Tagging Figures, Graphics

This Tag Set provides several elements related to still graphical images. The primary ones are:

A <fig> is an object that (usually) contains an image; <graphic> and <inline-graphic> represent the image.

A <fig-group> is a collection of <fig>s that may have its own @id and <caption>.

Graphic, Inline

Used when the image should appear inline with surrounding text and there is no additional information associated with the graphic. A typical inline graphic might be a logo or a special math or chemistry symbol. (Best Practice: If the image represents a special private character, the <private-char> element should be used instead.)


When there is an image in an article that has no associated information (title, caption, figure number, etc.), a <graphic> should be used rather than a <fig>. A <graphic> not inside a figure or table can contain several sub-elements, including <alt-text> and <long-desc>, which are especially important to enable access for visually-impaired users.

Although graphics are allowed to take labels and captions, the ones floating loose in text rarely do. Labels can be used in graphics but usually only occur when a single figure (<label>Fig 4.</label>) contains 3 or 4 graphics, each separately labeled as “part a”, “part b”, etc.

Accessibility: If a graphic is purely decorative and is not part of the narrative of an article (such as a background image of a wheat field on the first page of an article about crop grains or a section symbol between sections), the graphic may be marked with an empty @alt attribute to indicate that it is purely decorative, and may be ignored by screen readers and other accessibility aids. For example, notice the attributes in the following graphic from an article on internationalization, where the graphic is intended to display a large globe behind the text of the first screen or page:

     <graphic xlink:href="big-globe.jpg"  alt=""/>


Used when the image has associated information, typically a figure number or caption. Some publishers consider the presence of a figure number definitive for a Figure (<fig>); others depend more on whether the image is to be listed in a List of Figures. Usually the two criteria match up, but there may be exceptions where numbered figures do not appear in the list, or vice versa.

Many figures contain one or more graphics (<graphic>), but they may also contain a variety of display objects: formulas, chemical structures, poetry, tables, media objects, lists of material, simple paragraphs, or a mixture of these items and one or more graphics.

Figure Group

A figure group (<fig-group>) is one or more figures (<fig>) placed in one container for editorial or production convenience. A figure group contains two or more labeled, possibly captioned figures that form a logical group, perhaps with an overall <label>, <caption>, or other information on the <fig-group> that applies to all of the figures inside it.

Positioning Graphic Objects

In common with other block-level display objects, figures and graphics may take the @position attribute, which is used to indicate where the figure should be positioned. The values for this attribute are slightly overloaded, as two values indicate the position of the object (such as a graphic) in relation to the text:


Object should appear exactly where it is found in the narrative flow.


Object should appear near its position in the narrative flow, but it may float to the top of a page or column, or into another window.

and two indicate the relationship between the object (such as a graphic) and the page:


Object, typically a decorative graphic, should appear behind the narrative. This does not displace the narrative; ideally, both the graphic and the narrative are visible, and the narrative is legible through the graphic. Accessibility: Best practice is to mark all purely decorative graphics with an empty @alt attribute, so that screen readers and other accessibility devices know that they may be ignored.


Object should appear beside the text that contains it in the narrative flow, as though it were in the margin of a printed page. Accessibility: Best practice is to mark all purely decorative graphics with an empty @alt attribute, so that screen readers and other accessibility devices know that they may be ignored.

Figure and Graphic Examples

Here is a figure with three graphics inside. The figure has a label and title that apply to all the graphics. Each graphic has a separate label and caption (optional structure).

<fig id="fg-012">
  <label>Figure 12. </label>
  <caption><title>Three Perspectives on My Dog</title></caption>
  <graphic xlink:href="frontView.png">
    <caption><p>View A: From the Front, Laughing</p></caption>
  <graphic xlink:href="sideView.png">
    <caption><p>View B: From the Side, Best Profile</p></caption>
  <graphic xlink:href="motionView.png">
    <caption><p>View C: In Motion, A Blur on Feet</p></caption>

Here is a figure group, with three figures inside, each of which contains a graphic. The figure group also has a label and a title that apply to all the figures.

<fig-group id="dogpix4">
  <label>Figures 12-14 Bonnie Lassie</label>
  <caption><title>Three perspectives on My Dog</title></caption>
  <fig id="fg-12">
     <caption><p>View A: From the Front, Laughing</p></caption>
     <graphic xlink:href="frontView.png"/>
  <fig id="fg-13">
     <caption><p>View B: From the Side, Best Profile</p></caption>
     <graphic xlink:href="sideView.png"/>
  <fig id="fg-14">
     <caption><p>View C: In Motion, A Blur on Feet</p></caption>
     <graphic xlink:href="motionView.png"/>

Here is a figure that contains no graphics at all, but encloses some bulleted items.

<fig id="fg-012">
  <label>Figure 3. </label>
  <caption><title>Show and Tell Order</title></caption>
  <list list-type="order" prefix-word="Test">
    <list-item><label>2.</label><p>Persian Cat</p></list-item>
    <list-item><label>3.</label><p>Weaver Finches</p></list-item>

Other Display Objects

Design Note: Several other elements are also used for other types of display objects. See the specific elements for more information: <alternatives>, <array>, <boxed-text>, <chem-struct-wrap>, <disp-formula>, <disp-formula-group>, <media>, <preformat>, <private-char>, <supplementary-material>, <table-wrap>, and <table-wrap-group>.