Skills Earth Sciences

Other figures

There are times when instead of visualizing data we may want to illustrate a process, such as the methodology for an experiment or the rational towards a hypothesis. Process visualisation, a.k.a. process mapping, or schematics, serve to identify the steps or decisions taken to achieve a particular outcome. They are in diagrammatic form, using simple shapes which helps to visualise the flow of information, documents, or materials. They can also highlight the interdependence between steps in the process. For an example of such a figure, see Fig. 2 in this paper by Ioja et al. (2013).

Process visualisation can also be used to visualise Earth science processes that are otherwise difficult to explain in text. You will find them mostly in textbooks, but they also occur in scientific papers where they are often used to visualise complex processes such as the interconnectedness of different phenomena or visualise the implications of your results. See Fig. 2 of this paper by Palmer et al. (2019) for a visual representation of a large scale earth scientific process, or Fig. 2 in this paper by Reinfelder (2011) for an example of a visualisation of a small-scale process.

A separate guide for making posters and infographics was made by Elisabeth Addink and Tessa Deggeler for Utrecht University students and can be downloaded in full here as pdf. All information below regarding posters and infographics originates from this guide.

An infographic is a contraction of “information graphics” and it combines icons, illustrations, data visualisations, and minimised text to create a powerful overview of your main message. Through an infographic you can simplify complex (and often quantifiable) information into a visual summary that is easily understandable by the audience. In the context of research, “infographics” can apply to any type and number of visual outputs such as presentations, visual reports, graphs, diagrams or other illustrations, including posters. Single data visualisations on their own (e.g., one graph or one picture) could therefore sometimes be referred to as an infographic as well. However, the definition used in this guide is a visual abstract: a combination of figures designed to make the data understandable at a glance, with limited amount of text. Infographics are usually made with as few assumptions about the viewers’ background as possible. To get an idea about infographics, take a look at the example in here.

Infographics have a broader use than posters. Anywhere where you would want an audience to quickly find a message in a story or data, infographics could come in handy. For example, they can be presented live, published in magazines or on websites, or distributed as a separate handout or flyer. Also, newspapers often use infographics to clarify complex stories. The function is always to provide your specific audience with easy-to-understand information, with a key message that is clearly presented in graphics and text.

A separate guide for making posters and infographics was made by Elisabeth Addink and Tessa Deggeler for Utrecht University students and can be downloaded in full here as pdf. All information below regarding posters and infographics originates from this guide.

Scientific posters are a visual communication tool to show scientific research in a standard format, with a heading, name of the researcher and institute, text, tables and illustrations that show the results of the research. A poster comprises an introduction, the findings (which can be but don’t have to be: methods – results – discussion), and a conclusion. Posters are commonly used at conferences where multiple posters are presented simultaneously and the researcher can stand nearby to answer questions and provide additional information to the audience. Generally, a poster can contain more text than an infographic as the emphasis is more on qualities and storytelling rather than quantifiable data, yet graphics are still an important part of the poster. A poster has a more generic style than an infographic. For an example on academic research poster design, see this example.

A research poster can be used in multiple situations, but it is most commonly presented at conferences. This happens during a poster session, where multiple posters are presented simultaneously. The audience can walk around to look at different posters and to interact with the author. You will want to draw the audience to your poster by making it attractive. The poster should therefore present a brief but complete overview of your research and key message, where redundant details are left out. The function can be e.g. to share insights from your research to a wider public, or to make new connections with other professionals (networking).

Many geoscientific fields of research incorporate visualisations of field-specific results or conceptual models. Think of stereoplots for structural data, rose diagrams for sedimentological data, (balanced) cross sections, AKF diagrams for mineralogy etc. In each research field and with each type of geoscientific figure there are certain conventions that researchers adhere to, and there is often (continuously evolving) software that is used to construct such figures. We advise you to thoroughly research the type of figure you want to make, and to ask supervisors, peers, and other researchers or staff members to find out more about this.