63 Incorporating Text into Graphics

Graphics can be very beneficial in supporting text: A good graphic can help you separate numbers from text or can help you reduce the number of words you need to describe something. But graphics can ruin a document if not used correctly. I’d like to discuss some additional points about graphics in the next few paragraphs.

First of all, let’s separate documents into three categories: object, symbolic and abstract.

Objective graphics depict reality. When you look at an objective graphic, you clearly see the object you are depicting. Photographs are the most obvious form of object graphic. Most of the time, photos show the reader a clear image of what the writer is providing. They are good for helping to reduce the amount of descriptive words in a document: a picture says a thousand words, after all. Illustrations can also be objective, but remember, they have to visually represent the object they are portraying.


Symbolic graphics, naturally, symbolize reality. That’s why illustrations don’t always have to be objective. A graphic artist can distort an illustration to emphasize a point. Caricatures, for instant, do not depict reality. They resemble people, but noses or eyes or ears stand out to symbolize a point. Maps are examples of symbolic graphics. The lines for states and roads and cities are all symbolic of what is really there. Topographic maps, however, that actually show the terrain and not human-made objects, are more objective. Legends are often symbolic. In a map of Lake Champlain depicting marinas, the marina locations might be symbolized by a triangle.


Abstract graphics, in a nutshell, are everything else. More specifically, abstract graphics are charts, tables, graphs, graphics that pull numbers out of text. They are very useful because lots of figures in text can become confusing and lost. A pie chart or bar graph, used correctly, can do wonders in presenting figures clearly.


Let’s talk about the placement of graphics. As I said, they can ruin a document if they are not done well.


……….*Use graphics that are perceptible. They should be separated from the text with white space. Some kind of border, ruled lines perhaps, can help keep graphics separate from text, so they can be easier to see and understand. They should be large enough for your audience to understand. I once saw a photo in the local newspaper depicting about 100 former Oscar winners. The picture was so small that you couldn’t make out any of the faces. It was basically a wasted photo.

……….*Make your graphics accessible. They should be as close to the text that they are referring to as possible. They should always be on the same page as the related text, unless you are dealing with a folded text (like a book) and the graphic is on the facing page. If you are using many graphics in a document, you should use an appendix to place them all in one section.

……….*Clearly label your graphics. Study graphics in textbooks, newspapers and magazines and see how objects in graphics are labeled. Lines are neat and definable and clearly point to the objects they are defining. Language used is not complex but easy to understand upon viewing the graphic.

……….*Integrate your graphics into the document. Callouts (See Graphic A, See Table I) should be used in the text, and the graphic should be labeled clearly (Graphic A, Table I). Labels used in the graphic should match wording in the text. If you call it an antenna in your text, don’t refer to it as a aerial receiver in the graphic.

……….*Use graphics that are easy to understand. I have seen plenty of bad graphics made by professionals who did not do a good job with explaining the content of the graphic. Don’t let jargon from your field overwhelm the graphic. Use simple, clear language.

……….*Choose graphics that are relatively easy and inexpensive to prepare. Remember, you’re creating these documents for organizations, and cost is always an issue. Don’t let the graphic overwhelm the project.


Finally, this is not a course in computer graphics. We will be doing the written portion of documents, but we can also judge what kinds of graphics might make the documents better. Although I won’t be assigning you to create specific graphics, feel free to consider the use of graphics, what you might tell the graphic designer in your company what you would like to accompany your document.


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