I'm writing my master's thesis (in physics) in which I included a drawing that a friend of mine made for me using Adobe Illustrator. I would like to cite him as an author.

Usually, for reproducible images found on papers or books I write: Authors, Title of the Work (Date of Publication)\cite{Link to bibliography}

How can I credit an image that has never been published?


3 Answers 3


In the paper:

Plotnik, J. M., Brubaker, D. L., Dale, R., Tiller, L. N., Mumby, H. S., & Clayton, N. S. (2019). Elephants have a nose for quantity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201818284.

Figure 1 is an illustration of the experimental approach. The caption for Figure 1 ends with the statement:

Illustrations by Nuttayapond Doungcharoen (artist).

There is no citation in a reference list because there is no prior publication, and I would not recommend citing as a private communication or anything like that as suggested in another answer (which gives credit but makes clear that you are paraphrasing some element of a conversation), it's a picture that the reader can see, you just want to attribute that picture to the artist.

  • Certainly there may be times when an ack is sufficient, but in other situations a full citation is more appropriate. It depends, basically, on what the figure has added to the paper and the sort of development that was required to produce it. But citations are required for many things in which no prior publication exists.
    – Buffy
    Jun 19, 2019 at 17:03
  • @Buffy See henning's comment on your post.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 19, 2019 at 18:14
  • 1
    This is basically what I briefly tried to convey in my answer. Plus 1 anyway for bringing an example.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 20, 2019 at 9:47

Figure caption ends in: artwork courtesy of "your friend name". Plus acknowledgment section, if any.


It is fairly common in many fields to list author and title with the notation "private communication". This gives proper credit and also indicates that it isn't published. You can even make "unpublished" more explicit: "unpublished private communication".

There are actually quite classical papers by quite famous authors who worked closely with others and credit each other in this way. Sorry, but I don't have examples at hand.

But, for example, google '"private communication" as a citation' and you will see examples from different fields.

  • 3
    Private communication is certainly common but applies better to information other than graphics, which could be indeed just rendered by a person, skilled on art and graphics, on the bases of other's work, likely the author of the thesis/book/paper.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:20
  • Perhaps, but the OP asks for a citation form, not an ack formalism.
    – Buffy
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:23
  • 2
    Fine. I took it as s/he need a caption for the figure and to give credit to the author of it. I do not see why an original figure in a book should be in a reference list. I would do as in my answer below. But it is not too important as far the author fulfil the desire of being thankful and does not want to slip in the figure as his/het own work.
    – Alchimista
    Jun 19, 2019 at 14:36
  • 2
    I don't think a reference is appropriate here. The figure is neither a reproduction nor is it presenting data from a secondary source. It seems to be completely original except for the fact that the author has been assisted in producing the artwork, which should be formally acknowledged.
    – henning
    Jun 19, 2019 at 17:35

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