Graphics in Technical Reports

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Lab reports usually require graphics like sketches, drawings, and diagrams of designs. You will also need to include tables and graphs to display data. How should you do this? We use graphics when they clarify meaning, to present data clearly, and when a picture or diagram will illustrate your point.

There are many graphics that are typical of technical reports: Tables, graphs, Gantt Charts, and sketches. Knowing when to use a graphic and which one to use is important.


Present information systematically.
Translate numbers into shapes.
Gantt Charts
Show progress as a function of time.

Show how the parts of an item are assembled or how something looks.

For our purposes, it is sufficient to follow three simple rules: your graphics must be labeled, your labels must be consistent, and you must refer to the graphic you have used in the text.

To label your sketch, diagram, table, or graph, choose a name for it, like Figure 1, or Table 1. Place the name below the graphic and center it.

The label should always appear in the same place so that your reader does not have to search for it. It should be numbered, and the name you have chosen should be the same throughout the document (do not switch from Figure 1 to Diagram 2). The type size, style, and font, as well as other characteristics of your labels must be consistent. Do not write something like Figure 1, Chart 2, TABLE 3.

Graphics do not speak for themselves; there should be text that introduces and describes the graphic. In the following example, the text refers to the graphic at a specific moment in the report. From the Data/Observation section describing a Microsoft Excel table:

As Table 1 shows, data was recorded every 30 seconds [...].The slope of the last five minutes was found to be 1.26 [...]

In EG1003 most of your graphics will go in the Data/Observations section of your lab reports. Graphics that show data must appear in this section. You may also use graphics in your Introduction if they help clarify the discussion.

A diagram showing a proposed improvement to a design could be placed in the Discussion/Conclusions section.

The main idea in the use of graphics in technical documents is consistency. Remember: label it, number it, and describe it in the text.

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