Ten Simple Rules for Better Figures
Publication Date
September 11, 2014
PLOS Computational Biology
Nicolas P. Rougier, Michael Droettboom & Philip E. Bourne
Publisher URL
PubMed Central
Europe PMC
Web of Science
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{"title"=>"Ten Simple Rules for Better Figures", "authors"=>[{"first_name"=>"Nicolas P.", "last_name"=>"Rougier", "scopus_author_id"=>"12344787800"}, {"first_name"=>"Michael", "last_name"=>"Droettboom", "scopus_author_id"=>"56830343000"}, {"first_name"=>"Philip E.", "last_name"=>"Bourne", "scopus_author_id"=>"35458582500"}], "year"=>2014, "source"=>"PLoS Computational Biology", "identifiers"=>{"sgr"=>"84907576061", "issn"=>"15537358", "doi"=>"10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833", "pmid"=>"25210732", "pui"=>"600082100", "scopus"=>"2-s2.0-84907576061", "isbn"=>"1553-7358 (Electronic) 1553-734X (Linking)"}, "id"=>"62109990-a135-3789-8599-562bd3fccd6d", "abstract"=>"Scientific visualization is classically defined as the process of graphically displaying scientific data. However, this process is far from direct or automatic. There are so many different ways to represent the same data: scatter plots, linear plots, bar plots, and pie charts, to name just a few. Furthermore, the same data, using the same type of plot, may be perceived very differently depending on who is looking at the figure. A more accurate definition for scientific visualiza- tion would be a graphical interface between people and data. In this short article, we do not pretend to explain everything about this interface; rather, see [1,2] for introductory work. Instead we aim to provide a basic set of rules to improve figure design and to explain some of the common pitfalls.", "link"=>"http://www.mendeley.com/research/ten-simple-rules-better-figures", "reader_count"=>1610, "reader_count_by_academic_status"=>{"Unspecified"=>27, "Professor > Associate Professor"=>83, "Librarian"=>8, "Researcher"=>392, "Student > Doctoral Student"=>97, "Student > Ph. D. 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  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673464"], "description"=>"<p>The left panel shows the sine and cosine functions as rendered by matplotlib using default settings. While this figure is clear enough, it can be visually improved by tweaking the various available settings, as shown on the right panel.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168579, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g004", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>9, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Do_not_trust_the_defaults_/1168579", "title"=>"Do not trust the defaults.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673443"], "description"=>"<p>This is a remake of a figure that was originally published in the New York Times (NYT) in 2007. This new figure was made with matplotlib using approximated data. The data is made of four series (men deaths/cases, women deaths/cases) that could have been displayed using classical double column (deaths/cases) bar plots. However, the layout used here is better for the intended audience. It exploits the fact that the number of new cases is always greater than the corresponding number of deaths to mix the two values. It also takes advantage of the reading direction (English [left-to-right] for NYT) in order to ease comparison between men and women while the central labels give an immediate access to the main message of the figure (cancer). This is a self-contained figure that delivers a clear message on cancer deaths. However, it is not precise. The chosen layout makes it actually difficult to estimate the number of kidney cancer deaths because of its bottom position and the location of the labelled ticks at the top. While this is acceptable for a general-audience publication, it would not be acceptable in a scientific publication if actual numerical values were not given elsewhere in the article.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168558, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g001", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>10, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Know_your_audience_/1168558", "title"=>"Know your audience.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673477"], "description"=>"<p>This figure represents the same signal, whose frequency increases to the right and intensity increases towards the bottom, using three different colormaps. The rainbow colormap (qualitative) and the seismic colormap (diverging) are equally bad for such a signal because they tend to hide details in the high frequency domain (bottom-right part). Using a sequential colormap such as the purple one, it is easier to see details in the high frequency domain. Adapted from <a href=\"http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833#pcbi.1003833-Borland1\" target=\"_blank\">[5]</a>.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168592, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g005", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>8, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Use_color_effectively_/1168592", "title"=>"Use color effectively.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673479"], "description"=>"<p>On the left part of the figure, we represented a series of four values: 30, 20, 15, 10. On the upper left part, we used the disc area to represent the value, while in the bottom part we used the disc radius. Results are visually very different. In the latter case (red circles), the last value (10) appears very small compared to the first one (30), while the ratio between the two values is only 3∶1. This situation is actually very frequent in the literature because the command (or interface) used to produce circles or scatter plots (with varying point sizes) offers to use the radius as default to specify the disc size. It thus appears logical to use the value for the radius, but this is misleading. On the right part of the figure, we display a series of ten values using the full range for values on the top part (y axis goes from 0 to 100) or a partial range in the bottom part (y axis goes from 80 to 100), and we explicitly did not label the y-axis to enhance the confusion. The visual perception of the two series is totally different. In the top part (black series), we tend to interpret the values as very similar, while in the bottom part, we tend to believe there are significant differences. Even if we had used labels to indicate the actual range, the effect would persist because the bars are the most salient information on these figures.