Types of Figures

May 7, 2018 R.T. Thomason, Ph.D., Figure Editor


Since we spent the last four blog entries discussing the article “Ten Simple Rules for Drawing Scientific Comics” I thought for the next few posts we could focus on various types of figures. You may be asking, “what do you mean ‘various types of figures’?” When writing and assembling your manuscript, or even before you write and assemble, you need to decide which type of figure really tells your story. You shouldn’t design a figure for the sake of designing a figure – really think about how you can graphically tell you story and what information you want to put out there to your audience. Let’s start with some quick definitions of the basic ‘types of figures.’


  1. Statistical (graph) – a diagram showing the relation between variable quantities, typically of two variables, each measured along one of a pair of axes at right angles1.
  2. Panel – collection of images, drawings, even graphs that relate to one another and support your argument. Can exist as single or multiple pieces of data.
  3. Diagram – can include flowcharts (procedure or sequence of activities), algorithms (branched pathways for identifying or managing a condition), pedigrees (familial relationships), and maps. These types of figures are useful for visually displaying complex relationships or parts of a study2.
  4. Schematic – drawing of a relationship or process. Generally utilized to bring all of data together into an understandable, single, summarized figure. A schematic usually omits all details that are not relevant to the information the schematic is intended to convey and may add unrealistic elements that aid comprehension3.


Other types of figures can include videos (to be viewed in the electronic version of the manuscript). I did not include tables or mathematical equations because I generally don’t count those as “figures” per se. They are indeed important to the manuscript but are not considered figures (journals will usually ask that you either include these in the text portion of the manuscript or submit separately).