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June 22, 2016

Navigating Copyright: How to Cite Sources in a Table

David Becker



By David Becker

Dear Style Experts,

I am creating a table that presents information from multiple sources, and I can't figure out how to cite these sources within the table. What should I do?

—Vera K.

Dear Vera,

How you cite your sources depends on the context. If you are reproducing or adapting an existing table, you will need to seek permission and cite the source in a credit line beneath the table. Note that this credit line can identify particular sets of data in your table (e.g., “The data in column 1 are from…”). Thus, if you are adapting material from multiple sources—that is, extracting rows or columns from previously published tables and integrating them into a single table—you might need to include multiple permission statements, one for each source.

Tables

If you are simply pulling data from multiple sources, rather than repurposing columns or rows from preexisting tables (the data are not subject to copyright, but their presentation is), then it may be appropriate to just include standard author–date text citations within the table. This type of table is often used to summarize the results of multiple studies, which makes it easier for readers to digest the information, and is commonly used in meta-analyses. Below is a sample table in which each row represents a different study:

Table 1

Summary of Studies Included in Meta-Analysis on the Effectiveness of Rocking Out Like No One’s Watching (ROLNOW)

Study

N

Cohen’s d

SD

Atashin (2013)

384

0.86

0.63

Dumile & Jackson (2015)

176

1.21

0.95

Garcia, Homme, Oliveri, & Bjork (2014)

231

0.72

0.64

Iyer, Lehman, & Sorey (2014)

406

1.14

0.97

Onuki, Agata, & Hamamoto (2014)

127

0.63

0.41

Although studies are usually cited in the first column of a summary table, I’ve come across tables that list the citations in one of the middle columns or across the first row. Some tables might include multiple citations in a single column or row if these studies share similar features. How you choose to organize the contents of your table will depend on context and how you want readers to process the information.

It’s worth noting that the order of the rows in Table 1 reflects the alphabetical order of the citations as they would appear in the reference list. Even though APA Style does not address this directly, organizing the rows or columns of a table in this manner is a standard convention for summary tables. It also follows the general APA Style guideline about alphabetizing multiple sources within the same parenthetical citation to match how they are ordered in the reference list (see pp. 177—178 in the Publication Manual). If it makes more sense to organize the rows and columns in your table using a different standard—again, depending on the context—feel free to do so. Just make sure that readers can easily follow the flow of information!

In some cases, you may not want to devote an entire row or column to citing resources. Or, perhaps your citations apply to just a few cells or particular pieces of data. If so, it may be appropriate to cite your sources, using the author–date format, in one of two ways. First, you could include parenthetical citations within the table itself next to the relevant information, just as you would do with a standard text citation. Another approach would be to cite your sources below the table in a general note—as demonstrated in the Table 1 note from Sample Paper 1 on page 52 of the Publication Manual—or in multiple specific notes that connect your citations to particular cells via superscript, lowercase letters (see pp. 138–139 in the Publication Manual for more details). This latter method can be handy if one source applies to more than one cell and is used in the example table below, but parenthetical citations within the cells would be equally acceptable.

Table 2

Sample Responses to the ROLNOW Survey

Variable

Question

Sample responses

Coolness

How cool did you feel?

“Cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.”a

“Not at all cool. I actually felt kind of dorky.”b

Motivation/energy

How motivated and energized did you feel?

“I felt ready to take on the world!”c

“Not very. I almost fell asleep!”b

Happiness

How happy were you?

“I was completely elated and filled with positive thoughts!”d

“I was pretty happy, but I don’t think rocking out had anything to do with it.”a

Attractiveness

How physically attractive did you feel?

“I felt pretty, oh so pretty!”e

“I was a gyrating mess of flailing limbs, so I probably didn’t look all that attractive.”c

aDumile and Jackson (2015, p. 31). bIyer, Lehman, and Sorey (2014, p. 79). cOnuki, Agata, and Hamamoto (2014, p. 101). dGarcia, Homme, Oliveri, and Bjork (2014, p. 47). eAtashin (2013, p. 56).

You may have noticed a few differences between the citations in Tables 1 and 2. One is that the Table 2 notes—unlike the rows in Table 1—are not alphabetized. Specific notes are organized according to where the superscripts appear in the table, following the left-to-right and top-to-bottom order described on page 138 in the Publication Manual. Another difference is that Table 1 includes ampersands, whereas Table 2 spells out and. Although and is usually written instead of & when the authors are listed before the parenthetical citation, page 175 in the Publication Manual states that ampersands should be used within the body of the table (and should still be used outside of parentheses in table notes, as shown in the Table 1 note from Sample Paper 1). This helps save space because two fewer characters can sometimes make all the difference in such tight quarters. Finally, direct quotations are presented in Table 2, so the citations in the table note include page numbers. However, you do not need to include page numbers when citing numerical data, as in Table 1.

The example tables in this post offer a very limited scope when considering the many different types of tables that can be found in the wilds of academic publishing—and they are admittedly a tad sillier than is typical. However, the general citation guidelines they present can be easily adapted to just about any kind of table you might need to create. To find example tables that are more relevant to your needs, I recommend combing through journals that follow APA Style.

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