Using Compelling Visual Explanations

Many proposals show fatal signs of visual impoverishment.  They consist of long sentences and paragraphs, narrow page margins, little white space, and no tables, charts, graphs, or pictures.  These proposals, regardless of the quality of their content, are difficult to read and understand.

However, you can take steps to make your proposals more visually effective.  One approach is to work closely with a graphics artist or desktop publisher on the design and content of the proposal.  Another is to think like a person who is a visual learner and ask yourself:  what kinds of visuals should I include to foster interest and comprehension?

These are not abstract questions.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that good visuals dramatically increase understanding.  They are neither fluff nor entertainment but an important aspect of effective communication.

To use visuals to engage reviewers and help them better understand your proposal narrative, take these steps:

  • Show the data.  Visuals are “intelligence made visible.”
  • Give reviewers clear, stimulating high-density data so that they can exercise their full mental powers.
  • Use colors to enhance data comprehension.
  • Use words, numbers, and visuals in close proximity.
  • Integrate visuals with the text.
  • Avoid “chart junk,” decorative visual elements that provide no data and cause confusion.

For inspiration, I recommend the following books:

  • Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2001).
  • Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explanations (1998).
  • Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information (1990).
  • Michael T. Parkinson, Billion Dollar Graphics:  40 Powerful Ways to Show your Ideas (2006).

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