Figures - Do you add useful text captions to images and videos?

Last updated by Alex Rothwell [SSW] 5 months ago.See history

When you add an image to a website or application, it is so useful to add a figure underneath it to describe your image.

It's the best way of ensuring you catch users' attention to the content of your page. When you're scanning a newspaper for interesting articles, you'll check out the pictures, read the accompanying description, and if it sounds interesting you'll go back and read the article.

Users read websites in a similar fashion. Catch their attention with an image, and then keep it with a useful description. Don't just describe what the image is; say what it's used for in the context of the document.

good caption
Figure: Good example - Some nice useful and concise text describing the image

It is especially important that images and captions serve a purpose, as opposed to graphics which are there solely for design.

Tip #1: Use prefixes

Prefix your caption with "Figure: ", "Video: ", or "Code: ".

If it is a good/ok/bad example (see the next tip), then the prefix should be something like: "Figure: Good/Bad/OK example - ", "Video: Good/Bad/OK example - ", or "Code: Good/Bad/OK example - ".

Note: The first word after the dash should be capitalized, and the caption should not include a full stop at the end.

E.g. Figure: Good example - This is a caption

Tip #2: Give bad and good examples

When possible, use "bad" and "good" examples to clearly explain Dos and don'ts.

At SSW we always show the bad example first, then the good example. You will see samples of this in the next tips below.

Tip #3: Bold your captions


Figure: Bad example - Caption not bolded can be mixed up with regular content


Figure: Good example - Caption stands out when bolded

Tip #4: Describe the actions in your captions

Especially for screenshots, it is a good idea to have your figure describe the action the user would take:

Figure: This is the screen

Figure: Bad example - Vague caption description

Figure: On the screen, choose the execution method

Figure: Good example - Clear caption description

Tip #5: Add the titles + length on video captions

When embedding videos from others, include a caption with the video title + video length in brackets.

You should also prefix with "Video: [Title] " instead of "Figure: ".

This helps:

  • Giving a brief text summary of the video
  • Getting some extra Google Juice
  • Letting users know what to expect in terms of time required to watch
  • Serving as a reminder in case that video ever gets removed by its owner

Note: The exception is for promotional videos where the caption may undesirably impact the look and feel of your page.
If you don't include the video title in the caption, include it above the video as a comment so it's preserved.

When you have someone's name in your caption, link their name to their profiles (e.g. SSW People).

Figure: In this video, Bob talks about Outlook

Figure: Bad example - Using "Figure:" for a video caption + a vague text + no link

Video: How to search on Outlook by Bob (2 min)

Figure: Good example - Using "Video: [Title]" as the video caption + link + video length at the end

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