Re: Tables and Figures. Why not call them both illustrations?

Subject: Re: Tables and Figures. Why not call them both illustrations?
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 01 May 2003 07:57:33 -0400


I qualified my comments by restricting them to the conventions of academic publishing, where figures and tables have numbers. In a lot of technical writing--user manuals, for example--illustrations are unnumbered and are placed immediately after the paragraph that describes them.

Where you place illustrations depends on the context and the style guide you are following (or not following). There is no one-size-fits-all rule here.

In academic publishing, for example, most editors consider it desirable to maintain a conservative approach to design. Academic works are intended to convey ideas in a calm environment where the reader can evaluate them undistracted by design elements. The reader should be concentrating on the writer's words, not on the layout. Conservative design usually (not always) implies formal symmetry. One of the rules of what book designers mean when they use the term formal symmetry is that facing pages need to be the same depth (except at the beginning or end of a chapter or article, of course). If you place figures in the text stream, so that they can fall anywhere on the page, you will inevitably end up with facing pages that are not the same depth--some pages will be short. To ensure that pages are the same depth, it is necessary to have a rule that figures be placed top-or-bottom.

When your goal is to get the reader to take some action, however, the important thing is the action, not quiet reflection. The design can help enable this mode by using informal (dynamic) symmetry, typical of most software manuals. Having pages that do not all look alike is a good thing, so maintaining a strict rule about the depth of facing pages is of far less importance than in academic publishing.



Brigitte Johnston wrote:

I'm curious -- do most of you routinely place figures and tables at the top or bottom of a page (not in the middle)? I'd been taught to place them as near to the text that refers to them as possible, even if that means they end up in the middle of the page!
Brigitte Johnston
Technical Writer/Editor

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Re: Tables and Figures. Why not call them both illustrations?: From: Brigitte Johnston

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