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In Section II, The Text of the Biomedical Research Paper, we saw how to write each section of the text to tell a clear story. However, many readers do not read the text, or read only part of it. Instead these readers look at the figures and tables. Therefore it is important that the figures and tables are clear and tell the story of the paper.

Clear figures and tables result from careful design and from informative legends for figures and informative titles and footnotes for tables. Careful design is important because figures and tables are visual means of conveying information and therefore should have strong visual impact. Informative legends, titles, and footnotes are important to ensure that the topic of each figure and table is clear.

Figures and tables that tell the story of the paper result from designing the figures and tables to form a clear sequence that relates clearly to the text.

Chapter 8 presents guidelines for designing clear figures and tables, for writing informative legends for figures and informative titles and footnotes for tables, and for designing figures and tables to tell the story of the paper.


In scientific research papers, most figures are used in the Methods and Results sections, though figures can also be used in the Introduction and the Discussion. In Methods, the main use of figures is to clarify or amplify the methods. For example, figures can be used to show apparatus or anatomic relations. In Results, the main use of figures is to present evidence that supports the results. Figures present either primary evidence (for example, electron micrographs) or numerical data (in graphs).

Drawings and Diagrams

Drawings illustrate anatomy, apparatus, and other concrete things. Diagrams illustrate concepts such as flow systems. Drawings and diagrams can be either realistic or schematic (Fig. 1).

Figure 1.

A diagram drawn both realistically (left) and schematically (right). The schematic diagram is simpler, but the realistic diagram may have more impact for some readers. The drawing is black on white, and the labels are uppercase and lowercase letters in a vertical, uncrowded, sans serif typeface of medium weight.

For animals and apparatus, drawings are preferable to photographs, because drawings can eliminate unnecessary detail and emphasize important features (Fig. 2).

Figure 2.

Photograph (left) and drawing (right) of an apparatus for measuring intrapleural pressure. The drawing shows the apparatus more clearly and simply than the photograph does.

Drawings and diagrams should be black on white and should be kept simple. Labels should be large enough to be visible but not overwhelming. The letters used for ...

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