Types of Details
The Art of Graphics
Tables, Colors, Columns, and
This chapter offers a very basic, simple, and short
introduction to adding details to college papers.
FOUR BASIC TYPES OF
DETAILS IN COLLEGE
A paper in college or in professional life really lives or dies by its
details. Most good papers have a lot
of details. These can range from
personal-experience stories to interviews, quotations, statements of facts,
descriptions of objects, lists, charts, figures, artwork, and—in short—any
other kind of specific detail that helps explain the basic general ideas in the
paper. Often details also are visual
in nature. They either are,
themselves, pictures, graphs, figures, or the like, or they make people imagine
a visual image (such as happens when telling a story).
Here are a few guidelines for some basic types of details.
How To Add
If you are writing the kind of paper (e.g., an argument) in which
personal-experience stories sometimes are helpful, there are several guidelines
for developing them.
(a) They need to be of sufficient
length for you to really call them a “story”: often, such stories are about
50-150 words and sometimes, occasionally shorter, and in very long essays
Often a good story example
starts with the
meaning or purpose of the story in a sentence or perhaps even a paragraph.
Then an introductory phrase is added such as “For example, one time I [or
whoever],” along with a summary or beginning
of the story in a brief sentence.
(c) Next, the story develops.
It describes a specific
event act by act. Usually the description should start with one to two sentences using
what are called the "5 W’s
of journalism" to summarize the exact place and time of the event: who, what,
where, when, and why or how. Here is an
example of a starting sentence for an event description: “My
was driving up and down
on March 10 last year
carefully looking for his girlfriend
[why/how].” For more
information, see "Chapter 38. Writing a News Article."
(d) Finally, the story unfolds, step
by step--act by act--using plenty of 5W’s detail and, often, as many of the "five
senses" of good storytelling as you can add in brief but descriptive sentences: how people and
places looked, sounded, smelled, tasted, and/or felt to the touch.
These should not be added in over obvious or awkward, overly long ways in
college essays (unless the instructor specifically is asking for a creative
For more information, see "Chapter 46. Writing a Story."
How To Develop a Bibliography:
A bibliography is your list of sources for your paper—the books, journals, Web
sites, etc. that you have used to write the paper.
You also may add to it additional sources that you did not use but that
tie in well with your subject.
In most (but not all) bibliography systems, the bibliography is a separate page
or pages at the end of your paper. The bibliography lists the sources you
used in alphabetical order according to the author's last name. Usually,
the order of an entry is to have the
author's last name
(and sometimes the year of publication)
first name (or
name of source (book,
article and/or journal or book, etc.)
name of editor (if
Publisher, place of
publication, and year (if not already stated)
entry items differ in slight but important ways in their content and order
according to the particular discipline or profession for which you are writing
There are many bibliography systems for different disciplines: e.g., literature
uses MLA; history uses Chicago (CMS); social sciences and nursing, APA or ASA;
science, CBE; etc. Each uses its own
ordering system, typing method, and, in the accompanying paper, a numbering
system to show where the sources have been used.
(c) In an English course,
choose MLA unless otherwise permitted. For
more details and explanations, see
OnlineGrammar.org's "Chapter 17. Citation and Documentation."
How To Develop Supporting Quotations and Paraphrases:
(a) Quotations (“Q’s”) and paraphrases (“P’s”) are your
transfer of other people’s words or ideas to your own paper.
Often the best papers have several Q’s and/or P’s per
(b) You also must provide a reference to the source—author or
reading—of each Q and P so that you can never be accused of plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a highly unethical form of cheating in which, purposefully
(or even accidentally), you let readers think that someone else’s words or
ideas are your own.
(c) Here are guidelines for avoiding plagiarism:
quotation: the exact words of a source. Place them in quotation
marks (“Xxx xxx”) and name the source. Example:
Smith says, "Modern wars in second- and third-world
countries demonstrate a level of barbarity often equivalent to those in medieval
paraphrase: someone else’s idea. Write it using your own words (no
quotation marks) and name the source. Example:
Smith argues that war-time violence and torture in poor
countries is as bad now as it was in the Middle Ages (69).
interview with an expert: someone with whom
you have talked. Write it like a quotation or a paraphrase. Example:
Smith says, "I have studied over two dozen modern wars in
Africa and Eastern Europe" (personal interview).
general knowledge: as in an encyclopedia or other reference
book (no quotations, no source). Example:
West African wars in particular in the 1990s, especially those involving the
trading of what are known as conflict diamonds, were especially horrendous.
your own idea: no quotations and no source (However, if others have
thought of it, mention their names, too). Example:
Stopping such wars in the future might be more possible if the U.N. were given
additional military support.
