Creating Effective Figures

by My Web Writers

The Importance of Graphs, Figures, and Charts:

The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true in technical and business writing.  I remember slaving away on my undergraduate thesis paper on solar thermal power plants.  After writing vigorously for countless hours and meticulously grooming the paper, I scheduled an appointment to review it with my professor.  To my astonishment, he’d not read a single sentence of my work!  In front of me he read the abstract and paged through the figures.  He didn’t read one ounce of the thesis body.  I was heart broken.  Then, it hit me- not a soul on this green earth would ever read my thesis paper.  In an instant, I realized the importance of effectively presenting figures and graphs in all documents.

Figures are Summations of the Whole:

Many CEO’s and supervisors do not have time to thoroughly read the countless number of reports that are presented on a daily basis.  It’s imperative to use figures and graphs to communicate ideas.  The following guidelines will help you to produce effective figures in your reports:

  • Each figure you use should be vital to your story.
  • If you do not talk about the figure in the text of your report, omit the figure.
  • Make sure your axes are clearly labeled with appropriate units.
  • Use flowcharts to display procedures.
  • Use graphs to display data.
  • Insert captions underneath your figures and appropriately cross reference these captions in the text of your report.

Good figures take time to create. They are intricate; yet easy to understand. Figure 1 displays Napoleon’s march to Moscow. The figure shows Napoleon’s army starting at 422,000 and ending with 10,000. The figure displays the diminishing army, the location of the army, time, and temperature. It creatively shows a variety of information in a clear and concise way. As the thickness of the figure decreases, so Napoleon’s army dies out. Corresponding to the depleting army is the drop in temperature as they travel closer to Moscow. The figure is complex yet clear. In your reports, strive to create effective figures such as Napoleon’s march.

Figure 1: Napoleon’s March Charles Minard’s Carte Figurative, 1869

Effective figures most definitely enhance reports and white papers.  Add figures, graphs, and charts to visually communicate your brightest ideas and the boss will take note.

~Mike

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