It Figures with Dr. Bec: Audience analysis

August 24, 2017

R.T. Thomason, Ph.D., Figure Editor


In our last blog, we discussed how to use figures to convey data. This week, I wanted to delve a little deeper into audience analysis.


What do I mean by this? I am referring to how do you prepare your figures in a way that clearly presents your data for different audiences.


Most of the time when you prepare figures, your initial thought is that these figures will be presented in a manuscript. But, figures are used for various other things, such as presentations, posters, webpages, etc., and these venues require different detail of your data.


Many times, I have observed scientists present their work just by slapping their manuscript figure into a PowerPoint or keynote presentation. Okay, this is quick and simple but a lot of times that figure is WAY too technical for the audience.


Think about it: in a manuscript, you want technical figures to describe every aspect of your data that you have outlined in your text. On the other hand, in a presentation, you may want to highlight the punch-line of your data.


Thus, you should consider taking your technical, manuscript-formatted-figure and simplifying it for your talk (don’t worry, we’ll cover presentation figures at a later date). Just as a reader has the time to sit there and mull over your figure for as long as they want, in a presentation the presenter must describe everything on their slide and move things along quickly.


A technical figure in a presentation can slow your flow and cause confusion in your audience.


Final words of wisdom: When putting your figure together, take the time to analyze your audience. Here are some topics to think about (including some examples of what to think about when preparing your figure):

  • Demographics(field of study, stage in career, professional background)
  • Context(size of audience, how technical do you need to be)
  • Knowledge(prior knowledge of the subject, what do they want to know, what do theyneed to know?)
  • Attitude(how to deal with agreeing side and opposing side, addressing problems, preparing for questions that may arise)


Next time in It Figures with Dr. Bec, we’ll take a look at a simple yet important (and dear to my heart) topic… fonts.