Writing a journal article

Tables

Tables are an effective means to summarise summary information, both numerical and otherwise. When you prepare a table, also consider the alternative – figures. Figures tend to take up more space for the same information, but some patterns can be summarized much more effectively in pictures than in a table. But especially when the data you are trying to visualize is quite simple, tables are sometimes almost quite as good as figures, but take up a lot less space.

Once you have decided a table is what you want, think about how to present your information within the table.

Most journals will allow multiple nested column names, but otherwise, note that the formatting in published tables is usually pretty minimal. So, while in your word processor you can use different types of highlighting or colours, this is not the case in most journals. The best is to format your table using only horizontal lines (like in published tables) – and then make sure the information is clearly understandable.

Keep in mind the size of your tables. While you can fit a lot into a table in your word processor, journals typically have less space – so make your tables as small as possible. Also, you might want to think about how many columns the table should take up. Journals tend to arrange their text in one, two or three columns. If you write for a two-column journal, it makes sense to come up with a table format that either takes up one column in width, or two columns in width.

Finally, tables need to have informative legends. Good legends are often quite long. Try to write legends, which (together with the table) can pretty much stand alone. Legends that are very short often contain too little information. Especially for somebody who reads your paper quickly, it is very useful if your legend contains quite a lot of information. Note that table legends go above the tables (unlike figure legends).

See other entries for VISUAL ITEMS AND EXTRA INFORMATION.

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