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BITC: Publication Class -- 5. Figures

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We talked about figures as being one of the first things that you are going to develop in the process of writing your manuscript. Figures can make or break a paper. The old saying is, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' Well, a good scientific picture probably expresses much more. We're going to take a bit of time to think about how best to develop effective figures for your paper. First, use technology wisely. When I began my career, we were drafting figures by hand. You basically had to be a scientist and an artist. Now, many platforms exist to help build effective art to accompany your paper. Adobe Illustrator. Photoshop. There are various programs that allow you to develop, design, edit, improve, and export your figures. edit, improve, and then export your figures. One thing I like to do is save the original version that's in the platform -it might be Adobe Illustrator or it might be ArcGIS. But, save the original so that if a reviewer asks you to change something, you can easily recall exactly where you were when you finished the figure, and change that one detail rather than having to redo the entire figure. You can then export a JPEG or PNG to include with the manuscript for review. I find that to be a very, very time efficient approach. If a review asks for modifications to figures, I go back to exactly where I left off and I change that figure. One very important consideration is color versus black-and-white. A big advantage of color is that the eye can take in more dimensions. That is, the eye can receive and understand more information. The downside is that color publishing is generally expensive. Sometimes it's $1000 to publish a color figure with your paper. It has costs and benefits. There are some things for which color isn't necessary to express what's in that figure. Then there are other situations where it is indispensable. So, use it wisely. You can use color illustrations in review and then potentially substitute effective black-and-white figures in the publication stage. A solution that I have been using more frequently is to use color in the electronic publication and publish the hard copy in black-and-white. More and more journals are allowing you to do this. That's an effective solution these days, especially given that most access to journals is via electronic versions, so most people will see the color version. However, if you go between color and black-and-white, you need to print your color figure in black-and-white and make sure that it is interpretable. Frequently, when you can see something clearly in a color you can't see it at all in black-and-white. For example, this is a map of Luzon Island in the Philippines. There's a lot that's nice about this figure. There's a clearly visible legend. I can see the symbols clearly. The labels are readable. I can tell the difference between islands and geographic features. There's a lot that's good about this. Notice, however, that what I'm supposed to be differentiating is this lowland-to-highland ramp (elevation) from this green shading which is the predicted distribution from an ecological niche model. Over here in color, it's pretty clear. But look here. When I print it black-and-white, that area that was predicted by the niche model looks like highland area. It's very misleading to the eye. Another minor issue is, the one city that is labeled on this map has a symbol that looks a lot like an occurrence record of the species. That's a detail. But, I would use some very different symbol to label that city. '' is an effective tool in making color decisions. It's an online tool for selecting color schemes for maps. It can be very useful in avoiding problems like this: here, I've got a map with three types of shading. But then it has these two gaps. One is very obvious; but, the other is hard to see. You can go to this website. You give it the basic specifications —are you doing a presentation or publication? Is it black-and-white? Is it in color?— and, the site will help you make the optimal choices for which colors to use in which situations. Even when we're talking about black-and-white figures, we can have effective presentations and ineffective presentations. Here are some examples. In this one labeled 'bad', I have to do a lot of looking to understand this. Here, this is log-number of reef fish landings. But there's no label on the x-axis directly; I have to look over here. Worse yet, these three panels refer to something that is different, but I have to go to the figure legend to understand what they refer to. I prefer including brief and informative labels on each panel. This is a matter of preference. And, notice that the panels here are arranged like a matrix. These rows (y-axes) are 'tons' and 'tons in square kilometers'. And the columns (x-axes) are 'year' and 'year' and 'year'. Each panel is understandable. The basic priority is to develop figures that are immediately understandable, even to the somewhat tired reader. I'm going to take you through some figures from recent manuscripts that colleagues and I have worked on to show you the editing and fault-finding that you can do as part of your process of developing manuscripts. This was a very early draft. I didn't like it at all. This is just someone putting up maps, a diagram of an insect, and some text. But again, it's just a draft - a mock up. Here's another figure. It has some things I like. For example, this label refers to all of these panels and this label refers to all of these panels. And then we have labels that refer to these rows. But, what's this axis? Can I understand this figure without a lot of reading? All of this white space is another problem. Is there a way to make the actual graphs larger so that the eye doesn't have to work so hard to see the detail? Here's a good example of a common mistake. Notice that we have five different lines that are distinguishable, but not easily. I'm looking for this 50 km line, but I'm having trouble deciding if it's this one or this one. You need to really step back and really look at your figure. You may have composed it with all of the care and detail in mind, but that doesn't matter if it's not easily readable and interpretable even on a small computer screen or from a bad printer. To sum up, figures need to be as visual as possible. They need to really tell a story. They need to be presented so that they use the space on the page optimally. You may have to redesign figures for journals that have different sizes of presentation. Your figures will go at the end of the manuscript. They're not set into the text. There should be a single page that is figure legends. Here's the legend for figure 1. Here's the legend for figure 2. And then you present one figure per page. Figure 1, figure 2, figure 3, etc. That allows the reviewers and the editors to think about your figures very clearly without having the figures set into the text as if you were typesetting the paper. So, save yourself all that extra work that goes to putting those figures in the text. That wraps up our consideration of figures. Next, we'll talk about tables.

Video Details

Duration: 11 minutes and 7 seconds
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
Genre: None
Views: 1
Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

Publication Class: How to Publish a Scientific Paper

A. Townsend Peterson, University of Kansas
In English

Academic productivity and effective communication of research results depend critically on publishing scientific articles in scholarly journals. This set of 13 video segments aims to provide an overview of the entire publishing process. It is not specific to biodiversity informatics, but rather can be quite general for the natural sciences at least.

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