Guidelines for Using Figures and Tables in Your Research Manuscript [Free Downloadable Guide Included]

In this article and downloadable resource, you will find information to help you determine what you should do if you would like to republish an image that has been previously published elsewhere by you or by another researcher, or publish an image that is similar to one previously published elsewhere.

person looking at graph on computer

If you created a figure or table to support your research, you may think that you are able to use it in as many publications as you want if the data are relevant. That is not always the case, however. Usually, the copyright permissions policies of the original publisher will determine if and how you may use it in future publications.

Use the questions below as a guide, or download this helpful resource created jointly by AJE and the Endocrine Society to find out if you need permission to use a figure and how you should provide attribution.

Are you using an original figure or table?

An original figure or table is one that you created and has not been published. If you would like to include an original figure or table in your manuscript, you do not need to ask permission or use attribution to use it. You can simply include the figure or table with your research manuscript when you submit it to the journal.

Are you using a reproduced figure or table?

A reproduced figure or table is an exact copy of a figure or table that has already been published by a journal or book, both in print and online. The figure may be one that was published in your manuscript, or it may be from another researcher’s manuscript. A reproduced figure or table is not an original. To use a reproduced figure or table in a manuscript, you must receive permission from the owner of the copyright of the original figure or table, and you must also include attribution to the original source in your manuscript next to the reproduced figure or table. The owner of the copyright will often be the publisher of the original figure or table. In some journals, such as Endocrine Society journals, figures and tables used in most types of article may not be reproduced or adapted; only in reviews and mini-reviews may reproduced or adapted figures and tables be used.

Are you using an adapted figure or table?

An adapted figure or table is one that looks similar to a figure or table that has been previously published but has been changed slightly. To use an adapted figure or table in your manuscript, you must also obtain permission from the copyright owner (usually the original publisher) and provide attribution to the source that published the original figure or table. This must be done even if you created the original figure or table from which the new one has been adapted.

In Summary

When you consider what figures and tables you would like to include with your manuscript, using an original figure is always the easiest, and many publishers require original figures for most article types. However, there may be data in a figure or table that has already been published that are essential to the discussion in the manuscript you’re preparing. If this happens, and if the publisher allows the use of already published material, you have the option of using a reproduced or adapted version of the original figure or table and should consider which of these three types would work best for what you are communicating. If you decide to use already published material in a reproduced or adapted figure or table, it will be necessary to obtain the appropriate permissions and provide the correct attribution in the legend.

For more resources on using and creating great figures, click here.

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