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.

Twitter Gives It To Us Straight (Sort of)

Delivering bad new is always a tricky proposition.

In October 2015, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, announced layoffs of over 300 people.  He says that he’s going to  “give it to us straight,” but it sure seems to me that he uses a classic indirect approach.

Please read carefully.  Though Jack Dorsey is in a position of power and therefore can “get away” with a bluntness that many of us can’t, there is much that we can learn from this message, I think.  But then, is he really being blunt?

I would love to know what you think – how would you feel about Jack Dorsey if you received this message?  About Twitter?  What techniques used in this letter would you emulate?  Or avoid?

Read more:

The Best Lists

Here’s a list of ways to make your lists great (again). (sorry).

The best lists:

  • Are shorter lists.  Most people can only remember 5-9 items easily.  If you have 10 or more items in your list, break them into categories or topics.
  • Are parallel in grammatical structure.  Fancy-sounding term, but it simply means that each item is phrased the same way.  If your items are verb phrases (-preheat the oven, -melt the butter), make them all the same form.  Same with noun phrases (-decision techniques, -effective strategies).
  • Deserve a lead-in. Most lead-ins consist of a grammatically complete clause followed by a colon.

    All lists deserve a lead-in

  • Are well-punctuated.   Rules for punctuating lists can vary (your organization may have a preferred style), but for the most part punctuate your lists like this.

    For items written as phrases, use a lowercase letter at the start. Do not use a period or a comma at the end.

    For items written as complete sentences, punctuate just like any other sentence.

    Phrases and sentences?  Start each phrase with an uppercase letter and end it with a period. Begin the complete sentences with uppercase letters and end them with periods. Use italics to emphasize the phrases.

  • Are aligned visually. In most lists, the second and subsequent lines, called turnovers, align under the first letter of the first line, highlighting the bullet or number to the left of the text. This hanging indentation helps the reader see and understand the organization of the passage.

How To Write With Flair

Five Ways to Write with Flair

By Heather Holleman, Ph.D.

Most of us will have thousands of occasions for writing in the next year: emails, text messages, resumes, blog entries, cover letters, articles, love letters, essays, reports, memos, or our next big novel. How do we make our writing interesting to our audience? With flair!
It’s easy. I know 5 methods. Ready?

1. Choose a verb with flair.

Eliminate feeble verbs (am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, seems, appear, exists). These verbs don’t show anything happening. Use exciting verbs. I love verbs like grapple and fritter. Grapple with strong verbs to fritter away the feeble ones.

2. Toggle between the Big 5 punctuation marks. 

When you want to create complexity and voice in your writing, try using the Big 5: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, and comma.

Here’s how:

To highlight a part of your sentence–like this one–use dashes. Dashes shout. On the other hand, if you want to whisper and share a secret with an audience (like this one), use parentheses. Parentheses whisper. Semicolons confuse most; they unite full sentences that belong together because the second sentence explains or amplifies the first. Commas help the reader along by following introductory clauses, or they combine two sentences when you want to use a conjunction like and, but, for, or, nor, so (commas can be really hard unless you had grammar instruction as a kid). Finally, the colon designates that a list or definition will follow.

So the Big 5 include: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma.

3. Vary the length of your sentences and change the way they start to create rhythm.

See sample paragraph above.

4. Garnish your paragraph with some clever wordplay if you can.

Common cleverness in writing includes: puns, repeated first words, self-answering questions, understatement, just being funny, just being YOU. However, avoid overused expressions and clichés.

5. Engage your audience.

Establish rapport by talking to them. Are you wondering how this works? Just notice them in your writing (like I just did). Make it obvious that you are talking to people.

Try these simple things to create some flair in your writing today. Enjoy some written flair.

Dr. Heather Holleman


Dr. Heather Holleman is a successful author, inspirational speaker and Penn State writing instructor.  Her book Writing With Flair was published in 2011.


The Curse of Knowledge

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language.

The Curse of Knowledge


Visual from Communication Fundamentals with John Ullman.

In our last class period, we discussed the “Intent-Impact Gap,”  or the disconnect between what we want our audience to think, feel and do, and what they actually think feel and do.

We have experienced examples of this gap in our own communication, both professionally and personally.

Now, Chip and Dan Heath of the Harvard Business Review discuss the science behind the intent-impact gap.  A simple tapping exercise reveals a communication phenomenon, labeled the “Curse of Knowledge.” 

I would love to know your thoughts.  Please read and comment.

The Irresistible Power of Storytelling

People think it’s all about sex or humor or animals, but what we’ve found is that the underbelly of a great commercial is whether it tells a story or not.

Keith Quesenberry, researcher, Johns Hopkins Center for Leadership Education.

Want to sell a product?  Want to explain a complex idea?  Want your audience to actually remember what you said?

Consider using classic storytelling techniques.

These techniques are ancient – dating back to Aristotle – and include literary terms like exposition, complication, climax, reversal and denouement.  Simplified, great storytelling includes a likable main character, some sort of action or complication and a result or ending.

The best stories use concrete language and images, instead of abstract ideas.  They show, rather than tell.

In this article published by the Harvard Business Review, the science behind why people react so strongly to stories is explained, beginning with why Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” ad scored top marks in USA Today’s Ad Meter and Hulu’s Ad Zone as a fan favorite during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Please read and comment.