Effective Data Presentation Making Figures and Tables



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Effective Data Presentation Making Figures and Tables

  • Dr. Gail P. Taylor
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Professional Skills Development
  • 02/04/2009

Acknowledgements

  • Scientific Papers and Presentations, by Martha Davis. Academic press, 1997
  • Survival Skills and Ethics Program: www.pitt.edu/~survival
  • Department of Biology, Bates College http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWtoc.html

“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

Guidelines

  • 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

  • Tables
    • Specific data
    • Exact comparisons between data points
  • Bar Charts
    • Less numerically specific
    • Examine differences rather than trends/changes
    • Comparisons of size, magnitude, amounts
  • Line Graphs
    • 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

Good Table

  • Legend- complete
  • Stands on own
  • Note capitalization
  • Period after "Table 2"
  • Units included
  • 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
  • Proofread carefully

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)

Figures

  • Illustrations
  • Photographs
  • Drawings
  • Flowcharts
  • Line graphs
  • Bar graphs
  • Pie charts
  • Maps

Figures

  • Designed to add understanding of information that it difficult to convey with words
  • Must be clear, accurate, appropriate
  • Avoid mere decoration
  • KISS
  • Need a legend

Parts of a Graph (line)

Line Graphs

  • 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.

Bar Charts

  • 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

Scatter Plots

  • Examines individual score on two variables.
  • Show relationship
  • 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.

Figure Legends

  • Must accompany Figures.
  • Should give pertinent, clarifying information
    • key to abbreviations
    • sample size
    • statistical results
    • 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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