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Formatting Visuals

When representing data and other complex ideas quickly and efficiently, academics from a range of disciplines often turn to tables and figures formatted according to APA standards. The following guidelines for documenting in-text visuals come from Chapter 5 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. Where applicable, the manual sections are included in brackets.

Formatting Tables

Using columns and rows, tables quickly and clearly display large amounts of data to supplement discussion in the text. [5.07]

  • Number tables with Arabic numerals (e.g., Table 1) in the order they are first mentioned in the document. [5.05]
  • In the text, introduce and refer to tables by number. Do not write "the table above/below." [5.10]
  • Label tables with clear and brief titles on the two lines above each table. [5.12]
    • Line 1: Include the word "Title" and the title number (e.g., Table 2).
    • Line 2: Include a descriptive title (italicized) that reveals the table's content, capitalizing all major words.
  • Provide short descriptive headings to organize and identify columns of data. [5.13]
  • Single- or double-space tables. [5.17]
  • Include the table title and headings on the same page as the table. Capitalize all major words.
  • If necessary, explain table elements a general note, left-aligned under the table and begun with the word Note (italicized) followed by a period. Then add any clarifying information. [5.16]
    • Explain all non-standard abbreviations.
    • Acknowledge any sources for the table's information.
  • Turn tables sideways if they are too wide; if a table is too long, run it over several pages.
  • When possible, be consistent in formatting and labeling decisions for all tables in a document. [5.11]

View a table formatted in APA style

Rule to Remember

Make each table an integral part of the paper. Refer to a table as close as possible to where it appears in the text.

Formatting Figures

All other visuals (graphs, charts, dot maps, illustrations, photographs, maps, etc.) are referred to as figures. [5.20; 5.21].

  • Number all figures with Arabic numerals (e.g., Figure 1) in the order they are first mentioned in the document. [5.05]
  • In the text, introduce and refer to figures by number, not "the figure below" or "the aforementioned figure."
  • Within the figure, provide clear labels for all elements. [5.22]
  • Use legible (sans serif) font (size 8-14). [5.25]
  • Provide a legend, an explanation of any unclear symbols, and a caption, an explanation of the figure as a whole that serves as the figure's title. [5.23]
    • Incorporate the legend into the figure using the same font/sizing as the rest of the figure. Capitalize all major words.
    • Include the caption left-aligned and double-spaced under the figure. Begin with the word Figure and the figure number (both italicized), followed by a period; then, incorporate a descriptive phrase as the figure's title (e.g., Figure 2. Distribution of would along the formal/informal dimension of written English). Only capitalize the first word and other proper nouns. Add any clarifying information.
      • Explain all non-standard abbreviations.
      • Acknowledge any sources for the table's information.
  • Include the figure and its caption on the same page.
  • Use consistent size and style with figures relating to the same topic or explaining the same idea. [5.22]

View a figure formatted in APA style

Rule to Remember

Other visual materials (graphs, charts, dot maps, photographs, or drawings) are labeled Figure.

If a table or a figure is borrowed from another author or from copyrighted material, obtain permission to reproduce that table or figure. At the bottom of each reproduced table or figure, identify the source, giving credit to the author or the copyright holder.


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