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The Charlesworth Knowledge ‘pirate code’: Easy and effective data presentation


As we count down to our next Charlesworth Knowledge FREE webinar, ‘Get on top of your statistics and data presentation’, on Tuesday 28th May (10am BST, sign up here, and 2pm BST, sign up here), here are some of the tips and tricks that we’ll cover. What sorts of things will you learn if you join us?


Well, If you tune in on the 28th, we’ll expand on what we call the ‘pirate code’ for effective data presentation. Ten rules for making better, clearer, and more effective figures.


‘Rule one’: know your audience. This first point is obvious; depending on the target journal for the paper that you're writing, and so depending on the kind of people who are going to read it, the figures that you’ll want to include will be different. If you create, for example, a figure that lists the leading causes of death due to cancer and plan to send this to a readership group comprising non-specialists, the content and terms used are going to be different.


‘Rule two’: what is your message? Think about the key message that your figures should contain; What do you want people looking at a figure to take away from it? This is very important to think about before you start creating.


‘Rule three’: adapt your figures to the medium you are using. Are you making a figure for a conference poster (as big, eye-catching, and colourful as possible) or a scientific article? Will your figure appear in colour in the journal PDF? Do you want your figure to be just in black and white?


‘Rule four’: caption, caption, caption. Ensure that you get all of the information into the caption so that your figure can ‘stand alone’. Many people will download single figures from your article so there must be enough information in the caption for both their message and contents to be understandable without having to refer to the main paper.


‘Rule five’: careful about software. The same data plotted using two drawing packages can end up looking quite different; make sure you're using software that enables you to reproduce your data in the most accurate way to sell your message to your audience.


‘Rule six’: colour effectively. Different uses of colour look quite distinct and so the message in a figure can be made more or less clear to a reader. Tune into our webinar to see some great examples of this! Lots of articles and blog posts have been written about the effective use of colour in academic publishing.


‘Rule seven’: don’t mislead. Be careful about how you choose to plot your data as the use of different scales or shapes can impart quite different messages and perhaps give the impression that a greater or lesser correlation is present than may actually be the case. The relative sizes of spheres or discs relative to one another is one great example of this, as we’ll discuss in our webinar.


‘Rule eight’: avoid junk. Make sure you plot your data in such a way that your message is clear and there is no background noise. Try to avoid unnecessary mess on your figures and be aware of the fact that the message is actually much more important than it looks.


‘Rule nine’: message over beauty.  Although figures should look good, it’s the message that’s key and not necessarily how pretty it is.  A figure that looks good but that contains lots of noise will not convince the reader of the story of your data. Effective presentation is all about selling the message of your data to a reader.


‘Rule ten’: find a data presentation tool that works for you. This is perhaps the most important of all our rules; develop skills in the use of a piece of software to makefigures that work for you. Don't just use a piece of software because other people tell you that you should be using it.


Experiment - use different software packages - to find one that you are most comfortable with and that works well for you and your data. Some people like to make figures just using Excel or Word, others are more comfortable with more creative packages like Photoshop, Coraldraw, or Adobe Acrobat. This will also be dependent on your field, of course.


One aim of our FREE webinar, ‘Get on top of your statistics and data presentation’, on Tuesday 28th May (10am BST, sign up here, and 14pm BST, sign up here), is to help you to more easily make great, well-presented figures for your academic articles that will enable you to best sell your work to your readership.


A ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ after all! Just as in the ‘pirate code’, however, our rules are actually ‘more like guidelines’. We are here to help: See you on Tuesday 28th May!



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