The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true enough, but in Business Writing a picture is only as valuable as its supporting text.
Business Communicators commonly use graphics to break up text blocs, add interest, and present data. But although Business Writing and graphics generally go hand-in-hand, too many graphical representations in one
document are apt to confuse rather than inform the reader. And when readers get lost, you can bet the message gets lost as well.
Make no mistake, it is always a good thing for Business Writers to draw on their creativity to enhance the interest and impact of their writing. And let’s face it, the content of many Business Communications begs for a little dazzle. Fortunately, with a good Graphics Package, a writer can easily add dazzle with a full array of colors,fonts, charts, and tables.
Of course, for all the good things graphics can do to enhance a Business Document, writers must be sensitive to “graphics overload”.
Granted, this is relative and difficult to anticipate. Obviously, Technical and Financial Communications contain more facts and figures than general Business Communications, but even the most generic Business Writing will often include a chart or table.
That being said, what represents a good a balance between text and graphical information in a Business Communication?
Experience has shown that an 80-20 ratio (i.e. 80% text to 20% graphics) to be a good rule of thumb. Writers can and will go above this ratio on occasion, but when this ratio is significantly exceeded, readers’ eyes will start glazing over – guaranteed!
It should be noted that if a Business Communication is to be summarized and presented verbally, additional graphics will often be included as part of a Power Point or Overhead Presentation. If this is the case, treat these additional graphics as attachments to your document as opposed to integrating them into the body of the basic document.
Here are a few pointers to consider about using graphics:
* Graphics are more effective when used judiciously.
* Graphical information should never used as “filler”.
* Simplify charts and tables. Detail can be included in attachments.
* Try to strike a good balance between text and graphics.
* In the end, it’s the message that is important, not the “bells and whistles”.
How any writer presents information is primarily a product of writing style and organizational custom. Writers who are analytically-oriented, or who work in a technical environment, will reflect this bias. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, that is unless one is trying to communicate to a broad audience.
The most effective Communicators write for the broadest appeal. Do you?