08 December 2011

Burn your tables

ResearchBlogging.orgA new paper provides empirical evidence for something that many people, like Edward Tufte, have been saying for years: graphs and figures are better than tables.

Cook and Teo took the results of statistical simulations, and presented them to people in the form of graphs or tables. Everyone were able to answer questions about the data more quickly using a graph. Less experienced people (i.e., undergraduates compared to postgraduates) were able to make more accurate statements about the results when presented in a graph rather than a table.

They note that many journals print tables that make matters even worse. Tables often have far too many significant digits, and readers are often asked to make comparisons horizontally, rather than vertically.

If you are thinking of putting a table on your poster: burn it.


Cook A, Teo S. 2011. The communicability of graphical alternatives to tabular displays of statistical simulation studies. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27974. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027974

Photo by cranky messiah of Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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