Technical Writing



Communicating information with visuals



Week 1 -- Visuals readings

Week 2 -- Visuals readings

Week 3 -- Visuals readings

Week 4 -- Visuals readings


The formatting and information access of your answers matter in this assignment. In technical communication, how you present an answer is as important as what you present. A single paragraph with all the information jumbled together is not readable.

Week 1.


Explain what is wrong with each of the following figure captions. Since you don't have the graphics, you can't actually write the corrected caption.  Note that issues of punctuation (Figure 3: or Figure 2. or Fig 4.) are style guide issues and not of concern here.

a.     Figure 3. Members of the news media during a long session as they learned the skills required of firefighters.
b.    Fig 3 Salary bar chart.
c.     Figure B: A photograph of Phillip during training exercises. The children wrote an informative caption for this photo.
d.    Figure 1: Ice cream texture of (A) liquid nitrogen, (B) hand-crank, and (C) electronic machine made ice-cream.
      Notice the lack of ice crystals (arrows) in the liquid nitrogen and hand crank preparations.
e.     Figure 1. Program flowchart.

Week 2.


Here's two variations in information presentation that are trying to communicate essentially the same message.

How does audience affect which is more effective?

What factors would drive your choices in which variation to use? What would the main communication goal be that would influence your choice.

How can both of them be improved?


The text is blurry because of the copy & the resize. It was clear in the orginial and isn't an issue in this analysis.

You can also think in terms of converting the poster into an image you could show on a page.



This text contains two tables that can either be reformatted into a better table or converted in a graph.

a. Create the a appropriate table or graph. You need to properly number figures and tables and convert the word GRAPHIC as needed to either table or figure and write a good caption that is properly placed.

b. Explain your choices.


Note that this not homework and is worth 15% of your grade. The formatting and information access of your answers matter in this assignment.

Look at technical documents or other types of printed or web materials that use visuals to convey information. Find a 5 different documents that use visuals that are distinct in type (eg, one pie chart, one cut-away diagram, one bar graph etc); three should demonstrate an effective use of the visual, while two should demonstrate a confusing or inaccurate use. You must submit an image of the visuals (screen capture, photo from your phone, etc).

Write up an explanation of why you have chosen the visual and do an analysis of what makes it effective/non-effective. Include suggestions about what changes would make it a better visual. The write up should include multiple citations from the course readings.


Discussion questions

Week 1


Find two sources (outside of the class readings) that discuss how to create and/or use a specific type of visual. Write up a summary of their advice, including where they contradict each other.

Note this is about a specific type (for example, how to create pie charts). It is not a critique of two general "how to use graphics" articles.

Week 2


A research study has found that when the text and the visual disagree, people tend to remember the visual. Likewise, if a text contains contradictory information and a visual contains contradictory information (information just within the text/visual), people will see the problem in a visual and not in the text.

What factors could explain this type of response? Besides the obvious, "don't make mistakes" how can this influence how you create a document that integrates text and visuals?

Week 3


Various emergency management groups create documents that explain risks for weather events. These can be either longer term "how to make sure you are ready for a snow storm this winter", or short term "A hurricane will hit in about six days." These documents contain lots of probability information and good advice. Yet, it seems most people ignore it. Such as when people just shrug and refuse to leave the coast during a hurricane evacuation.

What factors could explain this type of response? How does confirmation bias play into it? If you are creating the document, how do you have allow for the audience and still spur them to perform the needed actions.


One of the readings discussed the visual design of hipmunk.com. Play with setting up a flight from RDU to LAX using hipmunk and some other travel sites (expedia, Travelocity, American airlines, etc).

Does hipmunk's design work better than the other? Why or why not? Any design has trade-offs: what do you lose with the hipmunk design?

Week 4


What is meant when I said that you need to tell a story? We are discussing technical documentation, not fiction. How does both reader and writer responsibility come into play? How does telling a story fit into the podcast on providing digestible size pieces?





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