I have a grid of plots (see example below) with different x axes but all the same y-axis. What is the best way to label the y-axis without being redundant? The information is in the legend, but this is not a solution.

Here are two options I am considering:

  • center one label on the right hand side in the same font as the x-axis labels. This could make it ambiguous if the y-axis label is associated with only one subplot.
  • leave the y-axis empty and provide information in a figure title (response of 'y-axis label (units)' to 15 variables).

This plot will be published in a scientific journal. Low resolution is intentional for this post since it is unpubliished. Any other suggestions appreciated.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ I do not see any problem with this, as long as the label is not pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. You can find many examples like this in AoAS. I would be more worried about the grid not being too bold. Another option is to specify the meaning of the $y-$axis in the caption. $\endgroup$
    – user10525
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber thanks for the examples, they are more clear than I had imagined. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ In case you want more, I found them with a Google image search for "R trellis graphics". You have to be choosy, though: evidently, most statistical graphics one finds on the Web are awful :-). $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber I also found quite a few copies flipping through a stack of actual bound journals that ended up in the recycling bin. The y-axis label seems to do fine, and it is nice not to have to read the legend. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2012 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Jake It is not clear that it would make the plots easier to digest. My assumption is that it would takes up space and be distracting. If I saw sixteen y-axis labels, I would assume that they did not all contain the same information. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2012 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


I don't know what the perfect solution is here. I might ask others in the same field, or who have experience with that journal what has worked for them or what they suggest. My initial thought would be to label y-axes on the left hand side of the plots that are in the leftmost column. Then I might decrease the vertical margins between the plots relative to the horizontal margins between the plots. The gestalt will make the rows salient and visually highlight that they all share the same y-axis labels on the left. (You'd have to see how this looks, but I think it might work.) Furthermore, I would group the plots with the same x-axes by column if possible (even though I gather you're still going to have x-axes for every plot), and definitely point these facts out in the figure caption.

I should say, at this point, that I can't read your figure, I wonder if you could make and submit a high-resolution version and let the typesetting people reduce the resolution or figure out what they want to do with it. For example, sometimes they can keep a higher-resolution version at the journal's website or something.

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your point... I can submit a higher resolution version after it is published. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ Just a note regarding the submission of high-resolution figures for publication: I believe that charts should always be submitted as vector graphics, not as raster graphics, so questions of resolution are not relevant. Publishing fuzzy plots may cause readers to cast doubt on otherwise outstanding research. I sometimes wonder if some researchers simply crop screenshots of their Excel workspace. $\endgroup$
    – jthetzel
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @jthetzel, good point. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 16:42

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