When to Use an Image in an Essay

When to Use an Image in an Essay

Pages of text alone can look quite dull. And while ‘dull’ may seem normal enough for an essay, using images and charts can make a document more visually interesting. It can even help you boost your grades if done right! Here, then, is our guide on how to use an image in academic writing.

When to Use an Image in an Essay

Usually, you will only need to add an image in academic writing if it serves a specific purpose (e.g. illustrating your argument). Even then, you need to make sure images are presently correctly. As such, try asking yourself the following questions whenever you add a picture or chart in an essay:

  1. Does it add anything useful? Any image or chart you include in your work should help you make your argument or explain a point more clearly. For instance, if you are analysing a film, you may need to include a still from a scene to illustrate a point you are making.
  2. Is the image clearly labelled? All images in your essay should come with clear captions (e.g. ‘Figure 1’ plus a title or description). Without these, your reader may not know how images relate to the surrounding text.
  3. Have you mentioned the image in the text? Make sure to reference any images you use in the text of your essay. If you have included an image to illustrate a point, for instance, you would include something along the lines of ‘An example of this can be seen in Figure 1’.

The key, then, is that images in an essay are not just decoration. Rather, they should fit with and add to the arguments you make in the text.

Citing Images and Illustrations

If you have created all the images you are using in your essay yourself, then all you need to do is label them clearly (as described above). But if you want to use an existing image you found somewhere else, you will need to cite your source as well, just as you would when quoting someone.

The format for this will depend on the referencing system you’re using. However, with author–date referencing, it usually involves giving the source author’s name and a year of publication. For example:

Image plus caption.

In the caption above, we have cited the page of the paper the image comes from using an APA-style citation. We would then need to add the full paper to the reference list at the end of the document:

Gramblička, S., Kohar, R., & Stopka, M. (2017). Dynamic analysis of mechanical conveyor drive system. Procedia Engineering, 192, 259–264. DOI: 10.1016/j.proeng.2017.06.045

You can also cite an image directly if it not part of a larger publication or document. If we wanted to cite an image found online in APA referencing, for example, we would use the following format:

Surname, Initial(s). (Role). (Year). Title or description of image [Image format]. Retrieved from URL.

In practice, then, we could cite a photograph as follows:

Booth, S. (Photographer). (2014). Passengers [Digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevebooth/35470947736/in/pool-best100only/

Make sure to check your style guide if you are not sure which referencing system to use when citing images in your work. And don’t forget to have your finished document proofread before you submit it for marking.

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