Visual Resources Center, The University of Chicago

Images for Dissertation

Getting started.

Congratulations on your forthcoming dissertation! Please note that the Visual Resources Center (VRC) staff are not lawyers and we cannot provide you with legal advice. However, the VRC can provide you with helpful information about including images in your dissertation. 

This guide outlines the general workflows associated with tracking your images you’d like to use for future publication, and outlines the ways the VRC can collaborate with you to support your dissertation. We invite you to begin discussing images for your dissertation with the VRC as early as possible, including at the dissertation proposal phase. Our services and resources for managing personal image archives may be useful for your fieldwork and research. The latest we can begin collaborating with you on images for your dissertation is one quarter before your dissertation will be filed with the Dissertation Office. You are welcome to work with us in some or all elements of the lifecycle of your dissertation—it is not required to opt-in to all aspects. Likewise, the different components do not necessarily need to proceed in a particular order, and some work can happen simultaneously or in parallel with other phases of the workflow. 

This service is offered to graduate students in the University of Chicago Humanities Division as a parallel to our Images for Publication service , which is available to graduate students and faculty in the University of Chicago Humanities Division.  [Last updated 6/3/22]

Campus Resources

Dissertation Office

Copyright Information Center

Check-In with the VRC

Book an appointment to discuss your dissertation project and how the VRC can help you move forward with images. Before our meeting, we’ll review any materials you can share and make some notes. We can help conduct copyright assessments, direct you to resources, and do some light research into potential copyright holders. However, we cannot send permissions requests on your behalf. 

Before meeting with a VRC staff member, please share any materials you’ve assembled, including an image list, captions, image files themselves, etc.

Create a Spreadsheet

The VRC recommends tracking the images used in your dissertation in a spreadsheet, where you can include information about each image, including the caption, the copyright status, a fair use justification (where appropriate), the image size, and other notes. 

The VRC uses this template —if you have a Figure List for your dissertation, the VRC can import that into a spreadsheet for you. If you’d like to start your own spreadsheet, you can make a copy of the template and adapt/expand it for your own purposes. The second tab of the template defines the role of each field in the template.

Choosing to file your dissertation with all, some, or no images is ultimately up to you. The VRC can offer advice about images you may want to include or exclude. Regardless of which images are submitted with the dissertation, tracking all of the images in the spreadsheet will help in selecting images for future publications.

When you go to publish the dissertation as a book, your publisher will likely ask you to complete a similar spreadsheet known as a permissions log. The VRC’s template was designed with publishers’ permission logs in mind, which will hopefully set you up nicely to pursue any official permissions for the book project. 

Keeping track of your complete research images sooner rather than later will be an important part of managing your personal image archive . If you haven’t been tracking images previously, doing this work at the dissertation filing stage will save you a lot of time when it comes time to publish this as a book or article, etc. Platforms like Tropy, Airtable, Google sheets, etc. can also easily export information into templates to track your dissertation/publication information.

Image Captions

Citing each work properly, and in sufficient detail, is critical. When using photographs of other works (e.g., paintings, sculptures, other works of art), it is necessary to assess the copyright status of both the underlying work itself and the photographic reproduction of the work. In such cases, it’s important to fully cite where your image of the work came from , either in the caption or in your own records . For example, if an image was scanned from a book, you may or may not need to provide a full citation of the text, including page number. If it’s from an archive, include all identifying information available to you, including the name of the papers, series, box, folder, etc. If you obtained the image from a website, individual, or institution, it is important to note that as well. Include rights information, such as Creative Commons licenses or other permissions notes. Note that the original source of the image should be included in the citation. If the image was posted to a third-party website (such as a blog), you will need to find where the website sourced it from. 

