As we work on training our communicative skills and to help provide some clarity, the following are some brief definitions for some of the concepts covered in this module. Though it often seems straightforward, this is a useful exercise in good preparation and good science.
Scientific communication is an umbrella term which includes all forms of communicating science; the internal dialogue between scientists of different fields, and the external dialogue between the scientific community and the public.
Scientific visualisation refers to the process of transforming raw data into graphic representations. The main goal is to communicate information to your audience more succinctly. As scientific research in geosciences often deals with large data sets, visualisation is an invaluable tool for scientists to gain insight into the trends, outliers, and behaviour of their data. Moreover, as a universal language, figures are eye-catching and can be an efficient way to communicate research to scientific audiences as they simplify your message without the use of much text.
There are four major benefits to data visualisation2, 3. Data visualisation:
- Provides access to complex information
- Promotes visual thinking (which may help to prioritise and structure your thoughts)
- Facilitates communication
- Improves memorability of information (by stimulating different parts of the brain)
Figures are any type of graphical illustration, e.g., photographs, maps, or data plots. Scientific figures and tables are both space and time effective ways to represent numerical and statistical data. In science, figures can be communicative or exploratory. Communicative figures are used to help the audience understand your research, data, and analyses. Exploratory figures on the other hand are used by scientists to study and interpret their own data. In Earth sciences, exploratory figures can be based on field data and data from laboratory analyses or experiments, but also on models.
Due to the broad nature of Earth sciences, numerous figure types are used in this discipline. The main figure types used for data visualisation in Earth sciences are maps and graphs. However, various other types of figures such as field and microscope images, schematic representations of cross sections, processes, and infographics are also often used. The characteristics and purpose of various types of figures are discussed in Figure types.
Tables are technically not figures as they contain text and numerical data in column form. They do not visualise patterns or relationships. Figures on the other hand can be graphical representations of patterns and relationships. In scientific text, Table captions are located right above the table. Figures captions are located below a figure.