Charts And The Technical Writer

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    One of the most essential components of a document is charts. As Technical Writers, we always write concisely, and clearly, but there will be times, when we need the assistance of charts to communicate what was written. Whether it’s for qualitative or quantitative explanations we sometimes need charts to truly present the whole picture. There are many types of charts.

    • Graphic Charts are great at immediately presenting visual quantitative analyses at one glance. We use bar, pie, line, graph, spacial charts to show percentages, amounts of data, comparisons, changes in data, compositions, etc.
    • Charts are effective for organizational charts by displaying the chain of command within a company. They are also known as hierarchical charts when we need to describe data structures.
    • Pyramid shaped charts are used to show relevancy (most to least valuable assets), how one moves from top to bottom, or for showing relationships of how one element is connected to another.
    • Gantt charts are used for scheduling project start and finish dates (managing project time lines), problem areas, different tasks, historical events and how one project might lead to another or intersect.
    • Flow charts show how one occurrence leads to another. It clearly defines what occurs at various stages of an event. As an example, for any complex process, break it down into components. For each component, you can again simplify it further. When the images cannot fit on a sheet of paper or on one screen, you can use numbers or alphabets to point to another location to continue the diagram.

    Charts are one the most common graphics. The type of chart you are going to use depends on what you need to define, explain or outline to the audience. Make sure it’s applicable, meaningful, and clear. Some graphic designs are more flexible than others. As a simple example, to show percentages, a pie chart would be appropriate, but you could also have used a scatter diagram with characters or figures instead to provide more interest. Scatter diagrams unlike the pie chart, can be used to also show a comparison over time using different colors for each entity. For this example, you could also have applied a line graph and blend colors using another graphic pattern to display overlaps. The best graphic image to use to get your explanation across to the audience is up to you.

    To make it more appealing, think of how you would like to see the data and how the audience would like to see it.

    • Sometimes adding pictures of items or subjects are helpful to make the chart or image more appealing.
    • Use color, but not too much as it can cause confusion.

    As a final note: There are a number of open source applications or tools which can be used to help you display your data. Make use of these tools and suggestions to clarify your document.