Everyone loves a good graphic, even (especially?) in academic writing. I’ve already written blog posts about creating effective data visualizations and tables, and in this post I’ll focus on other types of graphics that you might include in your publications on engaged learning. 


If you’ve created a model or framework, or you’re describing a process, it’s a great idea to create a visual representation of it. Diagrams can help readers grasp large concepts quickly and understand your big idea as you discuss smaller details within your text. 

A circular diagram of five aspects of "Intentional and Effective Teaching": what we teach; who we teach; how we teach; how we assess; who we are
Diagram from Teaching for Equity and Inclusion, a guide created by Elon’s Center for Advancement of Teaching & Learning 

The best diagrams are simple. It can be tempting to try to include everything, but try to focus on representing only the biggest, overarching ideas of your argument. Use as few words as possible; you may want to use icons to help convey ideas visually. The Noun Project is a great resource for free, high-quality icons (just make sure you give attribution). 

Remember that many books are printed in black and white, so you may be limited when choosing colors. For our Open Access Book Series, we incorporate color graphics (as most of our readers are accessing the PDFs), but we have to make sure that they still work in grayscale for those readers who purchase a print-on-demand copy. If you incorporate color, use a tool like Adobe Color to help you choose an appropriate palette that is also accessible for those with disabilities. 

A pyramid diagram showing four layers of collaboration: infrastructure (at base of pyramid); academic environment; co-curricular environment; pinnacle of intentional integration. Each layer of the model is connected by assessment.
A best practices model for living learning communities (Inkelas, Jessup-Anger, Benjamin, and Wawrzynski 2018) 

Photos and Scans 

Though relatively rare in academic writing, authentic photos from your research can be an excellent contribution to your book. Cassandra Volpe Horii and Martin Springborg argue in their forthcoming book, What Teaching Looks Like, that photos capturing real moments of learning and teaching can offer insight into the complexities of higher education, help people understand the perspectives of others, and prompt readers to think differently and with more nuance about the student and faculty experience. 

If you do include photos, it’s important that the files are large enough to be printed in the book or journal with no blurriness or pixilation. Publishers will require that all images have a resolution of at least 300 pixels per inch. Resolution can be confusing, but just remember this simple equation that will tell you how large your photo needs to be: Desired size (in inches) X 300 = pixel dimension. So, if the trim size of your book will be 6”x9” and you want your photo to fill the page, you’ll need the photo to be at least 2,700 pixels tall (9 inches x 300 pixels per inch). Luckily, most modern cell phones take excellent photos now and will create images large enough for most purposes. 

A dark-skinned young person is sitting at a desk and surrounded by other young people of varying skin tone. They are visibly engaged in conversation and pointing to one of many pieces of paper laid out before them.
Students engage in small group discussion during a comparative literature class at a baccalaureate institution. Photo by Martin Springborg, from What Teaching Looks Like, by Horii and Springborg, forthcoming from the CEL Open Access Book Series. 

You may also have artifacts from your research that would be useful for readers to see. The example below is a photo of a map, drawn by a student, of the various types of writing she does across contexts of her life (e.g., in the classroom, for student organizations, to engage with her elected officials, and for herself). If you don’t have access to a high-quality scanner, you can still take good photos of the artifacts with your phone. This video shares great tips about lighting and positioning the phone. 

Hand-drawn diagram showing four circles connected with double-ended arrows. Handwritten text in the circles: "co-curricular (essays for org applications, emails, meeting minutes)"; "academic (scientific writing, research papers, scholarship applications)"; "self-motivated (poems, short stories, social media); "civic writing (emails to community organizations, emails, use of social media platforms to bring awareness)
Student-drawn map of the types of writing they do, from Writing Beyond the University, edited by Bleakney, Moore, and Rosinski, forthcoming from the CEL Open Access Book Series. 

Illustrations and Drawings 

Though they are less common in the academic writing of many disciplines, illustrations and drawings can be appropriate (and awesome!) to include in certain types of writing. One of the intended goals of our Open Access Book Series is to push the boundaries of academic writing and to allow authors to experiment with things not often seen in traditional book publishing. The Power of Partnership is a great example—this edited collection brings together stories, poetry, dialogue, essays, and illustrations that, in the words of editor Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, create “space for sharing our work together on partnership that isn’t bogged down in the corset-like structures of academic ‘rigor’” (Mercer-Mapstone and Abbot 2020, 1). If you or one of your contributing authors have a talent for illustration, don’t be afraid to explore how you might incorporate it into your writing. 

Illustration showing quotes from and drawings representing section one of the book Power of Partnership
Graphic representation of section 1 of The Power of Partnership, created by illustrator Sam Hester. 


Please remember that you (the author) are responsible for securing permission to reproduce any graphics that were not created by you, unless they are in the public domain or carry a Creative Commons license. This blog post about understanding permissions may be helpful. Always check with your publisher’s style guidelines to determine how to give attribution. For authors in our Open Access Book Series, our Author Guide has instructions on how to write appropriate credit lines. 

I hope this post helps you think creatively about the types of graphics that might enrich your text! If you’re writing for one of the CEL book series or our blog, I’d love to work with you on your graphics, and I’m always happy to answer questions. Email me at jgoforth@elon.edu

This post is an installment in our series on academic book publishing


Inkelas, Karen Kurotsuchi, Jody E. Jessup-Anger, Mimi Benjamin, and Matthew R. Wawrzynski. 2018. Living-Learning Communities that Work: A Research-Based Model for Design, Delivery, and Assessment.  Sterling, VA:  Stylus. 

Mercer-Mapstone, Lucy, and Sophia Abbot. 2019. The Power of Partnership: Students, Staff, and Faculty Revolutionizing Higher Education. Elon, NC: Center for Engaged Learning. https://doi.org/10.36284/celelon.oa2. 

Art in book icon in the featured image of this blog post was created by Flatart from NounProject.com

Jennie Goforth is the Center for Engaged Learning’s Managing Editor. She works with authors to shepherd their work from proposal through production in the Center’s Open Access Book Series. She also manages production of book websites and supplemental materials for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching.

How to cite this post

Goforth, Jennie. 2022. “Academic Publishing: Diagrams, Photos and Illustrations.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. January 18, 2022. http://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/academic-publishing-diagrams-photos-and-illustrations.