One of the nice things about technical writing courses is that most of the papers have graphics in them—or at least they should. A lot of professional, technical writing contains graphics—drawings, diagrams, photographs, illustrations of all sorts, tables, pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, flow charts, and so on. Once you get the hang of putting graphics like these into your writing, you should consider yourself obligated to use graphics whenever the situation naturally would call for them.

Unlike what you might fear, producing graphics is not such a terrible task—in fact, it's fun. You don't have to be a professional graphics artist or technical draftsperson to get graphics into your technical writing. The Internet has advanced our sources for graphics immensely. And, if you are still living the 1970s, you can produce professional-looking graphics with tape, scissors, white-out, and a decent photocopying machine.

Graphics—an overview

Before getting into details on creating, formatting, and incorporating graphics, consider the types and their functions. You can use graphics to represent the following elements in your technical writing:

Drawings, diagrams, photos

To depict objects, place, people and relationships between them, you can use photos, drawings, diagrams, and schematics.

Uses of illustrations and photos. In the realm of illustrations and photographs, the types run from minimal detail to maximal. A simple line drawing of how to graft a fruit tree reduces the detail to simple lines representing the hands, the tools, the graft stock, and graft. Diagrams are a more abstract, schematic view of things, for example, a wiring diagram of a clock radio; it hardly resembles the actual physical thing at all. And of course photographs provide the most detail of all. These graphics, supplying gradations of detail as they do, have their varying uses. Here are some examples:

Formatting requirements. When you use an illustration in a report, there are several requirements to keep in mind (most of these are shown in this illustration):

Producing illustrations. Now for the question we're all waiting to ask—how to create graphics? There are several options: scanning, photocopying, using computer graphics, and hand-drawing. In all of these production methods, don't forget that you must indicate the source of the borrowed graphic.

See the discussion on indicating the source of borrowed information and the following example.

Elements of a pictorial graphic. You can use a simpler means of indicating the source. If you use the number system, the citation might simply be [5] without the entire source phrase.

Documenting graphics—indicating sources

As mentioned earlier, it's perfectly legal to borrow graphics—to trace, photocopy, scan, or extract subsets of data from them. But you're obligated to cite your sources for graphics just as you are for the words you borrow. Normally, this is done in the figure title of the graphics. Check the example in the schematic illustration. For details on the contents of the source citation, see the section documentation.

Guidelines for graphics—a review

The preceding sections state a number of common guidelines that need to be stated all in one place. These are important!