(d) Q’s and P’s can support,
explain, develop, or expand what you say.
They are the most typical types of details in a large number of academic papers.
For details and explanations of how to develop quotations and paraphrases, see
"Chapter 29. Quoting and Paraphrasing" in "Section
How To Develop Graphics (Tables, Charts, Pictures, et
Graphics are often used in science, business, and other practical academic and
professional writing. If you are in a course or job
that encourages or requires graphics, here are a few simple guidelines:
Allow adequate blank border space around and/or within graphics.
For ease of access and strongest
effect, place graphics within your
pages--and not at the end in a separate section.
and/or number most graphics
so readers know what they are, and refer to them in your text by number or
location. Most graphics should be placed in
a clearly marked box or other simple shape: the "markings" can be lines, or they
can be well developed surrounding spaces, just as long as the graphics stand out
clearly from the text around them. In addition, when you title these
graphics, consider blind or partly-blind readers. This means you should
create each title outside
of any box or table you create; this allows a computer-audio reading device (for
blind people) to more easily read the title and speak it for a blind reader in
proper auditory order.
(d) There are many simple
graphics programs on computers, now. As a result, if at all possible, it
would be a good idea for you to get to know basic graphics methods (such as
those, for example, in Word). Whether you create computer graphics or draw
some of them by hand, be absolutely precise and professional.
To read more about how to make boxes, tables, and columns, and how to
insert pictures, clip art, and charts or auto shapes, see the section below,
Tables, Colors, Columns, and
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ART OF GRAPHICS
Graphics utilize the parts of our brains that our kindergarten teachers appealed
to: the visual and sensory parts. Using these parts of our brain can be
interesting and even entertaining in the midst of reading and listening to
reports and people who require us to respond logically with words. Graphics
offer a rest from words, a change of pace, which most people's brains tend to
appreciate. In addition, some logical information can be presented much more
quickly and easily in graphic form. A photograph or map of a potential business
site will say more in a quick second than might a 1000-word description of the
One very important principle in graphics is that, often, the blank space on a page or screen of a
report is almost as important as the typed and drawn parts. The reason for this
is that empty space calls attention to what is typed or drawn within it or near
it. For example, the empty space, the lines, and images below call
for you to
There is a very good chance, in fact, that you may have noticed this column
or the images--especially because of the bright colors--before reading the sentences
before and after them. The eye is
drawn to what is inside or near spaces and to images. Our eyes
especially notice colors. And if the images themselves point to or look at
a specific place on the page, as above, then the human eye is more likely to
look there, too. All of this is why we have titles and subtitles
on lines of their own with space and sometimes
|| lines || and
or bold, italics, or
underlining before, after,
or in them. All such devices point to something or create a break, change, or
action for the human eye to find or follow.
In fact, this is exactly the reason that traditional writing has
paragraphing--with an indented beginning or an extra line space before each
paragraph. The extra space creates a noticeable break, thus marking a
change to a new idea or sub-part. And that is also why traditional print
uses lists, columns, subtitles, and titles. All of them provide special
space or marks that make certain parts of a paper noticeable. Breaks,
spaces, color, bold marks, images, and other noticeable changes are just as much
a language as are the actual words themselves.
For this same reason, professional reports often are organized in part by
graphics: visually noticeable lists, graphs, illustration, drawings, diagrams,
or pictures. Graphics draw attention to themselves more quickly than written
paragraphs because of the space around them and their more visual nature.
Graphics also may summarize something much more neatly and quickly than can a
paragraph of normal writing. A picture, as the old newspaper saying goes, is
worth a thousand words (maybe not quite so many in a term paper). In short, the
visual elements of good graphics grab the eye and pull reader attention to that
part of the report.
You should be aware that the use of lists, graphics, and pictures often is
not appropriate for academic reports. This is changing rapidly in our newer,
web-centric, image-heavier world of writing. However, some instructors
still want just traditional print. Always check with your instructor first.
Some companies may prefer no graphics or pictures in some of their most formal
documents, as well, such as legal briefs or statistical reports. However, the overwhelming
most companies now do use and even expect such spatial manipulations in reports,
especially in the use of increasingly sophisticated computer technology and its
complex and rich graphics programs.
