Tips to Better Tables
I googled tables, APA, word and got 2,710,000 results. Come on, people. It’s just tables. Not rocket science. This checklist from Purdue Owl is all you need to know. Well, almost all.
This checklist from Purdue Owl is a good starting point. I’ll add my own comments, of course.
- Is the table necessary?
Dr. Kat says: One editing client said that she was told “tables are like prunes, are six enough, are 12 too many?” It’s probably not that simple. I think “a table, like a picture, can be worth a thousand words.” Adding a table also might depend on your methodology – I see a lot more tables in quantitative than qualitative studies. One question to ask yourself is, when you’re trying to explain your research to someone, do you find yourself drawing a table? Sometimes I create tables to organize my thoughts. It doesn’t mean I’ll keep the table but it’s a great reference when I’m doing a research content outline.
- Is the entire table single- or double-spaced (including the title, headings, and notes)?
Dr. Kat says: This can be a trick question. You’ll want to be consistent but you’ll also want to be concise. If you have a lot of tables or a lot of content in each table, I’d go with single space. But create a separate style for tables so you don’t use normal or body, which likely have a .5 indent. Go to Styles/Apply Styles/Create a style/Call it Table/Modify (so it’s not based on normal)/then modify and, under paragraph, add 6 points after type. Another thing to check is if your school dissertation guidelines require one or the other. Some schools are funny about that and require double or single space.
- Are all comparable tables presented consistently?
Dr. Kat says: See the previous explanation. Use styles. Use the same font size, margins, line leading.
- Is the title brief but explanatory?
Dr. Kat says: You wouldn’t believe how many tables don’t have any title.
- Does every column have a column heading?
Dr. Kat says: You wouldn’t believe how many columns don’t have a heading.
- Are all abbreviations; special use of italics, parentheses, and dashes; and special symbols explained?
Dr. Kat says: I hate acronyms. And not too fond of abbreviations, either. Lots of people don’t read your dissertation cover to cover. And many are not familiar with your topic. Use a legend in every table that needs one.
- Are all vertical rules eliminated?
Dr. Kat says: This is the most typical error and the one reviewers glom onto. I had one committee member tell me he looks at the table first and if there are vertical and horizontal lines he sends it back and tells the writer to check out APA thoroughly and fix what’s wrong and get it back to him.
- If the table or its data are from another source, is the source properly cited?
Dr. Kat says: I have to look up how to cite sources in tables every time. I can never remember. Not sure why I have a mental block on that.
- Is the table referred to in the text?
Dr. Kat says: If you don’t refer to the table in the text my feeling is that you don’t need the table. And remember to put the table as close as possible to the citation.
My favorite tables
I know, even having a headline saying “my favorite tables” shows what I dissertation nerd I am. There are three tables my chair suggested and I’ve passed them along to clients. Everyone who has used these tables said their chair and committee loved them. One said she used the literature review table for herself to keep everything straight but didn’t include it in her written dissertation.
If you’re a frequent blog reader you know that I talk about my own dissertation – Why senior women leaders opt out. This literature review helped me organize my own literature review.
My second favorite table
I created this table to keep my units of analysis straight. It was really helpful when I was reporting my findings in chapter 4 and in the discussion in chapter 5. I’ve suggested similar tables for phenomenological studies where “units of analysis” is replaced by themes and “empirical indicators” is replace by an example quote. The “source of data” is replaced by the participant’s name/pseudonym.
Another helpful table
Still another helpful table is an overview of participants. I used it in my positivistic case study but I usually suggest clients include it in qualitative studies, too. I especially like to see a demographic overview so I can figure out who said what. Sometimes it’s hard to remember who’s who.
The last helpful table
Finally, I like to tie things together. I created a table that tied the units of analysis to the Likert questions. This was especially helpful in writing the discussion chapter.
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