Figures and Tables – Should You Add a Caption?
  • 3-minute read
  • 7th July 2022

Figures and Tables – Should You Add a Caption?

In the world of academia, there are a lot of rules. So many rules that even the most accomplished students, researchers, and professors sometimes struggle to keep up with the nitty-gritty details.

So, it probably won’t surprise you that there are even regulations when it comes to writing captions for figures and tables. Do figures and tables need captions? And, if they do, how should they be formatted?

We explain everything below.


In academic writing, figures are any form of illustration that isn’t a table. So, a figure could be a photograph, a map, a chart, a graph, or a drawing.

APA Style

In APA style, you don’t have to caption your figures unless you need to further explain something that isn’t easily understood from the image, title, or legend. You might also want to include a caption for copyright attribution or to explain any asterisk usage. The caption should be placed below the figure.

MLA Style

In MLA style, all figures should be labeled as figures underneath, numbered with Arabic numerals, and have a caption. This text should be double-spaced.

Chicago Style

In Chicago style, include a caption for your figures. The caption should sit just below the figure and give the reader an overview of the visual. This could be just a few words or several sentences – it’s up to you. Include a credit line to tell the reader where the figure was sourced.


Tables are text and/or numbers displayed in columns and rows.

APA Style

Tables should be captioned when following the APA style guide. The caption should explain any abbreviations and symbols and cite the source of the table. At the end of the caption, include a copyright statement. The caption should be situated below the table, beginning with “Note.

MLA Style

In MLA style, provide a caption for each table in title case (the title of the table will suffice as the caption). The table should sit beneath the caption, and the caption should be double-spaced.

Chicago Style

If you choose to add a caption when you’re following the Chicago style guide, it should appear below the table.

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General Guidance for Using Captions for Figures and Tables

If you don’t need to adhere to a particular style guide for figure and table captions, here is some more general guidance that can help you.

●  Captions for tables or figures should be easy to understand and clearly indicate what the image represents.

●  Captions should be located on the same page as their figure or table.

●  If your caption is longer than one line, it should be left-justified.

●  If your caption is shorter than one line, it should be centered.

●  Figure captions should appear directly under the figure.

●  Table captions should sit directly above the table.

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