You also should,
in particular, use the graphic device called a "subtitle" in most
professional report writing (but only in some academic reports--again, ask the
instructor first). A subtitle is a small title for one of the divisions of a
paper. It usually is one to four words in length, goes on a line of its own
right before the division, and it acts as a title for the division. This
subtitle on a line of its own sets off the division more clearly from what comes
before it. In addition, you should have a summarizing sentence beginning the
paragraph right under the subtitle--a sentence summarizing the topic of that
division. This summarizing sentence may or may not have the words of the
subtitle in it. Be careful--as you make
these subtitles and summarizing sentences--that you do each one for the whole
division--not just that paragraph.
remember to give credit. Whenever you use any kind of graphic that is not
your own, you must have the author's name (and whatever else is required in your
discipline or profession) before or after the graphic, just as you would for a
quotation or paraphrase. Ask your teacher whether he or she wants the
credit in the text that is written before or after the graphic, or in a small
line beneath or beside the graphic--or both. Also, remember, again, to
give each graphic a title that is above or before any box or other shape you may
have drawn around it or made to containing it.
some basic principles of using graphics. Some of them reflect what has
been said above, and some are new or more detailed.
(1) Colors energize. Bright colors are dramatic; light shades are more subtly moving.
Be careful: there are many business and technical writing situations in which the use of
color is considered inappropriate or even tacky. Examples include using colored klpaper
when white or off-white shades should be used, using colored ink for typing instead of
black, and adding colorful but unnecessary borders, designs, and accompanying pictures
when these graphics have nothing to do with the contents of your writing. However, colors
are allowed and even encouraged for graphic situations requiring such devices as pie and
bar charts, complex illustrations, and photographs. When choosing whether or not to use
color, the rule of thumb you should use is to ask yourself what is normal or acceptable
procedure at your place of work, or for your customers. What are your fellow employees,
your boss, or your customers used to seeing in association with your kind of writing or
(2) Space counts. Graphic organization means not just the use of visual devices but
also the proper placement of space around them--and in other parts of your writing, too.
This is why we use margins on typed pages: the space around the typing makes the typing
easier to read. Even the narrowest of professional writing such as pamphlets and even
bookmarks have margins. Another example of the use of space is the practice of
highlighting the beginning of a new paragraph with space: either an indentation at the
beginning of the paragraph or an extra line space before it. A third example of the use of
space occurs in how titles and subtitles are placed: often they are put on a line of their
own. The extra space around them serves to highlight them. Other visual devices also
should have extra space or margins placed around them.
(3) Simplicity matters. Part of the reason that graphic devices are so powerful is that
they are simple. The rule of thumb to follow about simplicity and graphics is that if
regular sentences would explain something more simply than an equivalent graphic device,
then the graphic device is too complex. If it is too complex, then simplify it or get rid
(4) Each visual should be explained. Refer to it in your written material so that it is connected
to your text. Try to place each visual on the page on which you have written about it so
that readers do not have to flip pages and examine two or more pages at once. You may wish
to give a simple explanatory title to each graphic above, below, or to the side of it. In
most reports, title/number your graphics so readers know what they are when you
refer to them in your text by number or title. Do this titling outside
of any box or table you create so that the computer audio reading devices of
blind people will be able to more easily read the titles.
And in longer works, you should provide a separate
"Table of Illustrations" after your "Table of Contents."
(5) Place graphics in, not after, your
pages. Many people find it tempting to simply add the
graphics--charts, tables, etc.--at the end. However, the primary purpose
of graphics in terms of content is to summarize information on a given
page. And the primary purpose in terms of style is to provide an
attractive, eye-catching visual. Both of these purposes are best served
when you place graphics on the pages to which they refer, not at the end in an
(6) Precisely drawn graphics
are a must. Your graphics will be best--at their most professional--if
you can make them using software. However, if you don't have the necessary
skills, you may hand draw your own graphics on your printed copy (if only the
printed copy, not email or Web copies, will be distributed). In hand
drawing, you must be very precise and professional.
It is best to start with an MS Word box or circle first, then finish with
a ruler and thin, dark ink (see "Making MS Word Tables" and, for
making circles, "Other Graphics in MS Word" below).
Checklist for Using Graphics
Here is a checklist of things to consider when you are developing or
On a normal typed page, outer margins should be
about 1"--more if the page is single with a short letter
on it. Margins less than 1" usually are not used on
normal typed pages except in some academic and highly
technical writing. Other printed material will have
margins that are smaller: brochures, for example, often
will have as little as 1/4" around each column of type. Margins also should
appear around visual devices. The visual device should be
centered on the page from left to right; above and below,
use at least one line space and, if the visual is large,
use more. The final result should be judged by how
pleasing it is to the eye.
B. Titles & subtitles:
Major titles and subtitles should be on
their own line of space and one or two spaces after them.
There also should be an extra line or two of space before
subtitles--as much space before as after, or even more
before than after.