We recommend you review the University-Wide Requirements for the Ph.D. Dissertation , whi ch includes formatting requirements, and “ Citing Images ,” in  Images: A Guide to Visual Resources which is maintained by Arts Bibliographer Nancy Spiegel in collaboration with VRC staff. Additionally, Chapter Three in the Chicago Manual of Style includes a detailed discussion of captions for art works and examples of usage. University of Chicago users have access to the full text online using the Quick Link on the Library home page . The VRC also recommends the CAA Publications Style Guide , which provides instructions on formatting captions as well as robust examples for a variety of work types, including architecture, book illustrations, engravings, installation views, interiors, manuscript illuminations, murals, paintings, performances, photographs, scrolls, sculptures, video games, video stills, and woodcuts. There may also be discipline and/or sub-field specific conventions and best practices as to what information should be included as part of a source statement, and we rely on you and your faculty to be familiar with those conventions. The VRC invites you to explore our resource on Image Citations and Captions , which includes also a discussion of citational ethics.

Creative Commons Licenses

Many museums and other image archives are making digitized versions of the collections available through Creative Commons licenses . Creative Commons (CC) provides six different license options that allow institutions to grant users certain permissions to use their work under copyright law and allow users to quickly identify what they can do with particular works. 

CC BY-NC 4.0

The CC BY-NC 4.0 license is frequently used for cultural heritage materials. 

For content made available under the CC BY-NC 4.0 license, users may “copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format” if the image is appropriately cited and if the use is for non-commercial purposes. 

Proper attribution under the CC licenses means that you must provide the name of the creator, the title of the material if supplied, a copyright notice, a license notice, and a link to the material. It is important to read, understand, and comply with the attribution terms of the applicable CC license.

Your use of the material is scholarly, not commercial. However, your dissertation will be available through ProQuest dissertation publishing. ProQuest is a commercial organization, not a non-profit. ProQuest can make and sell copies of your dissertation if individuals request a copy. It is up to you to assess the copyright and decide if your use is in the spirit of the license and whether to include the material in the filed dissertation or not.

Copyright Assessment

Next, you must conduct a copyright assessment and/or fair use analysis for each image. If you’d like, VRC can assist with an initial review of the images you intend to include in your dissertation. We would assess the copyright status of the work and of the image separately, because in some cases the rights holder for the work depicted in the image may be separate from the image rights holder. Please note that you will need to carefully review this initial assessment. Where permissions are required, the VRC can help advise with your strategy and language, but you will need to coordinate all licensing and permissions efforts with the relevant copyright holders.

Be sure to take note of any copyright statements, licenses, or other rights information provided by the image source. In addition to needing to include that information in the caption or citation, we recommend that you also vet the information provided against your own knowledge of art and image copyright using the recommended resources below. Occasionally, individuals or institutions may attempt to claim rights over the work or the image when it is in the public domain or when there are no additional rights to claim. (For example, claiming copyright over a reproduction image made from a scan or photograph of a 2D work of art that’s in the public domain, or supplying a CC-BY-NC license over a work that is in the public domain and should have been presented under a CC0 license instead.)

Resources for Assessing Copyright Status

Sample Language for Noting Work Copyright Status

The underlying work depicted in the image (ie, the work of art) will typically be listed as Copyrighted or Public Domain. Include the full rights statement provided by the institution in the work or copyright status field, as appropriate, and in the caption as well.

Sample Language for Noting Image Copyright Status

The image reproduction of the artwork may have its own copyright considerations. Some sample language for noting image copyright status include: 

Other Permissions Considerations

There might be additional considerations in addition to copyright-related issues that you may need to make. For example, if your photographs have people depicted in them, you may want to request their permission for publishing their likeness. Additionally, if your images depict sensitive materials or cultural objects, they might require additional permissions. The VRC maintains a page on Ethical Considerations for Images that we invite you to explore for more information.

Fair Use Analysis

For works and/or images that are copyrighted, conduct a fair use analysis to see if you can justify your use of the image in your justification. The VRC follows the CAA Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts . Section One of the code outlines the situations, principles and limitations of using images fairly in analytic writing. 

If you intend to use an image under fair use in your dissertation, you should prepare a justification for that claim of fair use in your tracking spreadsheet. 

The United States Copyright Act provides a framework to determine whether the use of copyrighted materials constitutes a “fair use” based upon a consideration of the following Four Factors: 

The United States Copyright Office provides useful guidance for understanding this analysis.

