Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Aesthetics for Figures and Tables


Making figures and tables look good requires you to consider elements such as color, organization, readability, and visual clarity. To be certain your figures and tables have aesthetic appeal, heed these practices:

  • Do not crowd a table or figure, neither within itself nor within your text; give it room to breathe. When it appears amidst your body text, skip at least one line above and below it.
  • Always beware of creating a 3-D or special effects monster. Do not clutter any visual information with needless items or parts. Every item in the table or figure should have a function—therefore do not do things such as number items unless the numbers actually carry meaning.
  • Organize information so that it is prioritized and easily seen. It is acceptable to highlight a part of a picture or boldface a column of a table to emphasize it, but be certain to explain such emphasis in the caption.
  • As a general rule, place figures and tables right in the text as soon as possible after they are mentioned. If the figure or table cannot be imbedded into the body text, it is common to put it on a separate numbered page that appears on the page immediately following the first body text reference. It is also generally acceptable to include all tables and figures, in order, on separate pages at the end of the document just after the references page, especially in a lengthy paper or thesis.
  • Give each table and figure its own separate page unless it is logical to group them together.
  • If it can be avoided, no single figure or table should spill over to a second page. To keep this from happening, you may orient the table or figure horizontally or break it into parts.
  • Rule of thumb: Try to present the table or figure so that it would make sense even if ripped from the paper.