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Ten Simple Rules for Better Figures

Figure 6

Do not mislead the reader.

On the left part of the figure, we represented a series of four values: 30, 20, 15, 10. On the upper left part, we used the disc area to represent the value, while in the bottom part we used the disc radius. Results are visually very different. In the latter case (red circles), the last value (10) appears very small compared to the first one (30), while the ratio between the two values is only 3∶1. This situation is actually very frequent in the literature because the command (or interface) used to produce circles or scatter plots (with varying point sizes) offers to use the radius as default to specify the disc size. It thus appears logical to use the value for the radius, but this is misleading. On the right part of the figure, we display a series of ten values using the full range for values on the top part (y axis goes from 0 to 100) or a partial range in the bottom part (y axis goes from 80 to 100), and we explicitly did not label the y-axis to enhance the confusion. The visual perception of the two series is totally different. In the top part (black series), we tend to interpret the values as very similar, while in the bottom part, we tend to believe there are significant differences. Even if we had used labels to indicate the actual range, the effect would persist because the bars are the most salient information on these figures.

Figure 6