Forget about pdf: this looks much better, it makes all my own papers look like kids’ crayon drawings by comparison.

Mark Palko points me to this webpage which presents a recent research paper by Joanna Shepherd and Michael Kang. I have no comment on the research—I haven’t had a chance to read the paper—but I wanted to express how impressed I was about the presentation. It starts with a dedicated url just for this paper (“”) and then a crisp, fancy-yet-readable html display of the paper where the multicolored figures jump out as you as you scroll by. Forget about pdf: this looks much better, it makes all my own papers look like kids’ crayon drawings by comparison.

21 thoughts on “Forget about pdf: this looks much better, it makes all my own papers look like kids’ crayon drawings by comparison.

  1. The color selection of the map leaves a lot to be desired. There are three sort-of-reddish codings that are hard to distinguish and identify from the coding chart. I think I’ve figured it out, but even now I’m not certain.

    • Really? I have no difficulty distinguishing those colors; presumably the authors didn’t either. I guess it just goes to show that someone making data displays for public consumption ought to carefully consider the variability of people’s color spaces.

      • My problem was matching the colors in the map to the very small swatches in the index below. I could easily distinguish the different regions in the map, it was just interpreting the index. At my age it may not be as easy as for younger eyes. Also, color-blindness should be taken into account (not my problem but it’s not uncommon).

        • I didn’t have trouble distinguishing the colors for the index with this one, but that has often been a problem for me.

  2. I agree that html is better than PDF now that we’ve got a good system for displaying equations and making nice-looking tables. I’ve been moving in that direction with Pandoc myself.

    The flashy graphics remind me of late-90’s blinking lights Javascript (“This page is under construction”). After reading a couple papers, the novelty will wear off, and we’ll all hate it. The quotes on the side make it look like a corporate brochure rather than a research paper. But those are minor things. Definitely an improvement.

      • However, there may be more than one “job” to consider. In this case, html fits the need to have imbedded video. But (adding to Bill’s comments about old eyes) for me, reading anything technical onscreen is more difficult than printing it out and reading it with a light right above the paper and pencil in hand. And this particular piece is making my eyes hurt and water more than most — not sure the exact cause, but it might just be the large red expanse that meets the eyes first thing.

    • It is not peer reviewed—we can’t trust it! Seriously though, they could have provided more methodological details, maybe even raw data and code.

      I do not like the figures swooping in either. Best to scroll through really fast to get all the animation out of the way.

  3. The figures popping in remind me of unnecessary transitions in presentations. Once I’ve loaded the whole page and go back again it looks better to me. I agree about the URL though. That is a nice touch.

  4. I think we should get ad agencies to prepare our research papers. I’d like Scarlett Johansson to be my celebrity spokesperson. That will really grab people’s attention.

  5. Really? The type-setting is terrible compared to LaTeX and the pop-up diagrams are just horrible. Why do the graphs pop and the text not? It’s inconsistent and distracts from the actual point of the information.

  6. I’m currently generating a website-supplement for a manuscript. It has become really easy using rmarkdown/knitr and Github pages (I also added some custom JS). This time around I haven’t gotten around to responsive (I just chose a big font so it still looks okay on a phone) and interactive figures yet (though I have to say at the moment the interactivity of many figures that I see feels a bit tacked on). Github pages also make it easy to have your own domain.
    I wonder though, whether I’ll be allowed to simply reference the supplement I made. I’m sure it’s better than a PDF supplement, but I’ve no prior experience with this.

  7. Authors, please think about the color blind when you design figures. ColorBrewer 2.0 ( is a site that enables the user to choose palettes for map colors that are “color blind friendly.” ColorBrewer helper functions have been created for many languages, including R, Matlab, Python, etc. There are additional sites that provide this kind of support for general graphing, design of Web pages, etc.

    If you had difficulty with Figure 1 in the article that Andrew referred to, you might consider taking an online color blindness test. I went years before discovering my deuteranomaly (reduced sensitivity to green light).

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