Ten Tips for Tables in Technical Documents

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by Catherine Hibbard

If you have ever received technical writing instruction, you may feel you know all that's worth knowing about creating tables in technical documents. That may be so—but how about reviewing a brief Ten Tips for Tables Checklist?

  1. Table vs. Figure
    Always remember the following: A table is called a table—all other visual aids are called figures.
  2. Placement of Tables
    Insert the table as close as possible to the text it represents.
  3. Table Numbers
    Every table should be given a number (arabic numbers are used) and should be cited in the text by the number, either directly or parenthetically.
  4. Capitalization
    The word "table" is lowercased in text references. For example: The increase in costs is shown in table 2.3.
  5. Number Sequence
    Table numbers follow the order in which the tables are to appear in the text.
  6. Table Title
    The title should identify the table as briefly as possible.
  7. Column Heads
    Like table titles, column heads should be as brief as possible—abbreviations may be used (e.g., $, %, km, n).
  8. Syntax
    The title should be a noun form. Use participles rather than relative clauses. For example: Employees participating in retirement plans rather than, Employees who participate in retirement plans
  9. Capitalization of the Title
    Like illustration captions, table titles may be capitalized sentence style. For example: Table 1. Circuit breaker factory production tests
  10. A Simple List of Two Columns
    A simple list or other tabular matter that requires only two columns does not need to be numbered or titled.

About the Author

Catherine Hibbard

Catherine S. Hibbard is a nationally recognized expert in business and technical writing. Her company, Cypress Media Group, is an advertising, public relations, and training firm that provides training and consulting primarily related to business and technical writing, presentation skills, and media relations.

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Catherine was ranked 9th on The Top 100 Influencers in #Techcomm bloggers list in 2013.

She can be reached by e-mail at catherine@cypressmedia.net.