Help your readers see what you mean with informative graphics

As Forbes.com contributor Naomi Robbins says,

Despite the fact that graphs are now ubiquitous in virtually every field of business, very few people have received any training on how to read or design  a graph.

Naomi ran a graph makeover contest in which she explains why the bar graph shown here

Source: Simon Queenborough in Alternatives to the Pie/Donut Chart in the Graph Makeover Contest at Forbes.com

Source: Simon Queenborough in Alternatives to the Pie/Donut Chart in the Graph Makeover Contest at Forbes.com

is a much better choice than the original pie/donut chart: the bar graph “shows that we can draw an eye-catching, attention-getting figure without sacrificing accuracy.” Follow the link to her explanation of why the pie/donut chart is inaccurate.

Creating informative graphics is briefly explained in Chapter 5 of Revising Professional Writing in Science and Technology, Business, and the Social Sciences (3rd edition). If you’re using the book in a formal setting, you’ll find many exercises in that chapter, requiring you to practice identifying the best type of graphic and then designing and integrating it into a workplace document. But here are some additional resources to help you learn to use graphics:

  • a sample document, including both an original and revised version
  • a brief video tutorial
  • a list of research articles supporting my guidance

Enter feedback in the comments below if you have a suggestion for making these resources more helpful.

Sample Document

Take a look at page 10 in the  Outsourcing Report adapted by me based on a report produced by the Datamonitor Group (http://www.theblackbookofoutsourcing.com/). The document’s context can be described as:

  • Writer: employee in a business information and marketing analysis company
  • Readers: managers at the company’s original client, as well as at other companies that provide human resource services internationally
  • Bottom Line Message: a compilation of customer satisfaction data

Here’s a revised version of the information on page 10 of that report with more effective graphics.

Video Tutorial

The outsourcing report is included in this video about informative graphics in workplace documents. My goal is to provide a succinct (~9 minute) guide to the essentials of using graphics to inform and persuade readers at work.

Related Readings

There are posts here at Pros Write that deal with informative graphics in workplace documents. Just enter “graphics” in the search field near the top of this page. There’s so much to read in this area, it’s hard to tell you where to go. But if you want to see the research supporting my guidance, you might start with the following sources.

Amare, N. & Manning, A. (2013). A Unified Theory of Information Design: Visuals, Text & Ethics. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

Ancker, J.S. et al. (2006). Design Features of Graphs in Health Risk Communication: A Systematic Review. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 13(6),  pp. 608–618.

Tufte, E. R. (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

2 thoughts on “Help your readers see what you mean with informative graphics

  1. Great tutorial, thank you.

    We also need to remember that some people may not be able to see or understand graphics. This is why graphics should be used to enhance text, rather than replace it. If each graphic comes with a summary (in text) and/or tabular data, readers can choose the most accessible format.

    The choice of colours and adequate colour contrast in graphics and text are other considerations to accommodate readers with low vision or colour-blindness.

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