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An example table rendered in a web browser using HTML.

A table is both a mode of visual communication and also a means of arranging data. The table is not the only means of arranging data. The use of tables is pervasive throughout all communication, research and data analysis. Tables appear in print media, handwritten notes, computer software, architectural ornamentation, traffic signs and many other places. The precise conventions and terminology for describing tables varies depending on the context. Moreover, tables differ significantly in variety, structure, flexibility, notation, representation and use.[1][2][3][4][5] In books and technical articles, tables are typically presented apart from the main text in numbered and captioned floating blocks.


Basic description

A table consists of an ordered arrangement of rows and columns. This is a simplified description of the most basic kind of table. Certain considerations follow from this simplified description:

  • the term row has several common synonyms (e.g., record, k-tuple, n-tuple, vector);
  • the term column has several common synonyms (e.g., field, parameter, property, attribute);
  • a column is usually identified by a name;
  • a column name can consist of a word, phrase or a numerical index;
  • the intersection of a row and a column is a cell.

The elements of a table may be grouped, segmented, or arranged in many different ways, and even nested recursively. Additionally, a table may include metadata, annotations, header,[6] footer or other ancillary features. [5]


Simple table

The following illustrates a simple table with three columns and six rows. The first row is not counted, because it is only used to display the column names. This is traditionally called a "header row".

Age table
First name Last name Age
Laurisse Sapungan 33
Jella Buquiran 43
Jan Estuesta 23
Joseph Yuhico 37
Mike Guadalupe 31
Josh Lunzaga 11

Multi-dimensional table

An example of a table containing rows with summary information. The summary information consists of subtotals that are combined from previous rows within the same column.

The concept of dimension is also a part of basic terminology.[7] Any "simple" table can be represented as a "multi-dimensional" table by normalizing the data values into ordered hierarchies. A common example of such a table is a multiplication table.

Multiplication table
× 1 2 3
1 1 2 3
2 2 4 6
3 3 6 9

NOTE: Multidimensional tables, 2-dimensional as in the example, are created under the condition the coordinates or combination of the basic headers (margins) give a unique value attached. This is a injective relation: each combination of the values of the headers row (row 0, for lack of a better term) and the headers column (column O for lack of a better term) is related to a unique value represented on the table:

  • column 1 and row 1 will only correspond to the value 1 (and no other)
  • column 1 and row 2 will only correspond to the value 2 (and no other), etc

If the said condition is not present, it is required to insert extra columns or rows which increases the size of table with plenty of empty cells.

To illustrate how a simple table can be transformed into a multi-dimensional table, consider the following transformation of the Age table.

Modified Age Table (names only)
+ 1 2 3
Nancy Nancy Davolio Nancy Klondike Nancy Obesanjo
Justin Justin Saunders Justin Timberland Justin Daviolio

This is structurally identical to the multiplication table, except it uses concatenation instead of multiplication as the operator; and first name and last name instead of integers as the operands.

Wide and Narrow Tables

Tables can be described as wide or narrow in format. Wide format has a separate column for each data variable, a Narrow format will have one column for all the variable values and another column for the context of that value. See Wide and Narrow Data.

Generic representation

As a communication tool, a table allows a form of generalization of information from an unlimited number of different social or scientific contexts. It provides a familiar way to convey information that might otherwise not be obvious or readily understood.

For example, in the following diagram, two alternate representations of the same information are presented side by side. On the left is the NFPA 704 standard "fire diamond" with example values indicated and on the right is a simple table displaying the same values, along with additional information. Both representations convey essentially the same information, but the tabular representation is arguably more comprehensible to someone who is not familiar with the NFPA 704 standard. The tabular representation may not, however, be ideal for every circumstance (for example because of space limitations, or safety reasons).

Fire diamond
Standard Representation Tabular Representation
NFPA 704.svg
Risk levels of hazardous materials in this facility
Health Risk Flammability Reactivity Special
Level 3 Level 2 Level 1

Specific uses

There are several specific situations in which tables are routinely used as a matter of custom or formal convention.



