There is no denying the ascension of the visual in communications of all sorts today. Take a look at any random sample of non-technical documents and you will see evidence everywhere. Even in technical and business communication, visuals claim a prominent if not central role. In a recent podcast episode of Teaching Writing, I examine the range and function of visual information in documents.
What does that mean for you as a writer? First, you need to notice the visual elements in the document types you create. How much of a visual component is there? What kinds of visuals are typically inserted? It is important to remember that the visual component includes photos, graphs, graphics, illustrations, tables, maps, and even headings. Online documents--or documents primarily shared digitally--no longer cost more to create or print, so writers typically have a wide range of colours available to them. So in addition to the obvious visual component writers need to think about which colours to use for text, lines, backgrounds, and headings.
An efficient way to deal with all of these choices and requirements is to use templates, either ones associated with the software you are using or ones prepared by your organization. These templates often have colour choices and typefaces pre-selected for you. Many word processing applications provide templates for typical documents that you can work from. Use them.
But in your writing at work, notice the kinds of visual information that your documents typically include. Beyond that, focus on the work or the function of those visuals. Why are they there? Are they primarily decorative? Do they contribute to branding? Do they provide evidence or information that duplicates what is said in the text? Do they elaborate on what the text is able to say? Do they reinforce the text and make the point more vividly?
Once you have a sense of what the function of each visual is, you will have a greater understanding of the kinds of visual information readers expect to see in your documents. You might also see opportunities for including more visual information, and that, in turn, might make your writing more effective.
There is one more potential spinoff: if you develop some skill at translating textual information into visual information, you will be able to create much more interesting slides for your presentation.
For more information on how to incorporate visual information in documents, check out my technical communication textbook, a Strategic Guide to Technical Communication, and visit my website at wecanwrite.ca