The Picture Shows

I hit the jackpot today! No, I didn’t win the National  Punctuation Day contest – yet. However, I did get a both a question and a tip in separate emails from the Peanut Gallery.

Salim asked the following question:
“Sometimes we use certain vocabulary to describe a figure or a table, for instance: ‘The below figure demonstrates, shows, illustrates, describes, represents, …, etc.’ The question is: Can these verbs be use alternatively? Or there is a special use for each one where it is incorrect to use it anywhere else?”

Let’s see what Mr. Webster has to say about this in his dictionary.

“Show” means to put into view, to cause or permit to be seen. So to say “the figure below shows …” would be valid if it helps the reader visualize what the words are saying.

“Demonstrate” goes a little beyond “show.” Demonstrate means to show clearly or prove by reasoning or evidence, or to explain using many examples. Demonstrate implies showing by action or by display of feeling.
He likes to demonstrate how his software works at conferences. (action)
She demonstrates her love by cooking his favorite foods. (feeling)

“Illustrate” means to make clear by giving an instance or example. Thus, a figure or table that shows data from a sample well that exhibits the sort of behavior you are describing would “illustrate,” but perhaps not a table or figure containing all the data for the whole field.
Surely, an illustration such as a diagram can illustrate.

“Describe” is usually used when referring to words, not pictures or tables.
He described the picture to her over the phone.
However, “describe” can also mean to represent by a figure, model, or picture.
The PVT behavior of the condensate is described by the curve in Figure 2.

“Represent” means to serve as a sign or symbol of something else, or to serve as an example or instance. Thus, it would be used similarly to “illustrate.”

Figure 3 represents the open sleeve position, while Figure 4 represents the closed sleeve configuration.

So yes, there are some subtleties among these variations that can be used to distinguish their usage. But the simple word “show” is preferred, as long as it’s not overused.

Finally, Australian CyberText blogger Rhonda shared the following tip:
“An even quicker way to sub/superscript a character is via the keyboard:
Ctrl+Shift+= for superscript
Ctrl+= for subscript”
I tried it and it works! The trouble is, it keeps on working, so you have to do the little trick a second time to revert to normal script format.

For more excellent tips, visit the CyberText Newsletter at:


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