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Why do people include "Lists of Figures" and "Lists of Tables" in their theses/books? (as generated by \listoffigures, \listoftables, etc.)

Besides the obvious reason that they take up space and hence make theses look longer.

http://www.mhhe.com/mayfieldpub/tsw/fig-list.htm claims that these help readers locate visuals. But then shouldn't the list, be a list of thumbnails rather than five word summaries?

This is only superficially related to TeX, but I feel like TeX contributes to the propagation of these sections because TeX makes it so easy to create them.

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closed as not constructive by egreg, Jubobs, Gonzalo Medina, Kurt, Werner Mar 29 '13 at 3:59

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I don't think anyone uses those to make their thesis longer. A very common requirement is that the Table of Content and Lists of <insert type> are not within the "numbered" pages and thus don't really count. (they typically have roman numeral page numbers along with the abstract and acknowledgements) If you write your captions properly, a list of figure does help finding information easier. Especially on second reads when you're looking for something specific (say performance comparison on a specific problem) – Lexiel Mar 29 '13 at 0:43
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) says about lists:

1.44 Is a list needed?

In a book with either very few or very many illustrations or tables, all tied closely to the text, it is not essential to list them in the front matter. Multiauthor books, proceedings of symposia, and the like commonly do not carry lists of illustrations or tables...

12.52 When to include a list

Not every illustrated work requires a list of illustrations. A journal issue rarely uses one. The criterion is whether the illustrations are of intrinsic interest apart from the text they illustrate. The illustrations in this manual, for example, do not fit that criterion. But a book on Roman architecture, illustrated by photographs of ancient buildings, would benefit from a list. A list of illustrations may occasionally double as a list of credits if these do not appear with the illustrations themselves...

I agree with this: the criterion is whether the illustrations (or tables) are of intrinsic interest apart from the text; if they meet the criterion, lists might be of invaluable help; otherwise, they can be superfluous.

Regarding theses, lists of tables and illustrations are often a required mandatory item, even if there is no real need for them, but it is well known that some universities are not precisely known for their good typographical practices when it comes to theses.

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Epic understatement, your last paragraph. Should be set in bronze... – vonbrand Mar 29 '13 at 2:06

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