How to Show Spatial Order

Posted on: November 17, 2009

Spatial order is a way of organizing information to show location or appearance. Like most structural styles, spatial order can be used to organize an entire document, a chapter, or a procedure or an image.

For example, let’s say you are writing a user manual that is to serve as a reference for a product made by your company. You might decide to organize the document according to the parts of the product, so that each chapter would focus on one part. Within each chapter, text and images would describe and show the part. You might also decide to include in each chapter the purpose of the part, how to use it, how to troubleshoot it, and so on.

As you can see from that simple example, organizing a document or image according to spatial order makes sense when you are trying to show physical appearance or location. Spatial order is especially useful in presenting and explaining relationships among the parts of a product.

With that in mind, then, here are some suggestions for showing spatial order in images:

Appearance. Use a photograph or a line drawing to represent an object.

Part/Component. Interior Views: Use an exploded-view diagram (to show a complex part broken down into its constituents, revealing how they fit together and are assembled); a cutaway (to show a small area of an object’s interior, revealing its construction); or a cross-section (to slice through an object, revealing hidden parts). Exterior Views: Use an exploded view or blowup (to zoom in on the constituents of a part), or a structure diagram (to call out or highlight how parts relate to one another).

Relationships. Use a structure diagram, an organizational chart, a blueprint, a map, or a line drawing (to show two or three dimensions).

In all cases, your choice of graphic will depend on exactly what you are trying to show. Using the appropriate graphic to accompany the text can turn your document into a powerful communications tool.

Elizabeth Lexleigh   The Write Ideas


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