Editing illustrations

Illustrations include photographs, charts and graphs, diagrams, line drawings, and all types of graphics. Graphics and other illustrations can serve a variety of purposes, for example:

  • Attention-getting (capture readers’ interest)
  • Navigation (help readers find the type of information they want, or that applies to them)
  • Clarification (information can often be shown better than it can be told)
  • Amplification (to demonstrate or show more about something explained in words)
  • Provide an alternative for those who learn better visually than verbally

When editing illustrations, here are some things you need to consider:

  • What is the author’s or designer’s purpose in including the illustration?
  • Does the illustration assist the reader in some way, or it just taking up space?
  • Is this document to be printed or read online?
  • If the document is to be printed, can the illustration be reproduced easily? For example:
    • Does the budget allow for full-color printing, or will it be printed in black-and-white?
    • If to be printed in black-and-white, can any colored parts of the illustration be clearly distinguished? Does any lettering disappear into the background in black-and-white?
  • Does the illustration fit into the space available for it? Does it need to be cropped or redrawn to fit the space better?
  • If the document is to be read online:
    • Does the illustration fit into a standard screen width (about 640 pixels) or will the reader have to scroll side- to-side to see it all?
    • Can any lettering be clearly read on screen?
  • Are photographs of appropriate quality to reproduce well? Enough contrast, not too dark or too light?
  • Can you easily determine what the important element is in a drawing or photograph? Would readers be assisted by a circle or arrow or other way of emphasizing what they are supposed to be looking for? Is the illustration too “busy”?
  • Have photographs been cropped to cut off unimportant parts of the original?
  • Would a different point of view, or different emphasis on the items in the illustration, help the reader?
  • For graphs and charts, are related items grouped in a meaningful way? If comparisons are important, can the reader make them easily?
  • If symbols or shading are used and have meaning, has a legend or key been provided?
  • If callouts (explanations with lines or arrows pointing to parts of the illustration) are used, are they formatted consistently? Does the information in callouts contradict (or repeat unnecessarily) any information in the text?
  • In drawings, are line thicknesses and types (solid, dashed, dotted) used consistently? What about the arrows (if any) on the lines? What about fonts (typeface, size, weight, etc)? Fill patterns and colors?
  • At the page layout stage: has the correct illustration been put into each place, or have they been mixed up?
  • If the document is a Web page, how long does the illustration take to download at a typical modem speed?
  • Does the illustration look good in the medium the reader will use? Remember that illustrations may look quite different on paper and on screen, and at different resolutions. (What looks horrible on my 300 dpi laser printer, or on my monitor, may look great on a 1200 dpi printer. Conversely, an illustration may print well but be difficult to read on screen.)

Last updated 20 September 2001

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