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Images: Captions, Attribution, and Alt-Text

Published onNov 03, 2022
Images: Captions, Attribution, and Alt-Text

All images need three things:

  1. A caption that puts the image into context with the rest of the essay;

  2. An attribution statement that credits the creator or source of the image;

  3. Effective alt-text—language that describes the image for folks who use screen reader software.

Here’s how it’s done.

Images: Writing Effective Captions

A good caption tells the story of the image in just a single line. The effectiveness of a caption depends on the context and purpose of the image.

For example, consider how the same image might be given different captions depending on its context:

African American young people sharing a laugh while riding the subway

Young people, like these teenagers on the NYC subway in 1959, have relied on public transportation for decades. | flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restrictions.

In an essay on public transportation, the image might serve as an illustration of how young people use the subway.

Four African American young people seated on the NYC Metro

Poorly-funded public transit is a significant contributor to racial inequity in America’s cities. | flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restrictions.

In an essay on racial equity in cities, the caption should place the photo into a different context.

We did this one in class:

An advertisement depicting a 1937 Ford V-8 car. The car is elongated and has curvy features and white-walled tires.

Ford’s 1937 line was particularly problematic. | Image Source: “Announcing the new Ford V-8 cars for 1937”, LIFE Magazine Nov 23, 1936 in Google Books.

Images: Writing Attribution Statements

Captions should also contain an attribution statement that gives credit to the creator of the image and documents the source of the image for readers.

Attribution statements show you’re attempting to act in good faith and that you’re not claiming someone else’s work as your own.

To create a useful and complete attribution statement, you should try to include the following:

  • A title for the image (you might have to create this, or use generic language)

  • A link to the image source

  • The name of the creator of the version of the work you’re using. This might be an individual person, or it might be an organization.

  • A link to the creator’s profile or page (if available)

  • A copyright license statement (if applicable)

The attribution statement for the image above contains all of these elements:

flickr photo by The Library of Congress shared with no copyright restrictions.

Title & link to source

Creator and link to creator’s profile page

Copyright license statement

flickr photo

by The Library of Congress

shared with no copyright restrictions

Images: Writing Effective Alt-Text

Alt-text is short descriptive language that allows folks with vision impairments to engage with images in your chapter. Like captions, Alt-texts should be very brief, non-redundant, and tailored for the specific context. Don’t just reproduce the caption.

Some resources:

How-to: Adding Captions and Alt-Text in PubPub:

  1. After inserting an image into your Pub, click anywhere on the image to bring up the PubPub media tools.

  2. Enter the text of your caption in the Caption field. If necessary, you may use the rich text tools in the Caption field to add links, etc.

  3. Enter descriptive Alt-text for the image in the Alt-text field.

  4. Use the image alignment tools to position the image. In most cases, center-align or full width will be most appropriate. Please do left- or right-justify your images.

  5. Click on “Update” to save.

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