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168594, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g006", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>18, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Do_not_mislead_the_reader_/1168594", "title"=>"Do not mislead the reader.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673448"], "description"=>"<p>The superior colliculus (SC) is a brainstem structure at the crossroads of multiple functional pathways. Several neurophysiological studies suggest that the population of active neurons in the SC encodes the location of a visual target that induces saccadic eye movement. The projection from the retina surface (on the left) to the collicular surface (on the right) is based on a standard and quantitative model in which a logarithmic mapping function ensures the projection from retinal coordinates to collicular coordinates. This logarithmic mapping plays a major role in saccade decision. To better illustrate this role, an artificial checkerboard pattern has been used, even though such a pattern is not used during experiments. This checkerboard pattern clearly demonstrates the extreme magnification of the foveal region, which is the main message of the figure.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168563, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g002", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>7, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Identify_your_message_/1168563", "title"=>"Identify your message.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673487"], "description"=>"<p>We have seven series of samples that are equally important, and we would like to show them all in order to visually compare them (exact signal values are supposed to be given elsewhere). The left figure demonstrates what is certainly one of the worst possible designs. All the curves cover each other and the different colors (that have been badly and automatically chosen by the software) do not help to distinguish them. The legend box overlaps part of the graphic, making it impossible to check if there is any interesting information in this area. There are far too many ticks: x labels overlap each other, making them unreadable, and the three-digit precision does not seem to carry any significant information. Finally, the grid does not help because (among other criticisms) it is not aligned with the signal, which can be considered discrete given the small number of sample points. The right figure adopts a radically different layout while using the same area on the sheet of paper. Series have been split into seven plots, each of them showing one series, while other series are drawn very lightly behind the main one. Series labels have been put on the left of each plot, avoiding the use of colors and a legend box. The number of x ticks has been reduced to three, and a thin line indicates these three values for all plots. Finally, y ticks have been completely removed and the height of the gray background boxes indicate the [−1,+1] range (this should also be indicated in the figure caption if it were to be used in an article).</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168602, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g007", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>2, "page_views"=>16, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Avoid_chartjunk_/1168602", "title"=>"Avoid chartjunk.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673489"], "description"=>"<p>This figure is an extreme case where the message is particularly clear even if the aesthetic of the figure is questionable. The uncanny valley is a well-known hypothesis in the field of robotics that correlates our comfort level with the human-likeness of a robot. To express this hypothetical nature, hypothetical data were used () and the figure was given a sketched look (xkcd filter on matplotlib) associated with a cartoonish font that enhances the overall effect. Tick labels were also removed since only the overall shape of the curve matters. Using a sketch style conveys to the viewer that the data is approximate, and that it is the higher-level concepts rather than low-level details that are important <a href=\"http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833#pcbi.1003833-Schumann1\" target=\"_blank\">[10]</a>.</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168604, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g008", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>2, "page_views"=>11, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Message_trumps_beauty_/1168604", "title"=>"Message trumps beauty.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}
  • {"files"=>["https://ndownloader.figshare.com/files/1673459"], "description"=>"<p>These two figures represent the same simulation of the trajectories of a dual-particle system (, , , ) where each particle interacts with the other. Depending on the initial conditions, the system may end up in three different states. The left figure has been prepared for a journal article where the reader is free to look at every detail. The red color has been used consistently to indicate both initial conditions (red dots in the zoomed panel) and trajectories (red lines). Line transparency has been increased in order to highlight regions where trajectories overlap (high color density). The right figure has been prepared for an oral presentation. Many details have been removed (reduced number of trajectories, no overlapping trajectories, reduced number of ticks, bigger axis and tick labels, no title, thicker lines) because the time-limited display of this figure would not allow for the audience to scrutinize every detail. Furthermore, since the figure will be described during the oral presentation, some parts have been modified to make them easier to reference (e.g., the yellow box, the red dashed line).</p>", "links"=>[], "tags"=>["figure", "better", "Simple Rules"], "article_id"=>1168574, "categories"=>["Biological Sciences", "Science Policy"], "users"=>["Nicolas P. Rougier", "Michael Droettboom", "Philip E. Bourne"], "doi"=>"https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003833.g003", "stats"=>{"downloads"=>1, "page_views"=>11, "likes"=>0}, "figshare_url"=>"https://figshare.com/articles/_Adapt_the_figure_to_the_support_medium_/1168574", "title"=>"Adapt the figure to the support medium.", "pos_in_sequence"=>0, "defined_type"=>1, "published_date"=>"2014-09-11 03:14:48"}

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