Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 6: Graphics and Tables - ACS Axial
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Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 6: Graphics and Tables

The ACS Style Guide has always been a classic handbook for scientific publication. But in 2020, it was revised and expanded as the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication not only provides students, researchers, educators, and librarians with professional guidance, it also helps researchers at different stages of their careers to respond to the evolving world of publishing.

This ACS Axial series contains excerpts from the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. Parts of the original text be available for free for a limited time under an ACS Free to Read License. Specific sections will be indicated at the end of each post. 

Graphics

Graphics are an integral part of a manuscript that helps authors present a lot of information without the need for lengthy descriptive phrases. As modern instruments and computational tools generate enormous data, selecting the right plot to present data becomes a key step in highlighting new advances presented in the article.  Many people “read” a research article by scanning the figures. Each graphic, together with its caption, should be able to stand alone and include the essential information.

When to Use Graphics?

Use a graphic when a visual presentation:

  • Improves the effectiveness of the data presentation
  • Provides a better understanding of the results and/or increases the reader’s comprehension
  • Makes it easier to view trends and relationships in the data (relative proportions, magnitudes, etc.)
  • Highlights specific results with quantitative analysis
  • Communicates the information more succinctly than in prose

For more information on designing graphics, please refer to section 4.1.3 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

How to Use Published Graphics or Data?

Use original graphics in your article whenever possible. If you plan to include information from a previously published graphic, determine whether you can provide enough information by simply citing the previous publication or whether it is necessary to include a copy of the previous graphic. If you include the graphic, be sure it is a clear, high-quality image.

Clip art and images taken from the internet typically require copyright permission. If you are unable to obtain permission, the image cannot be included in the article. Obtain and provide written copyright permission, if required.

Whether you include either a copy or a slightly modified version of a previously published graphic, the reproduction or modification should be stated in the caption, and copyright permission obtained if required by the copyright holder. Copyright permission is typically not required when the graphic is redrawn, meaning there is extensive modification to the point where it can be considered a new graphic.

What is a Table of Contents Graphic/Graphical Abstract?

One of the most important but often neglected graphics in an article is the Table of Contents (TOC) graphic. It is published on the Table of Contents as well as next to the article’s Abstract in most journals. It is one of the first things a potential reader sees, and it can either attract a reader or cause them to skip over your article.

A Good TOC Graphic:

  • Tells the reader what the article is about
  • Is a simple unique color scheme or illustration
  • Is provided in the manuscript in its actual published size (refer to the Author Guidelines for specific journal requirements)
  • Fits into the size recommended by the journal (usually a horizontal frame)
  • Has minimal text, with all text legible when viewed at the published size.

In this video, ACS Editors share advice on getting started with a paper and creating figures.


For more information on TOC graphics, please refer to section 4.1.5 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Tables

When to Use Tables?

Use tables when the data cannot be presented clearly as narrative, when many precise numbers must be presented, or when meaningful interrelationships can be better conveyed by a tabular format. Tables should supplement, not duplicate, text and figures.

Determine whether the material you want to present really warrants a table. A table should generally consist of at least three interrelated columns and three rows. If you have only two columns, try writing the material as a narrative. If your table has unusual alignment and positioning requirements, consider making it a figure instead. If you have three columns, but they do not relate to each other, consider whether the material is really a list of items and not a table at all.

For more information on using tables, please refer to section 4.2.1  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Parts of a Table

Effective tables are well designed, so think carefully—first, about the data you need to present and, second, about the best way to present it visually on a page. Sometimes, what looks fine on a letter-size sheet of paper is not practical for an online journal or book.

Parts of a table. Source: adapted from Dopilka, A; Zhao, R.; Well,J. M.; Svilen, B.; Peng, X.; Chan, C. K. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces2018, 10 (44), 37981–37991. Copyright 2018 American Chemical Society.

Title

Give every table a brief, informative title that describes its contents in non-sentence format. The title should be complete enough to be understood without referring to the text.

Column heading

Every column must have a heading that describes the material below it. Be as succinct as possible. Keep column headings to no more than two lines if possible and use abbreviations and symbols whenever practical.

Spanner heading

If a column heading applies to more than one column, it should span the columns to which it applies. This is called a spanner heading (or sometimes a straddle heading). Below the spanner heading, give the specific heading for each column.

Footnote

Table footnotes include explanatory material referring to the whole table and to specific entries. Examples of information that should be placed in general footnotes referring to the whole table explanations of abbreviations and symbols used frequently throughout the table.

For more information on designing tables, please refer to section 4.2.4  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Multimedia Files

Multimedia is an effective way for enhancing demonstration and communication of research findings and promoting communications. Before creating a video or Web-Enhanced Objects (WEO), please refer to the author’s guide of specific journals to learn about whether such files are allowed to be used in the journals.

Video Files

Videos are useful ways to provide demonstrations and simulations, to illustrate methods, or to discuss your research. Examples of acceptable file types include .qt, .mov, .avi, and .mpg.

ACS Web-Enhanced Objects (WEO)

The Web editions of ACS Journals allow authors to make use of multimedia attachments called Web-Enhanced Objects (WEOs) to further the understanding of the research being reported in their article. WEOs include graphics, text, 3D images, spectra, and videos. Links to WEOs appear in the HTML version of the published article.

For more information on using multimedia, please refer to section 4.1.6  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

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