I heard of this rule/recommendation (or may be its opposite) - Always let the figures come after they are described in the text.

What is the correct rule? What's the logic? Is it always followed?

What if (in a single column format) there are two smaller figures side-by-side and second figure's description comes later in the text?

2 Answers 2


The following applies:

  1. Figures should appear at the first possible place after they are referenced in the text and thus also in the order they are referenceed in the text. (the physical placement of the figure follows typographical rules).
  2. A figure may be placed before its reference if they are on the same page. Figures are normally place at the top of pages.
  3. Figures must be ordered according to the order in which they are first referenced.
  4. The same system also applies for tables. It is however, not necessary for figures and tables to be placed in the order they appear relative to each other, they are two independent series of inclusions and placement depends on typographiccal rules.

The logic is that the order figures are needed in the text also determines their location. Having such a rule makes the location predictable. Thse rules are followed by all journals typeset by professionals.

The case of the figures is dealt with as follows. If a figure has two panes, they would count as one figures but be labelled (a) and (b). thus one can reference figure Xa in one place and figure Xb in another. Combining panes into larger figures is a way to save space but most importantly to group plots that relate to each other in one place. ths is one way in which the order of figures according to the list above can be circumvented.

The important aspect is that figures should make sense and provide the reader with as much information as possible. Placement is done according to a logical and predicatable rule so that we all know what to expect.

  • I was told by an editor that (2) was not ok, an never had a requirement for the top of the page.
    – Zenon
    Mar 16, 2013 at 1:04
  • 1
    Are these fixed rules or just accepted practice - are exceptions ever granted at an authors request?
    – Abe
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:02

I've had it as a requirement by an editor at a journal (after mention in text). I guess the rational is that figures are catchy, if you see one, you will probably want to know why it is there and parse the text to find the reference in the text. Doing so, you might omit reading part of the paper.

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