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Writing Lab Reports: Tables and Figures


Keys to Figures and Tables
Figures and tables must be able to stand on their own – a reader must be able to fully understand the information presented without having to refer to the text, or even title, of the report. Therefore, titles must be fully explanatory; axes, rows, and columns must be clearly labelled with variables and units; and abbreviations must be written out in full.

Use figures and tables to complement the text of your lab report.

Graphs, considered a type of figure in scientific writing, provide a visual representation of your results; they make it easier for the reader to understand your results and allow you to highlight interesting trends and patterns. Tables present complex data and statistical results that would be cumbersome or impossible to include in either a figure or in text. An information table is more time consuming to interpret, both because of its complex nature and the lack of visual representation, so, when possible, figures are preferred. In a scientific paper, a researcher would generally not present data in either mode if they could be easily stated in text, but your course may require specific tables or figures to help you hone these skills.

Both figures and tables must be numbered consecutively in the order that they are referred to in the text of your report. For example, Figure 1, Figure 2; Table 1, Table 2, etc. Imbed both within the text, as close to the relevant section as possible.

When preparing tables and figures for your lab report, you must adhere to strict guidelines. Your lab manual should provide detailed instructions, but you can also review to the following standard rules for scientific publications.

Guidelines for Figures

Type: For numerical data, use a scatter plot or line graph; for categorical data, use a bar graph. Though other graph types are occasionally used, these are the most common.

Title: Position title below the figure. Your figure title should include details of what your figure is presenting, including the variables, units of measurement, statistics, significance level, and sample size.

Axes: Clearly label axes with the variable and units

Error bars: When graphing mean values, in either a dot/line or a bar graph, include error bars to indicate standard deviation or standard error.

Legend: Provide a legend, only if necessary, to differentiate treatments or groupings.

Formatting: Avoid using colour and instead use shading or symbols that are easy to differentiate when printed in black and white. Removed unnecessary background shading, lines, and legends.

Guidelines for Tables

Title: Position title above the table.Your table title should include details of what your figure is presenting, including the variables, statistics, significance level, and sample size.

Rows and columns: Clearly label with the variable and units

Lines: Use only essential horizontal lines; remove vertical lines and unessential horizontal lines (easily done in both MS Excel and Word).

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