Tables are used to organise and display information in columns and rows. They can condense a lot of information into a small space and present it in a meaningful way.

Quantitative data expressed as numbers in a table can show information that is too complex to describe in the text. Qualitative data expressed in text tables is arranged into categories; text tables are often used to present material that would be clumsy or repetitive in the text.

Two things to remember when creating or editing tables are:

  • information in the text should not be repeated in a table. If information is more easily represented in a table, remove it from the text (and vice versa); however, the text can be used to highlight particular messages from the table (see Use the text to point to the key messages)
  • do not make lists into tables – tables should be used to compare information in some way and the information should need to be in a grid. If you have information in only 1 or 2 columns in a table, it may be better presented as a list.
Did you know? Tables have been used for thousands of years to display information, dating back as far as ancient Egypt – in a carving found in the offering niche of the Lady Sat-tety-lyn, Sixth Dynasty, hieroglyphs are carved in a mathematical grid (Meggs & Purvis 2011).

Choosing between a table and a graph

Tables are an ideal way to organise information and allow readers to find precise values. They can also be effective for showing simple comparisons and small distributions of data. However, tables are unable to show holistic relationships such as trends, change and other patterns over time, or across a large number of categories or groups. If these aspects are an important part of your story, consider using a graph.

Use a table if:

  • readers need to be able to look up individual values
  • readers need to compare individual values
  • precision in values is necessary
  • quantitative information involving more than 1 unit of measure needs to be communicated.

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