Visual aids have always been an essential part of technical writing. With the advent of graphics programs for personal computers, writers have available a number of choices for using visual aids. Computers easily convert data to many kinds of visuals. The bar graphs, line graphs, and pie charts (Figures 7.1 to 7.6) shown in this chapter are all computer-generated. This chapter explains a number of different types of visual aids, shows how to discuss them in the document, and tells when to use them.

Three basic types of visual aids are tables and graphs, illustrations, and charts.

Guidelines for Effective Visual Aids

These six guidelines provide a framework for incorporating visual aids into a document. Later sections of the chapter explain which types of visual aids to use and when to use them.

  1. Construct high-quality visual aids, using clear lines, words, numbers, and organization. Research shows that the quality of the visual aid is the most important factor in its effectiveness.Identify all visual aids as either tables or figures. Anything that is not a table is a figure – no matter what form it takes. In formal situations, place numbers and titles directly above tables and directly below figures. For informal situations, you may place the titles (and numbers if you use them) above or below, whichever seems clearer.
  2. Make sure a visual conveys only one point. If you include too much data, readers cannot grasp the meaning readily. Do not clutter a visual aid with too many words or lines, causing it to lose its visual quality and impact. Integrate visual aids into the report at logical and convenient places. As a general rule, place illustrations in the middle of or after your discussion them.
  3. Refer to each visual aid in the text, (usually by number, e.g. “see Figure I”), even if the illustration is right beside or below your discussion of it, and explain or interpret each one.