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MLA Citation Guide: Illustrations

Illustrations – GROUND RULES

MLA allows for the presentation of three types of ILLUSTRATIONS to be used:


All three follow the same basic rules, but there are some variations between types.  All illustrations have to include a:

  • (NOTES are optional, and can be added, if required). 

Each one of these components is doing something different, and is positioned above and below your illustration, according to a which type of illustration you are using.

  • Every illustration you include has to have a matching reference in your paper (e.g. see fig. 1).
  • Position your illustrations (figures, tables and examples), as close as possible to the text to which they refer.

Illustrations - FIGURES

Illustrations (e.g. a photographs, maps, drawings, charts, graphs, etc.) that you use in your paper or presentation , should be labeled Figure (usually abbreviated as Fig.), given a number (start at '1' and continue), and a caption

Captions can be short, in which case a full citation will have to added to your 'works cited' list.  However, if the caption includes complete bibliographical information about the source, and the source is not cited elsewhere in your text, you do not have to create an entry in your 'Works Cited' list.  Capitalize captions as you would any MLA title -- do not use 'all caps' !

Labels and captions for illustrations are usually:

  • Below the illustration
  • Aligned with the left margin, maintaining one inch margins throughout
  • Double-spaced between elements



Dorothea Lange's 1936 photograph, taken for the Farm Security Administration, vividly captures the worry of a young mother as she tries to provide for her family during the Great Depression of the 1930's (see fig. 1).  In this example, because all the citation components are provided, an entry in the 'works cited' list would not be needed.  An alternative is to provide a shorter caption.  e.g. Fig 1.  Dorothea Lange's "Destitute Pea Pickers."  This version would need to be added to the 'Works Cited' list.

















Fig. 1.  Dorothea Lange. Destitute Pea Pickers in California, a 32-year-old Mother of Seven Children.

1936, Getty Images,

32-year-old-mother-of-news-photo-90768141.   Accessed 10 Jan. 2020. 

Citing Images

Below are the four most frequently used forms for citing illustrations. These can be used to create entries in a 'works cited' list and/or to provide the appropriate bibliographical materials to accompany illustrations you might include in your project.


Lastname, Firstname of the Artist. Title of the Artwork. Date of Composition,

            Name of the Institution that houses the artwork, City of the Institution.


Sargent, John Singer.  Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau). 1883-84,

            Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In text: (Sargent)


Follow as #1, adding information on the book:


Itten, Johannes. The Encounter. 1916, Kunsthaus, Zurich.

            The Prestel Dictionary of Art and Artists in the Twentieth Century, Prestel, p.165.

In text: (Itten)

3.  WORK OF ART FROM A DATABASE: Add the name of the database (in italics) and URL:

Lichtenstein, Roy.  Foot and Hand. 1964, Artstor, 


In text: (Lichtenstein)

4.  WORK OF ART FROM A WEBSITE: Follow as #3 and add:  Accessed DateMonthYear.

Gamble, Sidney.  Man on Rope Bridge. 1917, Duke University Libraries:

            Digital Collections.

            Accessed 23 Dec. 2019.

In text: (Gamble)

Illustrations - TABLES

Tables include columns of text and/or numbers. Tables are labeled as 'Table' and given a number, as with 'figures' (see Table 1), followed by a short title. If desired, a note can be added below the table, and is indicated with a lower case super-script letter, starting with.a

In this case, the bibliographic information is added below the table, starting with the word 'Source:' (see Table 1).



Table 1

Social Media Use Over Time (2013-2919) a

Source: "Social Media Fact Sheet: Social Media use Over Time." Pew Research Center, 12 June 2019, Accessed 12 Jan. 2020.

          a.  This table includes responses for 2013 through 2019 to the question: "How Many Social Media Sites Do You Use?" The complete table lists responses from 2005 through 2019.

Illustrations - EXAMPLES

Musical illustrations should be labeled Example (usually abbreviated Ex.), assigned a number (starting at '1'), and given a caption e.g. “Ex. 1. John Lennon. "Imagine." The First Four Lines, Arranged for a Guitar.”

The label and caption usually appear directly below the example and have the same one-inch margins as the text of the paper. Refer to the example(s) in your text as you would for an illustration (see ex. 1).



Ex. 1.  John Lennon."Imagine." Beatles Complete Easy Guitar, edited by Milton Okum,

Cherry Lane Music Co.,1982, p.160.