Using tables - Words and images

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Using tables
Words and images

Tables are usually used to compare and contrast numerical data (Table 8.1) although they can be used to compare discrete categories of written information (Table 8.2). A table is normally referred to in text nearby, as in the previous sentence.

In a written report, tables are usually used in the main body of the report to present summarised or processed data. If you need to present raw data to convince your assessor that you have carried out an experimental investigation appropriately, then such data can be placed in an appendix.

If you wish to reveal a clear pattern or trend in data, this is normally best done using a graph or chart rather than a table.


*Parts per thousand. Dissolved solid (in grams) per 1,000 grams of seawater.

Refer to Tables 8.1 and 8.2 as you examine the various conventions used in constructing tables:

✵If your document contains more than one table, assign each table a number in consecutive order and place the number before the title.

✵The title is placed at the top and should clearly and concisely describe what the table contains.

✵Plan the table so that it has an appropriate number of columns and rows to fit on the page (if it will not fit in portrait format, use landscape format).

✵Typically, each column and each row has a brief heading. The heading may contain units and/or abbreviations that do not need to be explained if they are likely to be familiar to the reader. If they are not familiar, or additional clarification is needed, further information can be given as footnotes beneath the table (see Tables 8.1 and 8.2).

✵Columns and rows are arranged in a logical order. For example, in Table 8.1 the entries in rows are placed in order of decreasing size of ocean.

✵Data in a column should be aligned consistently. Words are normally centred or aligned left. Numbers are typically centred or aligned right, with decimal points aligned.

✵If the data or information in a table is not your own, the source should be cited (after the title or in a footnote just below the table).


Improving a table

Below is a table using data from page 37 of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s 2016 Review of Maritime Transport. Suggest three ways in which Table 8.3 could be improved.


Compare your answers with those at the end of the chapter.