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  • PHY 350: Proper use of figure labels, figure numbering, and cross references in LaTeX.

    Short Rant About Figure Captions

    Dear students: overall, the class is doing a good job learning how to use \(\LaTeX\) to prepare journal articles, but some of you have learned some bad habits when it comes to using and referencing figures and equations in LaTeX. One of the reasons to use LaTeX is that it does automatic numbering and updating of cross-references for figures and equations. That means if you do things properly, then when add, take away, or rearrange figures and equations, the numbering and referencing will still work. It might not seem important for a paper that is only a few pages long, but when it is your thesis or a major paper you have to proofread and revise again and again, you’ll appreciate it more!

    In some of your drafts, however, you are actively disabling this. An example is shown in Figure \ref{fig:WrongWayToNumberFigures}, where you have inserted a static reference to a Figure 1 (which is no longer Figure 1 b/c of the figures I have added).

    I have written many of you about this before, so perhaps I have not yet properly conveyed its importance. Please therefore note that this course is the one the department has designated as the course in which majors learn how to write in their discipline — a college wide requirement —- and that in physics, this currently means learning how to properly use LaTeX (in addition to clarity and content, of course). Learning how to make use of cross-referencing in is one of the things that will distinguish an ‘A’ paper from a ‘B’ paper in this course.

    \label{fig:WrongWayToNumberFigures} This is an example of a poor way to number figures if you value your time and/or are planning to submit a \(\LaTeX\) file to the editor of a journal, because you have to renumber every figure after it if you add a figure here, as I have. In addition, the \begin{center} stuff \end{center} \par commands are unnecessary, will probably have to be removed by the editor (or you), and in this case, actually get in the way of exporting to the proper journal format. Programs like Authorea will do the proper formatting for you when you export to a particular journal format.

    A better way to number figures is to make use of the \(\LaTeX\) command \label{fig:InformativeFigureNameHere} to begin your figure captions, then reference that label in your text. An example of how to properly format a figure caption to make use of the label command is shown in Fig. \ref{fig:CorrectFormatCaption}