Presentation, communication and dissemination of vital statistics
Guidelines for good tables
Whenever working with a large dataset, decisions need to be made about how much of the data can be usefully included or shown. In a report or publication, the data can be included in a large reference table at the end of the report, as an annex or online.
The design and layout of a table is important to help users quickly find numbers of interest. Small tables with key data or summarised data should have enough metadata included to allow them to stand alone in the text or in a presentation. This makes it possible to copy and integrate them elsewhere and keep them understandable.
The table title should be short but give a clear and accurate description of the content. The three keywords to remember for most table titles are ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’.
Do not forget row and column headers and indicate the source of the data at the bottom, and provide any additional information in a footnote.
Guidelines for published or released statistical tables
- Have a reference to the table (such as a table number) in the text
- Title should describe ‘what, where and when’
- Make sure that rows and columns are clearly labelled
- For easy comparison put numbers most likely to be compared with each other in columns
- Bold totals in tables
- Specify the units of the data in the table (for example, kg)
- Include the source of the data
- Use vertical and horizontal lines to separate the labels from the data themselves
- Avoid columns separated by vertical lines or rows by horizontal lines – this splits the table up too much and can be too busy
- Use the minimum number of decimals, most tables do not need any decimals and when needed one decimal place will be enough
- To improve readability space the table entries so that they are aligned on last digit or on the decimal point
- Use summary statistics (for example, sub‐totals, means) to provide additional information
- Include footnotes to explain any strange features in the data
- Use appropriate rounding
- A comma separator should be used for thousands
- Missing values should be indicated as ‘NA’ and there should be no blank cells
- Make sure that you have not breached confidentiality by disclosing personal or commercially sensitive information.
Ryan C et al (2011). Workbook: Data analysis and report writing course. Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
This is a good example of a summary table that encompasses some of the guidelines above: