How to Incorporate Visuals Into Your Report

creditsuisse graphAs useful and necessary as graphics are, it is not enough to just plop them into a document.  Here is how you incorporate a graphic into your work:

Step 1: Label, number and title every graphic.  In the more technical fields, all graphics are either Tables or Figures.  Use Tables for tables (duh) and use Figures for everything else. The graphics should be numbered according to when they appear in your document (Figure 1, Figure 2 – or Table 1, 2 etc.).  Also, every graphic should have an informative title that helps the reader understand the content.

Step 2: Place the graphic in the right spot.  Usually, this means as close as possible to the text that refers to it.  If the graphic is not directly relevant, or if the graphic is so large that it interrupts the flow of your document, place it in the appendix with a reference to it in the text.

Step 3: Introduce and explain every graphic.  Don’t force your reader to do the interpretive work – explain what your graphic is doing and what the content means.  Use legends, arrows, captions – anything that will help your reader understand.  Also reference every graphic in the text either before the graphic appears or, if you are wrapping text, next to the graphic.  Avoid referencing a graphic for the first time after the graphic has already appeared.

Step 4: Document your graphics.  If you didn’t create the graphic yourself (and your company doesn’t already own it), be sure cite the source.  If you are publishing your work and the graphic is protected by copyright, you will have to get permission and possibly pay a fee.  Most style guides recommend you cite the source in both a references section and in the caption of the graphic itself.

Step 5: Make your graphic stand out.  Most graphics stand out anyway, but consider adding rules or boxes or additional spaces to distinguish your graphic from the text.  If you are writing a document with several types of graphics, consider using colored screens or filters to separate say, the pull quotes from the charts and graphs.

Step 6:  Make it easy to find your graphics.  If your document includes 3 or more graphics, include a list of illustrations just after your table of contents.

See the  2011 Credit Suisse Report on Global Wealth.pdf which illustrates almost perfectly how to incorporate charts and graphs.  It also includes some pretty awesome visuals.