37.12 Constructing figures and graphs

Good figures can be hard to produce, but their purpose should always be kept in mind: To display the data in the simplest, clearest possible way. In general, figures:

  • Should be discussed (not just simply presented) in the text.
  • Should be clear and uncluttered.
  • Should typically have captions below.
  • Should includes units of measurement (such as kg) where appropriate.
  • Should be able to be understood without reference to the paper, as far as possible.
  • Should have any colours or different line types explained.
  • Should use easy-to-read fonts and colours: Make sure the writing is sufficiently large when the figure is placed in the article.
  • Should not include chart junk such as artificial third dimensions (Su 2008).


Su Y-S. It’s easy to produce chartjunk using Microsoft Excel 2007 but hard to make good graphs. Computational Statistics & Data Analysis. Elsevier; 2008;52(10):4594–601.