4.2.1 Statistical Graphs
4.2.6 Components of Figures
Tables and figures demonstrate relationships among data and other types of information. A well-structured table is perhaps the most efficient way to convey a large amount of data in a scientific manuscript. As text, the same information may take considerably more space; if presented in a figure, key details and precise values may be less apparent.
Text may be preferred if the information can be presented concisely (see Box). For qualitative information, text should be used if the relationships among data are simple and data are few, whereas a figure should be used if the relationships are complex. For quantitative information, a table should be used when the display of exact values is important, whereas a figure (eg, a line graph) should be used to demonstrate patterns or trends. Tables also are often preferable to graphics for small data sets and are preferred when data presentation requires many specific comparisons. Regardless of the presentation, the same data usually should not be duplicated in a table and a figure or in the text.
Priorities in the creation and publication of tables and figures are to emphasize important information efficiently and to ensure that each table and figure makes a clear point. In addition to presenting study results, tables and figures can be used to explain or amplify the methods or highlight other key points in the article. Like a paragraph, each table or figure should be cohesive and focused. To be most effective, tables and figures should present ideas and information in a logical sequence. The relationship of tables and figures to the text and to each other should be considered in manuscript preparation, editorial evaluation and peer review, manuscript editing, and article layout.
When used properly, tables and figures add variety to article layout and are visually compelling and distinct components of scientific publications. However, authors and editors of scientific publications should avoid using tables and figures simply to break up text or to impart visual interest.