I'm about to write up my PhD thesis at the moment and for the theoretical part I have drawn some graphics that are of rather generic type -- crystal structures, crystal lattices and the like, similar to the image below (taken from Wikipedia, just as an example):

Example image

This type of image is very well-known in my field and can be found in every type of book about crystallography looking more or less the same. Also I am 100% sure that I have seen any of the features, that I have included in my own graphics, already in other publications, albeit maybe not all in one single graphic. Most of the graphics' properties, such as the atom positions and all the properties derived thereof, are commonly known facts, so only the style of the graphics may be something unique to a special graphic.

As I have seen them so often and worked with them for some years now, I can draw them out of memory without looking them up. Also I draw them with the features that I need to show my point. Therefore it might happen that I am reproducing someone else's graphics without being aware of it. As the question arose in the comments, in conclusion I draw graphics whose base structure is given by commonly known data using widely employed ways to draw such graphics, which contains the danger that someone could have drawn the same or a very similar graphic before.

Would this be OK or should I dig into literature to find if there are sources that could have been the inspiration for my own graphics?

  • 4
    In my field (CS) it's common to just give "common knowledge" definitions/theorems in your notation and provide some blanket reference like "basic definitions follow [X]". I'm not sure whether this applies to physics and graphics (hence a comment, not an answer), though, but I'd do a similar thing.
    – Raphael
    Mar 31, 2014 at 12:02
  • I am not sure what is the question. Did you make it by yourself based on other graphics? (Then: is it the question about plotting style/method, or about citing original plot/data for your plot?) If you use graphics from other source how it happens you don't know what is the source? Mar 31, 2014 at 16:12
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    I interpreted this as, "I myself have drawn a common structure using a common technique, and I am worried the same image exists somewhere else (since it is so common)." OP, is this an accurate interpretation?
    – ff524
    Mar 31, 2014 at 18:26
  • @PiotrMigdal I have seen such graphics in dozens of slight variations and work with them nearly daily. Therefore I can draw them out of my memory and could not name a certain reference that was the base source for the drawing. Mar 31, 2014 at 20:29
  • @ff524 Yes, finally it boils down to that. Mar 31, 2014 at 20:30

2 Answers 2


If you create an image yourself that is not modeled after/derived from someone else's, you don't have to go out of your way to learn if someone has created a similar image.

For example, if I create a flow diagram of a common process for my paper, it's likely that many other papers have a similar diagram (because the technique of using flow diagrams to illustrate a process is pretty standard). That's perfectly OK as long as I didn't intentionally copy them.

(As always: if the technique of visualization or the data content of the image is not general knowledge, cite it.)

  • I'd also add, just to be on the safe side, cite the software you used (for instance, cite Avogadro or ChimeraX papers if you used those). Dec 18, 2023 at 3:48

No, it's not ok to use someone else's graphics without checking whether you have the rights to those graphics. That could easily be a breach of copyright. Nor can you reproduce someone else's representation without crediting them: that's plagiarism.

You can either create a novel graphic yourself, or you can find someone else's graphic where you can establish that you, and your publisher, will have the appropriate rights to reproduce it.

If you've reproduced someone else's graphic (that is, both their style and their content), you will need to attribute it. Just having absorbed it and then unknowingly recreated it doesn't stop it being plagiarism.

If it really is a common enough type of image, you shouldn't have any difficulty in finding a citable version of it. You then add a caption, following the publisher's style guide, along the lines of "image source: author's own, after Metebelis (1973, p10)"

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    I have drawn the graphics myself. But as this type of graphics is omnipresent in the related literature in dozens of slight variations I might have redrawn a graphic that I have seen elsewhere without being aware of it. Mar 31, 2014 at 12:35
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    Because you've redrawn the figure yourself, that's more or less defense against copyright issues. A crystal structure is not copyrightable; the representation of it is.
    – aeismail
    Mar 31, 2014 at 13:34
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    The OP didn't "reproduce someone else's graphic." The OP created his/her own representation of a common structure, using a common technique.
    – ff524
    Mar 31, 2014 at 13:55
  • @ff524 the OP says explicitly: "So I might be reproducing someone else's graphics without noticing."
    – 410 gone
    Mar 31, 2014 at 14:13
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    So you think that if I draw the well-known Fibonacci automaton (recognizing (10+0)*1? -- language of words containing no 11), I need to cite the first person who has ever drawn it? And if I say "Let p be a prime", do I have to cite Euklides?
    – yo'
    Mar 31, 2014 at 21:00

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