Present your data

You can present data directly within the text, in a figure, or in a table. The first option is suitable for one or a few values, such as simple percentages,26 e.g. The majority of the camera-trap photographs were of goats (27, 66%), followed by people (11, 27%) and leopards (3, 7%). or a mean and associated standard error. Nothing would be gained by formatting this information in a table or figure. Rather, something would be lost, as the table or figure would take up more space than would presenting the data in the main text.

Number of tree species per country (of a total of 129 taxa that occurred at altitudes >1,500 m and in more than one country) assessed using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria (modified from Figure 2 in @tejedorgaravitoRegionalRedList2015).Figure 6: Number of tree species per country (of a total of 129 taxa that occurred at altitudes >1,500 m and in more than one country) assessed using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria (modified from Figure 2 in Tejedor Garavito et al. (2015)).

Wherever possible present data as a figure rather than as a table. The presentation of data as a picture facilitates communication of your message or purpose in a more direct way than printed numbers. Figures are particularly useful for the presentation of summarized data, such as group frequencies (e.g. Fig. 6), groups means and standard deviations, and for relationships between variables.

Citing figures and tables

All figures and tables need to be numbered sequentially, and independently (i.e. Figure 1, Figure 2, Table 1, Table 2, etc.) in the order in which they will be cited.27 ‘Fig.’ is a commonly used abbreviation for ‘Figure’, although some journals will not use the abbreviation. The abbreviation ‘Tab.’ is rarely used for tables, as little is gained by doing so, and it is best avoided.

Each figure and table requires its own self-explanatory caption, comprehensible without reference to the main text. By convention a table caption is placed above the body of its table and a figure caption is placed below its figure.

Include table captions directly with their tables (i.e. do not compile table captions on a single page, followed by the headless tables, as this hinders reading) unless a journal’s guidelines indicate otherwise. One way to include a caption with its table is to place the caption in a row, without top or side borders, at the top of the table. This ensures that a caption does not become separated from its table.

For figures, some journals may require you to submit all figure captions together on a single page. If this is not specifically requested, include each figure caption on the same page as its figure, but as text (i.e. not as an integral part of the graphic).

Supplementary figures, tables or other material28 Lengthy tables that cannot be set comfortably within the main text, R or other code, and figures and tables that are not central to the understanding of the main text. In journals that are available both in print and online, supplementary material will only be available online. require their own sequential and independent numbering. Several systems are in use (e.g. Supplemntary Table 1, Table S1), particular to each journal.


Preparation of data plots, maps, photographs, diagrams, timelines and other graphics that convey a message or purpose in a clear, uncluttered way, and in the format required by publishers, can be a major challenge. Each journal has its own particular requirements for graphic styles and formats, and preferred sizes.

We recommend that you start with Improve your graphics, and then study the framework presented in Improve your graphics, to help you use graphics to convey your message or purpose clearly. You can then move on to Map with a message, which provides tutorials for using QGIS to draw maps, or Plot with a purpose, which provides tutorials for using Veusz and ggplot2 to construct data plots. These chapters include, respectively, case studies of maps and plots of various types.


Not all data lends itself to presentation as a figure. There are several situations in which presentation of information in a table may be preferable compared to presentation directly as a figure or in the text:

Table 2: This is a self-explanatory table caption. It is placed above, rather than below, the table, and describes the table contents clearly and succinctly. This example table also illustrates the parts of a table.

Group Column 1 title Column 2 title
Row 1 title Value Value
Row 2 title Value Value
Row 3 title Value Value
  • Presentation of repeated data, such as statistics, that would otherwise clutter up the text and impede comprehension

  • Presentation of data that are too detailed or complex for presentation as a figure

  • Presentation of raw data; i.e. before the data are summarized

  • Presentation of summary points or comparisons, as text

There are several key points to consider in the design of a table:

Table 3: In this example the columns are grouped in pairs.

Group 1
Group 2
Position a b c d
North 1.62 70.1 1.52 65.0
South 1.61 70.0 1.51 63.0
East 1.49 68.2 1.47 62.1
West 1.49 68.2 1.47 62.1
  • The content of a table should be comprehensible without reference to the main text.

  • The caption should be self-explanatory.

  • In English we read from left to right and therefore the items that need to be compared should be in the columns, so that we can make comparisons as we read across a row.

  • As far as possible, avoid the use of abbreviations as column or row names.

  • Whenever possible design the table so that it can be typeset in portrait rather than landscape orientation.

  • All data for each particular variable should be presented to the same number of significant digits.

  • Use footnotes sparingly.

Table 4: In this example the rows are grouped in pairs.

Age Height (m) Weight (kg)
Group 1
New 1.62 70.1
Old 1.61 70.0
Group 2
New 1.49 68.2
Old 1.49 68.2

You can use a table to structure the presentation of data. If the principal variables are repeated across several groupings, use an additional column header to group the data together (Table 3). If the main variables, represented by the columns, fall into groups, use extra row titles before each group (Table 4).

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