Where you plan to claim fair use of a copyrighted work, you will want to provide a justification supporting your analysis. We recommend consulting the guidance outlined in the CAA Code of Best Practices for Fair Use when drafting your analysis. Include as many phrases that are relevant to your specific use. 

For example: 

For images that are copyrighted and where fair use does not apply, you will need to identify copyright holders and obtain permission to publish these images in your work.

Please note—even where you believe you have a defensible argument that you use of an image would qualify for “fair use”, you may still wish to pursue getting permission to publish images, for example, in order to maintain a good relationship with an artist or institution or where you are aware that a rights holder is especially aggressive in taking action against unlicensed use of its copyrighted material.

Requesting and Obtaining Permissions

There may be copyrighted images for which you need or want to request permission from the copyright holder to use the images in your Dissertation. You will want to send a written request for permission to the copyright holder or its representatives (such as ARS ). Make sure to include information requested by the press including print run, distribution, online access, etc. Save a copy of your correspondence to a central folder, and indicate in your permissions log when you contacted them for permission. Set a reminder to follow-up on your requests in 2 weeks if you have not yet heard back from them.

If you need to draft a letter or email to request permission, sample language can be found in Susan Bielstein’s Permissions, a Survival Guide (2006) .

Create a Shared Box Folder for Images

We recommend setting up a shared Box folder for your publication and sharing it with VRC staff. This will allow us to review your images, share new image files with you if necessary, and collaborate easily. 

Image Quality Assessment

Review the image quality and specifications of each image based on the guidelines from the press. For example, many press guidelines suggest the following:

VRC staff may be able to assess the quality of your images for you if you do not have access to Adobe Photoshop and depending on the size and scope of your project. 

If your images aren’t publication quality, they may still be sufficient for inclusion in your dissertation. For example, lower-resolution images, including jpegs or pngs, may look good in the PDF of the filed dissertation but may not be high enough quality to submit to an editor for a print run of a published book. Please write to the VRC to discuss requesting new images and/or help editing existing images. he VRC can also assist with creating custom digital images for your publication, including line drawings, image stitching, maps, and diagram creation.

Note: Resolution is a relative value. Image resolution and image size are inversely proportional. Knowing the output or print size required by the publisher will help assess whether your images are up to publication quality. We recommend reviewing image size in Adobe Photoshop. Their Image Size tool allows you to explore what size images can be printed at different resolutions by unchecking the “Resample” button. Downsampling (ie, making an image smaller) is acceptable, but we do not recommend upsampling (ie, adding arbitrary pixels to make an image larger). 

For use in a PDF, we typically look for at least 1500 pixels on the long edge of the image at at least 72 ppi. If you have access to Adobe Photoshop, this can be checked under Image Size, otherwise if you have the image saved to your computer you can find the dimensions under “Get Info” or “Properties.”

Add Your Images to LUNA

If the images you’re publishing are relevant to future teaching and research, but aren’t yet well-represented in the departmental image collection, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate and we invite you to contribute your images to the Art History Department Image Collection in our LUNA database. If you’re interested in pursuing this collaboration, we can embargo the images for up to 5 years before making them available in LUNA if you would like.

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Harvard University - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Harvard University - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Formatting Your Dissertation

On this page:

Language of the Dissertation

Page and text requirements, body of text, tables, figures, and captions, dissertation acceptance certificate, copyright statement.

Front and Back Matter

Supplemental material, dissertations comprising previously published works, top ten formatting errors, further questions.

Related Contacts and Forms

When preparing the dissertation for submission, students must follow strict formatting requirements. Any deviation from these requirements may lead to rejection of the dissertation and delay in the conferral of the degree.

The language of the dissertation is ordinarily English, although some departments whose subject matter involves foreign languages may accept a dissertation written in a language other than English.

Most dissertations are 100 to 300 pages in length. All dissertations should be divided into appropriate sections, and long dissertations may need chapters, main divisions, and subdivisions.

