Figures are powerful visual tools that provide visual impact, more so than verbal descriptions. Using figures is an effective way of sharing your research findings. Here are some useful tips for preparing impactful figures:
1. Ensure that all the parts of the figure are clearly visible – use standard font, check whether the figure labels are legible against the background; and prepare sharp images.
2. Use legends to bring the reader’s attention to the key message of your figure or to explain abbreviations or symbols. Do not use legends to include experimental details; elaborate on these details in the methods section of your paper, instead.
3. Label all important parts of the figure, including parts of schematic diagrams and photographs, all axes, curves, and data sets in graphs and data plots.
4. Mention all details such as scale bars in images and maps, quantitative units, legends in maps/schematics, and latitudes and longitudes on maps.
5. If you are using photographs of subjects, ensure that you do so only after obtaining written, informed consent from them.
6. Know which figure format to use – for example, use line diagrams or scattergrams if independent and dependent variables are numeric, bar graphs if only the dependent variable is numeric, and bar graphs or pie charts for proportions.
You might also want to read 6 tips for preparing effective tables in a research manuscript. For more general guidelines on preparing tables and figures, read 6 easy guidelines for preparing tables and figures for a research manuscript.
The following article offers a comprehensive tutorial on presenting scientific tables and figures: Tips on effective use of tables and figures in research papers.