Scientific Graphics Design (NR525, 3 credits, fall semester: Course begins October 15)

Professor R. Robberecht
College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho 83844-1133 USA
Telephone !208-885-7404 | Email:

Course & student learning objectives
Course materials
Assessments and grading
Learning achievement targets


Course Objectives
To convey the fundamental elements of graphs for science
Critically review published scientific illustrations and graphs
Examine how graphs are designed for different presentation formats, e.g., printed, electronic, and oral presentations

Student Learning Objectives
- To Achieve Competence in ...
The fundamental elements of graphs for science
The critical review of published graphs
Designing graphs from original research data
The design of scientific graphs for different formats, e.g., printed, electronic, and oral presentations


Required course materials:
Graphics Software: SigmaPlot is graphics software that is most commonly used in the scientific community. This program is a comprehensive and full-featured program for creating journal-quality scientific graphics, and is used by over 100,000 scientist world-wide. SigmaPlot will have long-term value for your education and future profession. Thus, ready access to this scientific graphics program is a requirement for the course. SigmaPlot is available for purchase educational price. A free 30-day evaluation version is also available directly from Systat (see below). I highly recommended that you purchase this program for use on your own computer. SigmaPlot is not available on the University of Idaho computer laboratories.

This course requires proficiency with Windows-based computer systems. Ready access to a modern personal computer is highly recommended. Because we will use SigmaPlot for the course, ready access to this scientific graphics program or a program with equivalent features is a requirement for the course. Experience with photo-editing graphics software is also recommended.

SigmaPlot by Systat | Brochure
To purchase SigmaPlot at the education price of $100 (one-year subscription) or $200 (one-year subscription): Purchase student license from Systat
To obtain the free evaluation version (30-day trial): Download from
Be sure to download and activate the free version so that is coincides with the four-week duration of this course
Tutorials on using SigmaPlot  | Technical tips for SigmaPlot

Other graphics programs: If you use a different graphics software program, it must be able to create graphs at the same level of quality and style that can be produced with SigmaPlot. Photo-editing software may be required for additional revisions and additions to graphs.


Optional textbooks:
Tufte, E. R. 2001. The visual display of quantitative information. Second edition. Graphics Press.


Recommended reference materials:
The following reference books may be helpful for preparation for the course.  These books are available at the University of Idaho Book Store upon request, directly from the publisher, or an online book seller.

[Order online: University of Idaho Bookstore |* | Textbooks online*]

Tufte, E. R. 2001. The visual display of quantitative information. Second edition. Graphics Press.
Yau, N. 2011. Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics. Wiley.
Huff, D. 1954. How to lie with statistics. W.W. Horton & Company.
Monmonier, M. 1996. How to lie with maps. Second edition. The University of Chicago Press.
Gigerenzer, G. 2002. Calculated risks: How to know when numbers deceive you. Simon & Schuster.
Salisbury, F.B. 1996. Units, Symbols, and Terminology for Plant Physiology. Oxford University Press.
CBE Style Manual. 2006. Seventh edition. Council of Biology Editors.
This is an excellent reference book for learning how to write scientific articles, reports, and books.
Off-campus access to the UI Library - journals, articles, and catalog

*These links are provided for your convenience. The University of Idaho and the professor have no connection with, and do not endorse or support these companies.

Scientific graphics design is an essential aspect of research, both during the data analysis phase and for publication. Therefore, a high level of competence in the fundamental elements of graphs for any scientific discipline is critical to a successful career as a scientist or professional.

Schedule for assessments

All assessments are posted in the Announcements section, which includes the learning achievement targets for each week of the course.

Assessment and final course grade

This course is offered on a "Pass or Fail" basis.  To achieve grade level of "Pass," you must complete the course projects at a superior level of professional quality and demonstrate mastery of the fundamental elements of scientific graphic design. Also, you must achieve competence in the student learning objectives listed above.


Important Events


Course begins October 21
Final date for withdrawal from course with a grade of "W" October 25
Thanksgiving holiday - UI closed November 25- 29
Course ends December 16


Course schedule & weekly learning achievement targets

The course schedule and the learning achievement targets are presented on a weekly basis in the Announcements section. Because that section also contains course announcements, carefully review that section on a regular basis.