Writing for Business and Industry



Graphics and Visuals

This section covers using graphics (figures and tables) in text. In general, everything that isn't a table is a figure.

Graphs and data presentation

In most instances, you have main 4 different way of presenting a set of numbers.

  Trial 1 Trial 2
Frank 304 234
Joan 302 286
Phillip 493 239


For data that must have exact values. People have a hard time getting trend information out of tables

Bar graph.

For discrete data.

The way to determine the choice between bar graphs and line is not which you think look best. Use bars when there is no meaning to the values between the points. Use a line graph for contineous data. Consider an example that shows salary by department. The line graph makes no sense because there is not value for a point between any of the department points.

Line graph.

For continuous data. It makes sense to ask what the value is at any point on the line. For example, iif the data plotted shows the relationship between voltage and resistance, any voltage value could be evaluated, not just the points at which values were recorded.

Pie graph.

For showing percentage that is parts of a whole. The parts must add up to 100% and it must make sense to think about it that way. For example, how a budget was spent.



Graph design

All graphs must have a title at the top. The title given in the figure caption is not sufficient. The title should reflect the content of the graph. Also, be sure to label the X and Y axis. A reader must be able to understand the graph without reading the text.

Excel has a habit of putting a Series box on each graph, which it defaults to a name of "Series 1", etc.. If there are more than one set of data being graphed, the series box is good, but must be labeled properly.. If there is only one, the remove it. This example shows both the series box and the title. In this case the series box should have been removed.

When you create graphics, make sure you control the graphing program; it must not control you, nor must it control how the data is presented. Graphs with elements like the "Series 1" on this graph show the writer didn't understand the program and brings into question the quality of the data.

Graphs should be drawn at a size that makes sense for their content. Many graph packages default to full page size. Yet, if the graph only had 6 bars, like the example above, then making it fill a page is a waste of paper. It doesn't need to be much larger than it appears here.

Writing about graphics information

When you write in the text about the information in a graph, summarize the information and tell the reader what they should get out of the graph. DO NOT simply repeat the information in text form. The reader can read that. You placed the graph into the document for a specific reason; by telling the reader what to look at and how to interpret the data, you ensure they get out of the graph what you want.

In this graph, notice how the following 2 paragraphs are very different in their write up of the information. The first one just tells what the graph says, the second one interpets the information and uses it as part of the arguement being made. After reading the first paragraph, the reader now knows that page count increased (so what). In the second, the reader understands what the page increase really means.

Paragraph 1 (don't explain graphs like this)

During the past four years the number of pages produced monthly by each writer has increased. In 1991, we produced 40 pages per month, in 1992 the production was 44 pages, in 1993 it was 55 pages, in 1994 it jumped to 58 pages, and in 1995 production was 60 pages per month. Figure 1 shows this change.

Paragraph 2 (explain graphs like this)

Figure 1 reveals a steady increase in page production. During the past four years the number of pages produced monthly by each writer has continued to increase at a rate of about 2 pages per year. Growing from 40 pages per month in 1991 to 60 pages per month in 1995. The jump between 1992 and 1993 occurred when we switched to Frame.


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