Main conventions for tables

A table consists broadly of:

  • data components – categories and values
  • complementary components that are relevant to the usefulness of the table, including table name, notes and sources
  • supporting components – structural or design elements that highlight or organise the data, such as white space and page breaks, rules and grids, and shading.

Parts of a table (shown below) include:

  • table name/title
  • header rows
  • column headings and cluster column headings
  • data cells
  • stub
  • body rows, totals and subtotals
  • notes and sources, and note indicators
  • alternative text for accessibility (if published online).

Parts of a table

This section covers:

General principles for tables


  • Tables should be standalone – that is, they should be able to be read and understood without having to read the surrounding text. For this reason, all abbreviations should be either written out in full in the table or defined in a table note below the table, even if they have already been defined in the text.
  • Avoid clutter by rounding numbers, where possible (2 or 3 significant figures are usually enough), but make sure this retains the important elements of the numbers. State units in the column headings rather than the data cells.
  • Table titles are placed above the table and should describe the content of the table (see Table name or title).
  • Definitions of units, abbreviations and symbols that are used in the table are placed below the table (see Definitions, notes and sources).
  • The source of the information in the table is placed below the table after the definitions and notes (see Definitions, notes and sources)

Link to text

  • All tables should be referred to in the text, and the table should be placed as early as possible after its in-text mention.
  • It is good practice to use the text to highlight key messages from the table and then point to it with an in-text reference, rather than just announcing the table (see Use the text to point to the key messages).


  • Tables should be as simple as possible and fit comfortably on a page (see Functional design for tables). Tables with a narrow amount of content should not be unduly stretched to fill the page width because the resulting excessive space between columns can make it difficult to read across a row. Rather, the width of the columns should comfortably fit the content.
  • If the table extends over more than 1 page, the column headers and current row headers should be repeated at the top of the new page. The part of the table title that provides the number of the table should also be repeated; the descriptive part of the title can be either repeated or replaced with continued (eg Table 2.1 Livestock numbers in Australia, 2015 or Table 2.1 continued). Indicate at the bottom of each page of the table (except for the last one) that it continues beyond the current page.
  • Fonts should be as legible as possible, and the same font should be used throughout. Text must be large enough and spaced widely enough (not too small or condensed) to be comfortable to read. All text should be horizontal, where possible.
  • Common elements (eg typography, borders, colours, line styles, spacing) should be standardised across similar tables in a document, to make the document more consistent and cohesive.
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Table name or title

The following principles are recommended:

  • Number tables consecutively within the document (eg Table 1, Table 2, Table 3), or by section or chapter (eg Table 2.1, Table 2.2, Table 4.1, Table B5). Numbering by section is useful because changes in one section will not affect table numbering in another section. This is especially important in long documents or those that have many tables.
  • Place the title as its own paragraph above the table (not as the first row of the table).
  • Use a title that describes the table content, including where the data were collected and the period that the data cover, if appropriate:

Table 3     Greenhouse gas emissions, Melbourne, 2009–13

  • Use minimal capitalisation (only capitalise the first letter of the first word of the title and proper nouns).
  • Use minimal punctuation to keep table titles clean and uncluttered: follow table numbers with a tab, not a colon, and do not place a full stop at the end. Using a tab also helps align the names properly in an automatically generated contents list of tables:

Table 1.1     Laboratory test results, July 2012 – June 2013
Table 1.1: Laboratory test results, July 2012 – June 2013.

  • Spell out abbreviations in full in the title, wherever possible. Put any necessary detail in explanatory table notes. The title should not cover more than 2 lines (preferably 1 line).
  • For a series of tables, give the same information in the same order.
  • For a table that continues beyond a single page, repeat the table number and either the descriptive part of the table name or continued at the top of each subsequent page:

Table 3     Greenhouse gas emissions, Melbourne, 2009–13 continued
Table 3     continued

  • For a narrow table, wrap the title to run over multiple lines rather than allowing it to extend beyond the right-hand edge of the table.
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Body of the table

The following principles are recommended, illustrated in the table below.


