The ACS Style Guide has always been a classic manual for scientific publications. But in 2020 it was revised and expanded as ACS Guide to Scientific Communication.The ACS Guide to Scientific Communication Not only does it provide professional advice to students, researchers, educators, and librarians, but it also helps researchers at different stages of their careers respond to the evolving world of publishing.

These The ACS Axial series contains extracts from the ACS Guide to Scientific Communication. Portions of the original text are available free of charge for a limited time under an ACS Free to Read license. Certain sections are given at the end of each post.


Graphics are an essential part of a manuscript, which enables authors to present a lot of information without the need for long descriptive sentences. As modern instruments and calculating tools generate enormous amounts of data, choosing the right chart to display data becomes an important step in highlighting the new advances presented in the article. Many people “read” a research article by scanning the numbers. Each graphic, together with its labeling, should be able to stand on its own and contain the essential information.

When should graphics be used?

Use a graphic in a visual presentation:

  • Improves the effectiveness of data presentation
  • Provides a better understanding of the results and / or improves the reader’s understanding
  • Makes it easy to see trends and relationships in the data (relative proportions, sizes, etc.).
  • Highlights specific results with quantitative analysis
  • Communicates the information more concisely than in prose

For more information on designing graphics, see Section 4.1.3 of ACS Guide to Scientific Communication.

How do I use published graphics or data?

Use original graphics in your article whenever possible. If you want to include information from a previously published graphic, determine whether you can provide enough information by simply citing the previous publication or whether it needs to include a copy of the previous graphic. When you paste the graphic, make sure it is a clear, high quality image.

A copyright permit is usually required for clip art and images from the Internet. If you cannot get permission, the picture cannot be included in the article. If necessary, request written copyright permission.

Whether you include a copy or a slightly modified version of a previously published graphic, the reproduction or change should be noted in the caption and copyright permission obtained if requested by the copyright owner. Copyright permission is usually not required if the graphic is being redrawn. This means that extensive changes have been made before it can be viewed as a new graphic.

What is a table of contents graphic / graphic abstract?

One of the most important, but often neglected, graphics in an article is the table of contents (TOC) graphic. It is published in the table of contents and in most journals alongside the abstract of the article. It’s one of the first things a potential reader sees, and it can either draw a reader in or make them skip your article.

A good table of contents graphic:

  • Tell the reader what the article is about
  • Is a simple, unique color scheme or illustration
  • Provided in the manuscript at its actual published size (see Authoring Guidelines for specific journal requirements).
  • Fits the journal recommended size (usually a horizontal frame)
  • Has minimal text, with all of the text legible at the published size.

In this video, ACS editors provide advice on getting started on a paper and creating numbers.

For more information on table of contents graphics, see Section 4.1.5of ACS Guide to Scientific Communication.


When should tables be used?

Use tables when the data cannot be clearly presented as narrative, when there is a lot of exact numbers to be presented, or when meaningful relationships can be better conveyed through a table format. Tables should complement text and figures, not duplicate them.

Determine if the material you are trying to present really warrants a spreadsheet. In general, a table should have at least three interconnected columns and three rows. If you only have two columns, try writing the material as a narrative. If your table has unusual alignment and positioning requirements, make it a figure instead. If you have three columns but they are not related, check that the material is really a list of items and not a table at all.

For more information on using tables, see Section 4.2.1 of ACS Guide to Scientific Communication.

Parts of a table

Effective tables are well designed. So think carefully – first, about the data you need to present, and second, the best way to visualize it on a page. Sometimes what looks good on a piece of letter-size paper is impractical for an online journal or book.


Give each table a short, informative title that describes its contents in non-sentence format. The title should be complete enough to be understood without referring to the text.

Column heading

Each column must have a heading that describes the underlying material. Be as concise as possible. If possible, keep the column headings no longer than two lines and use abbreviations and symbols whenever possible.

Wrench heading

If a column heading applies to more than one column, it should span the columns to which it applies. This is known as the wrench heading (or sometimes a straddle heading). Below the wrench heading, provide the specific heading for each column.


The table’s footnotes contain explanatory material that relates to the entire table and to specific entries. Examples of information that should be included in general footnotes refer to the explanations throughout the table of abbreviations and symbols that are frequently used in the table.

For more information on designing tables, see Section 4.2.4 of the ACS Scientific Communication Guide.

Multimedia files

Multimedia is an effective way to improve the demonstration and communication of research results and to promote communication. Before creating a video or Web-Enhanced Objects (WEO), please read the author’s manual for specific journals to find out whether such files can be used in the journals.

Video files

Videos are useful ways to provide demonstrations and simulations, illustrate methods, or discuss your research. Examples of acceptable file types are .qt, .mov, .avi, and .mpg.

ACS Web-Enhanced Objects (WEO)

The web editions of ACS Journals allow authors to use multimedia attachments called Web-Enhanced Objects (WEOs) to improve understanding of the research described in their article. WEOs include graphics, text, 3D images, spectra, and videos. Links to WEOs are displayed in the HTML version of the published article.

For more information on using multimedia, see Section 4.1.6 of the ACS Scientific Communication Guide.


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