Visual Display and Presentation

Visual Display and Presentation
Instead of obscuring important data in the text of your report, create an appropriate visual to emphasize it
and to help your readers process the information. According to Tufte (1983), "Graphical excellence is that
which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest
space...And graphical excellence requires telling the truth about the data."
Generally, you use a visual display of data to accomplish one or more of the following tasks:
Set off or emphasize important information or data
Make complex or detailed information accessible
Make the abstract more concrete
Symbolize a structure or organization
Condense large amounts of data
Show relationships or trends among data
Compare or contrast data
Show what something looks like
Show what percentages or proportions are assigned to the parts of a whole
Demonstrate how to do something
Illustrate how something is organized or assembled
Consider Purpose and Audience
As with anything else you include in a piece of writing, you must consider the rhetorical function -- your
purpose and audience -- when selecting and designing a visual. To help you determine your purpose for
using a visual, and to choose which visual would be most effective for your audience, read Chapter 12.
Introduce, Discuss, Interpret
Although visual displays are very effective, they cannot be dropped into your document without carefully
preparing your audience to read and understand them. Most visuals require surrounding text to aid
understanding. Make sure, then, that you interpret the visual, and explain the relationships displayed
among the data.
Place the visual close to the text which discusses it, label the visual (e.g., "Figure 1"), and cite data sources
beneath it. Refer to the visual by number and explain what readers should look for as they examine the
visual. If you are using your data to present evidence or reasons, draw some conclusions based on the data
presented in your visual. Remember: You need to introduce all visual displays, relate them to your subject,
and help your reader interpret them. For help with integrating the visual into the text of your report, read
page 517 – 518.
Types of Visuals
The four main types of visuals are tables, graphs, charts, and illustrations. Graphs, charts, and illustrations
are usually categorized as figures.
 Give a large amount of data or detailed information in a small space
 Show the characteristics of objects, ideas, or processes
 Aid item-by-item comparison
 Display exact numeric values
 Give exact values for comparison
 Show the relationships, trends, and patterns in two or more sets of data
 Support forecasts and predictions
 Help the audience interpolate or extrapolate
 Present complex information symbolically
 Interest the reader in the data or add credibility to discussion
 Show the components, chronology, or steps of a whole organization, process, mechanism, or organism
 Display the interrelationships between the components, stages, or steps
Show the actual appearance of an object or organism
Add realism of details, tone, texture, and color
Display features of objects or organisms difficult to draw
Prove something is real or exists
Drawings and Diagrams
Show the actual appearance of an object or organism
Show the physical components of mechanisms, objects, or organisms
Show generic or nonspecific objects or organisms
Show views that would be impossible to see otherwise
Preparing Data for Visual Presentation
Before you create your visual, make sure your data are complete and accurate. Organize them usefully and
meaningfully. Keep the following guidelines in mind:
Include all data available that pertain to your topic, even the data that might contradict final
Collect your data from a large enough random sample to support your recommendations and
Make sure that the data really support what you are saying
Clearly indicate the units of measurement of your data
Again, a thorough review of Chapter 12 should be of great help in designing and incorporating your visual
into your report.
Source: Lay, Mary M., et al. (1995). Technical Communication. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill
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