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Referring to tables and figures in text

Filed on: June 2, 2009 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Tables and figures, although important components of many research papers, are just that—components; you can publish a paper without them but you cannot publish tables or figures without a paper. And if text is supported by tables or figures, it must mention them.

Although tables and figures are what readers more often turn to first once they have chosen to examine the paper in full, it is important to draw their attention to these components while they are reading the text of the paper.

To begin with, make sure that every table and figure is mentioned in the text. If necessary, use the “find” function of your word processor to find every mention of the words figure and table and match every instance with the correct table or figure as appropriate. In doing so, make sure that the search is “case insensitive,” that is make sure that the option “Match case” is unchecked (so that you find both table/Table and figure/Figure).

Avoid such expressions as “Figure 2 shows” or “As can be seen in Table 3.” Instead, bring in a particularly noteworthy or interesting or important value or an aspect of an image not readily apparent at a glance: thus primed, readers will know why the table or figure is relevant and can relate to it more easily. In such constructions, the table or figure goes in brackets, as in “The highest rainfall is usually received in April (Table 1).”

Pay particular attention to your target journal’s style: is it Figure, Fig., or figure? Is the word set in italics or bold or normal? Is it followed by a colon, a full stop, or just space? And does the caption end in a full stop?

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

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