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Tables In Research Papers

APA Tables and Figures 1


APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2018-02-21 02:29:23

The purpose of tables and figures in documents is to enhance your readers' understanding of the information in the document. Most word processing software available today will allow you to create your own tables and figures, and even the most basic of word processors permit the embedding of images, thus enabling you to include tables and figures in almost any document.

General guidelines

Necessity. Visual material such as tables and figures can be used quickly and efficiently to present a large amount of information to an audience, but visuals must be used to assist communication, not to use up space, or disguise marginally significant results behind a screen of complicated statistics. Ask yourself this question first: Is the table or figure necessary? For example, it is better to present simple descriptive statistics in the text, not in a table.

Relation of Tables or Figures and Text. Because tables and figures supplement the text, refer in the text to all tables and figures used and explain what the reader should look for when using the table or figure. Focus only on the important point the reader should draw from them, and leave the details for the reader to examine on their own.

Documentation. If you are using figures, tables and/or data from other sources, be sure to gather all the information you will need to properly document your sources.

Integrity and Independence. Each table and figure must be intelligible without reference to the text, so be sure to include an explanation of every abbreviation (except the standard statistical symbols and abbreviations).

Organization, Consistency, and Coherence. Number all tables sequentially as you refer to them in the text (Table 1, Table 2, etc.), likewise for figures (Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.). Abbreviations, terminology, and probability level values must be consistent across tables and figures in the same article. Likewise, formats, titles, and headings must be consistent. Do not repeat the same data in different tables.


Table Checklist

  • Is the table necessary?
  • Is the entire table single- or double-spaced (including the title, headings, and notes)?
  • Are all comparable tables presented consistently?
  • Is the title brief but explanatory?
  • Does every column have a column heading?
  • Are all abbreviations; special use of italics, parentheses, and dashes; and special symbols explained?
  • Are all probability level values correctly identified, and are asterisks attached to the appropriate table entries? Is a probability level assigned the same number of asterisks in all the tables in the same document?
  • Are the notes organized according to the convention of general, specific, probability?
  • Are all vertical rules eliminated?
  • If the table or its data are from another source, is the source properly cited?
  • Is the table referred to in the text?


Data in a table that would require only two or fewer columns and rows should be presented in the text. More complex data is better presented in tabular format. In order for quantitative data to be presented clearly and efficiently, it must be arranged logically, e.g. data to be compared must be presented next to one another (before/after, young/old, male/female, etc.), and statistical information (means, standard deviations, N values) must be presented in separate parts of the table. If possible, use canonical forms (such as ANOVA, regression, or correlation) to communicate your data effectively.

Table Structure

The following image illustrates the basic structure of tables.

Numbers. Number all tables with Arabic numerals sequentially. Do not use suffix letters (e.g. Table 3a, 3b, 3c); instead, combine the related tables. If the manuscript includes an appendix with tables, identify them with capital letters and Arabic numerals (e.g. Table A1, Table B2).

Titles. Like the title of the paper itself, each table must have a clear and concise title. When appropriate, you may use the title to explain an abbreviation parenthetically.

Example: Comparison of Median Income of Adopted Children (AC) v. Foster Children (FC)

Headings. Keep headings clear and brief. The heading should not be much wider than the widest entry in the column. Use of standard abbreviations can aid in achieving that goal. All columns must have headings, even the stub column (see example structure), which customarily lists the major independent variables.

Body. In reporting the data, consistency is key: Numerals should be expressed to a consistent number of decimal places that is determined by the precision of measurement. Never change the unit of measurement or the number of decimal places in the same column.

Specific Types of Tables

Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) Tables. The conventional format for an ANOVA table is to list the source in the stub column, then the degrees of freedom (df) and the F ratios. Give the between-subject variables and error first, then within-subject and any error. Mean square errors must be enclosed in parentheses. Provide a general note to the table to explain what those values mean (see example). Use asterisks to identify statistically significant F ratios, and provide a probability footnote.

Image Caption: Table 3 ANOVA Table

Regression. Conventional reporting of regression analysis follows two formats. If the study is purely applied, list only the raw or unstandardized coefficients (B). If the study is purely theoretical, list only the standardized coefficients (beta). If the study was neither purely applied nor theoretical, then list both standardized and unstandardized coefficients. Specify the type of analysis, either hierarchical or simultaneous, and provide the increments of change if you used hierarchical regression.

Image Caption: Table 4 Regression Table

Notes in Tables

There are three types of notes for tables: general, specific, and probability notes. All of them must be placed below the table in that order.

