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I see it quite a lot. It looks a bit like this:

It can be seen in Figure 3 that...

My gut feeling is that there is no reason to scream in the middle of a perfectly calm sentence. I would like to write it like:

It can be seen in figure 3 that...

However it seem to be very common. Which one is the recommended way of writing, and more importantly what are the reason(s) for using a capital letter there?

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I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a grammar question. – hildred Feb 20 '15 at 4:35
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Figure 3 is recommended, and it's pretty much in line with every style book I've consulted (Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, O'Reilly, etc.).

From a logical point of view, I completely agree with you. However, the standard convention of Figure 3 makes perfect sense, because Figure 3 is . . . well, Figure 3. It's an element of the article, book, etc. that deserves its own capitalization. Think of it as another chapter (to which you would refer with uppercase spelling) or heading.

O'Reilly Default Stylesheet: http://oreilly.com/oreilly/author/stylesheet.html

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Where does the Chicago manual of the style say that "Figure 3" is recommended? As Amanda points out below, section 3.9 in the manual seems to suggest figure 3. As does section 9.27. – Pramod Jan 15 at 9:45

There's no right or wrong on this; it depends on which style manual you're following. (And if you're not restricted to one style manual, you can do what you like, as long as you're consistent.) For example, Chicago (3.9) recommends lowercase, while APA (4.17) recommends uppercase. I don't think one capital letter = a scream. People probably capitalize it because they're used to capitalizing names and it is similar to a name.

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If the figures are labeled "Figure 3", you would refer to them so in the text. Similarly for "Fig. 3".

When the label is only "3", refer to it as "figure 3", using lowercase.

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I know this is an old article; however, I came across this and wanted to add something. While it may seem illogical or that there isn't a right or wrong answer, you must remember the focus is to make the document grammatically correct. Your question can best be answered by revisiting the basic definition of a proper noun. While we would say "figure(s)" is a common noun, you are speaking of "Figure 3". Since this is a single occurrence, it would be considered a proper noun.

Another example would be to think of how proper nouns are applied to seasons of the year. If you are speaking of the season generally, you would say something like the following.

I enjoy going to be during the summer.

However, you may want to talk about a specific season that had an event worth noting. In this case, there would be only one and it would be used as a proper noun.

During the Winter of 1988, we had a horrible snow storm that caused the entire city to lose power for an entire month.

I hope this provide clarity for those seeking the correct usage, as there is a right or wrong answer here.

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1) I enjoy doing what during the summer? 2) No, you wouldn't capitalize "the Winter of 1988," because "winter" still isn't a proper name. "World War II" is a proper name; "We protested the war" isn't. You might say "the Blizzard of 1988," because there may or may not be a blizzard in a given year, but every year has a winter. Seasons are always generic. – Lauren Ipsum Feb 19 '15 at 17:30

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