Pimp my graph, yo!

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Have you ever opened up a Journal article that you’ve been really excited to read, but after a quick flick through it an generally left with a slight feeling of anti-climax? Ever been to a conference and been disappointed by the talk that sounded like it was right up your street? Perhaps you have submitted a paper or article that has come back with before average reviews? I know I have, and there is no denying that there are many, many reasons for this in each case. However, I recently stumbled upon a little strategy that can help, particularly if you are the author of an article or the person giving a presentation. I’ve unofficially coined it graph pimping, but it is actually something that I saw was done by Bilge Mutlu and the students in his lab.

While I think that we like to believe that scientific research and peer-review is a process that is unbiased when it comes to how things look visually, I tend to get the feeling that this is not strictly the case. In fact, it seems that people tend to pay attention and exhibit a desirable reaction to things that are basically visually appealing – people like eye candy. It gives a good initial impression of things, and depending on who you’re dealing with, this may lead to a make of break situation, particularly if you work in Marketing. And let’s face it, as a researcher there is quite a serious element of self promotion and marketing that is involved.

MatLab Original Plot Adobe Illustrator Pimped Plot

So, as for pimping a graph, take these two graphs above as an example. They both show exactly the same information, however I think that most people would agree that the graph on the right is far more visually appealing than the one on the left (which is a standard MatLab bar plot). What I’ve done is take the MatLab plot, and run it through Adobe Illustrator and given it a serious make over. What is astonishing is that the effort is minimal, while the return is rather substantial in my view. By simply adding a gradient background, tracing over some lines, using a different font and adding a splash of colour, you can turn a MatLab monstrosity into a rather nice looking graph.

Now, I’ve not seen any scientific study that shows that this can directly impact the chances of your next Journal article getting published, but I do certainly think that pimping those figures can’t hurt your chances when it comes to review time. Same goes for your PhD Thesis… 😉


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