Annals of Botany
Briscoe MH. 1996. Preparing scientific illustrations. 204pp. New York : Springer-Verlag. DM 44 Pity the poor conference organizer contacted by readers of this book ! The location and layout of the poster hall, the quality of lighting, the amount of space around and between posters ... all must be divulged to the poster author well before preparation begins. But poster readers take note ... impenetrable, information-overloaded, under-illustrated posters would become a thing of the past if
... e followed the sage advice in this book.' Posters ' is one of the best of the excellent chapters in this essential companion for budding scientists, from which all but a tiny number of established presenters could learn. The main title might lead one to expect a detailed and focused account, but the subtitle ' A guide to better posters, presentations and publications ' makes it clear that the treatment is broad and therefore necessarily superficial in parts. Neither title is quite right however, as there is nothing here on stand-up presentations (oral communication skills, body language, etc.). Half the book covers drawings (very briefly), photographs, tables and charts, molecular graphics, and graphs. The second half builds on these elements to encompass journal figures, slides, posters and the use of computers. The text is clearly set out and very easy to read. The coverage is exclusively black and white, a brave and effective demonstration of the redundancy of colour for most clear portrayals. Most of the figures and illustrations are excellent and give many good examples of how and how not to present scientific work. There are practical suggestions for arranging figures and text within a layout, and suggested font sizes and types for different media. Although some authors might be very disappointed to discover, having followed all the good advice, that many journals still redraw authors' figures, others would undoubtedly benefit enormously. How often have you heard a presenter say ' Don't pay any attention to this part of the slide ' ? As Mary Helen Briscoe urges, in future ' ... lea e it out !' The general aim of the book is the achievement of clarity, and there are many refreshing suggestions relating to the simplification and punch-packing of visual material. ' Although some heap scorn on ad ertisers [scientists] can learn a great deal from them about communicating ' is beautifully reinforced with visual material, and the following points made that we should all take to heart : (1) a brilliant scientist may not find that good presentation skills are automatic but they can be learnt ; (2) clear presentations take forward planning and time to prepare ; (3) while it is easy to argue that a scientist has more important work to do, good communication is vital in science. ' Labelling by diagram ' contains an unlabelled picture, but otherwise errors and typos were difficult to find. There is repetition between chapters, but this means that relevant sections make perfect sense when read in isolation, such as when dipping in for a particular purpose. The utility of the material relating to computers and software is perhaps not as great as the rest of the text, but only because it is so difficult to pitch any account at a level that suits computer nerd and novice alike, especially against a backdrop of upgrades and new packages. The detail of some other parts of the text is not matched by information regarding the use of graphics packages and software. This gives a rather uneven feel to the text, but it must have been difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out, when software-related text of any kind invariably sounds dated before the paper has emerged from the printer. A reasonable level of proficiency with computers, and a low level of proficiency with most other aspects of communication are assumed-the profile of a typical final year undergraduate perhaps ? So to the possible market for the book. Certainly this should be required reading for undergraduates on the occasions, hopefully becoming more frequent, when they are required to present their work in a clear and professional manner. First year post-graduates will also pick up useful handy hints for their first scientific meeting presentations, especially those involving posters. Established scientists should read this book (and undergraduates might be considerably more inspired if their lecturers did) but might find the text a little patronising in places. The next time you wake up at the end of a seminar bedeviled by slides covered with interminable genetic sequences portrayed in a minuscule font, hand the presenter a note bearing details of how to obtain this sensible book !