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It is said that the human brain registers information better when presented in an illustrative format, for example, data presented in graphs and trends or patterns explained through diagrammatic representations. Analysing and interpreting complex information presented through figures and tables has long been a unique forte of the human brain, and we have to thank our creators for our sharp analytical skills (sharper than the fastest computers in the world, for that matter!).
The reason to be so cautious and finicky about the use of graphs, diagrams and illustrations is that incorrect usage and marking methods result in the deduction of marks or grades for your research paper. Determine whether you need to use them at all and then carefully follow the correct labelling and marking methods for each one of them. Scoring essential brownie points with your supervisor as well as the judging panel will go a long way to take your scholastic career forward.
Although we all know what graphs, diagrams and illustrations stand for, what not many know is that they all fall under the category of ‘figures’ in academia. It is important to note that figures do not stand as replacements for written text in your research paper. While you still have to explain each figure that you use in your paper, the main purpose behind using them is to help the readers understand the data analysis easily and have a quick overview of the quantitative analysis factors pertaining to your research topic.
The research design is of much importance when placing the figures in your paper and it is essential that you know the finer nuances and points of distinction between each one of them.
Graphs are quantitative representations of data, usually used to show temporal changes, patterns of change, comparison of data of similar form, factoring in the variables in a comparative analysis, as well as for gross representation of a single variable depending on a constant factor. Quantitative data is best described through graphs as they follow a lucid and empirical method of data representation. Graphs can come in many forms, column graphs, bar graphs or linear graphs. They have multiple uses – from detailing a trend over time to representing various factors of change within a quantitative framework.
Diagrams help to represent data in a way that is easy to comprehend. Diagrammatic representation of data includes flow charts, pie charts and any quantitative representation of data through pictorial techniques. Diagrams are easier to understand and deal with more abstract explanations such as concepts and theories. Pie charts are the most commonly used forms of diagrams for their easy placement and indexing methods. They are also the most widely accepted and understood form of diagrammatic representation among the readers. The human brain is the quickest in analysing figures and spatial categorisation inside a circular format and thus the mass acceptance of pie charts, especially in the 2D format.
Illustrations are the most abstract forms of figures used to explain theories and concepts of a more qualitative trend than the ones dealing with number-crunching aspects of your study. Illustrations come in handy when you wish to define causal relationships between two variables. They also help to explain novel concepts and theories such as different schools of thought in pedagogy, the ecological conservation cycle, supply and demand theories in economics and similar abstract concepts that require lucid explanation for the readers. While it is important that you use illustrations for a clearer understanding of the concepts related to your paper, avoid being too generous with illustrations in case your paper does not require much explanation of the operational definitions and concepts.
Presenting information using graphs, diagrams and illustrations is always a great idea, especially if you are dealing with the quantitative analysis of data for your research. However, when constructing your research design, pause and think (if possible, consult with your supervisor) on the importance of using graphs and diagrams for your particular topic. For example, if your research topic deals with explaining the customs and traditions of native islanders for your anthropology paper, it is best to take the course of descriptive research format where you can go into the details of each custom and the history behind each of them. However, if your focus is on the distribution of native islanders among the total population demographics, then you may take the help of a diagram to show the comparison between the two demographic profiles.
Subjects dealing with the actuarial sciences of statistics, mathematics and related areas usually need to take help of graphs and diagrams more than once to coherently present data in an explicit form in their research papers. The more abstract disciplines of the social sciences like history and anthropology might not always need to seek refuge of diagrammatic representations, although they always help to explain certain data in a lucid manner.
Primarily used for the diagrammatic representation of large data sets, graphs present data in the numeric as well as tabular forms. Elucidating the relationship between the variables, graphs help to explain large data sets coherently. The graphs include titles of documentation, cross-referencing as well as key axis factors. Here is what you should keep in mind while using graphs to represent data in your research paper.
The golden rule of titling is to remember that all diagrammatic representations of data or information in all forms are actually ‘figures’. You should appropriately number each graph, diagram, or illustration that you use as a ‘figure’ along with a number assigned to it that follows the consecutive pattern throughout your dissertation (Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3 and so on). The title of the figure should contain an exact and short description of what it represents. Remember that the title for each graph should appear below the graph itself along with the figure number.
Example: Figure 4 – Leisure activities among the urban youth (positioned below the graph)
It is important to label the graphs using clear distinctions as they represent empirical data in a simple format that is easy for the reader to comprehend. To achieve the purpose of elucidation, it is important to label the graphs according to what they represent. The independent and dependent variables in the graph as plotted on the axes in accordance with the data series needs to be labelled clearly and concisely.
Sometimes, two or more colours are used in graphs to show comparative analysis between the variables. While the usage of colours in the graphs is bound to pique the interest of the readers, it is important to limit their usage so that your research paper does not end up looking like a paintball field. The usage of information inside the graphs also needs to be restricted and kept to the bare minimum in order to avoid confusing the readers with too much onslaught of data.
Labelling diagrams and illustrations
Essentially pictorial representations of data, diagrams and illustrations can succeed in bringing a breath of fresh air among the drab text of a research paper. Explaining crucial information with the help of simple diagrams and illustrations, especially when it comes to abstract concepts and theories, is quite a useful technique in writing your research paper. However, the correct labelling and marking methods will take your paper a long way to impress the submission panel as well as your supervisor. Here are the most important factors to keep in mind while using diagrams or illustrations in your research paper.
Providing a title for each the diagrams and illustrations is of utmost importance while composing your research paper. As all diagrammatic representation of information (apart from tables) fall under the category of ‘figures’, you should appropriately title the diagrams and illustrations after the mandatory prefix of ‘Figure’ followed by the figure number (Figure 1, Figure 2 and so on). The short description or title of the diagram or illustration comes after the figure number and the entire title is positioned below the figures themselves.
Example: Figure 8 – Types of soil conservation techniques
In order to convey information through the pictorial representations of diagrams and illustrations, it is imperative that you use clear and concise labelling techniques, do not clutter the image with too much text and always provide index keys to decipher the diagram easily. In case you use images or illustrations sourced externally, you should always mention that in the figure title as well as later on in the list of references for all the figures that you have used throughout your research paper.
Lastly, here are some quick tips to keep handy while using graphs, diagrams and illustrations in your research paper.
Follow this comprehensive guide for labelling and marking methods for graphs, diagrams and illustrations and write your way to success like a champion.
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