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Preparation of Scientific Figures

Introduction

Scientific figures are an essential component of manuscripts, presentations, and outreach activities, providing the audience with an overview of vast bodies of text in a visual format. For this reason, it’s important that the figures are not only informative, but also eye catching. When readers initially view a paper, journals frequently display the figures alongside the abstract, so it can be a great way of drawing the reader in, without having read the main body of text. For presentations, check that when running the slideshow that the figure is clear and purposeful, as well as size compatibilities on the slide. There are multiple types of figures, ranging from photographs, data, or simply diagrammatical schematics. Here’s a few tips to make sure your figures stand out as much as possible.

1. Photographs

Ensure the lighting is sufficient and well positioned for the photo, so as that important features of the photo subject are highlighted and not casting shadows. The photo should be adjusted so that the subject is in centre frame. If possible, high quality photography equipment should be used to take the photographs, with sufficient resolution to show what is required from the photo, for example between 300-600 DPI (dots per inch).


2. Data

Various programmes are available to help display data, whether it be presented as a graph or as an image. Ensure that whatever software you’re choosing allows the data to be presented professionally. There are many software programmes available online to facilitate this. It’s important that data is displayed clearly within figures so that the reader can interpret results quickly but correctly. Data figures should never be overcrowded within the paper, as this may cause confusion and stop the “flow” of the manuscript.


3. Schematics

Again, multiple options are available to you when preparing a schematic. Throughout a manuscript, the overall style of schematic should remain consistent, to provide a sense of continuity for the reader. By this I mean if clip arts are used in one figure, the second figure could also be clip art based – this will also help you as an author define your own style of figures and become more recognisable. PowerPoint is a widely available software that many use to prepare schematics, although if the expertise is available, programmes such as Photoshop and Biorender can be used to produce impactful figures. You should always research figures within related fields to avoid any similarity issues but also to help draw inspiration to deem what was captivating and what wasn’t.


4. Figure description

The figure description is also an important feature to consider when writing a manuscript. The figure description should be informative and concise, providing a summary of what is displayed in the figure. It’s recommended that figure descriptions aren’t too long, unless completely necessary. It’s important to check copyright laws for individual figures to determine what kind of referencing is required if aspects of the figure are reproduced.


In summary, figures are a powerful tool to bolster the impact of your manuscript. Valuable information can be gained from a figure and can often draw many citations. Make sure that the number of figures within the manuscript is appropriate for the length of text to ensure you work appears credible.


Hopefully this post has been helpful and will lead you to improve the quality of your manuscripts and presentations!


By Teddles


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