Easier to map an image than write an essay?
February 3, 2010 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I teach a technical writing class. I'm using Edward Tufte's Beautiful Evidence as the textbook. The first chapter deals with mapped images and the utility of such images. I need examples of text that would be more useful if it were a mapped image instead. I can comb the interwebs for individual examples, but I can't seem to find any sets of said text examples.

It's easy enough to show my students mapped images and explain why they're useful, but I'd like to give them a set of text examples and have them come up with mapped image replacements.
posted by madred to Education (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Textual directions like these:

1. Go two traffic lights past the donut shop
2. Look for the one way sign, keep going
3. Turn left when you see the U-turn
4. Etc.

are much easier to follow on a map with a highlighted path drawn between start- and endpoints.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:22 PM on February 3, 2010

An example for me would be something like a complex set of interpersonal relationships that I need to explain to a reader. For example, how a particular Duke was related to the King, or to another Duke, in early modern England. Worse if I needed to explain how a Scottish landed family was related to a British one, in terms of power, and it required going through the Crowns of both countries.

A clearer example might be all of Queen Victoria's 42 grandchildren, and which royal families of Europe they all ended up in. And while I could tell you the list, based on whom married who, it is a lot easier to construct a mapped image that will tell me Queen Victoria → Princess Alice → Empress Alexandra just by following a line.
posted by strixus at 6:50 PM on February 3, 2010

Adding to what strixus has said, how about familial relations beyond siblings - first cousins, second cousins, the whole "once removed" thing.
posted by davey_darling at 7:24 PM on February 3, 2010

I took a whole class on this once -- using Tufte's principles to turn text into infographics. The course work focused on transforming legal codes (a recycling law, one of the amendments, etc) into flow charts, hierarchies, or other diagrams. Here is an example of just such a legal code visualization that was produced by the professor of the class: Income Tax Map.
posted by superfem at 7:31 PM on February 3, 2010

Lots of good ideas in the Ask Edward Tufte forum on mapped images. Some of the most striking are ones that it wouldn't even occur to us to use text with. Find a text describing the muscles around a bone or the circulatory system versus drawings.
posted by shothotbot at 7:32 PM on February 3, 2010

That income tax map was for sale used on amazon for $0.59 and I have to see it for that price.
posted by shothotbot at 7:34 PM on February 3, 2010

Have them diagram any political oration; this should neatly demonstrate how little information such speeches actually convey. It might be particularly useful to have them map a speech from someone they agree with or admire.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:34 PM on February 3, 2010

You may be interested in many eyes. I have used this visualization tool myself for projects in my human/computer interactions classes. It allows you to create your own data visualizations, but there are also some interesting public ones as well. They might serve as good examples.
posted by billy_the_punk at 10:27 PM on February 3, 2010

How about an example from science? Many elementary mechanics problems seem quite long, but can be reduced to a single labeled diagram.

Biochemical pathways are expressed more clearly in a diagram than a paragraph. This paper describes having students redraw metabolic pathways to make them think more deeply about the proteins involved in each chemical transformation, emphasizing enzymes rather than metabolites; it could also be used to show how different presentations of the same data suggest different ways of interpreting it.

Alternatively, why not let students select a research paper, and summarize its methods and findings visually (perhaps using figure 1 from this NEJM news article as inspiration).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 11:23 AM on February 4, 2010

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