Image integrity and manipulation


Scientific digital images are considered an integral part of any publication and Dove Medical Press expects all images contained within manuscripts to be accurate and free from unnecessary modification. To help ensure image integrity, Dove Medical Press recommends authors consider the following guidelines when preparing figures for publication:

  • The original data image should always be retained and be available for review by the journal editors, if requested. If the original data images cannot be produced, the manuscript may be rejected.
  • Authors are advised that editing or enhancing any digital image should always be performed on a copy of the raw data image. Authors are reminded that enhancing an image for aesthetic reasons can obscure, eliminate or misrepresent the real data and can be perceived as an act of research misconduct. 
  • Making simple adjustments to the image such as the brightness and contrast are acceptable but must be applied to the whole image. The adjustments should be minor, and care must be taken to ensure they do not cause relevant features of the image to disappear completely. 
  • Cropping of images is acceptable as long as the intention is to remove irrelevant aspects of the image to help draw attention to a particular feature. Cropping must not be performed to change or influence how the data is to be interpreted.
  • Images that are intended to be compared to one another must always be acquired under the same conditions. Similarly, any post-acquisition image processing should also be performed on both images.
  • Authors should be aware that software filters used to improve image quality are not generally intended for use on biological or medical images. If software filters are used it is advised this is noted either in the figure legend or the methods section of the article.
  • Cloning or copying objects into a digital image from other parts of the same image or a different image is not advised. Copying a section of an image from one region to another is often done to clean up imperfections, however in some instances this can be considered a form of research misconduct. Similarly, cloning an object, for example, a band from a Western blot, and adding it to a region of an image it did not previously appear can also be considered a form of misconduct.
  • Intensity measurements, such as comparisons between different wavelengths or fluorescence levels, are often difficult to perform in a uniform and accurate manner. It is recommended intensity measurements are performed on raw data to help avoid artefacts and electronic noise.
  • Journals at Dove Medical Press often resize images to fit the page. For this reason, it is advised images have a scale bar which can be resized with the image. Stating the magnification of a microscope objective in the figure legend, for example, can sometimes become impractical if the image is resized prior to publication.
  • Authors must take care when resizing digital images as this can change the images aspect ratio and create unwanted artefacts, making important features of the image less distinct.

If the author has any doubts regarding the use of any image modifications, they should advise the journal editors at the time of submission. This allows the editors and reviewers to assess the modifications on a case by case basis.

These guidelines are based on information provided by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). For more details on image integrity and manipulation please refer to the best practice guidelines provided at The Office of Research Integrity’s website.

Updated 20 November 2018