Natural sciences

Information technology

Computer programming

Data tables are used extensively in computers in many diverse forms, each form representing a distinct data structure or format. Tables are used to control software and minimize load on hardware, by memoizing[8] results that would otherwise require direct computation.

Examples include:

Software applications

Modern software applications give users the ability to generate, format, and edit tables and tabular data for a wide variety of uses.

Such applications include:

Historical relationship to furniture

In medieval counting houses, the tables were covered with a piece of chequered cloth, to count money. Exchequer is an archaic term for the English institution which accounted for money owed to the monarch. Thus the checkerboard tables of stacks of coins are a concrete realization of this information.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Fink, Arlene (2005). How to Conduct Surveys. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. ISBN 141291423X. 
  2. ^ Mcnabb, David (2002). Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0765609576. 
  3. ^ Morgan, George (2004). Spss for Introductory Statistics. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN 0805847898. 
  4. ^ Robey, David (2000). Sound and Structure in the Divine Comedy. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198184980. 
  5. ^ a b Zielinski, Krzysztof (2006). Software Engineering: Evolution and Emerging Technologies. Amsterdam: IOS Press. ISBN 1586035592. 
  6. ^ see e.g., Page header or Header (information technology)
  7. ^ The concept of "dimension" is often applied to tables in different contexts and with different meanings. For example, what is described as a "Simple Table" in this article is alternatively described as a "two dimensional array". This is distinct from "multi-dimensional table" as presented in this article.
  8. ^ see also, cache

See also

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|200px|Text table: Red Book of endangered species.]]

Truth tables (logic)

A table of information is a set of facts systematically displayed in rows and columns.[1] It is a basic means of displaying information. It requires a means of display, such as writing, print or a computer monitor. It is both a mode of visual communication and also a means of arranging data.

A table consists of an orderly arrangement of rows and columns. The columns and rows usually have names or labels. Tables may include annotations, headers, footers or other features. Like other graphic forms such as diagrams and illustrations, tables are often used together with prose. In books and articles, tables are often numbered and captioned.

Tables were the first method used to print social and scientific data, before any other kind of graphics such as graphs and charts. All the information about a modern society was recorded and published first as tables. Marriage certificates were written tables. Census results were recorded in tabular form, and later analysed in printed tables.[2] All meteorological observations were published as printed numerical tables. Many kinds of reports to Parliament contained tables of data. Many of these methods were devised in Britain, because the government there collected statistics about the population earlier than in most other societies.[3]

The use of tables is widespread in all types of communication, research and data analysis. Tables appear in print media, handwritten notes, computer software, architectural ornamentation, traffic signs and many other places. The details vary according to circumstances. Tables are extremely flexible, and can easily be constructed on computer and in print.[4][5][6][7]

Tables are not always easy to understand, and there is a whole industry which takes tabular information and turns it into other forms, such as graphs and charts, for the benefit of the reader.[8][9][10]


  1. Concise Oxford Dictionary
  2. The taking of censuses is ancient (St. Luke, chapter 2), but the publication of tabular statistical analysis is modern.
  3. Nissel M. 1987. People count: a history of the General Register Office. HMSO, London.
  4. Fink, Arlene (2005). How to conduct surveys. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. ISBN 141291423X. 
  5. McNabb, David (2002). Research methods in public administration and nonprofit management. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0765609576. 
  6. Morgan, George (2004). SPSS for introductory statistics. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum. ISBN 0805847898. 
  7. Zielinski, Krzysztof (2006). Software engineering: evolution and emerging technologies. Amsterdam: IOS Press. ISBN 1586035592. 
  8. Schmid, Calvin F. & Stanton E. 1979. Handbook of graphic presentation. Wiley. N.Y.
  9. Schmid, Calvin E. 1983. Statistical graphics: design principles and practice. Wiley N.Y.
  10. Holmes N. 1984. Designer's guide to creating charts & diagrams. Watson-Guptill N.Y.
File:Edinburgh Station
Tabular sign display

[[File:|thumb|left|200px|How Saturn's rings appear to us over the 29 years it takes Saturn to orbit the sun.]]


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