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November 12, 2009

Table Tips

Daisies by Stefanie

Tables are a terrific way to share, compare, and contrast data. Strongholds of information, display cases for results, tables are a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to reporting important methods or findings of your work.

APA Style can help you create clean and clear tables. An unbreakable rule in table formatting is to make it as easy as possible for readers to understand at a glance the nature of the information you are presenting. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when starting your table:

  1. In general, use 12-point type, double-spacing, and 1-inch margins. If these specifications need to be adjusted for clarity, for example, to keep the table on one page, then do so rather than forcing readers to flip back and forth to a new page for a single column or the final two rows of data. However, if small adjustments do not work, do not be afraid to use extra pages for extra data. Single-spaced six-point type is not reader friendly.
  2. Portrait or landscape orientation is fine—use what is appropriate for your presentation.
  3. Label every row and column, even if what is in that row or column seems obvious or the label is repeated in the table title. Do not forget a heading for the stub (first) column!
  4. Position table entries that are to be compared next to each other.
  5. Consider how the order in which you present data conveys your meaning. For example, if you are creating a table to report the results of the battery of tests you gave your participants, will you present the test results in the order in which you gave the tests to show the progress, if any, the participants made from test to test, or will you present the test results in the order of highest average score to lowest average score to show which tests were more effective at isolating the variable you were testing?
  6. In general, different indices should be put in separate parts or lines of tables, even means and standard deviations when possible.
  7. Keep tables lean. That is, include only essential data in your table. A cluttered table does not convey as much as a streamlined one does, despite its extra bulk.
  8. Ensure that your table can be understood apart from the text. Define every abbreviation and explain any quirks in the table note, not the narrative.

Once you have finished your table, where it goes in the manuscript depends on what sort of manuscript you have written. If you have completed an article to be submitted for publication, put the table at the end after the references and author note but before the figures, and make sure the table is mentioned at least once in the text (so the editors and reviewers know when to look for it). If you have written a dissertation or report for class, check with your dissertation committee or professor. Many educators prefer to have tables placed in text at approximately the place the tables are mentioned, and they certainly get the final say on table placement when they are doing the grading!

More information is available on pages 127–150 of Chapter 5 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition.

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