General notes explain, qualify or provide information about the table as a whole. Put explanations of abbreviations, symbols, etc. here.

Example: Note. The racial categories used by the US Census (African-American, Asian American, Latinos/-as, Native-American, and Pacific Islander) have been collapsed into the category “non-White.” E = excludes respondents who self-identified as “White” and at least one other “non-White” race.

Specific notes explain, qualify or provide information about a particular column, row, or individual entry. To indicate specific notes, use superscript lowercase letters (e.g. a, b, c), and order the superscripts from left to right, top to bottom. Each table’s first footnote must be the superscript a.

Example: a n = 823. b One participant in this group was diagnosed with schizophrenia during the survey.

Probability notes provide the reader with the results of the tests for statistical significance. Asterisks indicate the values for which the null hypothesis is rejected, with the probability (p value) specified in the probability note. Such notes are required only when relevant to the data in the table. Consistently use the same number of asterisks for a given alpha level throughout your paper.

Image Caption: Sample Table Notes

If you need to distinguish between two-tailed and one-tailed tests in the same table, use asterisks for two-tailed p values and an alternate symbol (such as daggers) for one-tailed p values.

Image Caption: More Table Notes

Tables from Other Sources

If using tables from a source, copy the structure of the original exactly, and cite the source in accordance with APA style.

Research papers are often based on copious amounts of data that can be summarized and easily read through tables and graphs. When writing a research paper, it is important for data to be presented to the reader in a visually appealing way. The data in figures and tables, however, should not be a repetition of the data found in the text. There are many ways of presenting data in tables and figures, governed by a few simple rules. An APA research paper and MLA research paper both require tables and figures, but the rules around them are different. When writing a research paper, the importance of tables and figures cannot be underestimated. How do you know if you need a table or figure? The rule of thumb is that if you cannot present your data in one or two sentences, then you need a table.

Using Tables

Tables are easily created using programs such as Excel. Tables and figures in scientific papers are wonderful ways of presenting data. Effective data presentation in research papers requires understanding your reader and the elements that comprise a table. Tables have several elements, including the legend, column titles, and body. As with academic writing, it is also just as important to structure tables so that readers can easily understand them. Tables that are disorganized or otherwise confusing will make the reader lose interest in your work.

  • Title: Tables should have a clear, descriptive title, which functions as the “topic sentence” of the table. The titles can be lengthy or short, depending on the discipline.
  • Column Titles: The goal of these title headings is to simplify the table. The reader’s attention moves from the title to the column title sequentially. A good set of column titles will allow the reader to quickly grasp what the table is about.
  • Table Body: This is the main area of the table where numerical or textual data is located. Construct your table so that elements read from up to down, and not across.


The placement of figures and tables should be at the center of the page. It should be properly referenced and ordered in the number that it appears in the text. In addition, tables should be set apart from the text. Text wrapping should not be used. Sometimes, tables and figures are presented after the references in selected journals.

Using Figures

Figures can take many forms, such as bar graphs, frequency histograms, scatterplots, drawings, maps, etc. When using figures in a research paper, always think of your reader. What is the easiest figure for your reader to understand? How can you present the data in the simplest and most effective way? For instance, a photograph may be the best choice if you want your reader to understand spatial relationships.

  • Figure Captions: Figures should be numbered and have descriptive titles or captions. The captions should be succinct enough to understand at the first glance. Captions are placed under the figure and are left justified.
  • Image: Choose an image that is simple and easily understandable. Consider the size, resolution, and the image’s overall visual attractiveness.
  • Additional Information: Illustrations in manuscripts are numbered separately from tables. Include any information that the reader needs to understand your figure, such as legends.

Common Errors in Research Papers

Effective data presentation in research papers requires understanding the common errors that make data presentation ineffective. These common mistakes include using the wrong type of figure for the data. For instance, using a scatterplot instead of a bar graph for showing levels of hydration is a mistake. Another common mistake is that some authors tend to italicize the table number. Remember, only the table title should be italicized.  Another common mistake is failing to attribute the table. If the table/figure is from another source, simply put “Note. Adapted from…” underneath the table. This should help avoid any issues with plagiarism.

Using tables and figures in research papers is essential for the paper’s readability. The reader is given a chance to understand data through visual content. When writing a research paper, these elements should be considered as part of good research writing. APA research papers, MLA research papers, and other manuscripts require visual content if the data is too complex or voluminous. The importance of tables and graphs is underscored by the main purpose of writing, and that is to be understood.

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