At least 1 inch for all margins

Body of text: double spacing

Block quotations, footnotes, and bibliographies: single spacing within each entry but double spacing between each entry

Table of contents, list of tables, list of figures or illustrations, and lengthy tables: single spacing may be used


Use 10-12 point size. Fonts must be embedded in the PDF file to ensure all characters display correctly. 

Recommended Fonts

If you are unsure whether your chosen font will display correctly, use one of the following fonts: 

If fonts are not embedded, non-English characters may not appear as intended. Fonts embedded improperly will be published to DASH as-is. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that fonts are embedded properly prior to submission. 

Instructions for Embedding Fonts

To embed your fonts in recent versions of word, follow these instructions from microsoft:.

Click the File tab and then click Options .

In the left column, select the Save tab.

At the bottom, under Preserve fidelity when sharing this document , select the Embed fonts in the file check box.

Clear the Do not embed common system fonts check box.

For reference, below are some instructions from ProQuest UMI for embedding fonts in older file formats:

To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2010:

In the File pull-down menu click on Options .

Choose Save on the left sidebar.

Note that when saving as a PDF, make sure to go to “more options” and save as “PDF/A compliant”

To embed your fonts in Microsoft Word 2007:

Using Microsoft Word on a Mac:

Microsoft Word 2008 on a Mac OS X computer will automatically embed your fonts while converting your document to a PDF file.

If you are converting to PDF using Acrobat Professional (instructions courtesy of the Graduate Thesis Office at Iowa State University):  

The font used in the body of the text must also be used in headers, page numbers, and footnotes. Exceptions are made only for tables and figures created with different software and inserted into the document.

Tables and figures must be placed as close as possible to their first mention in the text. They may be placed on a page with no text above or below, or they may be placed directly into the text. If a table or a figure is alone on a page (with no narrative), it should be centered within the margins on the page. Tables may take up more than one page as long as they obey all rules about margins. Tables and figures referred to in the text may not be placed at the end of the chapter or at the end of the dissertation.

Given the standards of the discipline, dissertations in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning often place illustrations at the end of the dissertation.

Figure and table numbering must be continuous throughout the dissertation or by chapter (e.g., 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, etc.). Two figures or tables cannot be designated with the same number. If you have repeating images that you need to cite more than once, label them with their number and A, B, etc. 

Headings should be placed at the top of tables. While no specific rules for the format of table headings and figure captions are required, a consistent format must be used throughout the dissertation (contact your department for style manuals appropriate to the field).

Captions should appear at the bottom of any figures. If the figure takes up the entire page, the caption should be placed alone on the preceding page, centered vertically and horizontally within the margins.

Each page receives a separate page number. When a figure or table title is on a preceding page, the second and subsequent pages of the figure or table should say, for example, “Figure 5 (Continued).” In such an instance, the list of figures or tables will list the page number containing the title. The word “figure” should be written in full (not abbreviated), and the “F” should be capitalized (e.g., Figure 5). In instances where the caption continues on a second page, the “(Continued)” notation should appear on the second and any subsequent page. The figure/table and the caption are viewed as one entity and the numbering should show correlation between all pages. Each page must include a header.

Landscape orientation figures and tables must be positioned correctly and bound at the top so that the top of the figure or table will be at the left margin. Figure and table headings/captions are placed with the same orientation as the figure or table when on the same page. When on a separate page, headings/captions are always placed in portrait orientation, regardless of the orientation of the figure or table. Page numbers are always placed as if the figure were vertical on the page.

If a graphic artist does the figures, GSAS will accept lettering done by the artist only within the figure. Figures done with software are acceptable if the figures are clear and legible. Legends and titles done by the same process as the figures will be accepted if they too are clear, legible, and run at least 10 or 12 characters per inch. Otherwise, legends and captions should be printed with the same font used in the text.

Original illustrations, photographs, and fine arts prints may be scanned and included, centered between the margins on a page with no text above or below.

Use of Third-Party Content

In addition to the student's own writing, dissertations often contain third-party content or in-copyright content owned by parties other than you, the student who authored the dissertation. The Office for Scholarly Communication recommends consulting the information below about fair use, which allows individuals to use in-copyright content, on a limited basis and for specific purposes, without seeking permission from copyright holders.

