Illustrations in Technical Writing

Bradley Nice
5 min readJun 4, 2021


by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp — all-in-one help authoring tool

Don’t be fooled with the title “writers.” Technical writers frequently present their work using visuals. Cause there are different learning styles they apply and the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words. Information is communicated more easily with visuals.

Visuals help to present complex information (like technical processes) in portions. Abstract concepts also become more definite with a relevant graph or another type of technical illustration.

Product Illustration

Technical drawings are a crucial element of your content, especially when you’rу writing the documents for a company that sells physical products requiring some level of assembly or operation. Take Lego, for instance; they have hips of documentation for constructing their many products. They use a mixture of illustrative and instruction visuals to add interest to the documentation and explain something more clearly. Look at their documentation for the Creative White Brick collection:

Creative White Brick collection
Creative White Brick collection

Technical illustrations are helpful when documenting a product in an instruction manual, and you want your users to check that all the parts are included. The trouble is, many users could be unaware of the technical names of the hardware. That’s when diagrams come for help. On a graph, a user can see visuals that show what some of the parts look like instead of just relying on technical names.

Excerpt from Toyota Corolla Hatchback / Hybrid Owner’s Manual 2019–2020

Operational instructions are also included since Toyotas have some available functions that wouldn’t be intuitively known. Toyota uses lettered points to refer to each part name instead of stuffing all the words into the diagram itself.

Note that this diagram is as minimal as possible. A black-and-white line drawing is much easier for someone to comprehend and learn from than a photograph. It cuts out the unnecessary visual noise and focuses on what is essential to know at that moment.

Abstract Concepts Illustration

You don’t have to be on the level of Lego (or Toyota) when creating visual technical documentation. Writers documenting API docs, SaaS docs, or any other kind of service may have few illustrations. But the advantages of using visuals in your technical writing exist.

You can show your users how to use the editor, such as a screenshot and a small visual cue.

Though it’s obvious for many that screenshots and other imagery are good for technical documentation, some companies rely solely on text to communicate. This results in a more inferior User Experience for customers and perhaps frustration with the product.

Abstract information can more easily be conveyed through visuals, whether a diagram, infographics, screen capture, GIF, etc. It helps to instruct your users visually instead of explaining an idea using just words, which may be inadequate or ambiguous. Visuals can present abstract information more concrete, portraying a process that would otherwise take many words to communicate.

Even sounds can be illustrated. Technical writers working at Electrolux have discovered a creative way to do that. This illustration describes various sound (noises) which occur inside a freezer during its everyday use.

Electrolux AGN58210F0 Freezer user manual

What Tools to Use for Visuals

If you can interpret graphics that explain information, you also can come up with your own. And for that, you need only suitable tools.

  • Snagit for screen captures. It helps you record your screen captures, and you can also annotate them with visual aids such as callouts, arrows, and shapes.
  • Visio for diagrams. Create your diagrams and vector graphics with Microsoft Visio. It comes with in-built templates and shapes to drag and drop to create your custom imagery.
  • Photoshop for GIFs. You can make your GIFs in PhotoShop, which is Adobe’s industry-standard graphics editing software.
  • SmartDraw for mind maps. It was designed to enable you to make diagrams such as flowcharts and mind maps if you don’t want to toy around with the clipart in Word.
  • Canva for infographics. It is a graphic design platform used to create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents, and other visual content.

Choose Your Type of Technical Illustration

Technical illustrations are widely used in the sciences and engineering. For example, it’s used regularly in aerospace and the military. In industries like consumer electronics, companies also make heavy use of technical illustrators to document products.

As a technical writer, you probably use supporting visuals like screen captures, simple diagrams, and GIFs. You may also insert a screencast or video from time to time.

Start experimenting with basic visual additions to your documentation and work up from there. You can use a simple pen and paper to launch your ideas and then move them into your favorite digital tools.

The key is to make your documentation understandable without images but scatter them to add more meaning to your content.

Have a nice day!

Bradley Nice, Content Manager at — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors



Bradley Nice

Content Manager at 👈. I write about web design, web development and technical writing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook