Access refers to the visual cues that help a reader navigate and understand your writing. Adding access can be as simple as adding bullet points or numbered lists, or it can be as complex as adding flow charts and large illustrations. Consider your audience when choosing access: a good visual can go a long way toward helping an amateur understand a difficult concept.

For example, if you need to explain a term your audience might not know, consider using a sidebar, so you don’t break the flow of your text. Using sidebars also gives expert readers the opportunity to skip information they already know.

It’s also important to consider your audience, as well as your purpose for writing, when designing visuals for your document. Below are a few commonly-used examples of visuals for academic documents:

Line graphs show change over time.

This is an example image of a line chart, titled "Cats Seen in a Specific Area over Time". The y-axis is labeled "Cats Sighted", and goes between 0 and 15. The x-axis is labeled "Month", and charts the months of the year, beginning with January and ending with December.

Pie graphs show pieces of a whole.

This is an example image of a pie chart, titled "Projected Spending for October". Each section of the "pie" accounts for a different category in the pretend budget. The pie is broken into segments, to show how much of the total budget each category takes up.

Tables organize numerical or verbal data.

This is an example image of an informational table. The first column is titled "Year", and charts the years between 1750 and 1760. The second column is titled "Shipwrecks", and has values of shipwrecks relating to the other column.

Infographics combine multiple visualizations for a general audience.

This is an example infographic titled "The Writing Process". It's a decision tree that starts with the segment at the top, called "Do You Have an Idea?", which is broken into two options - "YES" and "NO". The second branch is titled "Is your first draft any good?", with the options "YES" and "NO". The third branch is called "Revise it", which connects to the final branch, called "Do you think you're finished?". The final branch has two options, "YES" and "NO", that connect back to the branch titled "Revise it."


Additional Resources

Unsplash – A huge repository of high resolution photos that can be freely used in any project, no permission required.

GIMP – If you don’t want to buy Photoshop, check out GIMP. It’s a free program for manipulating graphics that can fulfill many of Photoshop’s functions.

Canva – A website that allows you to make large infographics easily. Infographics can be useful for summarizing the findings of reports and presenting all kinds of data visually.

Snappa – A visual design service that is run completely online. You can pay for a monthly service, but a free account offers over five thousand templates to use.