Figures and tables play an important part in providing visuals to readers that help them fully grasp the importance of the research being introduced. While analysis is an important aspect of research, it is often hard to present the data in words. Readers may also struggle to connect the dots of the research’s analysis if there are no visuals that elaborate on the research. One way to help portray your research is by including tables, graphs, and figures in your research paper. Including data in that manner will allow a researcher to clearly state the conclusions based on the data provided.
The planning for when and how to include visuals starts way before writing the paper. This process should be started before you begin your research in order to identify the best ways to communicate the information to the audience you are trying to reach, and it is very helpful to use every tool provided to you to reach the conclusion you are stating. A good rule of thumb used to identify if you should use a figure in your research paper is to ask yourself whether your argument can be explained in a sentence or two. If you are able to concisely explain your point, then there is likely no need to include tables or figures (Pamplona, 2022).
(Read more about tables and graphs here!)
If the data you are trying to present is extensive and too complex to explain concisely, then you likely need to include figures or tables since it is an effective and easy way to include data in your research without overcrowding your research. Keep in mind that sometimes the extensive explanation of data in a research paper results in it being difficult to understand. This can easily be solved by substituting words with a table or a figure (Pamplona, 2022).
With that being said, it is easy to overuse tables and graphs and clog up your research paper. Therefore, it is important to remember that tables and figures are only to be used as evidence for academic arguments and are mostly effective in report writing. Tables and graphs, to be successful, need to be used with purpose and referenced correctly in your research paper (University of New England, n.d.).
Another question that arises once you determine that it is helpful to use tables or figures is whether you should use a table to portray your information or some kind of figure. There are a few things to consider in order to determine what is the best approach to using visuals. When you are using visuals to show numerical data or other types of summary data in a compact space, a table is the best way to do so. Tables are also ideal for combining, comparing, and contrasting different kinds of data, showing items that have multiple characteristics, variables, or even to showcase the absence of these characteristics (Pamplona, 2022).
On the other hand, when you need to depict patterns, trends, and any other relations between data points, it is recommended that you use figures. As opposed to tables, figures are often used to showcase specific patterns between the data points rather than the data itself. Figures can also be used to describe a series of events, procedures, or other relevant facts in a timeline. There are a number of figure types, and each of them is ideal for different uses. These options include graphs, data plots, pie charts, maps, and any other visual representation of data. This gives you the freedom to choose from a variety of ways to portray your data in a way you feel is the most suitable (Pamplona, 2022).
(Understanding the Inner Workings of a Reference Book: Figures)
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- Pamplona, F. (2022). How to include figures in a research paper. Mind the Graph Blog. https://mindthegraph.com/blog/how-to-include-figures-in-a-research-paper/
- University of New England. (n.d.). Tables & figures. Online Learning Resources. https://aso-resources.une.edu.au/academic-writing-course/information-basics/tables-figures/