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September 7th, 2011

Figure it out: A quick tutorial on effective graphics for scientific papers

Published on September 7th, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire

 

CIE chromaticity coordinates of the IPC-I, IPC-II and reference sample, from “Color Tunable Upconversion Emission in Yb, Er Co-Doped Bismuth Titanate Inverse Opal,” JACerS, August 2011. Credit: JACerS.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there are things you can do to ensure full value according to a new paper published in Advanced Materials.

Marco Rolandi, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Washington, teamed up with two professors who specialize in visual design and communications on the paper, “A Brief Guide to Designing Effective Figures for the Scientific Paper” (doi:10.1002/adma.201102518).

As the authors note, figures are often the first part of a paper that an editor, peer reviewer or reader look at, and “Well-designed figures can help the audience better understand the objectives and results of your research.”

This short paper gets right to the point, outlining five steps for designing effective figures.

1. Design figures for the audience (not for you)
2. Focus on the most important information
3. Design a clear visual structure
4. Use visual contrast, but keep figures simple
5. Create legible and readable typography

It’s tempting to say more, but this three-page paper is very readable, and you’ll get more out of reading it yourself. Plus, it has great figures to illustrate its argument.

The paper is available free from Advanced Materials.

If you are interested in digging deeper, see this review of Howard Wainer’s Picturing the Uncertain World: How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display.


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