Q: What should be included in a table title of a research paper?

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This site has some tips on preparing table titles, but I am interested in tips to share with investigators about the "contents." For example, should a project or study name be in the title in a technical report? What are the variables and what is the order in which the information should be presented? While editing titles, I aim for consistency, but most of the titles I see do not reflect what the table shows. Any suggestions?

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Answer:

Tables are often used to present numerical values. Titles/labels/legends for tables are always placed at the top of the table. A table should be stand-alone and hence, the title and footnotes presented should be self-explanatory. The number of words/information presented in the table depends up on what is being presented in the table. If they represent demographic data/characteristics of a study population, they are short and concise. If they represent a lot of numerical data/descriptive data, then, they need to have enough content to describe what is being presented in the table. Statistical significance can be indicated in the “footnote” of the table.

The titles should be carefully edited depending up on the word count limitations of the target journal. In some journals, the total manuscript word count includes the tables, table titles, footnotes, figures and figure legends – in such cases, care should be taken to ensure that the table titles are precise and concise to represent what is being shown in the table. Within the same manuscript, the number of words/characters for table titles might not be uniform – some might have lesser number of characters than others – again, this depends on the contents of the table itself or the subject area of study.

It is best to refer to the journal guidelines or a recently published article in the target journal to write the titles of tables. This would enable the authors to know the expectations of the journal.

As a general rule, the following may be applicable to write a title for a table:

  1. The first sentence should clearly indicate what results are shown in the context of the study question.
  2. Secondary information such as location of a study, population/organism studied, treatment conditions, relationship displayed, other variables, and brief methodical data of the study should follow next – use separators such as commas, hyphens, round brackets and colons to distinguish between variables or two different aspects being described.
  3. Sample size, statistical significance, and statistical tests used can be given as a footnote to the table. All abbreviations should be defined in the footnotes of the table. Additionally, many journals recommend that the SI unit of measurement be used for uniformity.

So, basically, for easy understanding, the title should contain the main indicator in the first position and the breakdown of information in the subsequent position. If two or more tables have similar content but one or more variables to distinguish them, then the distinguishing feature can be placed at the end of the title for better readability and quick reference.

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