Because your dissertation will be made available for online distribution through DASH , Harvard's open-access repository, it is important that any third-party content in it may be made available in this way.

Fair Use and Copyright 

What is fair use?

Fair use is a provision in copyright law that allows the use of a certain amount of copyrighted material without seeking permission. Fair use is format- and media-agnostic. This means fair use may apply to images (including photographs, illustrations, and paintings), quoting at length from literature, videos, and music regardless of the format. 

How do I determine whether my use of an image or other third-party content in my dissertation is fair use?  

There are four factors you will need to consider when making a fair use claim.

1) For what purpose is your work going to be used?

Nonprofit, educational, scholarly, or research use favors fair use. Commercial, non-educational uses, often do not favor fair use.

A transformative use (repurposing or recontextualizing the in-copyright material) favors fair use. Examining, analyzing, and explicating the material in a meaningful way, so as to enhance a reader's understanding, strengthens your fair use argument. In other words, can you make the point in the thesis without using, for instance, an in-copyright image? Is that image necessary to your dissertation? If not, perhaps, for copyright reasons, you should not include the image.  

2) What is the nature of the work to be used?

Published, fact-based content favors fair use and includes scholarly analysis in published academic venues. 

Creative works, including artistic images, are afforded more protection under copyright, and depending on your use in light of the other factors, may be less likely to favor fair use; however, this does not preclude considerations of fair use for creative content altogether.

3) How much of the work is going to be used?  

Small, or less significant, amounts favor fair use. A good rule of thumb is to use only as much of the in-copyright content as necessary to serve your purpose. Can you use a thumbnail rather than a full-resolution image? Can you use a black-and-white photo instead of color? Can you quote select passages instead of including several pages of the content? These simple changes bolster your fair use of the material.

4) What potential effect on the market for that work may your use have?

If there is a market for licensing this exact use or type of educational material, then this weighs against fair use. If however, there would likely be no effect on the potential commercial market, or if it is not possible to obtain permission to use the work, then this favors fair use. 

For further assistance with fair use, consult the Office for Scholarly Communication's guide, Fair Use: Made for the Harvard Community and the Office of the General Counsel's Copyright and Fair Use: A Guide for the Harvard Community .

What are my options if I don’t have a strong fair use claim? 

Consider the following options if you find you cannot reasonably make a fair use claim for the content you wish to incorporate:

Seek permission from the copyright holder. 

Use openly licensed content as an alternative to the original third-party content you intended to use. Openly-licensed content grants permission up-front for reuse of in-copyright content, provided your use meets the terms of the open license.

Use content in the public domain, as this content is not in-copyright and is therefore free of all copyright restrictions. Whereas third-party content is owned by parties other than you, no one owns content in the public domain; everyone, therefore, has the right to use it.

For use of images in your dissertation, please consult this guide to Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media , which is a great resource for finding images without copyright restrictions. 

Who can help me with questions about copyright and fair use?

Contact your Copyright First Responder . Please note, Copyright First Responders assist with questions concerning copyright and fair use, but do not assist with the process of obtaining permission from copyright holders.

Pages should be assigned a number except for the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate . Preliminary pages (abstract, table of contents, list of tables, graphs, illustrations, and preface) should use small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.). All pages must contain text or images.  

Count the title page as page i and the copyright page as page ii, but do not print page numbers on either page .

For the body of text, use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) starting with page 1 on the first page of text. Page numbers must be centered throughout the manuscript at the top or bottom. Every numbered page must be consecutively ordered, including tables, graphs, illustrations, and bibliography/index (if included); letter suffixes (such as 10a, 10b, etc.) are not allowed. It is customary not to have a page number on the page containing a chapter heading.

Check pagination carefully. Account for all pages.

A copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC) should appear as the first page. This page should not be counted or numbered. The DAC will appear in the online version of the published dissertation.

The dissertation begins with the title page; the title should be as concise as possible and should provide an accurate description of the dissertation.

A copyright notice should appear on a separate page immediately following the title page and include the copyright symbol ©, the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the author:

© [ year ] [ Author’s Name ] All rights reserved.

