Why you should use tables

Many types of articles and blog posts can benefit from tables. For certain types of writing (particularly when data is involved - for example relating to politics or science) tables can concisely summarise data and allow the reader to quickly form an opinion without reading the main text. The reader may then more readily decide to read the article in full, particularly if long than a couple of hundred words.

If you use Markdown using an iPhone or iPad app you may have been put off including tables due to poor support from the main apps. In that case you should take a look at Markdown Tables. It provides a companion to your favorite writing app and makes creating and editing tables a joyful rather than a frustrating experience.

Here is an example of some text replaced by a table.

Without the table:

In this study we looked at a number of students to determine their eating habits. We looked at Matthew who was 12, Emma who was 8, Raj who was 9 and Emily who was 11.

Using a table:

Name Age
Emma 8
Raj 9
Emily 11
Matthew 12

The table more clearly summarises the students and their ages. It is easier to see at a glance the youngest and oldest students and how many students took part.

Some tips for using tables:

  • Tables should be understandable on their own without the reader needing to read the entire article.
  • Be selective over your use of tables. Too many tables may make the article more difficult to understand rather than more lucid.
  • If you are having trouble explaining an abstract or complex topic based on data then consider whether a table will help.
  • Use a table when you want your reader to look up specific information.
  • Make sure the data in the table is accurate - poor data will reflect badly on your article.
  • Consider only using the minimum number of rows needed to convey the information. If there are more than three rows make sure it is easy for a reader to scan the table to find the information they want.