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Short LaTeX hint: correct tables for scientific documents

2009-03-15 by bsiegert@
Tags: latex snippet

One of the things you should pay attention to when writing a scientific paper is the layout of the tables. Never, I repeat never, use vertical lines or even a “grid” with lines between all cells. Instead, use only horizontal lines—one at the top, one between the column headings, and one at the bottom. The documentation for the booktab package [pdf], which is appropriately written by a Swiss, explains this nicely. Two more things: the table should be in a smaller font than the text (about 10%) and span the whole width of the text. As scientific papers are always typeset in two-column mode, you may have tables one column or two columns wide. The latter is done like this in LaTeX:

First column & Temperature (°C) & $D$ (nm)\\
Foo & 210 & 10\\
Bar & 300 & 15\\
\caption{\label{tbl:mylabel} This is the table caption, where you
should explain what identifiers like $D$ above mean.}

Units go into the header, or into a separate header line (which is IIRC recommended by DIN). The amount of l at the end of the third line is equivalent to the number of columns. That means you should exclusively use left-aligned columns. Also, don’t be afraid to make tables wider than high, or with only one line of data. I have seen this in Wiley-VCH journals, and it comes out alright.

To make the table only one column wide, replace table* by table and \textwidth by \columnwidth in the example above. Do however leave the asterisk in tabular*.

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