Interpreting Graphics in Expository Texts

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  • 0:04 Expository Text
  • 1:07 Interpreting Graphics
  • 1:48 Illustrations & Photographs
  • 2:41 Charts & Graphs
  • 3:40 Diagrams & Timelines
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Expository texts frequently use graphics to present facts and information. In this lesson, we'll discuss some ways to interpret the graphics found in expository texts.

Expository Text

Take a moment to think back on the many textbooks you have used throughout your education. They may have been traditional hardbound books, or maybe even electronic books. You've most likely used textbooks for all subjects ranging from English to math to science and everything in between. But what do these textbooks have in common?

Textbooks, designed to present facts and information to readers, are examples of expository texts. Expository texts are designed to explain, inform and present facts on specific topics.

Now, take a moment to think about the graphics that you've seen in textbooks, like the illustrations, photographs, charts, graphs, diagrams, and timelines used to help present the topic at hand. Just as picture books use images to help new readers understand the words on the page, authors of expository texts use graphics to help readers understand the concepts presented.

Now that we understand what expository texts are and how graphics are used in them, let's take a closer look at some ways to interpret graphics in expository texts.

Interpreting Graphics

Not all graphics used in a text will be helpful and easy to understand. Some charts, graphs and presentations of data can be difficult to follow and interpret and, therefore, have the potential to confuse students. Conversely, some students skip over the graphics because they think they are not important. That's why it is essential to understand how graphics are displayed and take the steps necessary to match them up with corresponding text.

Authors include graphics to broaden understanding, so students must know how to read and interpret them as they are essential aspects of understanding the material. Let's look at the different types of graphics commonly used in expository texts along with some strategies for interpretation.

Illustrations and Photographs

Of the many types of graphics used in expository texts, illustrations and photographs are usually the easiest to interpret. An illustration is a drawing or sketch. By comparison, a photograph provides a literal snapshot of the person, place or thing being discussed. Both provide visual representations of concepts and facts to readers that serve to increase their overall understanding of the material.

It is important for readers to use the illustrations and photographs in a text to deepen their engagement with the material. Readers should pay special attention to any captions or titles added to the photographs. For example, if a photograph of a historical figure is displayed in an expository text, it will usually be accompanied by important information, such as the person's name, title, date and place where the photograph was taken. This information is key to the interpretation process.

Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs may be a bit more challenging for readers in terms of interpretation. Charts and graphs are usually used to present data. They are useful because they allow a lot of data to be presented in a small amount of space. Also, charts and graphs allow for unique organization of the data being presented.

For example, let's assume we are reading a science textbook about plant growth. A chart could easily show us the rates of growth for many different types of plants in one neat box. If the author had presented the same information in prose form, it would have take up a lot more space in the textbook. It also would have taken longer to read.

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