Alternatively, students may choose to license their work openly under a  Creative Commons  license. The author remains the copyright holder while at the same time granting up-front permission to others to read, share, and (depending on the license) adapt the work, so long as proper attribution is given. (By default, under copyright law, the author reserves all rights; under a Creative Commons license, the author reserves some rights.)

An abstract, numbered as page  iii , should immediately follow the copyright page and should state the problem, describe the methods and procedures used, and give the main results or conclusions of the research. The abstract will appear in the online and bound versions of the dissertation and will be published by ProQuest. There is no maximum word count for the abstract. 

Dissertations divided into sections must contain a table of contents that lists, at minimum, the major headings in the following order:

Front matter includes (if applicable):

acknowledgements of help or encouragement from individuals or institutions

a dedication

a list of illustrations or tables

a glossary of terms

one or more epigraphs.

Back matter includes (if applicable):


supplemental materials, including figures and tables

an index (in rare instances).

Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the end of the dissertation in an appendix, not within or at the end of a chapter. If additional digital information (including audio, video, image, or datasets) will accompany the main body of the dissertation, it should be uploaded as a supplemental file through ProQuest ETD . Supplemental material will be available in DASH and ProQuest and preserved digitally in the Harvard University Archives.

As a matter of copyright, dissertations comprising the student's previously published works must be authorized for distribution from DASH. The guidelines in this section pertain to any previously published material that requires permission from publishers or other rightsholders before it may be distributed from DASH. Please note:

Authors whose publishing agreements grant the publisher exclusive rights to display, distribute, and create derivative works will need to seek the publisher's permission for nonexclusive use of the underlying works before the dissertation may be distributed from DASH.

Authors whose publishing agreements indicate the authors have retained the relevant nonexclusive rights to the original materials for display, distribution, and the creation of derivative works may distribute the dissertation as a whole from DASH without need for further permissions.

It is recommended that authors consult their publishing agreements directly to determine whether and to what extent they may have transferred exclusive rights under copyright. The Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is available to help the author determine whether she has retained the necessary rights or requires permission. Please note, however, the Office of Scholarly Communication is not able to assist with the permissions process itself.

Missing Dissertation Acceptance Certificate.  The first page of the PDF dissertation file should be a scanned copy of the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC). This page should not be counted or numbered as a part of the dissertation pagination.

Conflicts Between the DAC and the Title Page.  The DAC and the dissertation title page must match exactly, meaning that the author name and the title on the title page must match that on the DAC. If you use your full middle name or just an initial on one document, it must be the same on the other document.  

Abstract Formatting Errors. The advisor name should be left-justified, and the author's name should be right-justified. Up to two advisor names are allowed. The Abstract should be double spaced and include the page title “Abstract,” as well as the page number “iii.” There is no maximum word count for the abstract. 


 The front matter should be numbered using Roman numerals (iii, iv, v, …). The title page and the copyright page should be counted but not numbered. The first printed page number should appear on the Abstract page (iii). 

The body of the dissertation should be numbered using Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, …). The first page of the body of the text should begin with page 1. Pagination may not continue from the front matter. 

All page numbers should be centered either at the top or the bottom of the page.

Figures and tables Figures and tables must be placed within the text, as close to their first mention as possible. Figures and tables that span more than one page must be labeled on each page. Any second and subsequent page of the figure/table must include the “(Continued)” notation. This applies to figure captions as well as images. Each page of a figure/table must be accounted for and appropriately labeled. All figures/tables must have a unique number. They may not repeat within the dissertation.

Horizontal Figures and Tables 

Any figures/tables placed in a horizontal orientation must be placed with the top of the figure/ table on the left-hand side. The top of the figure/table should be aligned with the spine of the dissertation when it is bound. 

Page numbers must be placed in the same location on all pages of the dissertation, centered, at the bottom or top of the page. Page numbers may not appear under the table/ figure.

Supplemental Figures and Tables. Supplemental figures and tables must be placed at the back of the dissertation in an appendix. They should not be placed at the back of the chapter. 

