All graphics, from simple tables to complex graphs, function best when
they are organized around the structure of the data and the comparison
or analysis that you plan to make. While your figure or table needs
to be able to stand alone (many readers skim the figures in a document
to determine whether the rest of the document is worth reading),
it also needs to be explained and contextualized in the text. It’s
in this discussion that you assign meaning to the results, answering
the question: “Why should we care?”
A few rules apply to all graphics used in a document:
Number each graphic and include an informative
caption that tells readers what they are looking at.
Tables are captioned above the table (Table 1. Xxxx.);
figures are captioned below the figure (Figure 5. Xxxxx.).
Identify graphics correctly. Tables
are “tables.” Everything else (graph, photo,
etc.) is a “figure.”
Refer to graphics in the text, either
inline (Table 2 shows…) or with a parenthetical
[When using Prim-Jarnik’s algorithm with our adjacency
list-based graph, the running time grows rapidly with
the number of edges (Figure 3).]
Think logically about labels and data
display. Most readers can’t decipher more than
four symbols on a graph. Use logical labels or mnemonic
abbreviations to aid in comprehension.
Bigger is better. Be sure that your
captions, data points, labels, etc., are readable.
Place graphics close to the text discussing
them for easy reference.
To avoid unintended artifacts, design
graphics for black-and-white printers and photocopiers,
even if you will ultimately produce the graphic in color.
Problems in Interpreting and Graphing Data and
482 Figure Bestiary for examples.