Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to How-To: Part 5a - Combining Art with Text

When integrated correctly, art enhances the text, and text illustrates the art. Working together, art and text become one dynamic duo.

Have you ever tried to explain something to another person and, after several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts, said, “Let me draw you a picture”?, and suddenly the proverbial light went on?

Can you remember one illustration from a beloved childhood storybook that still evokes the essence of the story?
When you ask for driving directions, do you prefer the text, the map, or both?
Art can be a powerful enhancement and learning tool for your readers. This post explains how to combine art and text to add value to your words and help your readers easily grasp what you want to convey.
Strolling through the gallery
You can use several types of art in your text, and each type serves a particular purpose. Here are some of the most common types of art and the best places to use them.
  • Photographs provide readers with accurate depictions of people, places, things, and events. When you include a photograph, be sure to identify it correctly, either in the surrounding text or in the caption. Spell the names of people and places correctly and, if appropriate, include dates and other important facts.
Marilyn at the beach
  • Screenshots appear liberally in software user guides to show readers the state of a computer screen during a process or task. As readers follow the steps, they can compare their computer screen with the screen shot in the user guide to see if they’re doing the task correctly. If they aren’t, they can correct the error before getting into more trouble. You can use a full screen shot, or crop the file to highlight a particular portion of the screen. Place screen shots where readers will need to see them—not too early and not too late in the steps. To help readers fully understand the point of a screen shot, use callouts, a caption, or both.

Your chart now looks like this
  • An architectural drawing provides an accurate, detailed rendition of an actual item. (Think of a drawing of a computer, or a dresser or table after assembly.) Unlike a photograph, which shows everything about the item, an architectural drawing highlights only the parts your readers need to be concerned with. To increase the drawing’s usefulness, include callouts, a caption, or both with an architectural drawing.

A relic: VCR
  • Conceptual art illustrates an idea or concept and can take many different forms. Often, concept art distills a complex idea, concept, task, or process into a simple, graphical metaphor that readers can grasp immediately. It can be a spare, single drawing of an idea, or a combination of photographs and architectural drawings that together explain an entire process.
Here’s an example of conceptual art illustrating the evaporation-precipitation cycle:

Notice how the conceptual drawing in the following example emphasizes the information about making meatballs:

Measure one rounded tablespoon of the meatball mixture for each meatball.

This conceptual drawing illustrates how ideas are sparked:
  • Blow-out diagrams area type of conceptual art that shows how something (such as a picture frame) is assembled. These drawings get their name from the exaggerated amount of space shown between each part—as if they’ve been “blown out” or “blown apart” from each other. Readers can study a blow-out diagram and understand how the various parts, including hardware, fit together.

  • Decorative art often appears in gift books and books for younger readers. Decorative art breaks up chunks of text and complements and enhances a book’s theme or personality. Hearts, flowers, birds, butterflies, stars, crosses, shapes, festoons, and patterns are just a few examples of decorative art.
Next time, I'll show you how to use callouts and captions with your art, and give you more tips for using art with your text. Until then, happy sketching!

Copyright ©2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to How-To: Part 4 - Organizing with Tables

Another way to organize information is with a table. A table contains columns and rows, which readers scan to find what they need.

Use tables to:
  • Provide details about general information in a step
  • Define glossary terms
  • Solve problems
  • Catalog information
Structuring instructions
When you write instructions for a task, here’s a great way to organize them:

