A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Charts and Graphs

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Accessible Data Visualization with Web Standards

When designing interfaces for browsing data-driven sites, creating navigation elements that are also visualization tools helps the user make better decisions. Wilson Miner demonstrates three techniques for incorporating data visualization into standards-based navigation patterns.

Minor, Wilson. List Apart, A (2008). Design>Web Design>Graphic Design>Charts and Graphs


Accessible Graphs and Charts Online

Most government web writers are knowledgeable about alt-text by now... or at least semi-knowledgeable. But sometimes, alt-text is not enough.

McAlpine, Rachel. Quality Web Content (2004). Design>Accessibility>Web Design>Charts and Graphs


Affinity Diagram

The affinity diagram, or KJ method (after its author, Kawakita Jiro), wasn't originally intended for quality management. Nonetheless, it has become one of the most widely used of the Japanese management and planning tools. The affinity diagram was developed to discovering meaningful groups of ideas within a raw list. In doing so, it is important to let the groupings emerge naturally, using the right side of the brain, rather than according to preordained categories.

SkyMark (2005). Articles>Information Design>Metadata>Charts and Graphs


Affinity Diagrams

Whether you're brainstorming ideas, trying to solve a problem or analyzing a situation, when you are dealing with lots of information from a variety of sources, you can end up spending a huge amount of time trying to assimilate all the little bits and pieces. Rather than letting the disjointed information get the better of you, you can use an affinity diagram to help you organize it.

Mind Tools. Articles>Information Design>Charts and Graphs>Card Sorting


Alignment Diagrams: Focusing the Business on Shared Value

All too often companies are focused on their own processes, wrapped up in a type of organizational navel gazing. They simply don’t know what customers actually go through. What’s more, logical solutions can cross departmental lines. Ideal solutions may require crossing those boundaries. An organization’s rigid decision making makes that difficult. Here’s where I believe IAs and UX designers can use our skills to make a difference. We have the ability to understand and to map out both business processes and the user experience. Visual representations can provide new insight into solutions that appeal to a range of stakeholders. Alignment diagrams are a key tool to do this.

Kalbach, James. Boxes and Arrows (2012). Articles>Business Communication>Usability>Charts and Graphs


Better Posters: Does Embellishment Improve Graphs?

It looks like the opening (quoted above) overreaches what the study actually does. The research only looks at backgrounds, but “chart junk” comes in many other forms: pointless 3-D effects, crazy colour schemes, excessive gridlines, cutesy cartoons, and more. The summary of this research in no way provides a scientific basis to argue, “I like the 3-D effect, and science supports it’s easier to read!”

Better Posters (2009). Design>Presentations>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Bring Data to Life: Art and Information Can Complement Each Other  (link broken)

Using Photoshop, Illustrator, and Freehand to create better charts, graphs, technical diagrams.

Abes, Cathy. MacWorld (2001). Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Chart Junk? How Pictures May Help Make Graphs Better

New research shows that highly embellished graphs and charts may actually help people understand data more effectively than traditional graphs.

Science Daily. Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Choosing the Right Graph   (PDF)   (members only)

When it comes to graphing data, most professionals show little method or creativity. They typically limit themselves to a small repertoire of graph types and select from it on the basis of habit, if not sheer ease of production. Similarly, the many books on graphing devote much attention to graphical integrity and readability, but little or none to graph selection. We developed a methodology to help engineers, scientists, and managers choose the “right graph” on the basis of three criteria: the structure of the data set in terms of number and type of variables, the intended use of the graph, and the research question or intended message. The first and third criteria allow one to construct an effective two-entry selection table.

Doumont, Jean-luc and Philippe Vandenbroeck. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (2002). Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Conflicting Standards for Designing Data Displays: Following, Flouting, and Reconciling Them   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Standards for designing data displays—for example, bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, scatter plots—can be classified into four types: Conventional—emphasis on imitating generic forms that meet readers’ expectations. Perceptual—emphasis on optimizing reader behavior in accessing data visually. Informational—emphasis on transferring information clearly and concisely from designer to reader. Aesthetic—emphasis on taste, cultural values, and expressive elements. While each of these standards has merit, and some overlap occurs among them, they often conflict with each other, leaving the information designer in a quandary as to which standard to follow. Designers can resolve this dilemma by allowing the rhetorical situation—the readers of the display, its purpose, the context in which they use it—to guide the design process, telling designers when to follow, blend, or flout the standards.

Kostelnick, Charles. Technical Communication Online (1998). Design>Information Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Creating Appropriate Graphics for Business Situations  (link broken)   (members only)

Charts and graphs are ubiquitous in business documents, and most students in my business communication courses are well aware that they need to be able to create many different types of data representation. Most of them have had a great deal of experience working with spreadsheet applications, and they know how to manipulate data and present it in the various forms permitted by their software.

