Tables are generally used to display raw data, compare your data to previously published data and/or explain variables.
Figures are generally used when you want to highlight the relationship between two variables.
If you are choosing between using a table or a figure to show the same data, it is generally better to use only a figure to display the data.
Tables can help display your data in a way that is easily accessible to readers compared to long lists within the text.
When creating a table, here are some items to keep in mind:
What is represented in each row and column? The titles should be clear and concise so a reader can quickly look at your table and understand the data being shown. If you have measurements don’t forget to include the units!
You don’t want the table to appear cramped, so make sure there’s some space within the cells for the text to “breathe”. If you have text within the cells think about how long you want the cell to be, or if wrapping the text in the cell gives a cleaner appearance.
Think about if the text in the table should be centered, left or right aligned. You may find that it varies within a table depending on the data in each column. Also think about the vertical alignment of text - do you want it centered, at the bottom, or at the top of each cell?
Borders help separate information within cells. Try different border setups to find the one that works best for your data. You may find that having only horizontal borders is better for your data. Having a bolder line separating your column titles from the rest of the data may also enhance table clarity. You can also use shading to help separate rows and columns, but don’t go too overboard with the colors!
Take a look at the two tables above. Try to see what items mentioned above are done well and which are not in each table.
Figures should act as visual aids that highlight the main findings of your experiments.
If you aren’t sure what your figures should be, think about your experiment and what the main piece(s) of data is/are. Each piece of data should be represented in a figure (or table, if applicable).
Items to consider for each figure:
Each axis should have a clear label to aid readers in understanding the figure. Be sure to include units at the end in parenthesis as needed. Please do not include titles on your graphs. Titles should be located in your figure captions and bolded.
For any data with replicates, data should be graphed with error bars. This tells readers that you collected multiple data points for each condition and also shows the variance within your data. Typically error bars are only in the horizontal (y-axis) direction, but consult with your mentor or an editor if you think you might need them in both directions.
Using color is a great way to help show your data in figures. When making figures, here are some items to keep in mind relating to color.
Some people are colorblind and can have difficulties differentiating between certain colors. As a general rule, you should avoid using red and green on the same graph as this is the most common type of color blindness. Another step you can take to make your graphs colorblind friendly is to not only use different colors for different conditions, but have different symbols or shading as well.
Keep your color scheme consistent throughout graphs. This means if you graph the same treatment on multiple graphs it should always have the same color/symbol. Likewise, if you have two graphs showing data from unique treatments, the two color schemes should be different.
In this example bar graph you can see both axes are clearly labeled. The years are differentiated by color and shading of the bars. Additionally, this is the same data shown in the tables above. Which format is easier to see the differences between the two years? Why?
Paneled figures are used when we have data that can’t be put on one graph, but each individual graph shows something similar. Here we walk you through this process in PowerPoint.
a. Typically you want graphs to have the same y-axis scale so data can easily be compared.
In any MicrosoftOffice application you can right click on the figure and select “Save as Image”. We recommend saving files as .TIFF or .JPEG.
Typically figures that are previously published cannot be used in your manuscript due to copyright laws (and often they are not necessary to include!).
If, after discussions with our editorial team, it is decided that a previously published figure would significantly enhance your manuscript then you would need to get the following permissions for publication. You would have to contact the journal where the figure was originally published to receive their permission which often involves also getting the permission of the original authors. Documentation of this permission would need to be sent to JEI for our own records that we can legally republish the figure in question.
Reach out to us at email@example.com. Someone from our editorial team would be happy to answer your questions and provide feedback on your figures.