# How much is too much when it comes to diagrams in a research article? [closed]

This is actually specific to mathematics. In particular, in the sub field of category theory, differential geometry, algebraic geometry.

Question is as mentioned above.

How much is too much when it comes to diagrams in a research article?

Do more diagrams annoy a reader?

I did not expect this question to create so much confusion. May be some one who has experience (don’t ask how much) in reading research articles in mathematics (pure mathematics, if that makes some difference) can say something relevant as it differs from one field to another field.

By diagram, I do not mean graphs. I want to explain the setup in diagrams. I do not know if it reach correctly but, I want to add diagram of heart and not graph of case study how many times it beats in different persons of different age or something like that.

• en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_without_words Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 20:43
• 1,000,000 is too much. That is not a sharp upper bound. Anything that claims to be a sharp upper bound is probably absurd, hence your question lacks a precise answer. What sort of answer were you expecting?Something definite like 42? Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 21:59
• @JohnColeman Please see edit. Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 23:29
• In the three fields you mention, graphical explanations are very well-established. So "too many" is going to be entirely a matter of personal taste. I've seen plenty of of papers that seemed like they were half pictures. Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 0:33
• @ElizabethHenning Thanks for your comment... I do feel the same, just wanted to see other persons view... Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 0:35

That entirely depends on the article itself. In some cases diagrams aid an explanation and make it clearer. In others they offer little insight. If an article depends on having many diagrams of the former kind, then I don't see that "too many" is an issue. But even a few of the latter kind may just get in the way of understanding.

Words and pictures can be complementary. It is a judgement call by the authors as to which is best in a given case. They may err a bit, but that is human nature.

In general, think about whether words or pictures/figures better convey your meaning and act accordingly. Sometimes both are needed. Examples illustrating (note the word) a concept are often best presented in figures. Imagine a Calculus textbook without figures. Now imagine one without formulae. Would either work?

• Thanks for your suggestion. I will keep in mind.. I have not much to ask on what you said... Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 13:04

I looked at 5 papers of mine in experimental science. The results:

As you can see, it's about ~1-2 figures per typeset page. I did count "panels" (a), (b), etc. as separate figures even though not numbered that way as they are separate on the page.

I never got any push back or even questions on figures from journals or reviewers. Had one co-author on D ask me to pull 3 modeled regressions (or number would have been higher). But the objection was not visual impact but just that he disagreed we needed to show a negative relationship.

In terms of what to show, they were almost all just data graphs and are in the results section. Maybe once or twice I showed a "cartoon" in discussion. Intro, methods, and conclusion tend to be figure free. So the figures are concentrated in the middle of the paper.

I really never wondered what to show--felt intuitive.

• Thanks for your suggestion. I will keep in mind.. I have not much to ask on what you said... Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 13:04
• +1 thanks for the work, good approach, as you have to explain the figures also in the floating text Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:08
• Um yes. "Figure 1 shows the change in X with Y. It is linear from a to b. Blabla." I also use detailed figure captions that clearly mention axes, symbols and main insight. Figure captions are high gain text for a science paper reader. (This is normal practice in good experimental reports.) Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:20
• What do you mean by figure captions?? Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:21
• Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 14:38

I'm assuming by "diagrams" you mean computations done in graphical rather than inline symbolic form. In this case the answer depends on the field and on the reader--some people find a multi-page diagrammatic calculation annoying if it could be expressed more succinctly (if also more opaquely) using standard symbolic notation. However, there has been a general trend towards diagrammatic calculations, so it's a bit more au courant even if it annoys the old guard.

If on the other hand you mean "illustrating pictures," I think it's safe to say everybody likes looking at those.

• Thanks for your answer.... I like “it is a bit more au courant even if it annoys the old guard”.. :) :) Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 23:36

Personally, I like more diagrams in a paper with good captions. More complex mental visualization can be aided greatly with diagrams. If I am skimming through a paper, a diagram will catch my attention more easily, and if the caption does a good job of explaining by itself (with fewer prerequisites from the text of the paper), I am more likely to read other portions of paper in more detail. This is especially true for experimental results. Conversely, not having good captions defeats the purpose of the diagram. My opinion is based on computer science research papers in my small area, however, one of my favorite example is from mathematics