Presenting Data in Tables and Charts

In the course of writing a manuscript or giving a job talk, it is important to be able to report data in a clear and effective manner. Dunleavy (2003) provides some general points on effectively:

  • Consider attention points that you want the reader to focus on.
  • Readers will try to eyeball the manuscript to make sense of each point on its own and then decide whether to spend more time on it or not (p. 157).
  • All attention points should have a clear overall header or caption to describe what is going on (p. 163).
  • The labels in tables need to be specific (avoid abbreviations).

Tables vs. Charts:

Tables are good for organizing data and presenting detailed information.

Charts present information in a clear and simple way, making it easy for people to quickly understand the "big picture."

Basic rules for preparation of tables and charts:


Recommendations on which types of charts to use:


APA Recommendations:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual (2010) if you are reporting three or fewer numbers, then they should be reported in text. If you are presenting four to 20 numbers than a well prepared table would be best, however if there are more than 20 numbers, a graph or figure may be more useful. If a table or figure is used, then be sure not to repeat the data in text, rather, emphasize particular data in a narrative to help with the interpretation of the findings. The APA recommends that tables and figures should not be overly used, since the message could be lost and most statistical tests and results can be effectively presented in text. However, if the analyses or experiments are complex (e.g., model comparisons or hierarchical regressions), a table can be used to report the information instead of a lengthy in text description. For more information on APA recommendations and guidelines for reporting data, please read through Chapter 5 and the table check list (p. 150) and figure checklist (p. 167).

Heuristic example of presenting data:

In our heuristic example, we walk through how to present data using the APA (2010) recommendations. We will present demographic data in text, create a table that lists correlations and descriptive information, and create a figure to look at group scores over three time points.


Part 1:



Part 2:




American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dunleavy, P. (2003). Authoring a PhD: How to plan, draft, write, and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. New York: Palgrave Macmillam.

Duquia, R. P., Bastos, J. L., Bonamigo, R. R., González-Chica, D. A., & Martínez-Mesa, J. (2014). Presenting data in tables and charts. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, 89(2), 280–285.


Some additional resources:

How to format results: (Start at 31:44)

            -A video presentation from Psi Chi APA that discusses APA recommendations for presenting data in text and for creating tables and figures for data presentation. 

APA style for tables and figures:

           -A blog from APA members on some recommendations on creating tables and figures and how to make sure the data are not presented in an obscure manner.

Robbins, N. B., & Heiberger, R. M. (2011). Plotting Likert and other rating scales. In Proceedings of the 2011 Joint Statistical Meeting

            -Robbins and Hieberger (2011) discuss several graphical formats to present data (e.g., bar charts, radar plots, and divided bar charts) and provide information on creating diverging stacked bar charts in the R statistical program.

Andy Field provides a detailed walkthrough of adding error bars SPSS (

           - Andy Field demonstrates how to modify and edit graphs in SPSS and add error bars.



If you are running any SEM analyses and need to create figures that note the direction and magnitude of the path coefficients, there is an open-sourced program: yEd- Graph Editor ( that allows you to easily create, arrange, and export your diagrams. The flow chart in this research tip was created using yEd.



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