Use of Graphics in Research Reports and Oral Presentations

Remember your ultimate goal of presentation and publication throughout your experiment:

  • Think about effective composition. Notice effective communication messages when you see them in daily life – make notes or save examples.
  • Keep your camera handy with slide film when you’re out in the field. You never know when you’ll see a perfect presentation graphic. Photograph coworkers (or ask someone to photograph you!) when working in the field.
  • Keep an eye out for relevant pictures in magazines or books. You can photograph them with slide film using a light table and begin your own slide collection.
  • Photograph your laboratory staff periodically to give a human face to your credits presentation at the end of your talk.

Graphics play an important role in your data presentation.

Reasons to use graphics:

  • Graphics can play a major role in highlighting and clarifying results and data.
  • Good graphics can aid the reader’s comprehension of the text.
  • Graphics can convey trends, comparisons, and relationships more clearly than text and summarize the data by reducing it to a manageable size for presentation.

Reasons to avoid graphics:

  • If graphics only repeat data already fully presented in the text, they will reduce reader understanding.
  • If graphics are poorly designed, they may be confusing.
  • Graphics are costly to publish (especially color pictures).

As you think about graphic design, question data form and suitability:

  • Would the data in a graph be more useful to the reader if presented as exact numerical data in a table?
  • Would the data on the relation between two variables that you thought at first should be in a table be more clearly presented in a graph?
  • Would the data in a small table convey as much information in less space if placed in the text?
  • Are illustrations sufficiently relevant to your thesis to be included?
  • Would a line drawing be better than a photograph (of a piece of equipment)?
  • Would additional illustrations aid the reader in understanding concepts, methods, evidence, or conclusions?

Guidelines for graphics

  • Be sure each graphic is self-explanatory (able to stand alone).
  • Be sure each graphic is interdependent with the text.
  • In general, use lightface Roman type for illustrations and tables.
  • Consult your discipline’s style manual for specifications for artwork (such as sketches and diagrams of equipment) and for guidelines for such graphics as chemical structures & schemes.
  • Use photographs appropriately:
  • Obtain written permission to use photos.
  • Remember that detail will be lost during reproduction and/or reduction.
  • Remember to submit glossy original photos.
  • Label photos on the back with a self-adhesive label (don’t write on pictures.)
  • Design tables well and use them appropriately.
  • Use tables when the data are precise numbers that must be presented.
  • Use tables when the data are too many to be presented clearly as a narrative.
  • Use tables when they clarify the significance of relationships.
  • Recall that tables should supplement, not duplicate, text and figures.
  • Think through the design of captions carefully.
  • Be brief.
  • Be sure captions are understandable without reference to the text.
  • Keep the wording for related figures similar.
  • Include the keys to symbols used in the table in the caption (or a footnote) to avoid clutter in the table.
  • Proofread to ensure accuracy and consistency of symbols.
  • Place credit lines for reproduction at the end of the caption (see hermit crab pictures).

Making Tables

I. How to construct tables

  1. Write a title and a caption that describe the table’s contents.
  2. The leftmost column is usually the “stub” or reading column. All other columns should refer back to it.
  3. Material in columns can be aligned in different ways: on the left, on the right, on the decimals, and centered.
  4. Do not use ditto marks.
  5. Be sure all columns are truly necessary and relevant.
  6. Include explanatory material in a footnote.
    • units of measure that are too long to fit in the column headings
    • explanations of abbreviations and symbols used with one or two entries
    • statistical significance of entries
    • experimental details that apply to specific entries
    • different sources of data

II. Criteria for evaluating tables (from Day, Robert 1979, p. 80)

Before preparing the final draft of a manuscript, consider the following:

  1. Have all the data been checked and rechecked for accuracy?
  2. Are all the tables really necessary? Are any of the data already fully presented in the text?
  3. Are the data grouped logically?
  4. Are the values that need to be compared placed in the same table?
  5. Can related information in several small tables be put together in one table?
  6. Does the reader have to compare data from a table and a figure?
  7. Are the style elements of the tables (units and abbreviations) and formats (wordings of title and headings, layout of tables) consistent with those of the text and with each other?
  8. Would switching row and column headings improve readability?
  9. Are tables as simple and brief as possible?
  10. Can any elements of a table be eliminated, simplified, combined, or put into a footnote?
  11. Would large tables be improved by being split up?
  12. Is statistical significance properly indicated?
  13. Have the tables been typed neatly, with double-spacing throughout?
  14. Will they fit the format and page size of the journal?

Using Images and Graphics (from Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources. St Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 119)

  • Use tables to draw readers’ attention to particular numerical information.
  • Use pie charts to compare a part to the whole. Try to arrange sectors according to size, placing the largest starting at the 12 o’clock position and going clockwise. Usually the number of segments should be limited to 5. Label segments outside the circle.
  • Use bar charts and line graphs to compare one element with another, to compare elements over time, to demonstrate correlations, and to illustrate frequency. Line graphs illustrate the relationship between an independent variable that changes regularly (horizontal “x” axis) and a dependent variable that changes irregularly (vertical “y” axis).
  • Use drawings or diagrams to draw attention to dimensions and to details.
  • Use maps to draw attention to location and to spatial relationships.
  • Use cartoons to illustrate or emphasize a point dramatically or to amuse.
  • Use photographs to draw attention to a graphic scene (such as devastation following an earthquake) or to depict an object.

“In short, base your choices on the purpose of your document and the needs of your audience.”

Downloading Images and Graphics from the Internet (from Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources. St Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 119-121)

  • Download the selected image using either a jpeg format or a gif format.
    • jpeg = low resolution, best for full color images
    • gif = high resolution, best for few-color images
  • Save the image using a “save as” command compatible with the jpeg or gif file format.
  • Obtain copyright (assume material from the Web is copyrighted unless you know it is not!)

Special Tips for Presentation Graphics

Key concepts: Simplicity and Creativity

  • First be sure slides are relevant to the talk. You should describe and refer to every slide. In a sense, you build your talk around the slides (they are the focus).
  • Using slides or transparencies allows you a freedom you don’t have with publication. You can use shapes, sizes, and colors with relative impunity. This is your chance to be creative!
  • Mix informational slides with photographs, charts, graphs, or maps.
  • Look for “nutshell” graphics to express your data. Remember the number of slides you’ll be able to use is limited.
  • Always label slides (especially graphs) carefully using large type.
  • Convey only one main idea per slide (exception: slides that present your conclusion). Elaborate verbally or use handouts for detail.
  • Use of color is effective, but don’t overdo it.
  • Choose plain backgrounds for graphs and charts.
  • Be sure slide background contrasts well with lettering or figure. (Light background is traditional; Powerpoint or other computer graphics programs offer more options.)
  • End your slide show with a pretty slide – a sunset, a flower (botanists), an animal (zoologists), a phenomenon (physicists), etc.

During your presentation:

  • Don’t mix slides and transparencies in your presentation if you are a novice presenter. The mixture usually results in an extremely awkward situation (but not always!).
  • Don’t apologize for your slides. If you have to say “I know this slide is hard to read, but…” consider revising or not using the slide. In fact, try not to apologize for any aspect of your talk. You should have enough time beforehand to have your “act together.”