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Coms 363 (L01) Fall 2010 Guidelines for the Critique of two visuals

Due: 7:00 pm, Wed., Nov. 10, 2010 (+ 48 hours’ grace) An individual assignment
Length: 600 to 1000 words (single spaced, please) Weight: 15%

Overview & Formatting: This critique assignment will help you develop expertise in designing effective
tables and graphs for your final report and other documents. Your task is to find one table and one graph
online and to critique them, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, as explained below.

Please format your critique as a memo:

 use the headings date, to, from, and subject
 include an informative subject line
 begin with a brief introduction and conclude with a recommendation section summing up your
recommendations for improving both visuals. (If you have absolutely now recommendations for
improvement, just wrap up with a Conclusions section making that clear.)

Submit your assignment in .doc or .rtf format using the submission portal link under ASSIGNMENTS.

Resources: To complete your critique, please consult the following resources:

 Graves, H., & Graves, R. (2007). A strategic guide to technical communication, Chapter 2, especially
the section on using visuals (pp. 63-72)
 Few, S. (2007). Save the pies for dessert at http://www.perceptualedge.com/articles/08-21-07.pdf
 North Carolina State University (NCSU). (2004). LabWrite Resources, at

Locating visuals to work with: To find visuals online, try the following strategies:
 Search Google Images using "Figure," "Graph," "Table," or “Exhibit” as your search term
 Add a number (e.g., "Figure 5”) to increase the possibility of finding a visual in a document
 For a visual on a particular topic, add a descriptor (e.g., “Figure 4” + employment).
 If you wish, narrow your search by adding a term like “Canada” or a year. (A Google Images search
using the combined search terms “Figure 4” + employment + Canada will yield apx. 1.6 million hits.]
Note: you may take both the table and the graph from the same document, and you may find your
assignment easier to write if you select a visual that has at least a few shortcomings.

Formatting your assignment: Begin with a brief introduction (e.g., “In this memo, I analyze two visuals
and present recommendations for improvement.”) In the body of your memo, present the first visual you’re
analyzing, followed by a brief overview and your analysis (as explained below). Do the same for the second
visual. Use subheadings to organize your memo.

When you copy and paste the visuals into your memo, avoid images that are too small to read easily or that
look terrible when expanded in your document. If necessary, use an appendix to present very large visuals,
and refer your reader to the appendix (e.g., “See Appendix A”) the first time you mention the visual. Note:
Don’t copy the thumbnail visual from Google Images. Instead, click on the visual or its link to locate the full-
size visual in its original location within a document. Then to copy the visual into your document, select it
(by placing your cursor over it), right-click, and click on COPY or on SAVE IMAGE AS.

Be sure to copy and paste in the visual’s title and any caption included in the article. Just below each figure,
include a caption with the source information in APA format. Here’s a sample citation:

Figure 2a: Employment rate during the school year, full-time students aged 15 to 17, by
gender, Canada, 1976-1977 to 2004-2005
[graph inserted here]
Source: Usalcas, J., & Bowlby, G. (2008). Students in the labour market:
Labour force survey. Retrieved February 22, 2010, from Statistics Canada:

Overview & Analysis: For each visual,

 provide a two- or three-sentence introductory overview giving some context about the document in
which you found the visual and the role of the visual in that document.

 comment on the title and caption for the graphic or table. Consider the following questions:
o Is the title clear and informative enough for the visual to make sense on its own? If not,
suggest a more specific title.
o If a caption is included, is it clear and useful? If one is not included, is one needed?
(Note: a caption is extra information often presented below a visual or just after its title.)

 evaluate the choice of visual and its overall effectiveness in conveying information.
Consider questions such as the following:
o If the information is presented in a table, would a graph have been a better choice?
o If the information is presented in a graph, would a different kind of graph have worked better
(e.g., a bar graph instead of a line graph or a pie chart)?
o Is the visual too complex or overloaded with information for the reader to be able to access
information from it effectively? Is the visual too simple?

 critique the design of the visual. As applicable, consider such aspects as the following:
o the choice of units of measure and the starting point for the y (vertical) axis (for a graph)
o the labels, legends, or other information included in the visual
o the column and row headers used in the table
o the detail in the information provided (e.g., are all columns in the table necessary?)
o design elements such as the size of the visual and the use of colour
o the “honesty” of the visual. (Could the visual mislead the reader in any way?)

Advice on completing the assignment:

 Focus your discussion on the most relevant aspects of the visual. You need not address all of
the elements suggested in the bulleted points above (or only those aspects).
 Develop your analysis in well focused paragraphs. Avoid overly long paragraphs.
 Consider using subheadings or embedded headings to structure your critique. (Note: embedded
headings typically appear in bold at the beginning of a paragraph, like “Grading guidelines” below.)
 Explain your reasoning and cite sources to support your analysis (e.g., if you say that a bar
chart would have been a better choice than a line graph, explain why and cite a source to support your
 Suggest potential improvements in the use or design of the visuals, and summarize your
recommendations at the end of your memo.
 Provide APA-style in-text citations for all references to sources. For quotations, cite page
numbers. If no page number is available for an online source, cite a paragraph number and a section
title if needed—e.g. The line graph is a good choice as it shows “the rate of change (slope) between
individual data points” (UNSC, 2004, “Line graph,” para. 2).
 Include a final recommendation section. You may use point form for your recommendations.
 Include a full reference list in APA format with entries for the source documents of both visuals as
well as for any sources you refer to in your analysis.

Grading guidelines: Assignments in the "A" grade range will adhere to these guidelines and will
• offer an excellent critique of the visuals, including an overview and addressing the title, the overall
effectiveness, and the design of each visual
• include explicit reasoning and source citations to support the analysis
• be clear, effectively organized, well written, and free (or nearly free) of editorial problems, including
errors in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and citation.
Assignments with obvious room for improvement in any of these areas will likely receive a grade in the B
range. Assignments with serious shortcomings will likely receive a grade in the C to F range, depending on
the problems. Assignments that make general points that you could have made without consulting the
resources will certainly lose marks as will assignments that do not address obvious weaknesses in a visual.
Markers may use their discretion in applying these guidelines.