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I've just observed that many of my captions start with "An example illustrating..." or "An example of..." or "A diagram of..." and so on:

An example illustrating basic tree terminology.

An example of a matching-directed bipartite graph

A diagram illustrating the intuition behind Lemma 1.2.3.

The first impression is that they seem silly—it's obvious these are examples or diagrams, they do not add anything substantial. On the other hand, I find it hard to make the caption read natural and properly describe the contents of the figure without such a noise.

It's easier to fix when the caption is longer, however, I use special short versions of captions for the list of figures. Not only this is harder to fix, but the list of figures appears really bad, because all the "An example" and others are lined up.

One difficulty is that omitting "An example" has a different meaning, for example

  • "An example of a flow network for Lemma 1.2.3." says that this is just some flow network used to illustrate how the proof works.
  • "A flow network for Lemma 1.2.3." means this is a way of realizing the flow network described in the lemma and all such flow networks look essentially like this one (where "essentially" is clear from the context).

I feel foolish for being caught between René Magritte's pipe and having wrong out-of-context short captions. Is there any technique to phrase the (short) captions to avoid the repetitive "An example"?

P.S. I'm not really sure about the tags, sorry if I picked them wrong.

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  • I think you've answered your own question: use the short captions (without "an example") in the list of figures, and the long captions (often starting with "an example") under the figures themselves. Sep 14, 2015 at 14:39
  • @PeterShor But wouldn't that make the short captions wrong?
    – dtldarek
    Sep 14, 2015 at 14:41
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    @dtidarek: The list of figures is not something anybody uses to deduce the meaning of a figure: they'd look at the figure itself and its caption for that. So I don't think there's any reasonable probability you'd mislead a reader that way. Sep 14, 2015 at 14:43

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This is typically handled by using "formal" examples and figures, that is, examples and figures that have both a title, such as "Matching Directed Bipartite Graph" and a label, such as Example 23-9 or Figure 1-6.

The label speaks to what kind of thing it is (type/class of thing), and the title says what the thing itself is about (instance/object).

So your text body would refer to Example 23-9 or to Example 23-9, "Matching Directed Bipartite Graph".

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  • A list of figures giving Figure 3-9, page 56 is much less useful than a list of Figures giving A flow network for Lemma 3, page 56. Sep 14, 2015 at 14:55
  • @PaterShor: I did not, nor did the OP, mention a List of Figures. Nor did I mention inclusion of page numbers in cross references, though that is useful and common. An LOF typically has links to the figures, and it lists all of these for each figure: (1) figure label /number (e.g. 8-4, for the fourth figure of chapter 8), (2) figure title (e.g., Matching Directed Bipartite Graph), and (3) page number (e.g., 23-14), if the document has pages. Similarly, for a List of Examples, List of Tables, etc.
    – Drew
    Sep 14, 2015 at 15:16
  • Read the OP more carefully. I quote "I use special short versions of captions for the list of figures." Short captions for the LOF is what the question is about, not cross-references in the text. Sep 14, 2015 at 15:26
  • @PeterShor Although Drew did misunderstand me, his suggestion is still useful—I could make a separate list of figures and list of examples, and then the diagrams that provide examples include in the latter rather than former. Currently I don't have enough figures and examples to consider two separate lists (thus probably I will follow your suggestion), but it makes a lot of sense to me, it exactly sorts out the lack of precision I was concerned about.
    – dtldarek
    Sep 14, 2015 at 15:48

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