Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Guide to Research Using Journal Articles: Reading Figures

Ever wonder why your instructor requires you to use articles from journals in your research paper?





Reading Figures

According to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association there are five different functions of figures, the first two of which will be discussed below:

  • Drawings
  • Graphs
  • Charts
  • Maps
  • Photographs


The figure to the right represents a visual interpretation of a satellite dish receiving radio waves and the computer receiving those signals and converting them into an audible signal.

When confronted with a figure or graphic, what should you know about interpreting the content?

 It may help to actually write out and re-read a quick narrative when first looking at the diagram to assess whether you understand the diagram and whether it will be useful to your research. 

  • Look at the entire figure
  • Read the labels
  • Read any keys/legends, captions or explanations
  • Look for the starting point and the flow of the diagram (arrows can often serve as a visual cue)


The graph example to the right is part of the graph wizard in Microsoft Excel. It illustrates the relationships between data. 

The x-axis (horizontal) represents percentage; the y-axis (vertical) represents dollars. 

The most common chart types used in journals include

  •  Column -- Each column is proportional to the value it represents
  •  Bar -- Each bar is proportional to the value it represents
  •  Line -- Similar to the graph example above
  •  Pie -- Each "slice" represents the proportion of one component to another
  •  Scatter -- Each dot is relational to all other dots and can show frequency