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Using Charts (Well) in Your Professional Writing Copy

There are so many tools professional writers can use to enhance their copy, including adding in charts and similar graphics. While charts are often associated with specific occupations and focuses, you can technically use them for anything.

They can indicate how many people prefer “Green Shimmer” to “Spirit Whisper,” two Behr-brand paint colors, if you run a home decorating site.

They can show military advancements if you run a World War I blog.

Or they can indicate various educational initiatives and how much they cost if you’re in charge of writing academic articles.

And they can do it in a clear, concise way that adds a visually engaging, diversified appeal to your page. When done well.

You can’t just slap them in though and think they’ll enhance your copy. It’s not nearly that easy.

Before you throw a chart or graphic into your copy, you need to ask yourself this: Is your audience actually going to be better off with it in?

The answer isn’t always an immediate “yes.” Sometimes it’s a flat-out no.

Charts and graphics CAN enhance your message. It’s a possibility, not a rule. And it’s a possibility that greatly depends on what you’re working with and who you’re trying to talk to.

For starters, you want to make sure they’re actually going to understand it. (Again, don’t just assume.)

The information you’re showing might seem perfectly clear to you. You’re an expert on the subject, after all. But unless your intended readers are experts as well, it might not be clear to them.

To lessen the chances of that happening, make sure the chart you’re considering doesn’t contain too much jargon. Nor complicated portrayals of information that can or should be simplified.

And regardless of your readers’ expertise, don’t use charts that are so filled with information that it just jumbles together. It needs to first be readable to be useful.

Speaking of readable…

Make sure that, in your final copy, the graphics you use don’t come out fuzzy or otherwise unreadable. Your audience should be able to clearly distinguish each one – unpixellated.

If there’s important text involved, it needs to stand out clearly – keys, disclaimers, fine print and all. That’s true on a smartphone too. Don’t think because you’re arranging your publication on a regular-sized computer screen that everyone else will read it that way.

In addition, detail your charts in the regular text. You probably don’t have to go to any great detail, but a standard summary such as “as shown below, x, y, and z” can serve two purposes:

  1. Explain what’s being shown for anyone who can’t read the chart for some reason (uploading issues, perhaps?) or just wants to skim

  2. Reiterate the point you’re making for anyone who actually does want to look at the chart, essentially doubling down on your message.

Last but not least, consider limiting how many you showcase. While an image here or there can break up the black-and-white monotony of an article, you want your visuals to do exactly that: break it up. Not take it over.

They’re supposed to be accessories, not the main offering. Professional writing can otherwise too easily look cheap and lazy, visually overwhelming and/or intellectually overwhelming, as readers’ brains have to keep switching back and forth between text and images.

Sure, variety is the spice of life. But a little spice can and should go a long way... particularly

when you know how to use charts and graphics well in your professional writing

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