Sidebars are small, separate columns of
information, often in a different or smaller print style
or size. They should be boxed by a line at top and bottom
at the least, and preferably by a full box. The box line
should be kept simple so it is not distracting. There
should be a margin on both sides of the left box line and
the right; the top box line should have a margin above and
sometimes below it; the bottom box line should have a
margin below and sometimes above it.
Photos are great and easy to insert. If they are your own,
you don't need to worry about copyright. If they are someone else's, be
sure that they come from a free site or that you have received permission for
them. Most photos work best if they are about 1/3 to 1/2 the width of the
text, or are in a separate column beside the text. The reason for this is
that if your photos are as large as the page, people will pay much more
attention to the photos without reading the accompanying text at the same time
as they are seeing the photo. Photos also make great variety in your text,
and they well illustrate important points. Be sure the photos you choose
are not only sharp but also task oriented: they must go clearly and well with
your textual points. And to make sure this happens, you should label every
photo or give it a phrase or sentence explaining it. The explanation
should help the reader easily and quickly tie the photo in with the part of the
text that it exemplifies or to which it refers. Make the connection
between the photo and the text very easy for the reader to understand so that he
or she is not slowed down in needless confusion, even for a second.
Bar charts, graphed charts, pie charts, and others
all can be very useful ways of conveying information.
Choose whichever method is the simplest and quickest for
conveying the information you want to show in visual form.
Sometimes showing this information in two different forms
is useful: e.g., you might show a business's income
distribution using a pie chart to show relative sizes of
the total amount, and using a bar chart to show
comparisons between different categories of distribution.
If a chart is becoming too complex, you may need to break
the information down into two or more charts. Shading or
color sometimes can be used to simplify a chart which is
in danger of becoming too complex. Three-dimensional
highlighting sometimes can enhance charts if the
highlighting is done very professionally, clearly, and
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COLORS, COLUMNS, IMAGES
Making tables in MS Word is relatively simple if all
you want is a table with similar boxes or squares within it. If you've
never made tables before, start with a simple one using steps "1.," "2.," and
"4." (but not "3.") below.
Start by placing your cursor on the page where you want the table
to appear. If you want it centered, then use the centering function
to center your cursor in the line you want. It is wise to actually create
three line spaces and place your cursor in the middle one. That way you
will have a line space above and below your table, and more important, you will
be able to continue writing UNDER your table when you are done with it.
(The cursor appears to get stuck IN the table if you have not already created an
extra line space under it before you start the table). Then go to either
step "2." or step "3." below, depending on your need.
If you want a small table (1-5 columns and 1-4 rows), just simply
click on the icon that looks a little like a calendar on your standard tool bar.
It is white with a dark bar across the top and shows four columns and three
rows. When a larger table appears, you may use your mouse to highlight
however many boxes (boxes are called "cells") you want. Then
click your mouse once. (If you make an error, remember you can use the
reverse arrow on your standard tool bar to return to previous steps.)
If you want more columns or rows or you want a flexible width to
your cells, then click instead (on the main tool bar) on "Table."
Choose "Insert," and then click on the new "Table"
that appears. You'll get a box of options asking you to choose the number
of columns and rows. You may play with your cell widths if you wish by
using "AutoFit behavior" options. These are especially good if
you want your cells to adjust according to the size of their contents (click on
"AutoFit to contents") or if you want to make your cells wider or
narrower than the preselected automatic size (click on the up/down arrows in the
"Auto" box to choose or write widths in parts of inches).
Click inside your new cells to start typing within them.
Hitting the enter/return key will create a new line inside the same cell.
To get to another cell, hit an arrow key or use your mouse to click on a
For more options, click on "Table." Even
more options are available by turning on the "Tables & Borders"
tool bar. If you don't know how to turn tool bars on and off,
it's simple: place your cursor on any one of the tool bars at the top, right
click your mouse, and then choose whatever tool bars you want or don't want
simply by clicking on them as listed. Using the "Tables &
Borders" tool bar, you can delete, merge, and interchange cells and even
color or shade them.
Shading or Coloring Tables
To shade or color boxes
and tables, right click on “Tables,” mark your table, and then click
on the paint-can icon.
To do columns, go to
“Format” and “Columns.”
Clip Art or Pictures, Charts, & Auto Shapes
or pictures from another file, charts, and
(e.g., a circle for a pie chart), click on “Insert” and “Picture.”
To make a circle, click on “AutoShapes” and, on the resulting
“Drawing-AutoShapes” toolbar, click on the oval icon.
To color an auto shape, mark the auto shape; then, on the
“Drawing-AutoShapes” toolbar, click on the paint-can icon.
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