One of the most difficult aspects of research manuscript preparation is deciding whether your findings should be presented through tables, figures, or text. The tips listed below will help you make a more informed decision:
Use a table to
- Show many and precise numerical values in a small space
- Compare/contrast values or characteristics of items that are related or that share several characteristics or variables
- Show the presence or absence of specific characteristics
Use a figure to
- Show trends, patterns, and relationships across and between data sets, when the trend is more important than the precise data values
- Summarize the results of your research
- Visually explain a sequence of events, phenomena, characteristics, or geographical features
Use text when
- The data you intend to present is not relevant to the main findings of your study
- The data is not too complex or large, and can be easily incorporated in your manuscript
- Your data, if presented as a table, would warrant only 1 or 2 columns
Once you have selected the appropriate format for data presentation, the next step is to ensure that the tables and/or figures in your research paper are visually appealing and present your data in a clear, concise, and effective manner.
The following article offers a comprehensive tutorial on presenting scientific tables and figures: Tips on effective use of tables and figures in research papers.