Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 33788834
Link to DOI – 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001161
PLoS Biol 2021 03; 19(3): e3001161
Scientists routinely use images to display data. Readers often examine figures first; therefore, it is important that figures are accessible to a broad audience. Many resources discuss fraudulent image manipulation and technical specifications for image acquisition; however, data on the legibility and interpretability of images are scarce. We systematically examined these factors in non-blot images published in the top 15 journals in 3 fields; plant sciences, cell biology, and physiology (n = 580 papers). Common problems included missing scale bars, misplaced or poorly marked insets, images or labels that were not accessible to colorblind readers, and insufficient explanations of colors, labels, annotations, or the species and tissue or object depicted in the image. Papers that met all good practice criteria examined for all image-based figures were uncommon (physiology 16%, cell biology 12%, plant sciences 2%). We present detailed descriptions and visual examples to help scientists avoid common pitfalls when publishing images. Our recommendations address image magnification, scale information, insets, annotation, and color and may encourage discussion about quality standards for bioimage publishing.