No introduction is required – we’ve all heard “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But we shouldn’t parrot information without confirmation; it’s time for an empirical validation!

First I performed a search for the phrase “a picture is owrth [sic] a thousand words” and copied the main text of the first three results into a text document, with the words “And finally some short filler to bring this text exactly to the required thousand-word count.” appended in order to bring the text exactly to the required thousand-word count. Then I grabbed an image result for the same phrase for comparison.

It doesn’t look good for the old proverb:

screenshot of a file browser.
at top, "a_picture.jpg" is 102 kilobytes. beneath, "a_thousand_words.txt" is 6 kilobytes.
a picture worth 17 thousand words

So there you have it. A 600px JPEG is worth 17 thousand-word text documents.

Wait. What if we used different algorithms? Lower the quality of the JPEG, use a more bloated text format…

"a_thousand_words.docx" is 16 kilobytes, "low_quality.jpeg" is 55 kilobytes

Getting there…

"a_thousand_words.doc" is 33 kilobytes, "very_low_quality.jpeg" is 34 kilobytes


So there you have it. A highly-compressed picture is worth a thousand words of a decades-old document format.

An image with compression artefacts, depicting a man amongst walls of paper inside a head silhouette. Underneath is written "A picture" and in smaller text beneath that the words "Is worth a thousand words"
For posterity, here’s “very_low_quality.jpeg”