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A floating block in writing and publishing is any graphic, text, table, or other representation that is unaligned from the main flow of text. Use of floating blocks to present pictures and tables is a typical feature of academic writing and technical writing, including scientific articles and books. Floating blocks are normally labeled with a caption or title that describes its contents and a number that is used to refer to the figure from the main text. A common system divides floating block into two separately numbered series, labeled figure (for pictures, diagrams, plots, etc.) and table. An alternative name for figure is image or graphic.
Floating blocks are said to be floating because they are not fixed in position on the page at the place, but rather drift to the side of the page. By placing pictures or other large items on the sides of pages rather than embedding them in the middle of the main flow of text, typesetting is more flexible and interruption to the flow of the narrative is avoided.
For example, an article on geography might have "Figure 1: Map of the world", "Figure 2: Map of Europe", "Table 1: Population of continents", "Table 2: Population of European countries", and so on. Some books will have a table of figures—in addition to the table of contents—that lists centrally all the figures appearing in the work.
Other kinds of floating blocks may be differentiated as well, for example:
- Sidebar : For digressions from the main narrative. For example, a technical manual on usage of a product might include examples of how various people have employed the product in their work in sidebars. Also called an intermezzo. See sidebar (publishing).
- Program : Articles and books on computer programming often place code and algorithms in a figure.
- Equation : Writing on mathematics may place large blocks of mathematical notation in numbered blocks set apart from the main text.
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