Technical Writing Tip – Visual Analogies – How and When to Use Them

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Written by John Lafferty

John Lafferty, Northridge Quality and Validation
Read time: 2 minutes
For those of you who have been following our Technical Writing Tips of the Month, you will be familiar with the “Outside-In Approach” discussed in the Tip of the Month Outside In Approach.  In that tip, we discussed the 5 steps to using the “Outside-In Approach”. The second step of this technique is to decide what you need to communicate to make the message understood. Using visual analogies and symbols can be an excellent way to make your message understood and therefore I recommend that you read an article written by Anna Vital of
This article is an excellent explanation of how and when to use visual analogies. The article is a valuable resource to keep on hand when writing technical documents. Below we have summarised the key points and given a link to the full article.

60% of us are visual learners

The author begins by stating that “about 60% of the world population are visual learners. How do you talk to us through images without translating them into words? Use ubiquitous visual symbols and analogies.”

70 types of visual symbols explained

She then explains 70 types of charts, diagrams, ordinary and abstract analogies and how best to use them. Best of all, she provides a link to an example of every type.

5 Principles for Finding the Best Analogy

Ms Vital gives 5 principles for finding the best visual analogy as follows:
1. It looks familiar to most people

2. It has a structure

3. It matches your narrative’s structure

4. It is visible in the body of the text (rather than in an appendix)

5. It is visual (something that is easy to see)


She concludes her article as follows: “what matters is a strong connection to a mental image. This connection explains the information you are visualizing without you having to tell it, you have no space to do that in a visualization.” (the author means that the information is explained without the use of text)    
Read the full article here

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About John Lafferty – Course Tutor

John Lafferty is the Technical Writing Skills course tutor at SQT Training Ltd. He also delivers courses in areas such as Process Validation, Software Validation, and Risk Management for Medical Devices. John runs a Quality Management Consultancy, Northridge Quality and Validation Services, specialising in the area of Medical Device and Pharmaceutical Quality Systems.