Quick tips on writing titles for tables and figures in scientific papers

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Quick tips on writing titles for tables and figures in scientific papers

Tables and figures are commonly used in research papers to supplement text.

This post looks at just one aspect, namely titles, of tables and figures (although with figures it is customary to refer to titles as captions). I want to touch upon three points:

1. How to phrase the titles (complete sentences or sentence fragments)

2. How to style or format them for print (normal, bold, italics and the capitalization)

3. How to end them (with a full stop or with no terminal punctuation) 

Find detailed guidance on how to design tables and prepare figures for publications in this dedicated section: Tables and Figures.

Let us dive into the tips: 

  • Number all tables and figures (even when there is only one table or a figure).
  • Phrase them as complete and declarative sentences that capture their essence if you are using them in reports and presentations and as sentence fragments that indicate their scope if they are part of a research paper.
  • Set off the word 'Table' or 'Figure' and the number that follows in bold but keep the rest in normal font (neither bold nor italics).
  • No punctuation is required between the number and the title: space alone is enough.
  • Use normal capitalization for complete sentences; for the fragments, you may use normal capitalization or the so-called 'title case' (Every Significant Word Begins with a Capital).
  • End a title phrased as a sentence with a full stop, but use no punctuation mark at the end of a sentence fragment.

Here are two examples:

Table 2 Measurements of wind speed are subject to wide uncertainties.


Table 2 Range of uncertainty in measured wind speeds

European countries have stringent regulations governing noise pollution.


Regulations Concerning Noise Pollution in Europe

Lastly, place table titles at the top of each table and figure captions below each figure.

Read a short post to understand how you can refer to tables and figures correctly in your manuscript

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Published on: Jul 03, 2015

Communicator, Published Author, BELS-certified editor with Diplomate status.
See more from Yateendra Joshi


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