Technical Writing: A Critique of Visuals

By Dan_ | _NoTheme_ | 19 Dec 2021


 

This post examines three visuals (A, B, & C) taken from popular news media sites, with the goal of identifying technical writing and graphic design issues in each piece.


Visual A

Photograph of a tram in Hong Kong with a Bitcoin advert displayed on its side.

Photograph of a tram in Hong Kong with a Bitcoin advert displayed on its side.


Visual A analysis

Source

‘As Bitcoin goes mainstream, Wall Street looks to cash in’, The Telegraph.

Audience

Thetelegraph.com serves a majority US and Canadian audience. This visual is targeted at audiences within these countries that have an interest in Wall Street and Cryptocurrencies, with subcategories of these including Bitcoin, hedge funds and investing.

Purpose

To emphasise Bitcoin’s growing mainstream adoption, both in the public and financial sectors.

Critique 1

The image is of a tram. It was taken in Hong Kong, for the purpose of emphasising the far-reaching adoption of cryptocurrencies. However, there is no obvious way to discern it is a photo taken outside the US/Canada, other than some small Chinese characters beside the tram number.

This could have been avoided by not cropping the photo to such an extent, as cropping should only be done to emphasise the visual’s message, and in this case, it obstructs the message. Less cropping would allow the iconic architecture and traffic scooters/bikes of Hong Kong to be visible, better emphasising the global adoption of cryptocurrencies. While both the alt text and fig caption describe the image correctly (although both should not be populated with the exact same information), some readers will ignore or miss that information.

Critique 2

While the image is one of a small collection of photographs, it does not express the numerical data found in the article body or fig captions. An infographic depicting some of the numerical data, such as a bar chart displaying the market cap of some of the largest cryptocurrencies compared to the GDP of some G7 countries, would improve this visual. Supplementing the photograph in this way would emphasise the message it is attempting to communicate.


Visual B

Graph tracking the price of Gold from October 2020 to October 2021.

Graph tracking the price of Gold from October 2020 to October 2021.


Visual B analysis

Source

‘Is gold’s lack of lustre bitcoin’s fault? Investing expert asks why the precious metal has failed to shine amid rising inflation and falling bond yields’, The Daily Mail.

Audience

Adults within the UK with an interest in investing and digital currencies. Pensioners would also be a target audience as the article touches on gold, bonds, and inflation, which are relevant subjects for long term investors such as pensioners.

Purpose

The purpose of this area line chart is to show readers the historical price behaviour of gold. The intention, as hinted by the title caption, is to communicate to readers that gold is a ‘boring asset’, suggested by its relatively consistent price history.

Critique 1

There is also no alt text attribute present. This means readers for whom the image does not load, and those using screen readers, will all be unable to read the visual. The image also has poor resolution quality, meaning potentially more readers would rely on a fig caption or alt text to understand it, neither of which are present. Alternative text or a fig caption should always accompany an image to improve accessibility, among other reasons.

Critique 2

This chart is too numerically broad on the Y axis for the time range of the asset it depicts. Most gold charts covering the specified range would not dip as low as $1,000. This has the effect of making the asset appear less volatile.

The chart should also display or indicate the historical price of gold for the previous 12 months, which saw increases of over 25%. It would have been relatively easy to do so, without compromising the readability of the visual, and would have benefited the reader by supplying more context of relevant recent price history, although perhaps at the cost of the intended message (Gold is ‘boring’).


Visual C

A screenshot of a simulated nuclear bomb detonation in New York.

A screenshot of a simulated nuclear bomb detonation in New York.


Visual C analysis

Source

‘Interactive map reveals how many people would die if a nuclear bomb landed on your house’, Metro UK.

Audience

Adults within the UK, especially those with an interest in topics such as military history, weapons, global diplomacy, and geopolitics. The headline and article image are quite sensational, likely targeting a broader reader base overall, however.

Purpose

To communicate to readers the level of destruction possible if a nuclear bomb was detonated over a familiar location.

Critique 1

The image resolution of this graphic is poor, and readers would struggle to read some of the numerical information and location names. Furthermore, while the article later explains some of the coloured radiuses displayed on the visual, the visual itself lacks clear labelling in this regard. Readers must correlate and order the small and slightly illegible numerical data next to the ‘explosion’ to determine which is which.

Simply adding lines connecting each piece of data to its radius would have lessened the amount of work readers need to perform here, thus considerably improving the visual.

Critique 2

The majority of the audience would be readers in the UK. However, the headline image is a nuclear bomb detonation over New York, with London’s mock explosion further down the article. London is a much more familiar location to most of the paper’s readers. Additionally, the title contains the words ‘landed on your house’. Therefore, the graphic depicting the London explosion would be more suitably placed at the top of the article.

 

Works Referenced

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Dan_
Dan_

English & History graduate, currently working full time in Ecommerce and finishing an MA in technical writing. Work experience in content writing, technical writing and instructional design. Passionate about reading, SEO, history and BTC.


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