Content and design - Words and images

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Content and design
Words and images

When visual elements are incorporated with academic writing, there are conventions and good practice regarding content (how much and how clearly the element communicates) and design (how the element relates in appearance, size and position to text nearby). When interweaving visual elements with text, here are some of the most important points to consider:

✵Does the visual element complement the text? Is it adding something that the text cannot provide?

✵As with text, visuals are normally precisely targeted at a specific readership to meet an intended purpose.

✵Does the visual adopt conventions that the reader will understand?

✵The visual is normally referred to in the text so that the reader understands its relationship with the text.

✵The visual should be close to where it is referred to in the text - ideally, on the same page.

Normally, the visual should stand alone in meaning insofar as it can be interpreted without having to read large volumes of accompanying text.

✵Visuals are usually numbered consecutively, either as tables or as figures (’figures’ here refers to all kinds of formal visual element other than tables).

✵Conventionally, tables have an explanatory title above, and figures a title (legend) below.

✵Plan carefully the eventual size of the visual when it is printed, so that it has the appropriate degree of impact. Any text or other elements it contains should be clearly distinguishable.

✵Leave plenty of white space around the visual so that it does not appear cramped on the page.

✵The conventions on citing the source of a figure or table are strict. If the figure or table is copied from or is substantially similar to its source, a citation to the source should be given, e.g. ’Smith (2012)’. If the figure or table has been adapted from one or more sources, this should be stated and the sources cited, e.g. ’adapted from Smith (2012)’.

The following sections briefly consider the most common kinds of visual element, and where and how they should be used.