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Diagram vs. Figure: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 8, 2024
A diagram is a simplified drawing showing the appearance, structure, or workings of something, while a figure is a general term for any illustrative representation, including diagrams.

Key Differences

A diagram is specifically designed to explain, simplify, or represent complex information or processes, often using symbols or abstract shapes. A figure, however, can be any type of illustration, ranging from graphs to photographs, used to supplement or explain content.
Diagrams are typically used in scientific, technical, and educational materials to clarify concepts or show relationships. Figures, in contrast, can be found in a wide range of contexts, including academic texts, reports, and artistic works, serving various illustrative purposes.
The purpose of a diagram is to convey information in a clear, visual format, focusing on the simplification and abstraction of data. A figure, on the other hand, might not only serve to inform but also to decorate, emphasize, or provide a visual break in the text.
Diagrams often require specific conventions or standards, such as in engineering or architecture, to accurately represent information. Figures, being more diverse, can include anything from simple sketches to complex photographic images, without such stringent standards.
In academic or professional writing, diagrams are frequently numbered and referred to in the text to explain specific points. Figures, being a broader category, encompass these diagrams but also include other forms of visual representations.

Comparison Chart


A simplified drawing explaining a concept
Any illustrative representation

Usage Context

Scientific, technical, educational
Broad, including academic and artistic contexts


To clarify, simplify, and represent information
To illustrate, decorate, or emphasize content


Often follows specific conventions
More diverse, no strict conventions


Flowcharts, circuit diagrams
Graphs, photographs, diagrams

Diagram and Figure Definitions


A graphical representation of data.
The sales report included a bar diagram of quarterly profits.


A numerical symbol or amount.
The report showed figures exceeding the initial estimates.


A symbolic representation of information.
The electrician used a wiring diagram to install the new lighting.


A person's form or shape.
The artist captured the figure's elegance in the sculpture.


A plan, sketch, or outline to show how something is made or works.
The architect drew a diagram of the building layout.


An illustration in a book or paper.
Figure 3 shows the trends over the past decade.


A drawing used to explain how something works.
The manual had a diagram to assemble the furniture.


A notable or well-known person.
She is a prominent figure in the field of neuroscience.


A simplified drawing showing a structure or system.
The biology textbook contained a diagram of the human circulatory system.


A representation of a human or animal form in art.
The ancient vase was adorned with figures of mythical creatures.


A plan, sketch, drawing, or outline designed to demonstrate or explain how something works or to clarify the relationship between the parts of a whole.


A written or printed symbol representing something other than a letter, especially a number.


(Mathematics) A graphic representation of an algebraic or geometric relationship.


Figures Mathematical calculations
Good at figures.


What is a diagram?

A diagram is a simplified drawing used to explain a concept or system.

What is the main purpose of a diagram?

To simplify and visually represent complex information.

Can a diagram be a figure?

Yes, a diagram can be a type of figure.

What is a figure?

A figure is any illustrative representation, including diagrams, in a text.

Can a figure be a photograph?

Yes, photographs can be considered figures.

Is a graph considered a diagram?

Yes, a graph is a type of diagram.

Do figures include textual representations?

No, figures are typically non-textual, visual representations.

Can a diagram show quantitative data?

Yes, diagrams like graphs can represent quantitative data.

Are figures important in research papers?

Yes, figures are crucial in research papers for illustrating key points.

Are figures always visual?

Yes, figures are visual representations, such as images or graphs.

Can figures be used in artistic contexts?

Yes, figures can be used in both artistic and academic contexts.

Are diagrams always technical?

Diagrams are often technical but can also be used in non-technical contexts.

Are all figures numbered in texts?

In academic and formal texts, figures are usually numbered for reference.

Do diagrams need labels?

Diagrams often require labels to clarify their components.

Do diagrams require specific skills to create?

Creating diagrams often requires understanding of specific conventions and skills.

Is it necessary to refer to diagrams in text?

In academic and professional writing, diagrams are usually referenced in the text.

Are diagrams used in instruction manuals?

Yes, diagrams are commonly used in manuals to explain assembly or operation.

Can a figure be purely decorative?

Yes, some figures may serve a decorative purpose.

Can figures help in understanding complex concepts?

Yes, figures can aid in visualizing and understanding complex ideas.

Can figures be misleading?

If not accurately represented, figures can potentially be misleading.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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