graphs in a research paper

How many graphs can you put in a research paper?

Dec 22, 2012
Learn different graph types HERE and start using them for your research papers.
This question often comes up in the process of preparing and evaluating research information. In most cases, the field of study being researched, as well as the data needed to support the main argument, and the type of research being conducted (such as empirical or theoretical) will ultimately determine the amount of graphs needed in each research paper.
For subjects such as finance and statistics it may be appropriate to include several graphs and figures whereas subjects such as literature and education may require little or no graphs in the context of the paper. Additionally, students and researchers should consider the effectiveness of each graphic element and whether or not the visual aide actually supports the argument of the paper. Also empirical research studies with primary investigative efforts being made often contain more graphs then theoretical papers (this may simply be due to the amount of original data that needs to be shared and analyzed within empirical papers).
Likewise, another commonly posed concern is knowing when to provide a graph and when to provide a table. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably as well as the words figure and chart- though each has its own unique meaning and place in research papers.

Graphs, tables and figures-what's the difference?

Its likely that you've heard all of these terms being used to refer to visual aids added to a paper or publication. All of these different types of aids are acceptable in research papers and can help the reader better understand and interpret the information that is being presented. In order to know which will work best with your findings its important to first gain a basic understanding of each term.


A graph is generally used to show the relationship between two variables. For example:
If you are conducting a study on the relationship between illness and water purity, an X-Y graph may be good to show the relationship between the two variables mentioned. In a graph using these examples a grid would be formed showing an X and Y axis. The level or percentage of water purity would be on the Y axis while the amount or percentage of illness (amongst the residents of a particular region for instance) would be on the X axis. Depending on the results of the study the graph may show that when the water purity increased the amount of illness decreased or similarly that when the water purity levels decreased the illness levels increased.
The X and Y point graph is an example of only one type of graph as there are many other forms that can be utilized to display research data and findings. Other common graphs include:
*Line graph-used to examine small changes that occur over time and includes an x and y axis (*used for continuous variables). For example, a line graph could be used to show the changes in temperature for a city of a period of seven days.
*Area graph-used to examine changes in different groups and is similar to a line graph, though it has more depth and can be used for short periods of time as well as for showing significant 'highs' and 'lows'.
*Bar graph-serves many of the same functions as a line and area graph and is used to track large changes over time. The clarity of the bars helps to show marked differences or changes in a particular variable.
*Pie chart-can be used to compare the percentages of a whole; for instance the percentage of hispanic, black, white, and asian residents of a particular region.


Along with graphs, tables are another common visual aid used in many research papers. Research papers on subjects outside of the sciences for example, can put tables to use quite well by comparing two or more things. Typically tables show numerical data in columns and rows though they may also be used to organize text. Tables are also great for providing quick snapshot of figures, detailing very large numbers, or giving readers an easy-to-use option for locating specific numbers. Also they have proven beneficial when there is a lot of data that's hard to display in a graph or when an explicit relationship is not as important as the figures associated with it.


Lastly, a figure is simply a term used to address graphs and other visual aids (with the exclusion of tables). Figures can include illustrations, pictures, graphs, charts, drawings or other images. Figures may be helpful for highlighting specific areas of a photograph or providing technical drawings of a figure or necessary illustrations to accompany a text. Regardless of the medium, all figures present in a research paper should be relevant and supportive of the text of the paper.

Adding graphs to your research paper

When using graphs to represent specific findings in your research paper the number of graphs to include should correspond to the amount of data that needs to be explained as well as the complexity of the figures. For instance, in a statistics paper there may be several analyses that take place each needing their own graph to show the relationships between different variables. In other subjects such as psychology for instance, if conducting an empirical study by interviewing groups of people, researchers may only choose to include a pie chart to describe the backgrounds of the target groups; the other information obtained may be best be displayed using a table instead.
In general when adding graphs to any type of paper there are a few things that you should keep in mind;

Great tips to follow

*Follow a formatting styling guide such as MLA or APA (you will most likely be required to follow one anyway and they also help you to properly insert visual aids into your paper)
*Since a graph represents the results of original research, copied graphs really have no place in your paper (if you want to share results from a particular study-conducted by another author-simply do so using words in the background or literature review section of your paper)
*Explain each graph in the text of your paper (it's very important to introduce each new graph to the reader and properly explain how the information displayed relates to your main argument)
*Provide a suitable label with an appropriate caption (the proper way to do this should be detailed in the styling guide that you choose)
These tips along with the explanations of the various types of graphs, should sufficiently aide you in properly preparing and incorporating graphs into your research paper.
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