Creating tables in scientific papers: basic formatting and titles

Creating tables in scientific papers: basic formatting and titles

Tables can be a very significant part of scientific papers. A good scientific table should present the data simply, clearly and neatly, and permit the reader to understand the results without having to look at other sections of the paper. However, a badly introduced table could be very confusing, and may reduce the chances of your paper being accepted. In this post, we will look at the basic rules of creating effective scientific tables. Let’s begin with an example of a bad table, highlighting some common errors and demonstrating how the formatting and content of the table can be improved. Can you see anything wrong with this table?

Let’s begin with the table formatting and editing.

1. Use a separate cell for each value

Look at the results in Table 1. You can see that the author has placed two columns of data in the same cell. We often see tables with only one row and column, with the data arranged using the space bar, or the tab button (as shown in the top of Fig. 1).

If the table is adjusted or moved (for example, if the table size or text size is switched) the table layout may be affected, causing the data to be misplaced (as shown in the bottom of Fig. 1). Additionally, if there are empty cells, rows or columns, it can be difficult to know if data is missing from the table, and unlikely to know which columns the data should be in.

Tables should be created with the correct number of rows and columns. You can also add fresh rows and columns to an existing table by right clicking on the table, selecting “Insert” and choosing to insert fresh rows and columns above or below the existing rows or columns. It is also possible to insert numerous rows/columns to a table by highlighting the number of rows/columns you require on existing rows/columns. For example, if you would like to add three columns to the left of your table, highlight the very first three columns, right click and choose «Insert Columns to the Left».

Two. Use only horizontal line borders and dual line spacing

Most journals ask that tables only contain only horizontal lines as borders. Additionally, most journals require the tables in submitted manuscripts to be double-spaced. It is always a good idea to look at the «Instructions to Authors» for your journal, and check if there are any special instructions for the presentation of tables.

In Microsoft Word (version 2007 onwards), you can switch the table borders by clicking on the table and using the menu which shows up in the “Design» section under “Table Tools” as indicated by the crimson arrows in Fig. Two. Alternatively, right click your mouse over the table, and click “Borders and Shading” to switch the table borders.

Fig. Two: Switching the borders on a scientific table in Microsoft Word (version 2007 onwards).

Table line spacing can be switched in the same way as you would switch the line spacing of normal text in a Word document. Don’t worry if the dual spacing makes the table longer than one page.

Now the table is formatted correctly, let’s begin to edit the scientific content. Look back at Table 1 at the top of this page. It is not very clear what the data in this table represents. The table title is «Height after treatment». It could be the height of elephants, buildings or plants, and the title does not describe the treatment at all! Always recall that each table must be understandable without other supporting text. In other words, if the table was printed with only the title and footnotes, could another scientist understand it, even if they work in a downright different area of research? It can be very effortless to leave behind to write the most significant information when you are used to working with the same data for a long time!

Trio. Use clear and informative titles

Generally, you should include information on the test system (e.g. the species, cell line or type of patients), as well as the type of treatment (e.g. salinity or the drug name) and what was measured (e.g. plant height, blood pressure or cell proliferation). So the title for the Table 1 could be:

Table 1. Height of wheat plants after salinity treatment. -or-

Table 1. Effect of salinity on the growth of wheat plants.

Sometimes, it can also be a good idea to describe the main result in the table title. This will help the reader quickly understand your data. For example:

Table 1. Salinity reduces the growth of wheat plants. –or-

Table 1. Exposure to salinity reduces the growth of wheat plants.

It’s not always possible or necessary to include the result in the table title, for example tables that demonstrate a list of data (such as patient characteristics, plant cultivars or PCR primers) or tables that contain elaborate or conflicting data.

Let’s see how the table switches if we apply these rules to the Table 1. I’ll insert a fresh column to the left of the table and place each value in a separate cell (rule 1), only use vertical rules and dual space the table (rule Two) and use an informative title (rule Three).

Do you think Table 1 is embarking to look better? There are still a large number of errors in Table 1! Can you see any? In the 2nd post in this series, I’ll discuss row and column titles, units, error values and sample sizes . and correct some more of the mistakes in Table 1.

About Andrea Devlin

Holder and Chief Editor, Science Editing Experts I commenced Science Editing Experts to help scientists all over the world publish their research in English. I edit scientific journal manuscripts and theses to ensure they contain the highest quality of written English and, if necessary, improve the flow, order and layout of the text. I relish the challenge of understanding the sophisticated topics described in every fresh journal manuscript or thesis, and then communicating these concepts clearly. You can find out more about me on the “About Us” page of this website.

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Using adverbs such as “additionally” and “however” as the building blocks of good scientific writing

Creating tables in scientific papers: row and column titles, units, error values and sample sizes

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