Graphics in Business Writing, Technical Communication

Grammatical and Rhetorical Glossaries

Focused businesswoman working at laptop in dark office.
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards / Getty Images

In business writing and technical communication, graphics are used as visual representations to support the text in a report, proposal, set of instructions, or similar documents.

Types of graphics include charts, diagrams, drawings, figures, graphs, maps, photographs, and tables.

Etymology: From the Greek, "writing"

"Successful visuals integrate substance, statistics, and design to achieve four principles: clarity, precision, efficiency, and integrity. The best visuals give the viewer the greatest number of ideas as quickly as possible in the least amount of space."
(John M. Penrose, Robert W. Rasberry, and Robert J. Myers, Business Communication for Managers: An Advanced Approach, 5th ed. Thomson, 2004)

Criteria for Effective Graphics

Whether hand drawn or computer generated, successful tables and figures have these characteristics (From Sharon Gerson and Steven Gerson, Technical Writing: Process and Product, 5th ed. Pearson, 2006):

  1. Are integrated with the text (i.e., the graphic complements the text; the text explains the graphic).
  2. Are appropriately located (preferably immediately following the text referring to the graphic and not a page or pages later).
  3. Add to the material explained in the text (without being redundant).
  4. Communicate important information that could not be conveyed easily in a paragraph or longer text.
  5. Do not contain details that detract from rather than enhance the information.
  6. Are an effective size (not too small or too large).
  7. Are neatly printed to be readable.
  8. Are correctly labeled (with legends, headings, and titles).
  9. Follow the style of other figures or tables in the text.
  1. Are well conceived and carefully executed.

Benefits of Graphics

"Graphics offer benefits that words alone cannot:

  • Graphics are indispensable in demonstrating logical and numerical relationships[. . .]
  • Graphics can communicate spatial information more effectively than words alone.
  • Graphics can communicate steps in a process more effectively than words alone[. . .]
  • Graphics can save space[. . .]
  • Graphics can reduce the cost of documents intended for international readers. . . .

As you plan and draft your document, look for opportunities to use graphics to clarify, emphasize, and organize information."
(Mike Markel, Technical Communication, 9th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010)

Also Known As: visual aids, visuals