Chart -- see "graph."
Diagram -- a drawing that illustrates or visually explains a thing or idea by outlining its component parts and the relationships among them. Also a line drawing, made to accompany and illustrate a geometrical theorem, mathematical demonstration, etc.
Drawing -- a graphic illustration of representing a person, place, or object or a technique for outlining the geometry, layout, location, and design of a figure, plan, or sketch by means of lines.
Figure -- a form bounded by three or more lines; one or more digits or numerical symbols representing a number.
Flowchart -- a pictorial summary [graphical algorithm] of the decisions and flows [movement of information] that make up a procedure or process from beginning to end. Also called flow diagram, flow process chart, or network diagram.
Form -- a logically structured document with a fixed arrangement of captioned spaces designed for entering, extracting, or communicating required or requested information.
Graph -- a two-dimensional drawing showing a relationship [usually between two set of numbers] by means of a line, curve, a series of bars, or other symbols. Typically, an independent variable is represented on the horizontal line (X-axis) and an dependent variable on the vertical line (Y-axis). The perpendicular axis intersect at a point called origin, and are calibrated in the units of the quantities represented. Though a graph usually has four quadrants representing the positive and negative values of the variables, usually only the north-east quadrant is shown when the negative values do not exist or are of no interest. Often used interchangeably with the term “chart.”
Histogram -- step-column chart that displays a summary of the variations in (frequency distribution of) quantities [called Classes] that fall within certain lower and upper limits in a set of data. Classes are measured on the horizontal ('X') axis, and the number of times they occur [or the percentages of their occurrences] are measured on the vertical ('Y') axis. To construct a histogram, rectangles or blocks are drawn on the x-axis [without any spaces between them] whose areas are proportional to the classes they represent. Histograms [and histographs] are used commonly where the subject item is discrete (such as the number of students in a school) instead of being continuous [such as the variations in their heights]. Also called frequency diagram, a histogram is usually preferred over a histograph where the number of classes is less than eight.
Illustration -- a visual representation [e.g., picture or diagram] that is used to make a subject in a paper more pleasing or easier to understand.
Map -- a visual representation of an area. It is considered to be a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes. Examples of types include climate, economic, resource, physical, political, road, and topographic maps.
Pictograph -- visual presentation of data using icons, pictures, symbols, etc., in place of or in addition to common graph elements [bars, lines, points]. Pictographs use relative sizes or repetitions of the same icon, picture, or symbol to show comparison. Also called a pictogram, pictorial chart, pictorial graph, or picture graph.
Symbol -- Mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship.
Table -- an orderly arrangement of quantitative data in columns and rows. Also called a “matrix.”
BusinessDictionary.com. Created by WebFinance, Inc.; “Graphics for Display.” In Understanding Social Statistics. Jane Fielding and Nigel Gilbert, editors. Second edition. (London: SAGE Publications, 2006), pp. 69-93.
When to Use Non-textual Elements in Your Paper
The decision to use graphs, charts, diagrams, photographs, maps, illustrations, or any other forms of non-textual elements in the results section of your research paper should be a process of consciously considering whether any visual aids improve a paper's overall quality and readability. Do not include non-textual elements if the information can otherwise be described clearly and succinctly or if it does not contribute to understanding findings directly associated with the research problem. Below are examples of when you should consider or not consider using non-textual elements in your paper.
WHEN YOU SHOULD
WHEN YOU SHOULD NOT
Figures and Charts. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Statistics and Visuals. Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University; Chen, Min, Luciano Floridi, and Rita Borgo. “What Is Visualization Really For? In The Philosophy of Information Quality. Edited by Luciano Floridi and Phyllis Illari. Synthese Library, vol 358. (New York: Springer, 2014), pp. 75-93; Burgio, Valeria, and Matteo Moretti."Infographics as Images: Meaningfulness Beyond Information" MDPI Proceedings 1 (2017): 891; Few, Stephen. "The Chartjunk Debate." Perceptual Edge: Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter (April, May, and June 2011): 1-11; “Over 60 New York Times Graphs for Students to Analyze.” The Learning Network, The New York Times, Published June 10, 2020; Updated Oct. 23, 2020; “Graphics for Display.” In Understanding Social Statistics. Jane Fielding and Nigel Gilbert, editors. Second edition. (London: SAGE Publications, 2006), pp. 69-93.
Use non-textual elements, such as figures, tables, graphs, maps, photographs, etc., to support your key findings. Readers should be able to discern the meaning of non-textual elements on their own without having to refer to the text to understand the data being presented. Reference to a non-textual element in the text of your paper should focus on describing its significance in relation to the research problem or the topic being discussed.
In the social sciences, non-textual elements must have neat, legible titles, be simple, and have detailed captions that are written in complete sentences; they should fully explain the item without forcing the reader to refer to the text. Conversely, the reader should not have to refer back and forth from the text to the non-textual elements to understand the paper.
General rules about using non-textual elements in your research paper:
References to non-textual elements within the text of your paper are generally put in parentheses, e.g. "...the number of schools have grown (see Figure 1)" or "...although the distribution of savings among city employees has been reduced during the last decade (Chart 2)" because this information is generally supplementary to the results themselves; most of the text should focus on highlighting key findings.
NOTE: Do not overuse non-textual elements! Include them sparingly and only in cases where they are an effective means for enhancing and/or supplementing information already described in your paper. Using too many non-textual elements disrupts the narrative flow of your paper, making it more difficult for the reader to synthesize and interpret your overall research. If you have to use a lot of non-textual elements, consider organizing them in an appendix. and refer to them in the text, such as, "data shown in Appendix One shows...."
ANOTHER NOTE: Excel and other computer programs are capable of creating very elaborate, colorful, and dramatic looking non-textual elements. However, be careful not to let aesthetics and artistry overwhelm the message you are trying to convey to the reader. Use these features only to help improve the reader's understanding of the information being presented. For example, if a pie chart is being used to show the distribution of responses to a survey, use distinctive colors to distinguish between each part of the chart.
Chapter 4: The Research Process: Structuring the Research Paper. Effective Writing Center. University of Maryland; Durbin Jr., Charles G. “Effective Use of Tables and Figures in Abstracts, Presentations, and Papers.” Respiratory Care 49 (October 2004): 1233-1237; Few, Stephen. Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten. 2nd edition. Burlingame, CA: Analytics Press, 2012; Franzblau, Lauren E. and Kevin C. Chung. “Graphs, Tables, and Figures in Scientific Publications: The Good, the Bad, and How Not to Be the Latter.” The Journal of Hand Surgery 37 (March 2012): 591-596; Hartley, James et al. “Research on Tables and Graphs in Academic Articles: Pitfalls and Promises.” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 66 (February 2015): 428-431; Informative Presentation of Tables, Graphs and Statistics. Statistical Services Centre, University of Reading, United Kingdom, March 2000; Rodrigues, Velany et al. How to Use Figures and Tables Effectively to Present Your Research Findings. Tutorials: Manuscript Preparation. Editage insights. Cactus Communications, Inc.; Tables & Figures. Academic Skills Office, University of New England; Using Figures, Tables and Graphs. Language and Learning Online, Monash University..