Communicating your work clearly in figures, tables and graphics is a key skill for an academic researcher, yet it is something that we are not formally taught to do. This is partly due to the fact that information visualisation is a vast field encompassing many techniques, graphic types and digital tools and we all have different requirements and backgrounds when it comes to creating graphics.
Which type of graphic?
Many different types of graphics exist and your choice of graphic depends on what you are trying to show. When displaying quantitative data, are you showing categories, distribution, relationships, hierarchy, geospatial data or something changing over time? Or do you want your graphic to show a process or method? Or perhaps you want to create a schematic or an anatomical drawing from observation? Taking the time to explore different graphic types and to critique and evaluate existing graphics in the published literature will help to make your own graphical endeavours easier. We explore different graphic types in more detail in our Electv training course, Designing publication quality figures & graphics, which runs regularly throughout the year and participants from several fields of study discuss a wide range of graphics that they want to use.
Creating publication quality graphics can be time consuming, challenging and frustrating, but it can also be a rewarding and fascinating experience. Like many other things worth doing, it takes time to learn and practice creating figures, whether it is designing a schematic or spending time to learn new software. Ask yourself what type of data you have and what type of figures do you want to create, can you find examples in the literature?
Time & tools
The graphical representation of science has been popular since the renaissance when pioneers such as Da Vinci found that it was more effective to communicate complex concepts and findings in a graphic format, learning their highly skilled craft over many years in the best studios of the time. Fortunately, modern researchers can speed up the process by making use of the vast array of digital tools that are available to generate graphics if they invest the time required to learn them. This can bring additional challenges, as researchers have not all had the opportunity to learn the relevant software required to build the desired graphic nor do they always have the time available to learn. We will explore the different types of graphic and visualisation software in a future post.
If you would like to dive deeper into the subject of data visualisation then you may want to investigate the books listed below. These books are an excellent foundation for anyone who is interested in visualising information and they are highly regarded by data scientists, academics, industry experts and many more. We have selected our top ten, listed in alphabetical order by author below, and many are available in university libraries. We hope you enjoy them!
The top 10 visualisation books for researchers
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The truthful art: data, charts and maps for communication
The books in this list were not written specifically for researchers, however we think you will find them useful. This is a short list and there are many other books and papers on data visualisation, drawing scientific figures, microscopy images and more that we have not explored here, however these may be the subject of a future post. Please feel free to suggest your favourite books in the comments below.
Our upcoming Electv Training half day course, Designing publication quality figures & graphics, will be running on the morning of 19th February 2021 and will explore some of the topics above. The course will be online and open to anyone to attend, further information can be found on the course registration page.
This is a popular course and it runs every three months, the next course will be in spring 2021. If you have any questions about the course then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org