Determining the General Mechanics of Construction
Effective visuals require good mechanical considerations. Following are some of the more
Size: Visuals should be the size their contents justify. They can be too small or too large. The
shape of visuals is determined by size and contents—not too tall or wide but balanced.
You should determine the orientation of the visual by considering its size and contents. Sometimes a tall
orientation (portrait) is the answer; sometimes the answer is a wide orientation (landscape). Simply
consider the logical possibilities and select the one that is most easily read.
When deciding on type, consider both style (bold or italics) and font (serif or san serif). Varying
type and size convey different meanings. Consider the medium in selecting a font. New fonts
such as Calibri and Cambria have been optimized for screen display. Be sure the style and font in
the graphic is consistent with the style and font of the report text. Avoid mixing fonts but if you
want to use more than one, pair a serif with a san serif.
Place rules and borders around visuals to help their physical appearance. Always border a small
visual; border a large visual if it needs it.
Used appropriately, color and cross-hatching help readers see comparisons and distinctions.
Research has shown that use of color improves comprehension, retention, and ease of extracting
Color adds to the attractiveness of the visual. Be careful, though, if you use color but will print
(or think your reader will print) hard copies. Unless you use a color printer, the visuals will print
in black and white and may be difficult to interpret.
Use clip art to help readers understand the message. Clip art is readily available, but good
judgment is needed to ensure that the clip art used is free of bias toward gender, race, and age.
Also, too much clip art can distract a reader from the message. Clip art that looks cheap, dated,
or cartoon-like should be avoided. Lastly, students should be reminded to get permission to use
Choose background colors, photos, and art carefully. Because colors have emotional and
cultural connotations, writers must be aware of the feelings that colors will evoke on the part of
the reader. A good strategy is to get feedback before making the graphic widely available.
Sometimes background colors, photos, and art can also interfere with reading the text.
Number all visuals in a report, except minor in-text tabulations. Consider the following
If you have many visuals in two or more categories, number each category consecutively.