When Graphics Get in the Way

This post was written by John White on Mon, 19 Oct 2009 06:52:12 +0000
Posted Under: graphics,ideal reader,relationship with engineering,tell your story,writer's diseases

Writing for diagrams

Writing for diagrams

Graphics and diagrams are at the heart of good marketing communications, but your writer can’t always make them work for a written piece.

The deadline loomed, and still I had no more than an outline from the writer. “What’s taking so long?” I asked.

“I think I have writer’s block,” replied the writer.

“You don’t believe in writer’s block,” I said. “Your Website says so.”

“I’m having trouble wrapping the business-benefits message and the graphical overviews and everything you want me to cover into a single package that somebody will bother to read,” she said. “There are several ideas you want me to describe, and the presentation diagrams from the engineers are not conceptual enough. They dive into platform repositories and toolsets without explaining overall workflow, let alone business advantages.”

I hate it when that happens.

“So, what is slowing you down?” I asked.

“The diagrams describe only the front of the elephant,” she answered. “This paper has to describe the front, back, top, bottom and middle of the elephant. I’m trying to do that with the diagrams I have, but it doesn’t work.”

“Do you know how you want the diagrams to look in order to fit with your text?” I asked.

“I need some time to flesh them out.”

The writer took about 4 hours to redesign the diagrams on pencil and paper, then met with the engineers who had designed the graphics. “I’m telling a different story from the one you told,” she explained to them, “but I need to make sure that I’m getting it right. It won’t match your story, but it needs to be consistent with it.”

The engineers dutifully looked at the drawings. “That’s not how we would explain the workflow,” they commented, “but it’s not wrong.”

While the writer modified the draft around the updated diagrams, we had a designer polish them up. The mixture of the two was a better fit for the ideal readers: technically advanced people to whom we were introducing mid-stream changes (and trying to convince them to get off the dime and adopt).

The moral: Hire a writer who is not afraid to pull out a pencil and paper and say, “I can’t explain it to fit your drawing. Let me show you how I can explain it.”

John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it.

photo credit: gigile

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