1. Introduction. A paragraph or two that describes what readers are about to do. also, state what they need to know or have done before doing this task.
2. The steps. Go all out here with your lists and tables. Include one complete action in each step, and include up to seven steps for each task. (Readers can become disoriented after seven.) If your task requires more than seven steps, break the task into two.
3. Notes, tips, and warnings. Place extraneous information after the steps, unless readers need those details earlier.
Keep these points in mind:
  • You can use lists within tables, and you can insert tables within lists.
  • Use parallel construction (the same grammatical structure) within a list or table. In other words, don't make the first item a full sentence, the next a fragment, and the third a question.
  • Follow this general rule: If you have more than three items, use a table.
About style
You might wonder what capitalization and punctuation you should use in lists and tables. This question plagues every editorial group at least once a week, and here are some answers:
  • Ask the editor you're working with for a copy of the house style guide, a document that describes the preferred word usage, capitalization, punctuation, grammar choices, and formatting options to use when you write for that house. If you follow their style, you'll be the answer to your editor's prayers.
  • Create your own style guide, and follow it consistently. For help, buy a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Stylebook.
Making it work for you
Try reorganizing your own paragraphs into lists, steps, and tables.

Happy organizing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton

Saturday, November 05, 2011

How to How-To: Part 3 - Organizing with Lists and Steps

All your brilliant ideas, facts, figures, and solutions will go unread, unnoticed, and unappreciated if readers can’t find them. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to organize your information into lists, steps, and tables, to improve your readers’ comprehension and increase their chances of success. One you get the hang of using lists, steps, and tables, you’ll never write the same again!

Clustering information in lists
A list organizes complex information into one cohesive unit. Look at this recipe for preparing spaghetti:

To cook the spaghetti, fill a large pot with cold water, and put it on the stove. Turn the burner to high. (To boil the water faster, put the lid on the pot.) When the water boils, open the spaghetti package and put the spaghetti into the water. Leave the lid off, and cook the spaghetti in furiously boiling water until it’s done. (For firm spaghetti, boil for 7 minutes. For softer spaghetti, boil for 9 minutes.) Put a colander in the sink. When the spaghetti is done, take the pot off the burner and drain the spaghetti in the colander. (Remember to turn off the burner.) Then rinse the spaghetti. If you’re using the spaghetti in a hot dish (for example, with sauce), rinse it under hot water. If you’re using the spaghetti in a cold dish (like a salad), rinse it under cold water.

This paragraph explains the task correctly. But if your reader’s guests are due in three minutes, she’s still wearing workout clothes, and the dog just got sick, she’d have a hard time following directions in this dense paragraph.

This recipe would read better in a list. There are two basic types of lists:

• Ordered lists (steps), for items readers must do or understand sequentially. Precede items in ordered lists with numbers or letters. For example:

In an emergency, follow these steps:
1. Clean the floor.
2. Change your clothes.
3. Greet your guests with a smile.

• Unordered lists, for items readers can do or understand in any order. Unordered lists often contain options or choices. For example:

You can:
- Offer appetizers
- Tie on aprons and ask for help
- Order out

Although bullets (stars, dashes, or other symbols) normally precede items in unordered lists, you can use numbers. Notice how numbers verify the introduction in this example:

There are three ways to know your guests have arrived:
1. You hear voices outside
2. You’re still wearing sweats
3. Your dog looks green

Note: When you mention a number, be sure your list includes that many items.

Trying it out
Rewrite the recipe paragraph into lists. Your results might look like this:

To cook spaghetti:
1. Fill a large pot with cold water.
2. Put the pot on the stove, and turn the burner to high.
To boil the water faster, put the lid on the pot.
3. When the water boils, open the spaghetti package and put the spaghetti into the water.
Leave the lid off.
4. Cook the spaghetti in furiously boiling water until it’s done.
- For firm spaghetti, boil for 7 minutes.
- For softer spaghetti, boil for 9 minutes.
5. Put a colander in the sink.
6. When the spaghetti is done, take the pot off the burner, and drain the spaghetti in the colander.
Remember to turn off the burner.
7. Rinse the spaghetti.
- If you’re using the spaghetti in a hot dish (for example, with sauce), rinse under hot water.
- If you’re using the spaghetti in a cold dish (for example, in a salad), rinse under cold water.

Readers can now follow each step, stay oriented, learn details, and choose among options.

Happy writing!

Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton