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How to Cite Tables and Figures in MLA Style

Tables and figures are essential visual elements in academic writing. Citing tables and figures in MLA style requires specific components: numbering, captions, source information, and in-text references. These elements apply to both original and borrowed visuals. Proper citation of tables and figures ensures credit to creators and maintains academic integrity when using visual data in research papers.

Citing Tables in MLA Style

Formatting Tables in Your Paper

Tables should be numbered consecutively and titled clearly. The title should be descriptive but concise, placed above the table. Each column in the table should have a heading, and any explanatory notes should be placed below the table.

In-Text Citation for Tables

When referring to a table within your text, mention the table number and provide a brief description. For instance, “As illustrated in Table 2, the results show a significant increase in sales.”

Full Citation for Tables in the Works Cited Page

The full citation of a table in the Works Cited page should include the author’s name, the title of the work where the table was found, the title of the table (if any), and publication details. For example:

Smith, John. The Economics of Agriculture. Table 2, “Yearly Sales Data,” HarperCollins, 2020, p. 45.

Citing Figures in MLA Style

Types of Figures

Figures include any visual representation of data or concepts, such as charts, graphs, images, and illustrations. Each type of figure has its unique way of contributing to your research, whether by clarifying complex data or providing visual interest.

Formatting Figures in Your Paper

Each figure should be numbered and titled, with the title placed below the figure. Ensure that the figure is clear and large enough to be easily read.

In-Text Citation for Figures

Refer to figures by their number in the text. For example,

“Figure 3 illustrates the upward trend in temperature over the last century.”

Full Citation for Figures in the Works Cited Page

The full citation for a figure should include the author’s name, title of the source, description of the figure, and publication details. For example:

Doe, Jane. Climate Change Patterns. Fig. 3, “Temperature Trends,” Random House, 2019, p. 67.

Creating Descriptive Captions

Importance of Detailed Captions

Captions provide context to the figures and tables, explaining their relevance and ensuring they are understood independently of the main text. A detailed caption enhances comprehension and adds value to the visual element.

Examples of Effective Captions

Effective captions are succinct yet informative. For example,

“Figure 1. Growth rate of plant species under different light conditions (Source: Plant Biology Journal, 2020).”

Integrating Captions with Citations

Captions should include the source of the figure or table. For instance,

“Table 4. Survey results of 2020 voting patterns (Data Source: National Election Survey, 2021).”

Using Figures and Tables Ethically

Always attribute the source of your figures and tables to avoid plagiarism. This includes any adaptations or modifications you make to the original work.

Also ensure that your figures and tables are accurate representations of the data. Misleading visuals can distort information and undermine your credibility.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Misplacing Citations

Ensure citations are placed correctly within your text and the Works Cited page. Misplaced citations can confuse readers and discredit your work.

Incomplete or Incorrect Citation Information

Double-check all citation information for completeness and accuracy. Missing details can make it difficult for readers to locate the original source.

Overuse of Tables and Figures

While tables and figures can enhance your paper, overuse can clutter your work. Use them judiciously to support your text without overwhelming it.

Using Citation Tools

Citation tools like WriterBuddy’s MLA Tables and Figures Citation can streamline the citation process. They help ensure accuracy but should be used with a critical eye to avoid errors.


How do I format a table in MLA style?

To format a table in MLA style, number the table, give it a clear, concise title above it, and ensure each column has a heading. Include explanatory notes below the table if necessary.

What information should be included in a full citation for a figure in MLA style?

A full citation for a figure should include the author’s name, title of the source, a description of the figure, and publication details, ensuring readers can locate the original source.

Why is it important to create descriptive captions for tables and figures?

Descriptive captions provide context, making visual elements understandable independently of the main text and enhancing the overall clarity and value of your research.

How can I avoid plagiarism when using tables and figures in my paper?

Avoid plagiarism by properly attributing the source of any tables or figures you use, ensuring that all visual data presented is accurate and clearly cited.


The MLA tables and figures citation process involves numbering visuals sequentially, providing descriptive captions, including source information for borrowed materials, and referencing them properly in the text. Following these guidelines helps readers locate and understand visual elements while properly attributing their sources.

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