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Interpreting Graphics in Persuasive & Functional Texts

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

A piece of writing may consist of much more than words. Many functional and persuasive texts also include graphics. This lesson discusses how to interpret several types of graphics.

The Role of Graphics in Text

You know the saying: 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. The written word is powerful but there are times when a graphic can amplify or clarify written ideas or information. This is true in both functional and persuasive texts. A functional text usually contains everyday information but serves a specific function or purpose. Flyers, pamphlets, and even instructional manuals are all functional texts. On the other hand, persuasive texts aim to convince others to do or believe something.

When using and analyzing these two types of text, we should also examine the use of graphics, which are any pictures or images that support the written content. In text, graphics help to clarify meaning or show examples in the written selection. Let's look at several of the many types of graphics an author can use.

Diagrams

The first type of graphic is a diagram, which is a visual representation of an object. Diagrams often show the structure of the object. Look at the following example of a diagram of the human heart.

Diagram of the human heart
heart diagram

This diagram, which uses colors to clearly show the parts of the heart, could also be useful in many functional or persuasive texts. Imagine you're writing a persuasive essay on the dangers of cholesterol, or that you've received a pamphlet on how fatty foods affect the heart. Having a visual of the heart would support the text in both of those instances, because different parts of the heart are likely to be mentioned.

To interpret diagrams, be sure to check the labels or any other symbols. Sometimes diagrams have a key, which is a small part of the visual that tells what each symbol means. Many diagrams use a variety of symbols, so be sure to carefully analyze any key so you can interpret the diagram.

Pie Chart

A second graphic is the pie chart, which is a circular visual that is split into sections. The whole circle represents 100% and the circle is split up according to data or statistics. If you're using one in your own writing, be sure all the sections add up to 100; otherwise there will be a flaw in the pie chart. Look at this example of countries of H-1B countries of origin.

100% of this pie chart is colorful!
pie chart

Note how this pie chart is also color coded. Pie charts benefit from color coding as it makes it much easier to see the specific sections within the chart. Also, note how the individual percentages are listed along with the labels, making it clear how much of each religion is represented. To interpret pie charts, relate individual sections to the whole 100%. For example, referring to this pie chart, you can see that just over half the U.S. population is Protestant.

Bar Graph

Another type of graphic is the bar graph, which uses rectangles of different heights to represent numbers. Look at the example of a bar graph showing favorite ice cream flavors.

bar graph

This bar graph is a great example of how to use the bars to prove a point. Using this graph, you can easily see that strawberry is the most popular flavor, followed by chocolate, and then vanilla. In addition, note how the axes, or the horizontal and vertical lines, are labeled and numbered. When interpreting a bar graph, look closely at these labels, as every bar graph should have them. Finally, also pay close attention to what the numbers mean.

Flowcharts

Next, a flowchart is another example of a graphic that can be used in a persuasive or functional text. Flowcharts show the sequence of processes involved in a complicated system. What if one day you went to turn on the lamp but nothing happened? Here is a flow chart that might help.

Here is a hint: it is usually the bulb.
flow chart

This example, as simplistic as it is, clearly shows the basic function of flowcharts. Essentially, one idea will lead into another based on a certain pattern or result. In text, a flow chart might be used to demonstrate how an author came to a specific conclusion or to help the reader determine a course of action.

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