Should Figures and Tables follow a certain order or be at a specific location in a document?

This is a topic I constantly think about when writing a document.

Often after I complete a document in LaTex I would go through the document to make sure that the figures are where I want them to be (I want you here, not there!) and this is a very frustrating procedure.

My question is: How important are figure locations in a document, e.g. if the figure you refer to is not on the page where you are referring to it, perhaps even two pages after.

I have noticed that textbook publishers rarely give any thought to it and I cannot decide whether it bothers me or not. It would certainly make my life easier if I don't have to worry about floats jumping around in a LaTex document.

Any thoughts?

• That's just logical order. Chronological would be in order of their creation, perhaps. – Kallus Oct 7 '14 at 13:10
• Yes, I updated the question. – Jonny Oct 7 '14 at 15:39

4 Answers

There are many policies that publishers imply considering figures. The most common ones are:

1. All figures or tables (so-called floats) have to be numbered and get a caption.
2. All floats have to be placed at the top of the page, or at a page solely made of figures and tables.
3. All floats have to be referred in the text by their number.
4. Every float has to appear no sooner than on the page where it is first mentioned (i.e. if it's first mentioned on page 5, it shouldn't be placed on page 4, but it can be placed on page 6).
5. Numbering should be consecutive (i.e., no 1 then 3 then 2).
6. The first reference to the floats should be consecutive (with the exception where you basically only "confer it" (with "cf." or alike).

Some journals want you to provide figures and tables separately, some don't care, some have typesetters that do it themselves, some don't force captions, some allow in-text placement, etc. Just check what you have to do. If nothing is said, I recommend complying with the rules above.

If you are publishing your work as an article in a journal or a book with a publisher than it is often not your decision. It is even very common for the figures and tables to be all collected at the end, and within the text there is a text like --- insert figure 4 here ---. For that reason it most of the time hasn't bothered me. The only time I considered the exact placement of figures and tables was when I was publishing my own dissertation and I was responsible for the lay-out.

It may be that your journal's style guide will have something to say about this, so you should read it, but my preference is for figures and tables to appear in the order they are discussed in the text even if that makes them relatively far apart. You should do your best to get them $\pm 1$ page from their reference, but it's not the end of the world if they go further.

Sometimes you need a headline figure to appear somewhere prominent, but otherwise, it's usually worth relaxing a bit over figure placement.

I personally don't care. The default LaTeX algorithm does a decent job, and I don't consider it worth my time to tweak it manually (other than adding an occasional [!ht]).

• In any case, the pagination of the document may change after the journal gets it, so any advance tweaking you did may be lost then anyway. – GEdgar May 22 '16 at 0:49