Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

Visual Chemistry- Interaction of Text and Graphics

Visual Chemistry

Technical communicators often use graphics with written procedures to communicate complex ideas.

Illustrated text often delivers better information that is more readily comprehensible to readers. However, if illustrations are merely used as a decorative item then they do not convey worthwhile information, and have a significant impact on readers. Readers are benefited when illustration and text work together to put forward a complex idea in a simple way.

The key principle for a successful interaction of text and graphics is that they should work together to support each other. They must also occur together and not separately. For example, the text in the body and the graphics in the appendix, strains the correspondence and effectiveness of their interaction. It will not have the same effect on readers as it would have when they are published together.

The text must introduce and explain the important points of the illustration, and the illustration must deliver what the text promises in an engaging presentation. As readers are drawn to illustrations, they are likely to examine them before reading the introductory text. Therefore, title the illustrations, and caption the illustrations that aren’t titled.
The Text and Graphics interact in five ways:

  1. Redundant
  2. Complementary
  3. Supplementary
  4. Juxtapositional
  5. Stage Setting


In a redundant relationship, both the text and graphic media convey the same key idea. This type of interaction is best used when a writer has to convey complex information to readers.


As the name suggests, the text and graphics convey different ideas where both the channels are required to understand the key idea. This type of interaction is best used to constrain the meaning of the key idea.


In a supplementary interaction, text and graphics convey different information where one channel predominates providing the key ideas and the other reinforces, elaborates, or instantiates these ideas.


Juxtaposition is a linguistic tool to highlight the distinction, contrasts, and alike attributes of two concepts. This concept can be used to define the interaction between graphics and text to convey different information where the key ideas arise out of the clash or semantic tension between the ideas in each channel.

Stage Setting

Stage setting conveys different information where one channel, usually the illustration, forecasts the key ideas and the other delivers the key ideas in full. This type of interaction is best suited for stressing the most important idea in a document.

Is it important for an  illustration and text to work together or are these two different media which doesn’t requires any bonding? Leave a comment and let me know.

This article originally appeared in MITWA News, the newsletter of MITWA mailing list. It is published here with slight modifications.


One response to “Visual Chemistry- Interaction of Text and Graphics

  1. Pramod August 7, 2012 at 5:54 am

    really nice article about the topic….the explanation is simple and in detail…good work

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