Referring to exploded graphics?

Subject: Referring to exploded graphics?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 2001 08:52:35 -0500

Kevin Rush is wondering about <<... naming conventions for exploded
graphics. What do you call and how do reference the exploded graphic. I
currently am using the following convention: figure 4-4, exploded graphic A,
icon 1>>

I don't work with many actual exploded graphics, but I have designed a fair
number of multi-part figures over the years, and I have a fair bit of
experience using a variety of labeling schemes in the sciences (e.g.,
dissection diagrams, electron micrographs). From the way you've framed your
question, it appears that you're intentionally and probably unnecessarily
drawing attention to the exploded part; in fact, all you really need to do
is assign a clear label to each component of the graphic, without using
separate labeling systems for each exploded part. That greatly simplifies
both the task of labeling and references to the graphic.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you've got a graphic with fewer
than 26 individual items that you need to address. This suggests that
labeling each with a letter of the alphabet would work well. So you might
label the toolbar itself as A, the seven menus as B-H, and the several icons
on the toolbar as I-S (or whatever). When you refer to the figure, you'd
then say something like "Click the paintbrush icon (Figure 4M)..." With more
than 26 things to label, you'd resort to double letters: A-Z, followed by
AA-ZZ, and so on, or perhaps use alphanumeric labels (e.g., A1). The latter
would prove particularly useful if you really do need to group components of
the illustration to show that they belong together (e.g., all the A's are
part of a single exploded section).

If the figure is so complex that you really do need more than 26 labels, the
odds are excellent that you should create simpler, separate graphics rather
than one massive and complex graphic. One way to do this might be to show
the overall screen as Figure 4, then the three exploded parts as Figures
5-7. This will also simplify the layout and let you place the graphics
nearer to where they're cited in the text. It will also make it feasible to
repeat the Figures at several widely separated locations rather than forcing
the reader to flip back dozens or hundreds of pages to find the master

Don't forget to explain the letters directly on the figure (beside what they
label), in a key, or in the caption. In traditional biological
illustrations, only the letters appear on the graphic, with the explanations
in the figure caption; this is often required because it's impossible to fit
large amounts of text on an intricate and detailed graphic without obscuring
the important points. But for some software or hardware diagrams (e.g., the
control panel of a VCR, the controls of a digital camera), this is less of a
problem, and it's more effective to label the elements of the figure
directly: "A. Paintbrush icon". Direct labeling avoids forcing the reader to
glance back and forth between the caption and the figure to understand what
each part represents, and adding a letter to the label makes it easier to
refer to in the text. It also facilitates the reader's job in finding that
part of the figure, particularly if the letters are arranged clockwise (say)
rather than randomly around the figure, so the reader sees the sequence of
letters. In more complicated drawings, you may still have to resort to a key
(A = Paintbrush icon, B = Eraser icon, etc., with the letters and
definitions aligned in a vertical column) beside the drawing. I prefer that
to embedding the definitions in the figure caption because it scans more

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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