AuthorAID Workshop
on Research Writing
March 2011
Tables and Figures:
Some Basic Advice
Ravi Murugesan, MS, ELS
Training Coordinator
[email protected]
The Big Picture
• IMRaD format in scientific papers
– Introduction, Materials and methods, Results, and
– You will learn more about these sections in the
coming days
• Where are tables and figures in IMRaD?
– Can be associated with any section
• Tables and figures are an established element
of scientific research papers
• Rule of thumb: Use tables to present data that is
detailed and that is important
• Tables are “expensive” in terms of space
requirements and formatting demands
• Consider using text instead of tables if data is:
– Not detailed: One or two sentences can be used to
describe the data
– Not important: The entire data does not need to be
presented; instead, a summary can be given in text
Rows and Columns
• Tables should be formatted so that they have
to be read horizontally (left to right) – the
natural reading style
– Not vertically (top to bottom)
• Arrange data in a table such that each row is
complete in itself, and the different rows can
be compared to each other
Checking Tables
• Units are given in the column headings for all columns
that require units
• Numerical data are presented accurately
– When dealing with large quantities, consider using
exponents in the column headings
• Table formatting meets journal requirements
– Usually only three horizontal lines (above and below the
column headings, below the table) and no vertical lines
• Footnotes, if used, are correctly linked to the
appropriate parts of the table
• The table is descriptive enough to be understandable
without the text
• Rule of thumb: Use figures to
– Show trends in data (as graphs)
– Present schematic diagrams, images,
photographs, and maps
Diagrams, Images, Photographs, Maps
• Clarity: Make sure that all the parts of the figure
are clear and legible at the figure size you have
• Completeness:
– Label the important parts of schematic diagrams
– Insert scale in images and maps
• Formatting: Check journal instructions
– Resolution of images/photographs (usually given in
– Size limitations
Figures: Graphs
• Tables or graphs?
– Use tables to present detailed, important data
– Use graphs to show trends in data
• Common data-presentation formats in figures:
– Column charts/bar charts
– Line charts
– Scatter plots
Checking Graphs
• X and Y axes have labels and units
• Minor axes are used appropriately to indicate
data points
• Space in the figure is properly used and there is
minimal white space
• If you use MS Excel to create a graph, don’t
assume that the default options will give you a
good graph
– You may have to tweak the settings to produce a
graph that is appropriate for your paper
• The graph does not look cluttered
Relating Tables and Figures to Text
• Do not restate all the information from
tables/figures in the text of the paper
– Tables/figures should not be used to highlight what
has already been said in the paper
• Refer to all the tables/figures in the text
– Point out the relevant part(s) of a table/figure when
referring to it
– Refer to tables/figures with their numbers (e.g., Table
1); do not refer to their location (like “in the table
A Final Point
• Journals often have specific, rigid guidelines
for tables and figures
• Read the instructions to authors before you
design your tables and figures
– Note: Some journals redraw figures to suit their
own format. However, even for these journals,
the submitted figures should be accurately, clearly,
and neatly prepared.
Discussion Question
• If you have data that could be presented in
either a table or a figure, how do you decide
which one to use?
A General Suggestion
• Look at tables and figures in journal articles
presenting research similar to yours
– In your target journal
– In other good journals
• Use these tables and figures as models when
designing your own tables and figures.
Sources of Further Information
• “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About
Making Tables and Figures,” Department of Biology,
Bates College,
• Writing and Publishing Scientific Papers, Part 2 (from
China Medical Board course), accessible at
Thank you!

Nepal-RM_01a-Tables and Figures-minus photos