Pro Tip Tuesday #1: You can’t control exactly where your images will go

Two of my goals for 2023 are to stop neglecting my blog and to do more to support scholars who are editing their own writing. To that end, I’m inaugurating PRO TIP TUESDAY, where I’ll provide quick weekly tips on copyediting, line editing, and manuscript preparation. If you’ve worked with me before and you recognize something I’ve said to you in a Word comment bubble, I assure you I’ve said it to others too!

When I get a book or article manuscript to edit, I often see that the author has put their figures, musical examples, or other images mid-paragraph, with line breaks before and after. The problem with this is that you can’t control exactly where your images will go, which means splitting up paragraphs only complicates things.

When your text is formatted for print publication, figures will be placed close to where you want them, but the exact position will depend on the typeset page layout. The author guidelines for the press or journal will instruct you to provide your figures and captions as separate files (not embedded into the Word document itself), with indications in the text for approximately where each one should go.

In earlier versions of your manuscript, of course, you might want to include the images in the document so they’re in front of you as you write and edit, and so anyone else who reads your drafts can see what you’re describing without having to flip back and forth to other files. But if you put them between paragraphs from the beginning, you’ll have an easier time reformatting to take out the images as you’re preparing to submit your final manuscript.

Another thing: Because you can’t specify the exact placement, you should also be careful about using directional words like “above” or “below” when you refer to figures in the text—the figure might end up on the other side!