Figures & Tables

Figures and tables are a vital part of any scientific report, where you visually illustrate your approach and summarize your results. Readers will often scan them to decide whether they will even read your text, and with poor figures and tables you may lose readers before they even started. Therefore, stick to the below guidelines when producing figures and tables. 

Intended for: BSc, MSc, PhD


1. Be selective: 

2. Be creative

3. Make comparisons within a plot

Figure Lay-out

1. Smooth your curves: If your outcome is noisy, smooth your curves to make them interpretable.

2. Labels: Provide clear axis labels (don't leave the reader guessing what your actually plotted). With multiple plots in one figure, add titles. 

3. Legend: When you have multiple lines in a single plot (which you should definitely do, see above), add a clear legend that indicates what each line represents. 

4. Readable: Make sure all text in your plot (axis labels, legend, tick labels) is large enough (i.e., readable). 

5. Export quality: When you export your figure, make sure it has high enough quality.  

6. Lines: Usually only use horizontal lines in a table. 

Table Lay-out


One of the most common mistakes with figures and tables is the lack of 'self-contained' captions. The rule is simple: 

The reader should be able to understand the figure/table from the caption only (without having to read the main text). 

Therefore, in the figure/table caption, describe the following topics: 

1. Topic: Describe what the figure shows (fully objective).  

2. Conclusions: Describe what conclusions you draw from the figure/table. 

3. Setting: Describe how the figure was generated (experimental details). 

4. Abbreviations (when applicable): When you use abbreviations in the figure/table (for readability), write these out in the caption.  

Bad examples

BAD figure

BAD figure

BAD table (source): 

Good examples

GOOD figure (source)

GOOD figure (source)

GOOD table (source)