  • Make sure that every table cell has information in it. For example, you could use na for not applicable or not available (define these in abbreviation notes under the table). Use 0 for a zero result only – do not use 0 for missing data. Some readers will also be used to seeing en dashes (–) for missing values. Consider whether this is appropriate for your particular readers. Also be aware that some assistive technologies may not be able to interpret en dashes.
  • Each data category or subcategory should have its own column or row.
  • Set column widths to comfortably accommodate their contents. Allow enough width for text cells to avoid long, narrow blocks of text. Standardise the amount of space between columns. Avoid stretching a table to fit the page width. For a series of similar tables, keep column widths consistent.
  • Copyedit and proofread tables so that they are consistent with the rest of the document. Check that totals and subtotals are correct.
  • Define any abbreviations or symbols used under the table.


  • Align all cell contents to the top of the cell, apart from column headings, which should be bottom-aligned.
  • Left-align the column heading and text in the left-hand column (the stub). Centre-align column headings for columns of numerical data, and left-align headings for columns of text data.
  • Left-align columns of text.


  • Use tabular lining or monospacing for all numbers – this is where each numeric character sits on the baseline, and occupies the same amount of horizontal and vertical space. This keeps numbers evenly spaced and vertically aligned.
  • Use the same style for spacing and punctuation within numbers as in the rest of the document. A comma in 4-digit numbers is preferred (eg 2,000, 10,000) so that large numbers align in the column.
  • Align all numbers in a column on the decimal point (even if the decimal point is not actually present) and round to the same number of significant figures or decimal places.
  • Centre columns of numbers under the headings – that is, make sure that the column of figures (which is aligned on the decimal point) has roughly equal amounts of space on the left and the right within the column.


  • In a text table, it is often unnecessary to use a full stop at the end of each entry, even if the entry is a full sentence.
  • Do not use more than 2 levels of text hierarchy.
  • Indicate explanatory table notes using superscript lower-case letters within the table, in alphabetical order from left to right and top to bottom. There is no need to put a space before the superscript letters, but ensure that they are clearly visible in the table. In large tables with a large amount of text, this may involve increasing the font size of the superscript and making it bold.

Table body cells

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Definitions, notes and sources

There are 4 main types of notes that may need to be used at the bottom of a table, illustrated in the table below:

  • Definitions of acronyms used in the table or table title. The first line of table notes should be any acronyms or abbreviations used in the table, listed alphabetically. Only include abbreviations for units of measurement if they are unusual or if your audience might not be familiar with them (eg km does not need to be defined; µg may need to be defined, depending on your audience). Use a spaced =, and a semicolon to separate multiple entries. There is no need for a full stop at the end:

CV = coefficient of variation; SD = standard deviation

  • Explanation of something in the table or table title. The second line of table notes is explanations. These are indicated in the table by superscript letters (a, b, etc; see Body of the table). Under the table, list the letters (not superscripted), use a tab to separate the letter and note text, and start each note with a capital letter. Only insert a full stop at the end if the note is a full sentence or there is more than 1 sentence. Start each note on a new line:

a   Laboratory D did not report results corrected for recovery. Results corrected for recovery were
     calculated by the study coordinator.
b   Preliminary results

  • Other notes. The third line of table notes is additional information about the whole table, given as a general note. Use the word Note:. Start the note with a capital and end with a full stop (notes should be full sentences). For more than 1 note, use a numbered list, starting on the line underneath the word Notes:

Note:  Data for January to February 2013 have not been included.


1.  Several respondents commented that they don’t like broccoli or brussels sprouts.
2.  The Cancer Council advises that eating 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day
     reduces risk of developing cancer.

  • Sources of information. The last line of table notes is the source(s) of information. To refer to the source of specific data within the table, use a superscript letter and a note, as described above. For the source of the whole table, use the word Source: and insert the citation. If the document uses author–date (Harvard) style citations, this will be the author name and date, with parentheses around the date:

Source: Smith et al (2005)

If the document uses numbered (Vancouver) citations, insert just the author name and a superscript reference number; do not include the date of the reference:

 Source: Smith et al23

Do not put a full stop at the end of the source. If multiple sources have been used for the table, use Sources: and a comma between entries. List sources chronologically, not alphabetically:

Sources: Smith (2008), Nelson (2011)

All references in table notes should be cited in full in the reference list at the end of the document (see References). If the table is completely original and there is no need to include a source, leave out the source.

For a narrow table, contain the width of the definitions, notes and sources to the width of the table so that they do not extend beyond its right-hand edge.

Table definitions, notes and sources

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