Figuring Out Your Figures: 3 Keys to Success

One of the key aspects to writing a great manuscript is creating figures that will capture your audience and convey your desired message. Sometimes this can be a daunting task given the number of different graph types and options at your finger tips. So, what are some general considerations that should guide all of your figure creations? Here are 3 key things that you should keep in mind:

1) Accuracy - Of course, as scientists you need to convey your data in the most honest way possible. It must accurately represent what you are actually seeing. So, avoid things like starting your axes at non-zero values, which might skew how a person might look at the data (especially given that they may not notice that you haven't started at 0 on your axis).

2) Easily Interpreted - The type of graph that you chose should make the data easily interpreted. Also, the more information (within reason) that you can convey on the actual graph the more readers will be able to grasp what you found (without having to refer to the figure caption). For example, if you want to convey how values relate to the total number of things measured, a pie chart would likely be better than a bar graph. Take some time to think about what would make the most sense for the data that you have and the information that you want to pass on to the reader.

3) Aesthetically Pleasing - While you may not think of this as critically important, making your figures eye-catching will draw in readers and get them to read your article. So, use complimentary colours (where appropriate) and colours that are not overly bright and off-putting. Use a font that is easily readable and make it an adequate size. As always, doing the small things when writing a manuscript make a big difference.

Future posts will delve more into the do's and don't of figure creation. So, stay tuned...

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