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CMST 213 Social Media (Neffenger)

How to APA 7th ed.: When to use a Table or Chart/Graph (called a 'Figure' in APA Style)

Tables vs. "Figures" (charts, graphs, and so on)

When to use a table?

You will want to use a table when you would like to show a large amount of complex data or you would like your reader to see several different and distinct categories of results. According to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab:

Data in a table that would require only two or fewer columns and rows should be presented in the text. More complex data is better presented in tabular format.

APA table example from "How to set up a table in APA 7th ed." (link below)

(click on the image to enlarge)

When to use a "figure"?

Everything that visually presents information but is NOT a table is labeled a "figure" in APA style. This includes all types of charts (like pie charts), graphs (like line and bar graphs), and illustrations (like photos or maps). According to the Purdue University Online Writing Lab:

Figures include all graphical displays of information that are not tables. Common types include graphs, charts, drawings, maps, plots, and photos. Just like tables, figures should supplement the text and should be both understandable on their own and referenced fully in the text.

sample APA bar graph as a "Figure" from Purdue Owl

(click on the image to enlarge)

What does "referenced in the text" mean in APA style?

In APA style, both tables and figures should be meaningfully mentioned in your text (or your presentation, if a speech). What does this mean? It means you include the data and then talk about it to provide context in your paper text / presentation content.

Here's an example of what that looks like with a Pew Research Study report showing data on U.S. adult Twitter use in a bar graph. On the left is text explaining more context about the data, including that "a much larger share of their news tweets focused on government and politics in 2021" and how more tweets about health news could be related to the Coronavirus pandemic:

(click on the images to expand)

screenshot of a Pew study showing a bar chart of Americans' Twitter use, and highlighted text that shows the data being contextualized to the leftThe same Pew report, with this screenshot showing how the text contextualized the survey data, noting more users tweeted about health news in the COVID-19 period.

Want to see more examples of how to "reference in the text"? 

Check out this example from the YouTube channel "Smart Student" on how to "call out" table or figure data in your text. Lots of other great examples of how to create tables and figures for APA style in this video as well! 

How to create an APA Style (7th ed.) Table in Microsoft Word or Google Docs

Microsoft Word (27:11)

Google Docs (12:13)

How to make some common types of charts and graphs in Microsoft Excel or Google Docs

How to make a line graph (and bar graph) in Microsoft Excel (5:24)

This video includes an example of changing the graph to a bar graph and graphing two sets on data at once near the end.

How to make a pie chart in Microsoft Excel (13:30)

How to make a graph (or chart) in Google Docs (5:32)