Using visual aids is usually not mandatory for research papers; however, incorporating non-text elements into your paper adds extra touches that help your paper seem more original. Depending on your topic, you may even find that visual aids are necessary. What you write, from the quality to the effective use of quotations, is ultimately the most important part of any research paper, but visual aids can provide that special touch.
Examples of visual aids include, but are not limited to, the following:
When using visual aids, you want to choose aids that directly relate to your topic and that are appropriate. Not only do visual aids give life to the written text of your paper, but they aid in understanding information. Charts, graphs and diagrams, for example, help show relationships much better than simply listing a bunch of statistics and hoping they all make sense in written form.
Using visual aids adds a new dimension to your paper only if they are in line with your topic. For example, if you are writing about the effects of droughts on grain farmers, including a visual aid of how droughts affect every type of farmer is inappropriate. However, using a visual aid that shows the difference in crop yields related to the annual rainfall in inches is appropriate.
Using visual aids can also create a positive aesthetic effect because well-placed visual aids break up long sections of text. Another effective use of visual aids is presenting large amounts of statistical data that would otherwise be difficult to incorporate into the text of your research paper. Visual representation of information naturally draws the eyes of your readers, so selecting aids that aim to emphasize a specific aspect of your paper can strengthen the overall quality and effectiveness of it.
Just like you are required to cite sources for direct and indirect quotations, you need to provide citation information to give credit to the original source when using visual aids. Use the normal in-text citation format for the specific style guide you are using, and always include the bibliographic information for a visual aid in your list of references, whether it is the Works Cited page of MLA format, the Reference List of APA format or another page in a different format.
When using visual aids, you must label each aid you incorporate within the body of your research paper. Aim to create a title that is relevant and adequately explains what the aid represents. In addition, always include a figure number to which you can refer within the text portions of your research paper. Referencing the visual aid in the text is also a must.
Official styles guides usually provide information about how to format visual aids, but always check with your instruction on any specific requirements for using visual aids with your specific research paper project.
If you are looking for a special touch that makes your research paper stand out, using visual aids is a good choice. However, only incorporate these aids if you have the time and if they relate directly to your research topic. Above all else, remember that keeping the focus and most effort directed at writing an effective argument and handing in a flawless final draft.