I am writing my PhD thesis in mathematics and there are several graphs to be included (on knots, braids, and other related objects). I know that there are several software available for drawing graphs like this, but I am not experienced with any one of those. Also I do not have much time to learn a new software to draw graphs. I have asked a related question before but am frustrated by the time that is needed in learning the drawing software. Am also considering using hand-drawn graphs.

My question: It is generally a requirement for the graphs to be drawn very nicely in a mathematical PhD thesis? (I know that different universities have different rules and here I am asking about the general principle.) Is it generally considered acceptable if I draw some graphs by hand, scan them and include them in the thesis?

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    Ask your advisor. Look at other theses in knot theory. Look at papers. If I was on your committee, I'd want them to be drawn by a computer not by hand.
    – Bill Barth
    Mar 8, 2015 at 19:25
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    As Bill Barth said, you need to ask your advisor. Maybe he/she will be happy with hand-drawn knots, or have some advice about how to produce computer-drawn figures more quickly. But if your advisor feels strongly that the figures should be computer-drawn, then it doesn't matter what random people on the internet tell you. Mar 8, 2015 at 19:47
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    In case you didn't know, you can retrieve the source of most arXiv papers to see how they were produced. If the diagrams were produced by LaTeX (TikZ, epstricks, whatever) for example then you can try to learn from examples, instead of diving in the manual.
    – user9646
    Mar 8, 2015 at 20:01
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    If you're using LaTeX you can have a look at the packages knots, braids and pst-knot. Mar 8, 2015 at 21:29
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    @Zuriel On the arxiv page, go to Download → Other formats → Source → [Download source]. The file type is probably tgz, so you need to extract it.
    – Pål GD
    Mar 8, 2015 at 22:16

1 Answer 1


Even if it's not a formal requirement, consider how important first impressions are. People will judge a paper with sloppy diagrams, and assume that the results and writing will also be sloppy. This is especially true for a PhD thesis. Since you've had 4-5 years to work on it, people will assume that a thesis is well-written and every aspect carefully planned. That includes the figures. A thesis with hand-drawn figures will not be seen as professional.

I personally recommend Inkscape for drawing things. I think it's easier than Illustrator. I believe for my undergraduate thesis I picked up most of the knowledge i needed in 2 hours of watching Youtube tutorials and trying them out. Fortunately, math diagrams usually only require knowledge of the most basic tools in a program.

If you are truly desperate, I believe it is usually acceptable to pay someone to take your pencil drawings and turn them into professional ones, as long as you give proper credit (check your university guidelines though). There is probably an undergrad at your university with experience in Inkscape or Illustrator who wants to make some extra money.

  • Hand-drawn does not equate sloppy (see e.g. this paper), so they may be an option. However, in most cases, computer drawing may be more time efficient to get good (enough) results, especially when there are done in bulk. Mar 8, 2015 at 21:29
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    @PiotrMigdal While it's certainly possible, it takes a lot more skill to make excellent drawings by hand than with a computer. It's also more acceptable for established researchers like Penrose to not follow the standard (which computer generated images are).
    – user141592
    Mar 8, 2015 at 21:48
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    @PiotrMigdal Sure but that paper is nearly 45 years old and, in those days, producing anything other than hand-drawn graphics basically involved hiring a professional to do it for you. Hand-drawn graphics (and even hand-written equations) were very much the norm in those days. Mar 8, 2015 at 22:30
  • What about matlab? Its really easy to draw graphs using vectors. I am not sure what graps we are talking about but matlab can do 2d, 3d plotting.
    – Kyslik
    Mar 9, 2015 at 0:19
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    Since I'd hope that the OP is doing their Thesis in LaTeX since it's in maths; they might want to consider TikZ or one of the other LaTeX drawing packages as well. Mar 9, 2015 at 9:09

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