9.3 Tables and figures - 9 Academic and scientific conventions

Academic Writing for International Students of Science - Jane Bottomley 2015

9.3 Tables and figures
9 Academic and scientific conventions

Tables and figures are a useful way of presenting information in an accessible way. When including them, it is important to follow established conventions.

Explorative Task

1) What do you notice about the way these tables and figures are labelled?

Text A: Diagram

Figure 3.1 Illustration of a C60 molecule

C60 is a spherical molecule consisting of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a soccer ball shape as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 9.1

(Kuno, 2012: 30. Reprinted with the kind permission of Garland Science/Taylor and Francis LLC).

Text B: Bar Chart

Figure 6.11 An illustration of the changes in deaths caused by infectious diseases over a century in the United States.

Health departments at the local and state levels require that doctors and hospitals report certain diseases. This type of information has been able to show how the effects of infectious diseases have changed over the years (Figure 6.11).

Figure 9.2

(Strelkauska et al., 2010: 111. Reprinted with the kind permission of Garland Science/Taylor and Francis LLC)

Text C: Pie Chart

Figure 7.4 Global injury mortality by cause, 2002. Source: WHO, 2004, Fig. 2.1, p.34.

Worldwide, but especially in the developing world, injury and/or accidents are a very important, varied and growing cause of mortality and long-term disability (Figure 7.4).

Figure 9.3

(McCracken and Phillips, 2012: 175. Reprinted with the kind permission of the World Health Organisation)

Text D: Line Graph

Fig. 62.3 Global surface air temperatures since 1850 Temperature anomaly = difference from 1961-90 mean) (Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, 2009).

Global temperatures are increasing rapidly at a seemingly unprecedented rate (Fig. 62.3), but it is worth noting that changes in global temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are nothing new.

Figure 9.4

(Domone and Illston, 2010: 536. Reprinted with the kind permission of the Climatic Research Unit)

Text E: Table

Table 52.4 Average green moisture content of the sapwood and heartwood

The degree of variation is illustrated for a number of softwoods and hardwoods in Table 52.4.

Figure 9.5

(Domone and Illston, 2010: 425)

Text F: Table

Table 9.1 Characteristics of Gram-Positive and Gram-Negative Bacteria

The difference between the Gram-positive cell wall and the Gram-negative cell wall is significant. Table 9.1 compares the two types of cell wall.

Figure 9.6

(Strelkauska et al., 2010: 160. Reprinted with the kind permission of Garland Science/Taylor and Francis LLC)

Tables are labelled at the top; figures are labelled at the bottom.

Note the different types of figure (diagram, bar chart, pie chart, line graph) common in scientific texts. You may also need to make use of other types such as flow charts, and chemical drawings and schemes.

As you can see from the examples, there is some acceptable variation across texts regarding how titles, table headings and figure labels are formatted, though it is common to write table and figure in bold.

The important thing is to follow any guidelines you have been given and to be clear and consistent.

If the table or figure is taken from another source, it must be referenced using the appropriate system (see Texts C and D).

2) What expressions in the accompanying texts are used to refer directly to the tables and figures?

Practice (i)

Use the words below in the right form to complete the following phrases commonly used to refer to tables and figures:

show; illustrate; list; see; compare; demonstrate

1) The changes in temperature are _________________ in Table 3.8.

2) Figure 3 ______________ the different shapes of brick available.

3) The results of the experiment can be ____________________ in Table 2.

4) The graph ________________ data obtained from four donors.

5) One of the symptoms is a rash, as ____________________ in Figure 10.2.

6) Table 2 _______________ the major differences between the two cell types.

Practice (ii)

1) Complete the text accompanying the graph with the following verbs in the correct form: double; decline

Fig. 62.5 World and UK steel production (World Steel Association, 2009).

World steel production nearly _____ between the mid-1990s and 2008 (Fig. 62.5), and is expected to double again by 2050, with some fluctuations due to the global economic conditions (World Steel Association, 2009). Production in the UK _____ by about 40% in the same period.

Figure 9.6

(Domone and Illston, 2010: 541. Reprinted with the kind permission of the World Steel Association)

2) Use the structures from the tables to write more sentences about the graph in 1.

world/UK steel production



rose/fell (by)

increased/decreased (by)

went up/down (by)



levelled off






between x and y in the same period

there was









In world/

UK steel


between x and y

in the same period

1) ______________________________________

2) ______________________________________

3) ______________________________________

4) ______________________________________

5) ______________________________________