Designing Documents: Using Tables

Commonly Asked Questions

If you aren't accustomed to working with tables, you may feel uncertain about how to incorporate tables into your writing. A good place to learn about tables is in journals and other publications. You should also investigate the style guides used in your field. Many organizations produce these guides to help you properly include tables into your documents. To read answers to some common questions, choose any of the items below:

Should tables replace text?

It's typically easier to look at a Table than to read through numerical data listed in paragraphs. This does not mean, however, that Tables should replace text. You should not simply say, "The data can be seen in Tables 1 through 9." Instead, the primary role of a Table isn't to replace, but rather to enhance your narrative.

How are tables and text related?

The role of a Table is to reinforce your data and to make the data easier to understand. Stating information in words gives readers the general idea, but seeing it in a Table form makes it clearer. At the same time, the information you convey in your text also supports your Table. Don’t just write that the data can be seen in the Table. Tell your readers what the Table depicts.

How many tables should I use?

Generally, having more rather than fewer Tables is desirable. However, if the Tables aren’t adding anything, don’t put them in, but you can always find opportunities where Tables will help. Remember, you can always place less important Tables in an Appendix.

Where should tables appear in the text?

Ideally, Tables should appear on the same page, immediately following or adjacent to the first instance when you mention the table in your text. When you write, "See Table One," your readers should be able to easily locate the Table. Also, your readers will appreciate not having to turn pages and hunt for a table. Advances in word processing and desktop publishing software make it relatively easy to insert Tables within the text itself. If it isn't possible to fit a Table onto the page immediately following or adjacent to its first mention in the text, then you should place the Table on the next page.

What should tables look like?

Tables should be clear and captions should be large enough to be read. Many readers prefer that bold symbols be used to represent data. Also, all lettering and numbering should be large enough to easily read and you should use a mix of bold and lighter lines.

How large should tables be?

Unless they are extremely complex, tables should not take up an entire page. They should be of a size that allows them to be inserted on the page where the table is first mentioned. However, they should not be so small that they are difficult to read.

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