How to present tables and figures in APA Style (6th edition)

This article reflects the APA 6th edition guidelines. Click here for APA 7th edition guidelines.

APA Style has specific guidelines for formatting tables and figures and referring to them in the text.

A table concisely presents information (usually numbers) in rows and columns. A figure is any other image or illustration you include in your text – anything from a bar chart to a photograph.

You can create tables and figures yourself or adapt them from other sources. In both cases the format is the same, but if they come from another source you must acknowledge this and include the source in your reference list.

Tables in APA Style

To correctly format an APA table, follow these rules:

  • Table number (in plain text) above the table.
  • Brief title (in italics and title case) below the table number.
  • Use no vertical lines and as few horizontal lines as possible.
  • Notes below the table when necessary.
APA table example

A table formatted according to APA style.

Table number and title

Tables are numbered in the order they are referred to in your text. The title should clearly and straightforwardly describe the table’s content. Omit articles to keep it concise.

The table number appears on its own line, in plain text, followed by the table title on the following line, in italics and title case. For example:

Table 4
Literacy Rates in European Countries

Table body

Tables will vary in size and structure depending on the data you’re presenting, but APA gives some general guidelines for their design.

Do not use vertical lines, and use only as many horizontal lines as are necessary for clarity. The example in the image above uses only four lines: Those at the top and bottom, and those separating the main data from the column heads and the totals.

Create your tables using the tools built into your word processor. In Word, you can use the “Insert table” tool.

For column and row headings, use concise and clear labels. Be consistent in the way you present numbers – for example, display the same number of decimal places for each item.

Table notes

Below your table, if necessary, include notes to explain the table. These are not your analysis of the data presented; save that for the main text.

Notes come in three varieties: general, specific, and probability notes.

General notes come first. They are preceded by the word ‘Note’ in italics, followed by a period. They include any explanations that apply to the table as a whole and acknowledgements if the table was adapted from another source, and they end with definitions of any abbreviations used:

Note. In this research, respondents were asked to self-assess their satisfaction. Adapted from Example Book, by J. Smith, 2014, p. 234. Copyright 2016 by Oxford University Press. SL = Satisfaction level.

Note that where tables are adapted from other sources, these sources should also appear on the reference page.

Specific notes are those that refer to specific points in the table. Superscript letters (a, b, c …) appear at the relevant points in the table and at the start of each note to indicate what they refer to. They are used when it’s necessary to comment on a specific data point or term in the table:

a n = 350. b Five respondents failed to complete this part of the survey.

Probability notes give p values for the data in the table. They correspond to asterisks (and/or other symbols) in the table:

* p < .05. ** p < .01.

Each type of note appears in a new paragraph, but multiple notes of the same kind all appear in one paragraph.

Only include the notes that are needed to understand your data. It may be that your table is clear in itself, and has no notes, or only probability notes; be as concise as possible.

Figures in APA Style

Any images used within your text are called figures. Figures include data visualization graphics – graphs, diagrams, flow-charts, etc. – as well as things like photographs and artworks.

To correctly format an APA figure, follow these rules:

  • Labels and legends within the image in the same font and size as the main text.
  • Figure number below the image, in italics and followed by a period.
  • Figure caption on the same line, in plain text and followed by a period.
APA figure example

A figure formatted according to APA style

Figure and legend

The figure itself appears first. If it’s an infographic, it will usually include labels for the different elements of the graphic, and may also include a legend explaining the meaning of any symbols, colors and shading that cannot be directly labelled. For example, the “Boys” and “Girls” text in the above example is a legend. All of this should be integrated into the image itself.

Keep the design of figures as simple as possible. Use colors only where necessary, not just to make the image look more appealing. For labels and legends, use the same font and font size as in your main text.

For other figures, such as photographs, you won’t need a legend; the figure consists simply of the image itself, reproduced at an appropriate size and resolution.

Figure number and caption

Below the figure, place the figure number and caption:

Figure 1. Photograph of a bald eagle in flight. Copyright 2015 by J. Smith. Reproduced with permission.

Figures are numbered in the order they are referred to in the text. The figure number appears in italics.

The caption appears immediately after the number (no line break), and is written in plain text, with sentence case capitalization. The caption should give the title of the image or, if there is no title, a short description.

The caption also provides any additional notes, such as legend information that could not be included in the figure itself, and acknowledgements if the figure was adapted from another source.

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Where to place tables and figures

You have two options for the placement of tables and figures in APA Style:

  • Option 1: Place tables and figures throughout your text, close to the parts of the text that refer to them.
  • Option 2: Place them all together at the end of your text (after the reference list) to avoid breaking up the text.

If you place them throughout the text, note that each table or figure should only appear once. If you refer to the same table or figure more than once, don’t reproduce it each time – just place it after the paragraph in which it’s first discussed.

Leave a line break after the table or figure to clearly distinguish the main text from the caption or notes, and place the table or figure on a new page if necessary to avoid splitting it across multiple pages.

If you place all your tables and figures at the end, you should have one table or figure on each page. Begin with all your tables, then place all your figures afterwards.

Referring to tables and figures in the text

Avoid making redundant statements about your tables and figures in your text. When you write about data from tables and figures, it should be to highlight or analyze a particular data point or trend, not simply to restate what is already clearly shown in the table or figure:

  • As Table 1 shows, there are 115 boys in Grade 4, 130 in Grade 5, and 117 in Grade 6 …
  • Table 1 indicates a notable preponderance of boys in Grade 5. It is important to take this into account because …

Additionally, even if you have embedded your tables and figures in your text, refer to them by their numbers, not by their position relative to the text or by description:

  • The table below shows…
  • Table 1 shows…
  • As can be seen in the image on page 4…
  • As can be seen in Figure 3…
  • The photograph of a bald eagle is an example of…
  • Figure 1 is an example of…
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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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4 comments

Alice
May 31, 2021 at 5:59 PM

If I place all my tables at the end of my text (rather than throughout), do I put them in as separate appendices and refer to them as Appendix A, Appendix B etc in the text, or Appendix Table 1, Appendix Table 2, Appendix Figure 1 etc. How should they be labelled in the Appendix?

Thanks a lot!

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
June 7, 2021 at 5:22 PM

Hi Alice,

No, if you're following the rule of placing all your tables and figures at the end, you should just label and refer to them in the normal way (e.g., "see Figure 1").

However, you can choose to include some or even all tables and figures in appendices, if you have a good reason for separating them from the main text. In this case, the information here about labeling tables and figures within appendices may be useful to you (the article is about 7th edition APA style, but guidelines are similar in the 6th edition in this case).

Reply

Benita
April 18, 2021 at 7:47 PM

How do I cite a figure that I have copied from a journal? I already included it in the text with the apa style for figures but I'm not quite sure how to cite it. Do I put it in the reference list in the end and just cite the journal where I got it from or do I have to cite the figure directly?

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 22, 2021 at 5:14 PM

Hi Benita,

Yes, indeed, you should include the journal article you took the figure from in your reference list; just cite the article as a whole, not the specific figure. When you first refer to the figure in the text you can include an author-date citation to clarify the source and the specific location of the figure within it, e.g. "Figure 4 (Ajzen, 1991, p. 179) shows..."

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