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I'm writing a thesis and I would like to direct the user to an algorithm description. The description is in the form of numbered (and lettered) list. I would like to write that "the algorithm is presented on fig. 1.1", but I'm not sure if that would be correct. I've been thinking that a "figure" is a drawing or a schematic, but recently I've been seeing this word when referring to lists or even blocks of text.

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If you have multiple algorithms presented like that, you should label them as "Algorithm n" and have a separate List of Algorithms alongside the List of Figures and List of Tables. Unless your style guide prohibits that, of course. –  rdhs Jan 15 '12 at 18:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Figure is anything outside the main block of text that you can refer to.

The house style of the journal will say whether you refer to tables, images, equations, diagrams separately or refer to all of them as 'figure'.

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I have never seen tables referred to as figures, do you know of any journal that does that? –  nico Jan 15 '12 at 21:19
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Here's some webpages that refer to tables in figures. –  Hugo Jan 15 '12 at 22:11

One of the meanings of figure: an illustration or explanatory diagram in a text.

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Definition

A figure is defined by Dictionary.com as

A form or shape, as determined by outlines or exterior surfaces: to be round, square, or cubical in figure.

The word figure is believed to be synonymous to diagram or depiction.

Usage

In general usage, it may refer to a shape, drawing or representation. So calling any list or block of text, a "figure" is , generally, incorrect.

However, since a representation may also be classified as a figure, if the list or block of text represents something, e.g

A list representing the Military Decorations of the Army

it may be referred to as a figure. So if, in your publication, you are using the numbered or lettered lists to represent something, they may be called figures.

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The general rule is that all those elements that are not considered 'text' can be called figures, and numbered in sequence as a single group. Body, in the simplest, consists of 'text' and 'figures'.

For purposes convenience depending on the subject, type of publication, etc., some of these elements may be form independent groups and separately numbered, such as tables, equations, (plates, in older versions) photographs/ pictures, etc.

So, except where tables are separately numbered (for extraneous reasons), they fall under the definition of 'anything outside the text'. The same applies to equations.

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