Creating tables and figures
Using technology to help you
Several proprietary software programs are available to help you create tables and figures. Some of the most common are shown in Table 11.1. Your department or your tutor is likely to have their own preferences for software programs they recommend for particular purposes.
Table 11.1 Some software programs commonly used for creating tables and figures
Your institution is likely to offer guidance notes and staffed or online courses to help you develop expertise in particular software programs. Most software has an accompanying instruction manual and many manufacturers’ websites offer tuition or advice in using their software. Independently published hardcopy books or ebooks exist for the most widely used software packages. For most software programs there is a flourishing online community that discusses particular problems and offers solutions.
Depending on your course (and mathematics-rich, computing, and art and design courses are possible exceptions) you are likely to submit written assignments with any tables or figures embedded in a word-processed document. Excel and Powerpoint software within the Microsoft Office suite can create image files that can be readily imported or pasted into a Microsoft Word document. Images can be saved in a variety of file formats, and some are more suited for specific purposes. Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files can contain so-called vector graphics, meaning that the shapes and lines are generated by algorithms that may allow the image to be readily enlarged without distortion or loss of quality. Photographs are more suited to saving as bitmap files, for which various formats exist (GIF, JPEG, PNG and TIFF). Each format has particular strengths and weaknesses (Table 11.2).
Whatever format a graphics file is saved in, two major considerations are the final file size of the document into which it is placed and the resolution (readability) of the final image. An original image, however generated, should be saved in its original file format, so that it can always be returned to should any subsequent manipulation cause problems. Large TIFF files can be reduced in size and saved in one of several formats that use less memory.
Whenever creating a table or image, bear in mind the final form in which it will appear in a printed document or other type of communication. You want to be sure that the image or text is readable. As a general rule of thumb, simple serif or sans serif fonts printed out at a size of 9 point or larger are likely to be readable on white paper. Images with a resolution of 300 dots per inch (dpi) will normally show good detail on paper, whereas for material presented online a resolution of 72 or 96 dpi may be acceptable.