Components

HOW TO TABULATE
Principles | Components


Sometimes it’s useful to break a complex object into its component parts and consider them individually. We might think of most tables as having three basic components:

COMPONENT #1: LINES 

Horizontal and vertical lines are the very foundation of tables. The careful arrangement of these two types of lines creates the appearance of smaller, more finite spaces within larger, less finite spaces. Within these spaces information can be displayed. Whether for the display of data (see Component #2) or labels (see Component #3), the segmenting of larger spaces into smaller ones is meant to help readers see important trends, patterns, and/or relationships within a data set as quickly as possible. Thus, the thoughtful and strategic use of lines is the practical embodiment of Table Principle #3 (Efficiency).

COMPONENT #2: DATA

As mentioned above, one thing the use of horizontal and vertical lines creates is the creation of space(s) for the display of data. The decision of what data to include in a table, as well as what data NOT to include, is one of the most important decisions a table designer can make. Designers should always aim to maximize the amount of meaningful measures and comparisons found in their tables while eliminating the meaningless ones. This is the practical embodiment of Klass’ Table Principle #1 (meaningfulness).

COMPONENT #3: LABELS

The labels in tables help define the data. Tables utilize labels in a number of different places. For example, in both horizontal and vertical tables, the table titles, spanning headings, headings, subheadings, spanning labels, labels, and sublabels ALL work together to help define the data. So, too, do any notes and/or sources. All of your labels should be both clear and precise. This is the practical embodiment of Klass’ Table Principle #2 (Ambiguity).

COMPONENT #3: DATA

The decision of what data to include–and NOT to include–in a table is one of the most important decisions a table designer can make. Designers should always aim to maximize the amount of meaningful measures and comparisons found in their tables while eliminating the meaningless ones. This is the practical expression of Klass’ tabling principle #1 (meaningfulness).

[INSERT CLEARLY LABELLED EXAMPLE of a graph HERE]

Figure 1. An example of a line chart with labels to show the three main components.


A CLOSER LOOK AT EACH OF THE COMPONENTS OF TABLES

COMPONENT #1: DATA

Words & Numbers. By definition, textual tables contain words in the spaces created by the horizontal and vertical lines. In contrast, statistical and numerical tables contain numbers within these spaces. All three types of tables will almost certainly contain words–and often short phrases–in the row and column headers and labels, but these words and/or phrases help define the data and are not data themselves.

The decision of what data to include–and NOT to include–in a table is one of the most important decisions a table designer can make. Designers should always aim to maximize the amount of meaningful measures and comparisons found in their tables while eliminating the meaningless ones.

COMPONENT #2: LINES 

Vertical Lines. When used, vertical lines should use as little ink as possible so as to not overwhelm the other visual elements of the chart. In the case of tables that make use of vertical lines with varying thicknesses or the use of multiple lines (e.g., a double line), these particular design elements should carry particular meaning/function.

– It is entirely possible to make tables with little or no use of vertical lines. This can often be done simply by carefully attending to the proper alignment of the data within the COLUMNS.

Horizontal Lines. When used, horizontal lines should use as little ink as possible so as to not overwhelm the other visual elements of the chart. In the case of tables that make use of horizontal lines with varying thicknesses or the use of multiple lines (e.g., a double line), these particular design elements should carry particular meaning/function.

– It is entirely possible to make tables with little or no use of horizontal lines. This can often be done simply by carefully attending to the proper alignment of the data within the ROWS.

COMPONENT #3: LABELS

Titles.  Text…

Headings and Subheadings. Headings and subheadings can be used in the columns of a vertical table OR the rows of a horizontal table. Either way, according to Klass they should be “as brief and succinct as possible while still fully describing the data.”

Spanning headings. These are used to eliminate redundant text. As with headings, they should be as brief and succinct as possible while still fully describing the data.

Labels and Sublabels. Labels and sublabels can be used in the rows of a vertical table OR the columns of a horizontal table. Either way, according to Klass they should be “as brief and succinct as possible while still fully describing the data.”

Spanning Labels. These are used to eliminate redundant text. As with labels, they should be as brief and succinct as possible while still fully describing the data.

Totals and summative measures. These are best placed on the right-hand columns and either at the top or bottom rows.

Notes. Text…

Data source.  Specifying the source of the data is important for proper academic citation, but it also can also give knowledgeable readers who are often familiar with common data sources important insights into the reliability and validity of the data.  For example, knowing that crime statistics come from the FBI rather than The National Criminal Victimization Survey can be a crucial bit of information.


SOURCES

Klass, Gary M. (2012). Just Plain Data Analysis: Finding, Presenting & Interpreting Social Science Data (2nd edition). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: New York. ISBN: 978-1-4422-1509-2 (electronic book)

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