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I want to include a chart in my thesis to visualize an idea but the chart is not based on real data, it just helps me to explain a concept. How can I label it so it's not confused for actual data.

It is similar to this famous RUP hump chart which is also just educated guess of the author.

RUP hump chart

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    The keyword is always hypothetical - hypothetical chart example; hypothetical illustration. – Blessed Geek Feb 9 '14 at 22:24
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I've done this in a number of documents, where I state clearly that it is "illustrative" or "used to demonstrate a concept and the rough proportions of one item to another.

I've found I have the least amount of confusion by stating in the paragraph just before the chart appears, and then stating in the graph somehow.

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I've seen this done with a "watermark" that says (usually) "sample data" (kind of like this, from here, though that's a table rather than a chart). Think of the "draft" watermark you sometimes see on documents; same idea. Saying something in the text (or figure caption) can be helpful, but this approach has the advantage of embedding the information directly in the graphic -- particularly useful if you're publishing online where somebody might save and reuse your image file, or if you're using the same chart in multiple sections of your document or multiple documents.

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  • This is the way to go. Layer "Sample Data" or "Sample Chart" behind the content. – James Feb 7 '14 at 15:00
  • But the question mentions that it is to be included in the thesis. Do you think such an embedding will be looked at in bad light? Too distracting or "un-academic"? – Pravesh Parekh Feb 7 '14 at 22:21
  • @PraveshParekh it's worth checking for any guidelines the university has with respect to this. I'm pretty sure I've seen this in university tech reports and the like; I don't have any thesis-specific experience. – Monica Cellio Feb 7 '14 at 22:27
  • Agreed. Even I have seen it in technical reports but have never seen it in any thesis that I have come across, hence the question. Of course, the last word will have to be by the guide and the University that dictates the guidelines! – Pravesh Parekh Feb 7 '14 at 22:31
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The graph will have a description with it. Just like every figure and table have. For example, Figure 5: Blah Blah Blah.

You can, after describing the entire graph, write in brackets something on the lines of "chart based on hypothetical data; for illustrative purposes only".

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