Error bars commonly appear in figures in publications, but experimental biologists are often unsure how they should be used and interpreted. In this article we illustrate some basic features of error bars and explain how they can help communicate data and assist correct interpretation. Error bars may show confidence intervals, standard errors, standard deviations, or other quantities. Different types of error bars give quite different information, and so figure legends must make clear what error bars represent. We suggest eight simple rules to assist with effective use and interpretation of error bars.