Journal Figure Guidelines: Areas of Confusion

Figures are included in a research paper to make an impactful presentation of the topic. They provide a much-needed third dimension to the paper and help clear any possible doubt in the reader’s mind. Thus, it is very important that the paper contains figures of the best quality. This necessitates figure formatting, which is essential to render the figures in a print-ready format. Before going deeper into the topic, let’s first understand the logic behind figure guidelines, i.e., what they are and why they are needed.

Why are figure guidelines necessary?
Every journal is very particular about the paper being submitted to them in strict adherence to prescribed guidelines. In simple terms, guidelines are a set of rules according to which the content of the paper needs to be arranged. It can be broadly divided into two parts: Text and Reference. The text part can be further subdivided into title, main text, figure, and table. Guidelines are important because they ensure uniformity of style and prevent readers from being distracted by inconsistent styling of different papers in a journal.

The problem in understanding figure guidelines
Formatting of figures is a tedious task for a person who is not aware of the terms associated with figures and the technicalities involved in formatting them according to the guidelines of a journal. To better understand the problem, let us distil figure formatting into two main components: terminology and procedure.
Sometimes, even a native speaker of English has issues in understanding the jargons used in the guidelines for formatting figures. For example, words like ‘line art’ and ‘vector’ might not be understood by writers and it becomes difficult for them to categorize the type of figure present in the paper and hence decide on the specifications to be followed. Understanding the guideline becomes a cake walk when such terms are accompanied by figures. Guidelines that explain each component of a figure–for example, the type of figure and the color component–in a simplified manner are easier to grasp than others that are laden with technical terms.

How are figures formatted?
Most journals do not elaborate the procedure to convert a figure into the format preferred by them. When authors cannot avail expert help, it becomes very difficult for them to format the figures on their own. Conversely, it is helpful if journals ask for only standard formats (for instance, tiff format with a resolution of 300 dpi) and provide inbuilt software for conversion of figures.
It is also confusing for authors to follow complicated instructions with a lot of specifications put together in a single paragraph. So, it is better for journals to logically arrange the instructions in bullet points, which makes it easy for authors to follow.
Though figures and tables only supplement the content of the paper, they play a crucial part in making the paper more comprehensible and reader-friendly. Therefore, special care needs to be taken to put them in a format that is acceptable by the journal. That will help create figures of the highest quality, which are also print-friendly.

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