Citation Guide: American Psychological Association (APA)

Displaying Data

Results and data can be presented in a paper in two ways.  Authors can explain the results of an experiment or inquiry through text, or they can display the results in a table or figure.  When the results are in the form of data, it is often more efficient to display them in a table or figure.   The advantage of a table or figure is that a large amount of information can be displayed in a format that is easier to comprehend.  

Do not do both.  Do not explain the results in text and display a table or figure. If you use a table or figure, refer to it, discuss the highlights, but do not repeat all of the information again.

A table is used for numerical values or textual information, and is arranged in rows and columns.  A figure can be anything from a chart or graph to a photograph or drawing.

When using tables or figures in a paper, there are guidelines on how to label, number, and format them.  The information presented here is an overview, and for a more specific and detailed guide refer to the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual, chapter 5.

General Guidelines

Data can be presented for a variety of reasons, such as explanation, communication, calculation, storage, or visual enhancement.  The most common reason, however, is communication because a researcher usually wants to communicate the meaning of the data.  Here are some general rules to keep in mind:

  1. Number all tables and figures in the same order in which they are mentioned in text and refer to them by their number, not "the table above" or "the table on page two".  Use Arabic numerals, not letters.  If you have one table and one figure, they should be labeled Table 1 and Figure 1. If you include additional tables or figure in an appendix, they should be labeled with the letter of the appendix and an Arabic numeral: Figure B3 is the third figure in Appendix B.

  2. Labels should be placed next to the element that they are labeling.

  3. Use fonts that are large enough to read easily.

  4. All of the information needed to understand the table or figure should be included in the table or figure.  Use labels and table notes to accomplish this.

  5. Avoid unusual or non-standard abbreviations.

  6. Avoid decorative elements (such as shading, unusual font styles, colors, borders, etc.) if they do not add necessary content or meaning.

  7. Do not reproduce a table or figure from another source without written permission.  If you do reproduce a  table or figure, give credit in the caption to the author or copyright holder.  For more information on permission to reproduce data displays, see section 5.06 of the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual.


Most tables are created using the table feature of the word processing program in which the text is written. When putting a table together, consider what data is necessary for readers to understand the discussion, and what data is needed to provide a sufficient understanding of the analyses conducted.  For more information on data and what a "sufficient understanding" is, see section 4.44 of the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual. Finally, every table needs a title, and it should be clear and explanatory.  

Tables have several basic components: the table number, table title, table body, cells, column heads, stub head, stub column, and table notes. 


Table Number X

Table Title________________________________________

Stub Head        Column Head        Column Head      

x                             x                            x       

x                             x                            x

x                             x                            x

x                             x                            x

x                             x                            x


Table Note: Use this space for general notes on a table


The column to the farthest left in a table is the stub column. The stub column lists the major independent or predictor variables. A cell is the point of intersection between a row and a column, represented in the example table by an x.  The rows of cells, which contain data, comprise the table body.


Table 1

Temperature Ranges and Averages for Narnia, January through June____________________


Month                  Low Temperature           High Temperature         Average______________

January                        2                                     34                        16

February                      4                                      26                        14      

March                          12                                    41                        28

April                            19                                    52                        43

May                             34                                    68                        54

June______________   47    __________________75_____________61_______________

Totals______________19.6__________________49.3____________ 36_______________

Note: All temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.


Additional table elements are the column spanner, table spanner, decked heads, or different types of table notes.  A column spanner is a heading that identifies more than one column, vs. a column heading, which can only identify one column.  A table spanner is a heading that covers the entire table body. Decked heads are stacked headings, done to avoid word repetition.  In Table 2, the column spanner and the column headings are decked, allowing the column headings to use less words and have less space in-between the columns than in Table 1.  The column headings Low and High are better than Low Temperature and High Temperature, as in Table 1. It is better to have briefly worded column headings.  Try not to have more than two levels of decked heads. 


Table X

______________________________________  Table Title___________________________

                   Column spanner                                   _Column spanner__

Stub head        Column head        Column head                 Column head      Column head

                                                                    Table spanner

x                               x                         x                                  x                          x

x                               x                         x                                  x                          x

x                                x                        x                                  x                          x

x                                x                        x                                  x                          x

x                                x                        x                                  x                          x


Table Note. Use this space for general notes on a table
a Specific notes are denoted with a, b, c... in superscript. A specific note explains something about a cell or piece
    of data and should go below any general table notes.
          * Probability notes  (p value) are denoted with a * symbol, below any specific notes.


Table 2

Temperature Ranges and Averages for Narnia, January Through June, Years One and Two___


                              Temperature range__

Month                       Low            High         Average_______________________________

                                               Year one

January                        2              34                16

February                      4               26                14      

March                          12             41                28

April                            19             52                43

May                             34             68                54

June______________   47    _____75________  61________________________________


                                              Year two

January                        2              4                  3a

February                      3              25                10      

March                          8              41                18

April                            18            52                33

May                             29            68                48

June______________   45*    ____72_____ ___57_______________________________


Note: All temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.
a The White Witch is believed to have lowered temperatures for the month of January in Year two.
* Probability notes  (p value) are denoted with a * symbol, below any specific notes.

Headings always identify the information below them.  In the stub column, if there is subordinate information, indent within the column rather than creating a new column.

With all headings, only the first letter of the first word should be capitalized. Unless they are referring to a group, stub heads, column heads, and column spanners should be singular.  Table spanners, however, can be plural.

With cells, if there is no information you should either leave the cell empty or insert a dash.  Leave the cell empty if there is no information because the data are not applicable.  Insert a dash if there is no information because data were not gathered or reported.  Explain the dash in a general note underneath the table.

Table notes

Tables can have three kinds of table notes.  General notes, specific notes, or probability notes. A general note qualifies, explains, or gives information about the table as a whole.  A specific note refers to a column, row, or cell within the table.  A probability note refers to p values.  For more information about p values and probability notes, see section 5.16 of the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual.

For examples of different types of tables and their specific uses, refer to the examples in section 5.18 of the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual.  In section 5.19 there is a checklist for using tables.  It reminds authors to consider whether or not the table is necessary, if every column has a column head, if the table is referred to in text, etc.  


Figures can be a graph, chart, map, drawing, or photograph. A chart displays non-quantitative information whereas a graph usually shows the relationship between two quantitative indices.  A chart may show the flow of something through a process, for example, and a graph may show the relationship between temperatures during the summer and the number of homicides.

Figures need to be easy to read, clear, and free from unnecessary detail.  Figures should add to the information in the text, not duplicate it, and they should not have unnecessary information.  They should use an easy to read font that is not too small.

When deciding on whether or not use a figure, keep the information value in mind.  What information does the figure convey? Is there a better way to convey that information, or is a figure the best way?   As with tables, figures should be understandable on their own.  Because of this, label figures clearly and concisely.  If necessary, use a legend to explain the figure. 

A caption is used to explain a figure, whereas a legend is used to explain symbols that are used within the figure.  Captions should be positioned below a figure, but legends should be placed within the figure.  Use the caption as a title for the figure, keeping it brief and concise.  If necessary, add information after the caption (usually a short phrase punctuated with a period) to explain the figure. Do not explain the figure in the text of the paper.  Readers should be able to understand the figure fully based on the figure alone.

For more information on figures and how to present them, including examples of figures, refer to sections 5.20 through 5.25 of the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual.

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