Carefully Plan Your Figures

A paper published in JGR Space Physics costs the author $1000. Well, let me clarify that: a paper of 25 Publication Units or less will cost the author that much. I’ve written about Publication Units a while ago but I would like to remind you that each figure is one PU:


This is true regardless of the size, shape, color content, complexity, or number of panels within it. Each figure is one PU.

The most figures that I think I have ever seen in a paper that’s come through contained, if I remember correctly, 31 figures. After the initial $1000 for up to 25 PU, each excess PU costs $125. I do remember and did not calculate the text length of this manuscript, but my recollection is that it was little longer than normal, in part just to describe and interpret all of these figures. A typical paper has ~ 15 PU of text and ~ 10 PU of figures and tables. Let’s guess this one had 20 PU of text. That’s 51 PU total, or 26 over the limit. This is an excess page fee cost of $3250 for the author. Not as bad as the old color figure charges I recently wrote about, but substantial enough to make the author think twice about submitting a future paper to JGR Space Physics.

Of those 30-something figures, I think about half were single-panel plots. In AGU’s old cost model of per-printed-page charge, this was fine because the single-panel figures fit nicely into one column and at least two, and sometimes more, could fit on a single page. Single-panel figures are also my preferred method of displaying results in presentations, which seems to be a perennial topic of mine. With the relatively new cost model of PU count rather than page count, single-panel figures are no longer cost effective for a longer manuscript.

If your manuscript is in danger of going over the 25 PU limit, then I highly recommend consolidating single-panel figures of similar content, format, or style into one multi-panel figure. With the single-column format of the online and “printed” version of JGR Space Physics, figures can be any width or size, the only limitation is the actual PDF page dimension and readability of the embedded text. So, please think about this when planning your figures so that you can minimize the publication fee after acceptance.

Furthermore, please think carefully about what is absolutely necessary to make your point. Writing a good paper is not about including everything related to the topic but rather about honing the story to make a specific original contribution to the field. Please, only include the figures that directly contribute to the main findings of the study. I used to be sad about all of those plots I made and never published but now I realize that they were part of the process, helping me understand the phenomenon and formulate the narrative into just those essential elements to make the key points. They needed to be made but they did not need to be included in the paper.


One thought on “Carefully Plan Your Figures

  1. Pingback: Supporting Information | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

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