I'm an undergraduate with virtually no experience with the expectations of academia (so I apologize in advance for the silly question). I'm finishing up a paper describing my research and would like to include a figure to describe something in my "Background" section.

There is a graduate student in my lab who has a paper dealing with the background topic and has a perfect image that I'd like to use as said figure. The paper has been accepted but not yet published. Would I be violating some protocol if I asked to use the identical figure? If not, what is the proper way to attribute the figure to the original source? In the caption?

  • 3
    "I want you to know that I've been admiring your figure...". Yep, that's a faux pas. Apr 26, 2017 at 5:36

3 Answers 3


You can always ask, then it is the choice of the author to accept or not. As for the citation, if the paper is accepted but not published, you can have a note in the citation "to appear". For instance, your text could like:

Following [Alice12], we describe ... as illustrated in Fig.1.

[Alice12] Alice, paper, journal, accepted, to appear.

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    I would give credit much more explicitly in the caption: "Figure from [Alice12], used with author's permission". Don't lie.
    – JeffE
    Sep 12, 2012 at 13:58
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    I would go so far as to say that you need to include the following: (1) the citation, (2) the phrase "used with permission". Failing to do so could place you in plagiarism territory, as the figure was taken from another paper without proper referencing.
    – eykanal
    Sep 12, 2012 at 14:50
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    @NobleP.Abraham According to my dictionary, identical means: "similar in every detail; exactly alike" So "identical figure" means the same one.
    – Dan C
    Sep 12, 2012 at 22:36
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    One note: if the paper is accepted for publication, it is possible that the original author has signed a publication/copyright waiver for the journal. In which case to re-use the identical figure one would need not only permission of the author, but also the permission of the publisher. Sep 13, 2012 at 12:49
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    (See, for example, AAAS's policy for re-using material appearing in Science. Sep 13, 2012 at 12:57

Assuming that an identical image, either modified from the original or made based on the original, is being used, here is a better way of citing the source.

This is from APA,

Material adapted from a journal article. Note format is different from References.

Figure #. Description/Note. Adapted from “Title of Article,” by F. M. Author and C. D. Author, year, Title of Journal, volume, p. xx. Copyright year by the Name of Copyright Holder. Adapted [or Reprinted] with permission.

See this from Wiley

If you wish to republish an already modified figure or table, permission should be obtained from the source of the modified item, but the credit line should include reference to the original source(s) of the material as well as to the source of the modification. If you wish to republish a previously published figure or table originally compiled from data from other sources, permission for its re-use must be obtained from whoever owns the copyright in the compilation. The credit line should include reference to the source of the compilation, and to the sources of the original data by using the words ‘Based on’, ‘Compiled from’, or similar, or by using the credit line appearing on the original compilation.

If you wish to make changes or further changes to content which is already in the process of being cleared, you may need to reapply for permission as it is possible that the copyright owner will not like the new proposed alterations and they are entitled to refuse permission.

See also MTU

I modified a figure from a journal article. Do I need to ask for permission?

It depends. Significant modifications result in a figure that is uniquely yours. The source of the inspiration or base of the figure must be acknowledged in your caption. To clarify the source and figure creator, we recommend a credit line in your caption similar to, "Figure adapted by author from SOURCE." where SOURCE would be replaced with an appropriate citation. If the figure is just a tracing of the original figure, or does not contain a significant amount of creativity, you have not created it, and must ask for permission.


It is perfectly okay to ask for the figure knowing well that the other person may not give. I assume you would get the permission to use the figure. As @eykanal, pointed out we need to put the phrase "used with permission" or write "Source: Citation" in the figure caption.

Example below:

enter image description here

Figure 1: An example flow chart [Source: http://www.javaworld.com/javaworld/jw-05-2003/images/jw-0502-java1013.gif]

You may also write Figure 1: An example flow chart [Source: Alice et al. to appear in Journal,Year]

  • This is fine if you are using the exact one. But what if a modified version is used? Sep 12, 2012 at 16:27
  • @NobleP.Abraham If it's modified in a substantial, e.g., conceptual way, then you could say "based on..."; otherwise I would just say that you copied the figure.
    – Dan C
    Sep 12, 2012 at 22:37

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