A visual is any pictorial representation that is used by the writer to clarify, explain, and support an idea. Visuals are integral part of every effective document. Correctly incorporated visuals can make a point or idea clearer and understandable which in turn make the author's message more effective. Choosing the right visual to support an idea is very important because instead of enhancing understanding they can make it more complex. For example using a line graph to represent the percentage of unemployed in a country will totally confuse the reader and will obscure the point. On contrary using a pie chart to represent the same data will be much better because with just a glance the reader will be able to get the message.

Types of visuals

There is a wide variety of visual, which are effective for different purposes. They can be divided in two major categories, functional and motivational.


The incorporation of the visual is as important for its effectiveness as its using the correct type. When preparing a document you must plan in advance where to place and reference the visuals. Visuals must be incorporated and referenced into the text.

Visuals Checklist

Sample Documents

Visuals - Tzvetin 1 Tzvetin 2

In-Class Exercise

  1. Hand out different kinds of visuals, and then ask students to answer a set of questions about the visuals. The visuals will be intentionally incomplete, so the students will be trying to find information that is not there. This will demonstrate what is the difference between good visual and bad visual.
  2. Given a document that has no visuals, the students should examine it and determine if visuals are needed. If so, they have to design the appropriate visuals and determine where is the best place to incorporate them in the document.

Sources and Links:

The University of Maine - Business, Technical and Professional Writing

University of Idaho - Advanced Technical Writing over the Web: Graphics Aids

How to Use Visuals - Private site that provides online slides with easy to follow information

Online Technical Writing - Graphics and Tables

Writing Center at Colorado State University - Writing Guides

Northern Illinois University Department of English - Using Visuals in Technical Reports

Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students from College of Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic institute and State University

Department of English, Texas Tech University - Power Point Slides on Designing Visuals prepared by Russell Willerton

For more information on visuals, including sample documents, links, and checklists see: