My rules for good figures

Abstractly:

  • Put the labels as close to the data as possible.
  • When possible, reuse as much of the plot format as possible

More concretely:

  • For scale bars on images, it doesn't hurt to put text right next to the bar, telling your readers what the scale bar actually means (so that they don't have to go to the legend to find out that bar is 100um).
  • Putting the sample size directly on your plots is helpful (rather than in legends).
  • Bar plots with numeric values on the x-axis areĀ almost never the best way to show the information - numeric variables demand quantitative plotting!
  • Axis labels are essential, and they need to be be as clear as possible about two things: 1) what was measured, and b) what that measurement should be interpreted as.
    • labels like 'Fraction' or 'Count' are generally not very helpful.

As always, suggestions welcome! I will update this list as I think of more things (and read more papers!).