Using figures such as diagrams, tables, graphs, charts or maps can be a very useful way to show and emphasise information in your report. They can be used to compile data in an orderly way or to amplify a point and are a useful tool to help your readers understand complex or numerous data (Weaver and Weaver, 1977).
Figures essential to the report should be smoothly and correctly integrated and should be explained and referred to in the main body of the report. A useful way to do this is to lead into the figure by telling the reader what to focus on in the figure and then lead out of the figure perhaps by linking the important point that was illustrated to the next salient point; for example:
Figures that are supportive rather than essential to your explanation can be placed in the appendix section so that the continuity of your writing is not broken up (Weaver and Weaver, 1977). If a figure such as a table of data is essential for understanding but is very lengthy, you may wish to include an excerpt of the most relevant part of the figure in the text and the full figure in an appendix.
The inclusion of tables and figures does not absolve you from making your report coherent. Regardless of whether the figures are integrated into the text or are in an appendix, it is important that you do discuss the information represented in the diagrams, tables, graphs, charts and maps and not just let them 'speak for themselves'. A good rule of thumb is to produce text and figures that can both stand alone: the text should be readable without figures, and vice versa. In your discussion of the information represented in the figures you should highlight information which you consider significant, point out trends or relationships or compare data presented in separate figures; for example,
The Keeling plant's production capacity was reached in May this year. In contrast, the Hergort plant has not yet reached 75% of its production capacity (see Table 13).
Make sure the figure is worthwhile. If the text is crystal clear without the insertion of a figure there is no point including it, despite how good it may look. If the text does not make sense without the insertion of the figure, you are expecting the figure to do your job for you. In fact, the figure is not meant to make your point but to illustrate, emphasise and supplement it (Weaver & Weaver, 1977: 87).
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