Since software apps and gadgets are conquering the world with the speed of light, the need to create competitive and effective documentation has never been more urgent. Documentation without graphics is a dull, monotonous bulk of text, in one word—lifeless.
Effective documentation usually implies effective graphics. The best way to present technically difficult information is in the form of graphs, charts, diagrams, or tables. The perception of information should not be a tedious, boring, and “painful” process.
A good graph is worth a thousand words
Creating content for a worldwide audience sets higher requirements to documentation. It is essential that the information you present is not perceived ambiguously. The usage of graphics helps eliminate incomprehensible information in text. Just imagine how long it would take you to document explicit and accurate network topology (see below).
You can use a variety of graphic types to support ideas expressed in text. The type of graphics mainly depends on the type of data that you present and can be divided into two categories: numeric and pictorial supporting materials. All graphic types are used to illustrate and support ideas and recommendations that were presented in text.
Numeric supporting materials:
- Table – Presents information in a clear linear format. This way, users can grasp relationships between specific pieces of data. If the number of rows and columns does not fit the page layout, you can divide information into relevant chunks (several tables).
- Graph or chart – Present information (numerical data) in a graphic format. The most common form of graph is axis coordinates (“X” and “Y” axes). This way, users can compare data and visualize relationships among data. It is important to create an optimal (appropriate) size for a graph/chart to present all the data and not lose the overall idea of the graph at the same time.
Pictorial supporting materials:
- Screenshot – Presents data in the most realistic way. Users can accurately identify the information that is being described in text. This type of graphics is only appropriate if you present a clear, accurate, and high-quality image without irrelevant background details.
- Drawing – Presents an idea in a schematic way. A drawing helps convey a message to users in a visually simple way.
- Diagram – Presents an idea with the help of symbols and shapes. The main idea of a diagram is not to picture an object, but to show the working interrelationship of its parts.
A good rule of thumb is “If you can express something in graphics, do it”. The text itself contains procedures and overview, while graphics contains supporting graphic material. Usually, users grasp main ideas from graphics, and only then turn attention to text for the support of those ideas. The text should lead to the graphics and support it. Thus, it is very important that graphics is always visible simultaneously with the relevant text. When creating printed documentation, always keep in mind graphic size, pagination, and layout to keep the text and related graphics together.
In conclusion, remember that first of all, effective documentation implies various types of graphics. Secondly, the right graphic type depends on the type of data that you present. And finally, keep graphics visible simultaneously with the relevant text. Good luck!