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Design of Scientific Graphics Prof. Melissa A. Hines ~3.25" max typ. 2 mm min. typ. Two key criteria: Max graphic width & min font height Design of Scientific Graphics for Publication Prepare all graphics at full scale (see journal rules).

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Design of Scientific Graphics

Prof. Melissa A. Hines

design of scientific graphics for publication
~3.25" max typ.

2 mm min. typ.

Two key criteria: Max graphic width & min font height

Design of Scientific Graphics for Publication

Prepare all graphics at full scale (see journal rules).

Note that journals often compress graphics w/o asking.

design of scientific graphics for publication3
Design of Scientific Graphics for Publication

General rules:

  • Use “bland” san serif font (typ: Helvetica) throughoutRegular weight, not bold
  • Major elements in graph (e.g., axes): 1 pt minMinimum linewidth of any feature: 0.5 pt
  • Check journal rules on color before starting
  • Some letters journals limit number of graphics

Choose designs that make your graphs self-explanatory.

Don’t use captions as a crutch!

typography gotchas for scientific graphics
Typography Gotchas for Scientific Graphics
  • Italicize all variables in text and in graphicsx-axis not x-axis, f not f ( but µm, K, °C, etc. are not italicized)
  • Use the appropriate length dashes - (hyphen): Use to hyphenate words– (en dash): minus sign — (em dash): Use for punctuating sentences
  • Use the correct symbol for multiplication not x, ( 10–3 m) not (x 10–3 m)
legal gotchas for scientific graphics
Legal Gotchas for Scientific Graphics
  • Publisher owns all images in a published paper (but not underlying data).
  • Cannot reuse figures from one paper to another without attribution and publisher's written consent.
  • Trick: Modifying original figure makes it "new"

Note: You do not need permission to use someone else's data (taken from a published source).

is the golden ratio golden
Vs.Is the Golden Ratio Golden?



Choose the aspect ratio that flatters your data,

not some dead Greek philosopher.

to box or not to box
To Box or Not To Box?


Pro: Minimal design

Pro: Easier to judge scale on RHS of graph

graphics affect perception of data
Replotted data suggest a functional relationship

Play with different ways of plotting your data.

Graphics Affect Perception of Data

Published graph suggests a correlation

small signals and baseline issues
Vs.Small Signals and Baseline Issues

Baseline must be shown on both sides of peaks.

appropriate use of the top or right axis
Appropriate Use of the Top or Right Axis

Use second axis to show data in different units.

less appropriate use of the top or right axis
Less Appropriate Use of the Top or Right Axis
  • Plotting different types of data on opposite axes is outdated.
  • In choosing software, preparation of stacked graphs (e.g., same bottom axis) is important.
use labels to remove dependence on captions
Use Labels to Remove Dependence on Captions

Column and row headers explain different parts of graph w/o captions.

Individual labels on sub-images only necessary for reference in text. (Do not include in presentations!)

Note all images have same scale bar.

use shading to convey temporal information
Use Shading to Convey Temporal Information

Shading is particularly useful in indicating changes in experimental conditions.

use shading to distinguish curves
Use Shading to Distinguish Curves

The histograms (data) are shaded for emphasis and to help the reader perceive their shape.

The limiting curves (exp & Gaussian) are left unfilled for reference.

use shading to distinguish curves16
Use Shading to Distinguish Curves

The shaded curve represents historical data; the black line is the new data.

This emphasizes that the two spectra have:

– different peaks

– different linewidths

improving contrast of overlapping lines
Solution: Add "depth" by outlining new data in white. (Trick: Double plot new data in fat white under thin red.)Improving Contrast of Overlapping Lines

Problem: New data (black) doesn't stand out from old data (red shading)

focusing attention on specific regions
Focusing Attention on Specific Regions

Differential absorption spectrum

Common Solution:

Plot regions of interest, leaving breaks in axes for "boring" areas.

Caution: Scale should remain constant across all regions!

focusing attention on specific regions19
Focusing Attention on Specific Regions

Another Solution:

Use insets to plot regions of interest.

legends should reinforce data where possible
Legends should reinforce data where possible

If possible, put legend in the same order as items on the graph.

Jumbled order will confuse the reader.

comparing similar data with residuals
Solution: Allow curves to overlap, but also plot residual (difference between two curves)Comparing Similar Data with Residuals

Problem: Nearly identical curves cannot be distinguished when plotted on same graph. Offset?

curve fitting and residuals
Curve Fitting and Residuals

A structured residual is indicative ofinappropriate modeling function.

what about pie charts
What about pie charts?

Pie charts have no place in science.

Well-documented problems with accurate perception of relative areas.

minimum needs for scientific graphing package
Minimum Needs for Scientific Graphing Package
  • Support for equally spaced & x-y data
  • Ability to easily transform data (e.g., multiply, divide, FFT)
  • Curve fitting to user-defined functions & user-defined regions of data. Global fits to multiple data sets.
  • Control over all parts of graph (e.g., ticks, axes, labels)
  • Multiple, arbitrarily positioned and scaled axes (e.g., stacked graphs, insets)
  • Robust data import & graphics export
  • Fully documented analysis & functions w/ references
  • Active & responsive user network for help
your assignment help doe communicate
Your Assignment: Help DOE Communicate!

This graph has no discernable message!

Make a new publication-quality graph that emphasizes:

– Contributions to US energy landscape by energy type vs year

– Percentage of renewable energy vs year

your tool igor pro
Your Tool: Igor Pro

You can install Igor Pro on your personal computer or a lab computer for use in completing the assignment.

You cannot use the program for research or personal use without buying a license.