Permission Letters Copyright. permission letters must be uploaded as a supplemental file, titled ‘do_not_publish_permission_letters,” within the dissertation submission tool.

 DAC Attachment. The signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must additionally be uploaded as a document in the "Administrative Documents" section when submitting in Proquest ETD . Dissertation submission is not complete until all documents have been received and accepted.

Overall Formatting. The entire document should be checked after all revisions, and before submitting online, to spot any inconsistencies or PDF conversion glitches.

You can view dissertations successfully published from your department in DASH . This is a great place to check for specific formatting and area-specific conventions.

Contact the  Office of Student Affairs  with further questions.


Office of Student Affairs

Generate accurate MLA citations for free

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How to Cite an Image in MLA | Format & Examples

Published on November 20, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on June 16, 2022.

The format in which you cite an image in MLA style depends on where you viewed the image. Images are often found by searching online; in this case, you’ll cite the website where the image is hosted, in the following format.

Table of contents

Including images as figures, citing images from museums and galleries, citing images from books, citing images from journal articles, frequently asked questions about mla citations.

If you include an image directly in your paper, it should be labeled “Fig.” (short for “Figure”), given a number, and presented in the MLA figure format .

Directly below the image, place a centered caption starting with the figure label and number (e.g. “Fig. 2”), then a period. For the rest of the caption, you have two options:

If you go for option 1, you can leave this source out of your Works Cited list, since you already give full information in the caption. With option 2, you do need a Works Cited entry giving full information. The example below takes the second approach.

MLA 9 figure example

To cite an artwork from a museum or gallery, mention the name of the institution and the city it is located in (unless the city name is already part of the institution’s name).

If you viewed the artwork on the museum’s website, instead of in person, you should include the website name (usually the same as the name of the museum) and the URL.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

When you refer to an image you encountered in a book, it’s often sufficient to just cite the book as a whole. Include a figure and/or a page number to identify the image you’re referring to.

But if the image is by someone other than the book’s main author , provide details of the image (i.e. author, title or description , year) followed by details of the book in the usual format.

If the Works Cited entry specifies a single page on which the image appears, you don’t need to add a page number in the in-text citation.

A similar format is used to cite an image reproduced in a PowerPoint .

Images from journal articles can also often just be referred to in the text, citing the whole article with a figure and/or page number specifying the image’s location. This approach makes sense when the image was created by the article’s author(s).

Where the image is not by the author(s) of the article, it’s better to list details of the image followed by the usual details for a journal article .

Whenever you refer to an image created by someone else in your text, you should include a citation leading the reader to the image you’re discussing.

If you include the image directly in your text as a figure , the details of the source appear in the figure’s caption. If you don’t, just include an MLA in-text citation wherever you mention the image, and an entry in the Works Cited list giving full details.

When a source has no title , this part of your MLA reference is replaced with a description of the source, in plain text (no italics or quotation marks, sentence-case capitalization).

If a source has no author, start the MLA Works Cited entry with the source title . Use a shortened version of the title in your MLA in-text citation .

If a source has no page numbers, you can use an alternative locator (e.g. a chapter number, or a timestamp for a video or audio source) to identify the relevant passage in your in-text citation. If the source has no numbered divisions, cite only the author’s name (or the title).

If you already named the author or title in your sentence, and there is no locator available, you don’t need a parenthetical citation:

If a source has two authors, name both authors in your MLA in-text citation and Works Cited entry. If there are three or more authors, name only the first author, followed by et al.

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Erin Wright Writing

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How to Write Figure Captions for Graphs, Charts, Photos, Drawings, and Maps

By Erin Wright

Figure drawn on chalkboard with overlay title How to Write Figure Captions

Figures are visuals such as charts, graphs, photos, drawings, and maps. Figures are normally identified by the capitalized word Figure and a number followed by a caption. A caption is a short block of text that gives information about the figure. The following seven tips explain how to write figure captions in your book, article, or research paper.

Although closely related, tables aren’t considered figures. See “ How to Write Table Titles ” for more information.

