How to Layout Data in a Table [Guidelines and Examples]

If you use tables in your business or technical documents, the following guidelines will help you structure and format data in your tables correctly.

Use tables to help readers understand large amounts of data which otherwise may take several paragraphs to describe.

How to Format a Table

The APS Style Manual recommends that “Tabular material must stand alone; i.e., all symbols and abbreviations used in tables must be defined at first use. Tables must marked up by hand by the copyeditor and frequently require reorganization of the original material.”

The main parts of a table are the following.

  • Table number – number every table and use the same numbering format throughout the document.
  • Title – provide a brief but descriptive title. You don’t need to write a complete sentence. Instead, describe the data in the most useful terms for the reader.
  • Column heads – provide a word or phrase that identifies the information in each column. Use spanner heads if column heads are in two or more levels, that is, a collective head and individual heads.
  • Stub – this is the left-most column in a table. Place numbers¸ names, and unique identifiers here.
  • Body – the body of a table consists of the columns to the right of the stub and below the column heads. Enter the main data here.
  • Footnotes – three kinds of footnotes may be included at the end of a table.
    • Source notes identify the data source or, if the table is reproduced without change, the original published work.
    • General notes apply to the table as a whole.
    • Specific notes apply to specific numbers or rows or columns in the table.

Rules – these lines visually separate the table into parts. In general, use horizontal rules.

Column Heads

The University of Texas (Arlington) provides the following guidelines for column heads.

The headings above the body of the table (called column heads and column spanners) identify the entries in the vertical columns in the body of the table.

A column head covers just one column, while a column spanner covers two or more column.

Decked heads is used to avoid repetition of words in column heads.

How to Format Table Cells

The United Nations Editorial Manual provides the following guidelines for presenting content in cells.

The cells of a table are the spaces created by the intersection of columns and rows, which are used to display the data.

Do not leave any cells blank.

If no information is available, supply an appropriate symbol to explain the absence of data (see Symbols).

In figures exceeding 1,000, a space is used in place of a comma.

Ditto marks are not used to indicate the repetition of items; instead, the information is repeated.

In cases where lengthy text is repeated in the next row, “idem” may be used.

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