Visual Communication – Data and Graphics

Cite this article as:"Visual Communication – Data and Graphics," in The Business Professor, updated September 28, 2019, last accessed July 7, 2020,

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Managing Data and Using Graphics

There needs to be certain objectives for managing and utilizing the data. The information that can be quantified should be communicated effectively. The principles of ethics and effectuality can be applied by selecting a specific design and then bringing in suitable graphical representation. The graphics can be used as a visual aid in the document.

Communicating Data

Before you can interpret quantitative data, the elements must be classified summarized, and condensed into a manageable size. Statistical analysis breaks down large amounts of information and makes it easier to understand. “Common Language” reduces difficult figures to the “common denominators’ of language and ideas. Ex. fractions, ratios, and percentages. Common language involves the use of indicators other than actual count or quantity Ex. Dow Jones – provides a measure of stock market performance and is certainly easier to understand than the complete NY Stock Exchange. Remember, Reports are Communication Media and everything possible should be done to make sure communication occurs.

Using Graphic Aids

Condensing massive amounts of data into composition format is difficult and ineffective. Report writer design visually appealing graphics that is appropriate to present the relevant data in an easily understandable manner. “Graphic” is used to refer to all types of illustration used in written and spoken reports. Ex. Tables, bar charts, line charges, pie harts, pictograms, maps, flowcharts, diagrams, and photographs.

The key to preparing effective graphics is selecting an appropriate graphic for the data and developing a clean, simple design that allows the reader or audience to quickly extract needed information and meaning. Graphics have 3 purposes: Clarify, Simply, and Reinforce

Determining Whether you Need a Graphic

Is a graphic needed to clarify, reinforce, or emphasize a particular idea?

Can the material be covered adequately in words rather than in visual ways?

Does the graphic presentation contribute to the overall understanding of the idea under discussion?

Will the written or spoken text add meaning to the graphic display?

Is the graphic easily understood?

Does the graphic emphasize the key idea and spur the reader to think intelligently about this information?

Principles to Follow When Using Graphics

Avoid Chartjunk – Decorative distraction that bury relevant data. Ex. Extreme color, complicated symbols and art techniques, and unusual combinations of typefaces reduce the impact of the material presented.

Consistency – Develop a consistent design for Graphics. Be consistent with colors typefaces, 3D or flat images within a presentation.

Meaningful Titles – Use Meaningful Titles that reinforce the point you are making. Receivers can interpret the date faster when you have talking titles. Ex. “The Stock Market has Risen throughout October”

Credibility – Make certain the apparent interpretation of data seems honest. Data is easily subject to misinterpretation and can be used ineffectively or as a source of manipulation.

Types of Graphic Aids

First, identify the idea you want the receiver to understand. Select the graphic type that will depict data in the most effect manner.

Tables – A table present data in columns and row, which aid in clarifying large quantities of date in a small space. Number table and all other graphic consecutively throughout the report. Give each table a title that is complete enough to clarify what is included without forcing the reader to review the table. Label columns of date clearly enough to identify the items. Indent the second line of a labor for the rows (horizontal items) two or three spaces. Place a superscript beside an entry that requires additional explanation and include the explanatory note beneath the visual. Document the source of the data presented in a visual by adding a source note beneath the visual.

Bar Charts – This is an effective graphic for comparing quantities. Can be horizontal or vertical. Avoid visual distortion that could exaggerate the data. Position chronologically or in some other logical order. Use color to convey meaning such as using variation in color to distinguish among the bars when the bars represent different data. Avoid large surfaces of bright colors that may be tiring to the audience and detract from the data. Avoid fancy formatting such as 3D that makes values more difficult to distinguish. Function and precision are key. Keep the labeling simple to reduce clutter and increase readability. To determine labeling needs, consider the audience’ use of the data.Useful types of bar charts:

  • Grouped Bar Charts (Clustered) – Compare more than one quantity.
  • Segmented Bar Charts (Subdivided, stacked bar, or 100 percent Bar Charts) – Show how components contribute to a total figure.
  • Pictograms – uses picture or symbols to illustrate objects, concepts, or numerical values. Ex. Icons – A picture of an envelope used to represent email.
  • The Gantt Chart – Another variation of the bar chart is useful for tracking progress toward completing a series of events over time.

Line Charts – Depicts changes in quantitative data over time and illustrates trends. Use the vertical axis for amount and the horizontal axis for time. Begin the vertical axis at zero. Divide the vertical and horizontal scales into equal increments. The increments don’t have to be the same for each, but consistent throughout each one. An “Area Chart”, cumulative line chart or surface chart, is similar to a segmented bar char because it shows how different factors contribute to a total. Ex. Useful when you want to illustrate changes in the actions of visitors to a company’s website.

Pie charts – These, like segmented charts and area charts, show how the parts of a whole are distributed. Effective when showing percentages (parts of a whole), but they are ineffective in showing quantitative totals or comparisons. Position the largest slice or the slice to be emphasized at the 12 O’Clock position. Label each slice and include information about he quantitative size (percentage, dollars, etc.) of each slice. You may need to use a legend to describe each slice if a label doesn’t fit. Draw attention to one or more slices for desired emphasis. Avoid using 3D-type formatting that makes values more difficult to distinguish.

Maps – Show geographic relationship. Generally, used when the receiver isn’t familiar with the geography.

Flow Charts – A step-by-step diagram of a procedure or a graphic depiction of a system or organization. Use for long procedures or procedures that have branching decision points. Ex. Use in business hierarchy.

Incorporating Graphics in Text

Always give a text introduction to a graphic immediately preceding the positioning of the graphic. This avoids the receiver reading and perceiving the graph without explanation and forming their own conclusion without direction as to the graphic’s purpose and content.

Pattern for Incorporating Graphic into Text

The first step is to introduce the topic and identify the need for using such graphical representations. The second step focuses on showing the graphic aid following which either the sender can interpret it or let the readers do it by themselves and guide them through the process. The final step is the analysis of the data with graphic aid. For instance, in the first figure the preference for shopping locations has been shown and it displayed almost 2/3rd of the total number of customers preferred shopping in suburban locations than in cities.

Once the graphic is introduced, it should be merged with the body of the text immediately. If a writer cannot fit an entire graphic diagram in one page, then he/she will have to ensure that it appears on the top of the next page. It is advisable not to repeat what the graphic already suggests, but to explain it further while analyzing or interpreting it. The central arguments should be emphasized more. The analysis may comprise of a summary that interprets the data, comparisons related to the information presented or extension of the data into supporting concluding results or outcomes that may be speculated. It is important that the transition appears to be natural and smooth when analyzing the graphic to move to the following point. It is advisable to use a naming system that holds across the body of the text. For instance one may use: Graphic, Figure, Table, etc.

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