I plan to show a picture in my scientific paper. This picture is a modification of pictures from another scientific paper. How can I annotate, explain and quote the picture ?


3 Answers 3


It is important to provide credit where credit is due. If you see a figure and modify it to suit your needs your can provide credit by referencing the figure as "modified from xxx(yyyy)" or "based on xxx (yyyy)" or something similar to that.

The scientific world is full or figures that have been modified. I found one of my figures being the basis for a figure in one of the IPCC reports but where the modifiers having missed the point of some of the graphical aspects of the original figure. In other words, do not just copy a figure, make sure it reflects what you need to show and do not leave aspects of the original figure that is not relevant for your purposes.

There will always be a discussion on where the boundary lies between just copying a figure and modifying something to suit a specific purpose. Back in the days no one really cared, having a figure replicated or modified was treated as an honour. The important aspect will always lie with providing the proper source for the original figure so that the originator gets its (their) credit.

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    "Taylor & Francis" (publisher) is a signatory to the International Association of Science, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) Permissions Agreement. This allows for reproduction of limited portions of text and illustrations at the individual article level, without securing formal permission by signatory participants. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 18:17
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    I am not sure what the comment is really trying to say but obviously one has to consider publisher constraints and seek permission where it is necessary. It is, however, sad when publishers try to limit the originator's rights in different ways (often written over in a general contract at the point of publishing). Copying is always different from being inspired by and unfortunately the boundary is up to the legal system to determine whether they have the expertise or not. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 18:25
  • I did try to reach out to a third party (graphics owner) several times and it never worked. My private emails were probably considered spam. So, the main issue is practicality. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 18:30
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    I can clearly sympathise with that notion. It is not always a responsive counterpart one encounters. But, the general principle should apply, one can modify other's illustrations as long as they adhere to the publications in which they appear and are not just a "cut-paste" copy but reworked to fit seemelessly within the new publication. I clearly understand how difficult or subtle this bourndary may seem to the uninitiated. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 19:08
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance you should reach out to the publisher. Some of them provides you help in how to proceed (see an example here elsevier.com/about/policies/copyright/permissions ). The graphic owner is very rarely the graphic creator or the grafic user, it may be tricky to ask the right person.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 9:06

"Adapted from [Reference to the Original Article], with permission from [Copyright Holder]." is commonly used but it may also depend on the Journal where you want to publish your paper. Check with the Journal's referencing guidelines if they have any specific format.

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    " with permission from [Copyright Holder]." Please note youu need to obtain permission first, it is not a pro-forma sentence!
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 8:23
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    Some figures are licensed under, for example, "CC-BY" in which case you should state that instead of "with permission from [Copyright Holder]". Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 13:02
  • Do you have to state the licence or that you obtained permission? It seems like clutter to me. (Interesting to lawyers perhaps, not to your scientific readers.) E.g. does CC-BY not just allow using it without mentioning the license?
    – Kvothe
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 18:05
  • @Kvothe I think that could be posted as a question on its own, but my reading is that CC-BY 4.0 does state that attribution must include a notice of the license, among other things.
    – Anyon
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 10:35

You can write something along the lines of:

Inspired by X et al. and Y, we present a process overview diagram, see Fig. 1. In the figure, we combine the perspectives of X and Y and have added our specific use case.

This way, it is clear that the idea comes from someone else, however you have added some contribution to it. A contribution can be stylistic, for example, you took someone else's figure and recreated it to your liking. Or, more substantial as adding/removing parts of the figure.

If you want to contrast yourself against X and Y, highlight your contribution using different colors/line widths/patterns.

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