Professional and Technical Writing/Design/Tables
Why Use Tables?
Tables are an effective way to portray data in a visual way so it is easy for the reader to understand. Tables are used to report data which is too complicated to be described in the text and to reveal trends and patterns in the data. In addition, in many cases, incorporating a table is more beneficial than trying to explain something through text. Your reader is more likely to get all of the information if they can just scan a table rather than reading a long paragraph. Lots of words are not needed in business writing. There are many situations where information can be broken up into an easy-to-read table that will efficiently use your audience's time and attention. Adding color to a table or graph is a great way to make your design appealing.
In the business setting you will need to write communications regarding data, such as results of a test that you have performed, costs you have calculated, or production figures you have gathered. In such cases, many people find it helpful and beneficial to begin their writing process by making tables that they will include in their communication. They then can begin to interpret the data, and make notes about the meaning and significance of the data to their audience. Tables are also a good comparative tool to help illustrate why your company may be better than the opposing company or group.
Table or Graph?
It is important to choose the correct medium to accurately display your data. A table works best when it is used to look up individual values, compare individual values and if the data must be shown precisely. Graphs are better for showing relationships or trends in the form of shapes. Another good guideline is that relevant data always involves relationships such as comparison, distribution or deviation. [www.analyticspress.com, Designing Effective Tables and Graphs]
What to include in an effective table
Experiments usually involve a large amount of data, so choose relevant data to be represented in your tables. Limit the number of tables in your document to those that convey a trend or pattern to the reader. Here are some more guidelines to follow:
- Create the tables to be understandable without having to reference the text.
- Avoid page breaks in the middle of tables, and do not wrap text around tables.
- Acknowledge the source if the table is published, and obtain copyright permission if necessary.
- Display each table on a separate page [San Francisco Edit, Twelve Steps to Developing Effective Tables and Figures]
- Do not use more than six rows or columns in a table because the data will be crowded and difficult to understand.
- Uses sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana, Helvetica or Univers to make the numbers easier to read.
- Use white space to separate the rows and columns to improve readability and add to the visual appeal.
- Include concise titles which quickly portray the purpose of the table.
- Align data properly. Words and labels should be center aligned or left aligned and numbers should be right aligned.
Numbering your tables can help your readers navigate the figures you refer to. This will make your document organize and easy to follow.
- If you have multiple tables within a document, you should number your tables. This will allow your audience to be able to easily navigate through your document without any confusion.
Example: Table 1: Include a brief description of the table here. If you took a table from somewhere else to use in your document, make sure you cite the source.
- Table numbers can also be included in the table of contents to be found easily.
Titles can help distinguish your tables from other figures. A title is essential because it makes the reader aware of what the table will be about.
- Every table should have a precise and specific title.
- The title should be clearly displayed and easy to read.
- Subtitles can be used to display more information.
Units are essential to include because this informs your reader about a specific measurement. Units can help give your table a more effective argument.
- Be sure to include units, either in the heading or after every number/measurement.
- Use relevant units which make the table readable. If you are measuring the mass of different insect specimen samples, use units of milligrams not kilograms.
- Include the uncertainty or precision if necessary. In the heading after the variable name put the unit and uncertainty in parentheses. For example, Mass(+/- 0.01 g).
- The use of different units can change the effectiveness of your table and can make a table appear to be in your favor.
Row and Column Headings
- Use precise headings.
- Order the headings so they make the most sense and are easiest to interpret by the reader.
The design of your tables can help enhance the readers' understanding of information that are being compared. Color is a way to distinguish information from one another. The formatting of your tables should be consistent. This gives your tables a more professional and organized look.
- It is important to stick with the color scheme of the document even in the tables. The document should be visually appealing throughout.
- Avoid using colors that can be hard to read. This could be exhausting for the readers to try and read.
- Choose up to only three colors. Overwhelming colors can make the readers lost.
- Include a key if colors represents a particular data set. This helps the readers distinguish between your information.
- Tables of useless experimental data are irrelevant. Instead, include tables of conclusions and results which the reader is interested in.
- Round numbers as much as possible. The reader won't care if the voltage is 4.8993612 V, so just write 4.90 V instead
- Center-align the data within the table.
- Avoid misrepresenting data. It is important to always be honest with data when inserting tables. For example, let's say you want to show the board of directors that your stock has increased in value, but the stock has only increased by five cents. It is easy to misrepresent this data by making the axis of the graph or table on a scale of one cent, with only 10 points of the graph. This would make it appear as though the stock has increased dramatically, when in fact it has not. Never do this. You will be seen as dishonest and sneaky, and will lose the trust of your clients, peers, and bosses.
- Sources of data can be cited with footnotes
- Place any footnotes below the table.
- Use letters to label the footnotes so the reader does not confuse them with the data.
Make sure you include sources when using data that is not yours. If you do not include the source to your tables, this could lead to legal issues. Plagiarizing others work for your document can cause your business to face legal challenges. Sources are important to include.
- Identify the source of the data unless it is your data.
- When using multiple sources be sure to name source after direct quotes.
How to Create Tables in Microsoft Excel
Excel is an efficient way to display data in a table in a report. Here are the steps required to create a table in Excel: 1. Enter your data in Excel including the proper row and table labels and include the units in the labels.
This links brings you to a page that shows you how to create a table in Excel. http://www.java2s.com/Tutorial/Microsoft-Office-Excel-2007/0080__Table/CreateaTable.htm
Tips on How to Make a Reader-Centered Table
- Use extra space or draw lines to help organize your table, drawing the readers' eyes across the data efficiently and easily.
- Use bold headings, color, and highlights to make the most important information stand out.
- Sort the row and column headings so that your headings are organized in common groups to make the wanted information easier to find.
- Avoid excessive information by not making your table too large or overwhelming. Include only necessary information and consider dividing a table into two or more separate tables if it is too large.
- Provide a border around the table to contrast the table with the document.
Other Things to Consider About Tables
If your document is more than fifteen pages long, you should prepare a list of tables and figures to include in your document. It is similar to a table of contents, but for tables and figures. This makes it easy for the reader to find a specific table or figure within a larger document.