AuthorAID Workshop on Research Writing Nepal March 2011 Tables and Figures: Some Basic Advice Ravi Murugesan, MS, ELS Training Coordinator [email protected] The Big Picture • IMRaD format in scientific papers – Introduction, Materials and methods, Results, and Discussion – You will learn more about these sections in the coming days • Where are tables and figures in IMRaD? – Can be associated with any section • Tables and figures are an established element of scientific research papers Tables • Rule of thumb: Use tables to present data that is detailed and that is important • Tables are “expensive” in terms of space requirements and formatting demands • Consider using text instead of tables if data is: – Not detailed: One or two sentences can be used to describe the data – Not important: The entire data does not need to be presented; instead, a summary can be given in text Rows and Columns • Tables should be formatted so that they have to be read horizontally (left to right) – the natural reading style – Not vertically (top to bottom) • Arrange data in a table such that each row is complete in itself, and the different rows can be compared to each other Checking Tables • Units are given in the column headings for all columns that require units • Numerical data are presented accurately – When dealing with large quantities, consider using exponents in the column headings • Table formatting meets journal requirements – Usually only three horizontal lines (above and below the column headings, below the table) and no vertical lines • Footnotes, if used, are correctly linked to the appropriate parts of the table • The table is descriptive enough to be understandable without the text Figures • Rule of thumb: Use figures to – Show trends in data (as graphs) – Present schematic diagrams, images, photographs, and maps Figures: Diagrams, Images, Photographs, Maps • Clarity: Make sure that all the parts of the figure are clear and legible at the figure size you have used • Completeness: – Label the important parts of schematic diagrams – Insert scale in images and maps • Formatting: Check journal instructions – Resolution of images/photographs (usually given in “dpi”) – Size limitations Figures: Graphs • Tables or graphs? – Use tables to present detailed, important data – Use graphs to show trends in data • Common data-presentation formats in figures: – Column charts/bar charts – Line charts – Scatter plots Checking Graphs • X and Y axes have labels and units • Minor axes are used appropriately to indicate data points • Space in the figure is properly used and there is minimal white space • If you use MS Excel to create a graph, don’t assume that the default options will give you a good graph – You may have to tweak the settings to produce a graph that is appropriate for your paper • The graph does not look cluttered Relating Tables and Figures to Text • Do not restate all the information from tables/figures in the text of the paper – Tables/figures should not be used to highlight what has already been said in the paper • Refer to all the tables/figures in the text – Point out the relevant part(s) of a table/figure when referring to it – Refer to tables/figures with their numbers (e.g., Table 1); do not refer to their location (like “in the table below”) A Final Point • Journals often have specific, rigid guidelines for tables and figures • Read the instructions to authors before you design your tables and figures – Note: Some journals redraw figures to suit their own format. However, even for these journals, the submitted figures should be accurately, clearly, and neatly prepared. Discussion Question • If you have data that could be presented in either a table or a figure, how do you decide which one to use? A General Suggestion • Look at tables and figures in journal articles presenting research similar to yours – In your target journal – In other good journals • Use these tables and figures as models when designing your own tables and figures. Sources of Further Information • “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Making Tables and Figures,” Department of Biology, Bates College, (http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resourc es/writing/HTWtablefigs.html) • Writing and Publishing Scientific Papers, Part 2 (from China Medical Board course), accessible at http://www.authoraid.info/resourcelibrary?type=all&subject=preparing_tables_and_figu res&lang=all Thank you!