Scientists routinely use images to display data and images are a critical part of a scientific report or publication.
However, many resources discuss fraudulent image manipulation and data on the legibility and interpretability of images are scarce.
In this article, the authors systematically examined these factors in images published in the top 15 journals in 3 fields; plant sciences, cell biology, and physiology (n = 580 papers). Common problems included missing scale bars, misplaced or poorly marked insets and insufficient explanations of colors, labels, annotations, or the species and tissue or object depicted in the image. Papers that met all good practice criteria were uncommon (physiology 16%, cell biology 12%, plant sciences 2%).
The authors also present detailed descriptions and visual examples to help scientists avoid common pitfalls when publishing images. These recommendations address image magnification, scale information, insets, annotation, and color and may encourage discussion about quality standards for bioimage publishing.