Academic Writing

How to Prepare Effective Illustrations

When to Use a Table:When to Use a Figure:When to Use Text:
To show many and precise numerical values and other specific data. Especially data that do not necessarily need to be explained in the text (i.e., supplemental).To show trends, patterns, and relationships across data sets. Use graphs and data plots.When you don’t have extensive or complicated data to present, and it can be easily understood in the text.
To compare and contrast data values or characteristics among related items or across groups.To summarize research results. Use graphs, data plots, maps, and pie charts.When you have fewer than 2 columns or rows.
To show the presence or absence of specific characteristics.To present a visual explanation of a sequence of events, ideas or concepts, or procedures. Use schematic diagrams, images, infographics, photographs, word clouds, and maps.When the data is peripheral to the study or irrelevant to your findings.

General Checklist

  • Are all figures/tables self-explanatory and self-contained so they can be understood without the paper?
  • Are all figures/tables mentioned in the text?
  • Are all figures/tables numbered in the order in which they are mentioned?
  • Are you consistent between values or details in a table and those in the text?
  • Are your titles clear and informative to concisely describe the purpose or contents of the table/figure?
  • Is patient confidentiality protected with all potentially identifying information removed or covered?
  • Did you obtain permission from the author for adapted or reprinted tables and/or figures, and cite these figures/tables appropriately (e.g. “Adapted from…”, “Reprinted from…”)?
  • Is the formatting of your “List of Tables and/or Figures” page consistent with the rest of the manuscript?
  • Did you adhere to journal guidelines: Total number of tables and figures? Style of numbering and titles? Image resolution, file format, placement in manuscript, color or grayscale?

Tables Checklist

  • Did you combine repetitive tables?
  • Did you divide large amounts of data into clear and appropriate categories?
  • If your data is extensive, can you make the tables a part of the appendix or supplemental material?
  • Does every table column have a heading?
  • Does your table have sufficient spacing between columns and rows?

Figures Checklist

  • Have all images been prepared at a resolution sufficient to produce a high-quality image sharp image?
  • Is your image still clear after the figure has been reduced to the width of a journal column or page?
  • Are your axis labels, figure labels, etc., clearly and appropriately labelled?
  • Are all labels legible against the figure background?
  • Did you give specifics including scale bars and units of measurement?
  • Did you use legends to explain the key message?


  1. The EQUATOR Network. Reporting guidelines for main study types. Published 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020.
  2. Vintzileos AM, Ananth CV. How to write and publish an original research article. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010;202(4):344.e1-344.e6. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2009.06.038
  3. Branson RD. Anatomy of a Research Paper. RESPIRATORY CARE. 2004;49(10):7.
  4. Kotz D, Cals JWL. Effective writing and publishing scientific papers, part VII: tables and figures. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 2013;66(11):1197. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2013.04.016

Further Reading

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