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Figures and Figure Legends

In APS Journals, artwork needs to stand alone; i.e., all elements must be consistently presented and all symbols/abbreviations must be defined at first use within a figure set. The copy editor is responsible for verifying that artwork is provided for all legends, that all sections in legends are represented on artwork, and that all artwork is numbered correctly in the article. If artwork is missing, contact the author immediately.

See also Example Figures.

Labeling Parts of the Figure

Labels that designate different parts of a figure should be italic. When introducing the part of the legend that describes that part of the figure, the label should be followed by a colon.

A and B:

The first word after the colon should be lowercase, unless it is a proper noun or acronym. Numbers are permitted after the colon, but not as the first word in a sentence. Note, when referring to two different parts of a figure, the word "and" should not be italic (e.g., "See Fig. 1, A and B.").

Labels may also be set in parentheses following the clause or sentence in the legend that describes them. Label words, such as "bottom", should be in all lowercase.

If the artwork contains no labels but the text and figure legends refer to A, B, etc., notify the Art Department, providing the page numbers in text where the references appear. Do not change the text to left and right, top and bottom, etc., until you receive the figures back from the Art Department, then follow the edited labeling. Include the text page numbers where the cites appear.

If labels in text and legends are lowercase (a, b, etc.), notify the Art Department. The Art Editor may decide to leave the labels lowercase in cases where the change would damage data (e.g., photomicrographs), in which case use lowercase letters in text to match the art.

Do not italicize the words referring to symbols, arrows, lines, and letters, numbers, or symbols used in the figure, such as "closed circles" or "dashed line".

Do not italicize "abscissa" or "ordinate" (but do italicize x and y in "x-axis" and "y-axis").

Delete words such as "panel" when they refer to a specific section of the figure:


symbols in panel A represent...


symbols in A represent...

Change "right panel" to "panel at right", and so forth.

Change upper and lower to top and bottom.

Complete sentences are not required in figure legends; however, do not edit excessively for brevity. The word "the" may be deleted when used at the beginning of a sentence; otherwise leave definite or indefinite articles as provided by the author.

Abbreviations in Figures

Abbreviated terms should be defined in the first legend in which they are used, even if they have already been defined in the main text of the article. It is not necessary to define abbreviations if they have already been defined in previous figure legends. 

Abbreviations that appear in the artwork should also be defined in the legend of the first figure in which they are used. If the abbreviation is not directly referred to in the text of the legend, it must be defined at the end of the legend. The abbreviation should be listed, followed by a comma, followed by its definition; and then separated from the following abbreviation by a semicolon.

Fig. 1. Arginine metabolism. Arginine is a precursor for the synthesis of urea, polyamines, nitric oxide (NO), and proteins including collagen. ODC, ornithine decarboxylase; OAT, ornithine aminotransferase; P5C, pyrroline-5-carboxylic acid; NOS, NO synthase; AS, argininosuccinate synthetase; AL, argininosuccinate lyase; CAT, cationic amino acid transporter.

Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 285: L313-L321, 2003

If an abbreviation is lowercase throughout the main text but is all caps in artwork, make the figure legend consistent with the text, not with the artwork.

Terms that do not need to be defined in text likewise do not need to be defined in legends.

Symbols in Figures

Symbols are defined either on a key in the artwork itself or in the legend. If there is a key in the artwork, you may delete any redundant symbol definitions in the legend. If there is no key, symbols should be defined in the text of the legend or listed at the end of the legend, as above.

Symbols need not be consistent between figure legends, only between a given legend and the places it is mentioned in text.

Use standard symbol codes whenever possible (see below). If author uses words to describe symbols in the legend (e.g., "open circle"), change to the appropriate symbol.

Different styles of lines (e.g., thick, thin, dotted, dashed, broken, etc.) should be referred to in the legend using words.

Asterisks denoting P values must be defined in the figure legend. In the legend, P is always capitalized and italicized. Insert a space immediately before and immediately after the >, <, or = sign, if there are not spaces already.

*P < 0.05; **P < 0.01

Citing Figures in Text

Figures should be cited in text in numerical order. There may be mentions of other figures that interrupt that numerical order; e.g., "(see Fig. 6 for comparison)" may be stated after citing Fig. 2. (The word "see" is differentiate this mention from a normal callout.) Figure 6 should still be called out later in its proper order.

Spell out "Figure" when it is the first word in a sentence; otherwise, abbreviate to "Fig." (or "Figs." if referring to multiple figures, e.g., "Figs. 2 and 3"; "Figs. 4–6.")

Letters referring to parts of a figure are italic:

Fig. 1A shows...
Fig. 1, A and B, shows...
Fig. 1, A-C, shows...
Figs. 1A and 2B, show...
Figs. 1A and 2, B and C, show...

Make a distinction between multiple parts (A, B, C) of a figure and letters, numbers, abbreviations, or symbols that refer to specific elements of the figure, which should be roman, not italic.

(Fig. 1A, dotted line)
(Fig. 1A, arrow)
(Fig. 1A, C)

Using the Toolkit

Use «fig2» to indicate the beginning of a figure legend. The code must be preceded by a "smiley face" (☺); this alerts the printer that the text that follows is to be set as a legend.

In the manuscript, delete the word "Figure" from the beginning of the legend. The figure number should follow immediately after the figure code, with no period. The text of the legend should follow immediately after the number.


Figure 4. Relationship between...


«fig2»4 Relationship between...

Use «fgc*» to call out figures in text. The asterisk should be replaced by the number of the figure (e.g., callout for Fig. 1 = «fgc1»). Where possible, the callout code should be placed directly before the actual numeral in text.

See Fig. «fgc3»3 for details...

Figures «fgc1»«fgc2»«fgc3»1-3 show that...

Note: although the above example is correct and may be sent to the printer, at this point in time it will generate an error in CodeCheck. You should change such a construction to

Figures «fgc1»1, «fgc2»2, and «fgc3»3 show that...

and either change it back after running CodeCheck or simply leave the new construction as is.

Callout codes should appear in text in numerical order, at the places where they are first cited. If the author mentions figures out of order, investigate and contact the author; this may be an indication that you are copyediting a version earlier than that which was accepted for publication.

Figs. «fgc2»2 and 6, followed by Figs. «fgc3»3 and 7.

Figure callouts should be avoided in the abstract.

If the author fails to mention a figure in text, find the best logical place and insert a callout in parentheses. Always query the author.

Symbol Codes Used in Figures

«ocirc»  open circle
«ccirc»  closed circle
«osq»  open square
«csq»  closed square
«otri»  open triangle
«ctri»  closed triangle
«oitri»  open inverted triangle
«citri»  closed inverted triangle
«odiam»  open diamond
«cdiam»  closed diamond
«ostar»  open star
«cstar»  closed star

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last edited 08/04/03