These tips are general guidelines based on our primary style guides . Each style guide has its own caption format (e.g., line spacing , margins, fonts). Therefore, you should consult your designated guide for specific recommendations, as necessary.

Seven Tips for Writing Figure Captions

Figure 1 and figure 2, located at the bottom of this post, demonstrate the guidelines explained in these tips.

1. Use captions instead of titles.

Figures in traditionally published books and scholarly writing usually have captions instead of titles. 2

However, some journals use titles and captions for figures. 3 Before submitting an article to a specific journal, always check its formatting requirements.

2. Place captions under figures.

Captions typically appear under figures. 4 Sometimes captions appear beside or even above figures; however, the decision to place captions in uncommon locations is normally made by the layout designer or production editor, not by the writer or copy editor. 5

Style Guide Alert: Written Music

The MLA Handbook (MLA style) and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style) use the word Example rather than Figure to identify samples of written music in text. In addition, Chicago style places captions above written music instead of below, while MLA style keeps captions under written music. 6

Note that the academic version of Chicago style, Turabian, also recommends placing captions above written music but uses Figure instead of Example . 7

If you have music samples labeled as Example in addition to other figures, the music samples should be numbered separately from the figures (e.g., Example 1, Figure 1, Example 2, Figure 2).

3. Use a period after figure numbers.

Figures can be identified with regular numbers:

They can also be identified by double numbering in which the first number identifies the chapter and the second number identifies the figure:

Figure 7.10. (the tenth figure in chapter 7)

Figure 7.11. (the eleventh figure in chapter 7)

Figure 7.12. (the twelfth figure in chapter 7)

Whether you are using regular numbers or double numbering, use a period after the figure number to separate it from the caption text. 8

You may occasionally see the period omitted in favor of bold font combined with extra space before the caption text. 9 Like placing captions in uncommon locations, this decision is usually made by a layout designer or production editor rather than the writer or copy editor.

4. Use sentence-style capitalization.

Captions should feature sentence-style capitalization rather than headline-style capitalization . 10 This recommendation applies to complete sentences and to phrases and sentence fragments.

5. End captions with a period … most of the time.

Two of our primary style guides, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) and the MLA Handbook (MLA style) use periods at the end of all captions even if they are incomplete sentences. 12

One of our other primary style guides, The Chicago Manual of Style (along with its academic version, Turabian) says that periods can be omitted if your captions are all phrases or sentence fragments. But, if your captions consist of complete sentences mixed with phrases and sentence fragments, always use periods. 13

6. Include a variety of information (if necessary).

A caption should briefly describe the figure. You can also include additional information such as copyright statements, source citations, definitions of symbols, and explanations of units of measurement. 14

There’s no official guideline for how long a caption can be. But, keep your readers in mind when writing captions because long blocks of unbroken text can be difficult to read (and therefore easy to ignore). If you think your caption is too long, consider other ways to present the necessary information, including the use of legends, labels, and keys within the figure itself.

7. Reference all figures in your text.

Each figure should be referenced in a sentence in your text, preferably before the figure appears in the document. The purpose of in-text references is to show your readers how figures connect to the content they are reading.

See “ How to Reference Figures and Tables in Sentences ” for examples and information relative to specific style guides.

The captions attached to figure 1 and figure 2, below, are examples based on the seven tips explained above.

Example of photos used as a figure.

Figure 1. Above left , Bartholomew; above right , Peabody; below left , Mr. Heckle; below right , Mr. Jeckle. Photography by Erin Wright.

Example of bar chart figure

Figure 2. Study participants’ favorite activities rated by occurrences per day. Reproduced by permission from Erin Wright, The Pets Are Running the Show (Whiting, IN: Fake Press, 2019), 57.

Related Resources

Three Ways to Insert Tables in Microsoft Word

How to Create and Customize Charts in Microsoft Word

How to Insert Figure Captions and Table Titles in Microsoft Word

How to Change the Style of Table Titles and Figure Captions in Microsoft Word

How to Update Table and Figure Numbers in Microsoft Word

How to Create and Update a List of Tables or Figures in Microsoft Word

How to Cross-Reference Tables and Figures in Microsoft Word


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