The charge that scientists are bad writers is hardly an aphorism. Just read any scientific paper outside of your field and you'll quickly be lost in a jungle of jargon and poorly explained concepts. Yet most scientists struggle mightily with wordsmithing, some going so far as to hire consultants, because they understand the importance of a well-written manuscript.

The same does not always apply to illustrations, a catchall term for all graphical representations of scientific data, including diagrams, charts, and graphs. "The state of scientific graphics is very poor," says Tom Lang, coauthor of How to Report Statistics in Medicine; Annotated Guidelines for Authors, Editors and Reviewers.1 "Too little forethought goes into the illustrations, which are probably the most read part of the paper."

While the science comes first and the writing is clearly important, charts and graphs can make the difference for your paper. "If it's spectacular...

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