ITS 311: IT Communications

Chapter 3: Utilizing Graphics and Other Visuals


This chapter discusses the use of charts, graphs, and pictures. Objectives important to this chapter:

  1. Purpose of Graphics
  2. General Conventions
  3. Uses for charts, graphs, and tables

Chapter 3 begins with a discussion of effective use of graphics. Several reasons are given for their use:

  • To increase reader comprehension
  • To provide reference material
  • To provide an easy comparison of numeric data
  • To provide numeric data that is only summarized in the text
  • To add variety to your message

A technical writer will find it worth the time to learn to use standard graphic creation software. Some industry standard packages are mentioned: Adobe Photoshop, JASC Paint Shop (now owned by Corel), CorelDRAW, and Adobe Illustrator. These are examples, and not the only choices you might make in purchasing graphic programs. Be aware that the standard graphs described in the chapter are typically created with spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Excel. Graphs created in such programs may be saved as graphic art, but they are typically made in spreadsheets for easy recalculation when data elements change.

General advice about graphics is given:

  • Don't put too much or too little information in a graphic. It must hold enough information to be worth using, but not so much that it becomes confusing.
  • Graphics should have titles for two reasons: to explain what they are about, and to act as a label so you can refer to them in the text.
  • Acknowledge the source of graphics you do not make yourself, as you should with all elements from others.

Some advice about various types of graphs:

  • Use bar charts to show numeric differences visually, such as differences in scores, performance, or events.
  • Use line charts to show changes in values across time, or as influenced by another variable.
  • Use pie charts only when showing values that add up to one hundred per cent of something.
  • Use flow charts to show steps in a process, especially when those steps can flow in circular paths.
  • Use organization charts to show relationships.

Some advice about graphics, drawings, and pictures:

  • Use exploded view drawings to show the various parts of a device.
  • Use line drawings with labels to clearly indicate particular features of devices.
  • Use photographs to show what an object actually looks like.

In any instance of using illustrations, remove items from the picture that do not contribute to the lesson, or that would offend the audience. If you are using actual photographs, this may mean taking a new photograph without the unnecessary elements.