic’s purpose; some of the things you wrote aren’t helping with that. Kill them. Kill them with fire.

So, with my piece, for instance, in the original ebook, I spent a lot of time going into why you’d want to in-source content. That wasn’t my goal for this infographic, though–giving advice is–so that section is an easy cut!

3b. Break remaining text into 2-line chunks.

OK, those off-topic cuts helped, but even with the pertinent bits, there’s still tons of stuff remaining. No problem! Here’s a rule to narrow things down:

1. Break up individual paragraphs into main points–no more than 2 or 3 chunks per paragraph.

2. Next, get those chunks down to 2 lines of text each–or less. No exceptions! Cut detail, combine ideas, do what it takes. Be a stickler.

Pretty soon you’ll be down to a barebones outline comprised of digestible chunks of information.

4. Start thinking visually!

OK, you’ve edited the text. Great! But, a page full of short sentences does not an infographic make. Next, go through the content and rework it into visual data.

Things to Look for:

  • How-Tos and Processes: Divide these into numbered steps, with headings, and instructions for each.
  • Series and Lists: If you’re listing examples, turn them into bullets!
  • Comparisons: Comparing 2 or more things? Do it with a chart or table.
  • Long Descriptions: Are you using detailed text to describe something? Could an image be used instead?
  • Main points: Highlight them in big, bold text.
  • Quotes and Statistics: Give them some room to breathe! Use block quotes, graphs, and flashy numbers!
  • Fun Facts and Asides: Create a sidebar where they have room to shine on their own.

There are design elements you can add to jazz it up:

Play with font sizes and styles–what phrases, titles, or words do you want to stand out? What text should be big and bold?

Ponder images to support text–Add notes to the infographic outline with imagery ideas. Or, if you’re feeling especially visual, drop in sample images or sketches that convey the story.

As you make progress, a good gut check is to print out what you’ve done so far, take a few steps back, and look at the document as a whole. It won’t be anything close to a final infographic, of course, but you can start to see bigger trends. Like, “Hmm, we’re getting a little text-heavy here. What can we add or change to break that up some?”

4a. Brush up on your graphic design know-how.

Even if you’re not a designer, brushing up on the basics of what graphic design can do will serve you well in taking part in an infographic design process. Chip Kidd, an amazing book designer (he did the cover for Jurassic Park, among many other things) wrote two books—The Cheese Monkeys and Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design—that completely changed the way I think about design.

5. Team up with a designer.

OK, you’ve done due diligence and put together a good draft, but no one works in a vacuum. Time to bring in an expert. The infographic designer will have valuable ideas, some you may not have considered, including additional charts, clearer images, and different ways to visualize information. This opportunity to collaborate with a designer on an infographic iteration will allow design magic to bubble to the surface.

Well, this should be enough to get you started! If you have questions about how to transform content into amazing infographics, or any tips not mentioned here, feel free to hit us up on twitter!