Effective Data Presentation Making Figures and Tables - UTSA
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Effective Data Presentation
Making Figures and Tables
Dr. Gail P. Taylor
University of Texas at San Antonio
Professional Skills Development
Scientific Papers and Presentations
, by Martha Davis. Academic press, 1997
Survival Skills and Ethics Program:
Department of Biology, Bates College
“Graphic Excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest place.” Edward R. Tufte
Simplify message without falsifying data
Generally need either graph or table
Present with clarity, brevity
Note prior conventions
What types of data presentation formats do you know?
How are they different?
Data Presentation Formats
Exact comparisons between data points
Less numerically specific
Examine differences rather than trends/changes
Comparisons of size, magnitude, amounts
Not numerically specific
Demonstrate movement, change, trends
Generally over time or concentration
Using a Table
Should be able to stand on its own
Show data, and possible manipulations
Percentages, totals, means, averages, ratios, etc.
Columns contain Ind. Variables (that which was manipulated
Stands on own
Period after "Table 2"
Legend above the table;
Note clarifying footnote
Lines of demarcation separate numerical data from text.
Gridlines not present
More on Tables
Limit total items/columns
(But more than than 6-8 datapoints)
No vertical lines
Do not overload with headings
Use captions/footnotes for definitions
Strings of “0’s” or unchanging data might not be included
Use restraint with decimal places
Obvious abbreviations can be included
Don’t repeat data in text, just call attention to main points
Preparing a Table
Examine style sheet and examples
One table, one page, double spaced
Use Arabic numerals to number
Group so that comparisons run down column
Logically group data to stress baseline and trends
Round off numbers and align decimals
Create a descriptive caption (no verb required)
Use head- or foot-notes to explain abbreviations
Verify all data
Verify accuracy of use of symbols
Use consistent labeling throughout paper
Tables in a Poster/Presentation
Time limitations- make more simple
Utilize color, shapes, to emphasize
Symbols are okay
Actually Making a Table
Use publisher’s recommendations
Can use Word or Excel (I like Word)
Designed to add understanding of information that it difficult to convey with words
Must be clear, accurate, appropriate
Avoid mere decoration
Need a legend
Parts of a Graph (line)
Should have two axes
Y changes as a function of X
Should show data collected at regular intervals (show trends)
Make curves most bold
Don’t vary line patterns, vary symbols (color on slides/posters)
Plot the length of intervals so that slopes are not too steep.
One measurable axis
Interval doesn’t matter
Make bars wider than the spaces between them.
Use color only in slides/posters. Use conservative patterns for publication
Show significant differences by letter or asterisk above bars
Examines individual score on two variables.
Independent Variable on X (“as a function of”)
Recommendations for Figures (Part 1)
Read publishers recommendations regarding size, color, format!
Is it needed?
Do not have a title
Can it be understood at a glance?
Limit curves (3-5) or bars (6-8; 9-10 grouped)
Plot independent variable on X (time, concentration), dependent on Y (what happened?)
Avoid wasted space; legend on field
Recommendations (Part 2)
Label axes and show units of measure. Use tics and subtics, to not crowd with numbers
Position, size, shape, length, symbols, angle, color: all are cues. Use when appropriate, and avoid misuse.
Start scales at “0,” unless you make it clear (tic marks) that you are doing otherwise.
For a journal, type caption on a separate page so that the figure can be photographed and the type set separately.
Must accompany Figures.
Should give pertinent, clarifying information
key to abbreviations
a brief description of how the data were acquired
Should allow Table/Figure to stand alone
In the legend, both “Table” and “Figure” are spelled out completely
How to refer to a Table/Figure
Every table/figure must be referred to in the text
It is best to refer to them in parenthesis:
Germination rates were significantly higher after 24 hr water soak than in the control (Fig. 1) .
DNA sequence homologies for the purple gene from the four congeners (Table 1) show a strong similarity, differing at most by 4 base pairs.
Note: Fig., here is abbreviated. Not on headings, though.
Avoid sentences that only direct you to the table:
Table 1 shows the summary results for male and female height at Bates College.
A little more Info…
Figures and tables are numbered independently, in the sequence in which they are referred.
In a thesis or class paper, place them as near where you refer to them as possible
For manuscripts, follow publisher’s directions (historically, legends were are on a separate page)
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