Reveal, Don't Conceal: Transforming Data Visualization to Improve Transparency

Tracey L. Weissgerber, Stacey J. Winham, Ethan P. Heinzen, Jelena S. Milin-Lazovic, Oscar Garcia-Valencia, Zoran Bukumiric, Marko D. Savic, Vesna D. Garovic, Natasa M. Milic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Reports highlighting the problems with the standard practice of using bar graphs to show continuous data have prompted many journals to adopt new visualization policies. These policies encourage authors to avoid bar graphs and use graphics that show the data distribution; however, they provide little guidance on how to effectively display data. We conducted a systematic review of studies published in top peripheral vascular disease journals to determine what types of figures are used, and to assess the prevalence of suboptimal data visualization practices. Among papers with data figures, 47.7% of papers used bar graphs to present continuous data. This primer provides a detailed overview of strategies for addressing this issue by (1) outlining strategies for selecting the correct type of figure depending on the study design, sample size, and the type of variable; (2) examining techniques for making effective dot plots, box plots, and violin plots; and (3) illustrating how to avoid sending mixed messages by aligning the figure structure with the study design and statistical analysis. We also present solutions to other common problems identified in the systematic review. Resources include a list of free tools and templates that authors can use to create more informative figures and an online simulator that illustrates why summary statistics are meaningful only when there are enough data to summarize. Last, we consider steps that investigators can take to improve figures in the scientific literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1506-1518
Number of pages13
JournalCirculation
Volume140
Issue number18
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 29 2019

Keywords

  • bar graphs
  • basic science
  • continuous data
  • data visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)

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