Choose the right media for your message

By Stephanie Krieger

Whether reading a book, a magazine, or a business document, everyone looks at the pictures. So if you're going to grab your reader's attention with pictures, be sure you're making the statement that you want to make.

Clip art and other graphics can add a lot to your documents, but adding a random image just to have a graphic does not add power to your message — and may detract from it. The same can be said for using color in your documents. But a well-selected image, chart, or diagram, or a thoughtfully selected color can help you make a professional impression with much less work than you might expect.

This article will provide tips and advice on how to select and create the right image, chart, or diagram for the specific statement that you want to make.

It's the message that matters

The document that just landed on your desk is important. You need to make it look professional and impressive; it must attract and hold the reader's attention. The good news is that incorporating graphics into your Microsoft Office Word 2003 documents can be very easy to do. But before you begin, keep in mind that the purpose of adding graphics is to emphasize the document's message.

When a document is important, it's the content that matters. When you use graphics, focus on drawing the reader's attention to what the document has to say rather than to the document itself.

Making effective choices

So, how do you make the best choices for your particular document? Take a look at an example that uses varying versions of the same Word document.

The following page is well crafted, with heading, page border, and bullet colors that coordinate with the company logo. The color helps to organize the page, but the bulleted text does not make enough of a visual impression.

Microsoft Word document

The bulleted text highlights two important successes that you want to emphasize. To draw attention to these important bulleted points, you might insert an attention-grabbing image. However, although the clip art used in the following version will certainly get the reader's attention, will it help emphasize the important information in those bullet points, and will it make the professional impression that you want?

Microsoft Word document with clip art

Instead of selecting a graphic just to attract attention, use graphics to focus attention on what you're trying to say. For example, consider a simple Microsoft Office Excel 2003 chart that effectively conveys the success story described in the text, as the following version does.

Microsoft Word document with chart

The chart demonstrates an important point and helps draw the reader's attention to the message that the document is trying to convey.

So, does this mean that using clip art is bad? Not at all! In fact, Microsoft Office Online provides 140,000 pieces of clip art, so it's likely that you can find the right clip art to include in your document. A lot of clip art can even be customized to suit your needs, as explained later in this article. The point is to make sure that your choice of graphic is right for a particular document.

Asking the right questions

To help you determine the right type of graphic and even the best program to use to create the graphic, consider the following three questions:

  • Who is your intended reader?

If you're writing the document for your manager's boss, the appropriate graphics might be different than if you're writing it for the company's new interns. Similarly, whether your reader is a client, a vendor, or a colleague might make a significant difference in the tone of your message.

Additionally, consider the professional style of the intended reader, if you know it. For example, if the document is going to a client company that's a conservative law firm, you might consider different graphics than if the client company was a stylish design firm.

  • How will your reader likely view the document?

When you deliver a document in print, you know that the reader will see exactly the same pages that you see. But, when you deliver a document electronically, you can't control how the document appears on the reader's computer screen or how the document appears after it's printed by the reader. For example, because you don't know what type of printer the reader will use, it's important that you choose graphics containing colors that print clearly both in black and white and in color. This point is also important if you deliver the document to the reader by fax.

  • What type of content is the graphic intended to emphasize?
    • If you need to draw attention to impressive numeric data, an Excel chart is likely the way to go.
    • If the graphic is demonstrating points about organization, workflow, or other factual information that's not data-driven, consider a presentation graphic or a Microsoft Office Visio 2003 diagram.
    • If you want an effective image to draw attention to a point rather than to directly illustrate the point, a well-chosen piece of clip art or other picture might be just what you need.

Creating well-crafted, highly effective graphics

After you decide what type of graphic you need, how you create and present it can have a significant bearing on its effectiveness. A picture will get attention whether it's good or bad, but the effect of a good picture can differ dramatically from that of a bad one. So, be sure that the graphics you add make the best statement possible about your document.

For example, a well-crafted chart looks professional and enables data to shine through. But a chart that contains inconsistent or awkward formatting can detract from the professionalism of the document and can cause important points to lose their impact. Compare the following images.


The chart on the left makes an effective statement because it clearly expresses a single point and it's well crafted and easy to read. The chart on the right contains the exact same data, but misaligned shapes and chart elements and unreadable data labels make its message far less impressive.

Getting the perfect graphic every time

Think about the last time you waited in a grocery store checkout line. Did you look at the pictures on the tabloid magazine covers? Of course you did. We all do. Whether good or bad, pictures get attention. So when you go to the trouble of adding to your document a graphic intended to gain or focus the reader's attention, be sure that it makes the statement that you want to make.

Choose your graphics wisely, and then take advantage of the tools available to you in Microsoft Office System products to create that graphic more quickly and easily than you might imagine.

More information

About the author     Stephanie Krieger is a Microsoft MVP and a document production expert with more than 10 years of consulting experience, as well as the author of the book Microsoft Office Document Designer. Stephanie writes for several pages on the Microsoft Web site, including Microsoft At Work and Office Online, and she regularly delivers Microsoft Office tips and tricks webcasts.

Applies to:
Excel 2003, Visio 2003, Word 2003