Katz, Susan M. Business Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Creating Effective Tables in Technical Documents

If you have ever taken courses in technical writing, creating graphics was most likely addressed. Let's review the fundamentals and then delve deeper into creating tables in a technical document. Graphics, or visual aids, are usually divided into two broad categories: tables and figures. All tables are considered tables; all other visual aids are categorized as figures.

Hibbard, Catherine S. Cypress Media Group (2010). Articles>Documentation>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Creating More Effective Graphs: Trellis Display  (link broken)   (PDF)

Trellis display is a framework for visualizing multivariate data. The outcomes collected during an early agricultural experiment on the yields of barley are displayed using Trellis, which in the case study discussed revealed an anomaly in the data which was overlooked during many conventional statistical analyses of these data.

Robbins, Naomi B. STC Proceedings (1999). Presentations>Graphic Design>Charts and Graphs


Critiquing the Culture of Computer Graphing Practices   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper is a critique of current approaches to the development of computer graphing and graph visualization programs. Developers of these programs model the user as an individual problem solver who is reliant on perceptual skills to create and interpret graphed information. Such a model of graphing is ill-suited to meet the complex needs of real users, a supposition that is supported by work in two major areas of graphing theory and research: the sociology of science and the educational research of mathematics and scientific students. These areas have not been traditionally cited when planning computer graphing or visualization programs or when assessing their usability. A review of the literature in these fields reveals that an over-reliance on a user's perceptual skills is unlikely to result in successful graph practices.

Brasseur, Lee. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


The Data Artist

Tufte shares Orwell's impatience with doublethink and humbuggery, his insight that bad thinking and bad expression travel in a pair, and his awareness that they are usually deployed in the service of some brand of propaganda.

Rosenberg, Scott. Salon (1997). Articles>Interviews>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Demonstration of the LONGDESC Attribute and the 'd' Link

When images are provided to illustrate complex ideas, the same information MUST also be provided in an accessible form.

WATS.ca (2007). Articles>Web Design>Accessibility>Charts and Graphs


Designing Effective Graphics Using MATLAB

This PowerPoint file of 40 slides explains the types of graphs (line graphs, column or bar charts, pie charts, and ribbon graphs) that may be prepared with Matlab software. It tells how to choose the right one for the type of data to be displayed, taking into consideration the engineer’s purpose, audience, and context. It also demonstrates the commands used to make the graphs legible and easy to interpret.

conneXions (2008). Presentations>Scientific Communication>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Displaying Data in Written Documents

This guide explains general rules plus specific advice for creating tables, line graphs, scatterplots, bar graphs, histograms, frequency polygons, and pie charts.

conneXions (2008). Articles>Scientific Communication>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Don't Fool with Graphs  (link broken)

Most technical writers use much more care in choosing words than in presenting numbers. The writer who presents numbers poorly loses credibility. Poorly presented numbers also cause reader misunderstanding that leads to poor decisions.

Robbins, Naomi B. MetroVoice (2002). Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Don't Fool with Graphs, Part II  (link broken)

Using evenly spaced tick marks to represent different time intervals is a common error which has been repeated several times in recent STC publications and presentations.

Robbins, Naomi B. MetroVoice (2003). Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Enhancing Your Written Works by Producing Effective Charts

Producing effective charts is essential to any document that conveys technical, scientific, or financial data. Here are four suggestions to ensure that your charts are effective and enhance rather than detract from your document.

Davidson, Jeff. Carolina Communique (2009). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Excel Pivot Tables Tutorial: What is a Pivot Table and How to Make One

Excel pivot tables are very useful and powerful feature of MS Excel. They can be used to summarize, analyze, explore and present your data.

Chandoo.org (2009). Articles>TC>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Figures  (link broken)

General guidelines for illustrative figures in technical reports.

Young, V.L. and K.J. Sampson. Ohio University (2004). Articles>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs


Flowcharting Processes and Procedures   (PDF)

This discussion offers participants an overview of what process and procedure flowchorting is in the technical communication's universe of charting. The discussion distinguishes between information for “process” verses “procedure” and from other types of information. The discussion presents standards for using basic symbols and assembling them for effective and efficient communication design. The discussion presents various styles and formats for presenting process and procedures flowcharts, along with tools and techniques for creating and using flowcharts.

Urgo, Raymond E. STC Proceedings (1994). Design>Graphic Design>Charts and Graphs


El Genoma en tu Pantalla

El proyecto genoma humano (PGH) genera un volumen de información inabordable sin el uso de medios sofisticados para su tratamiento. La visualización de información tiene aquí un gran campo de aplicación.

Dursteler, Juan Carlos. InfoVis (2002). (Spanish) Design>Graphic Design>Technical Illustration>Charts and Graphs



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