Figures, Tables and References

Both this and the following chapter will focus upon the presentation of your work, and address more practical issues. In this chapter we will take a look at figures, tables and references. These are all important elements of reporting the findings of your research, and often cause problems although they are really quite straightforward. Figures and tables can be used to present data, clarify interpretations and to explain concepts. This chapter covers when you should use figures and tables, and how to format them such that they serve their purpose. References are important for another reason – they allow your reader to follow-up what you have read. You may refer to a theory or a research finding that the reader wishes to read about for themselves. In order for him or her to do this, you must provide a reference to the relevant text that they can use to locate the book or journal. References must, therefore, contain the relevant information to allow the reader to do this. Furthermore, the references must be formatted in a consistent and conventional manner.


Within the dissertation marking scheme, marks are awarded for both the correct use of figures/tables and presentation of references. This is not difficult, and if you follow the advice given here you should pick up most (if not all) of the available marks.


Figures come in two types: graphs and images/diagrams. Graphs are typically used to present your data in a form that is easy for the reader to understand. Images and diagrams are more likely to be used to help explain concepts or theories. It is important to realise that figures do not act as a replacement for text. You should still explain concepts and theories and present your data in written English. The figures help the reader to understand what you have written.

Figures Generally


1.     Purpose. Before inserting a figure into your dissertation, ask yourself why you are doing so. If the answer is because it makes the report look better, or that you feel you ought to, then do not include it. Figures must serve a purpose. Graphs are used to present data that is complex, and not clear when presented in a table. They can also be used to emphasise certain aspects of your data. But if your dissertation is not richer for having a graph, then it should be discarded. Images and diagrams help to present complex ideas. Do your images/diagrams actually help? If not, you should discard them.

2.     Titling. Your figures must be appropriately titled. All graphs, diagrams and images should be titled as Figures. These will be numbered consecutively throughout the dissertation: Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3, and so on. After the numbering, there should be a short and concise title. Titles for figures appear below the figure itself. An example of a titled graph is given below (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Effects of list type on articulation of English glosses of signs


3.     Connecting to text. Whenever you use a figure, you must refer to it in the text. For example, “The mean articulation rates for the different conditions are presented in Figure 1” or “Articulation rates varied by condition (see Figure 1)”.

Graphs Specifically


1.     Labelling. Graphs are used to present data. They must be clearly labelled if the reader is to understand them. By labelling we are referring to the text inside the graph itself, and not the title. Broadly speaking, there are two pieces of information that should be labelled within the graph: (a) axes and (b) data series. In Figure 1 (above) the vertical axis is labelled “Mean articulation rate (seconds)” and the scale is indicated (1 to 3). This tells the reader what the bars mean – the higher the bar, the greater the articulation rate for that condition. The horizontal axis provides information about the bars, and what conditions they represent. The two bars on the left are from the motivationally similar condition, and the two bars on the right are from the motivationally dissimilar condition. This graph also has a legend, which provides more information. It indicates that the black bars represent the formationally similar condition, and the white bars represent the formationally dissimilar condition.

2.     Colours. If you have to use colours to make a graph clear, then you are probably including too much information (see below). All graphs should be in greyscale, i.e. black, greys and white. You can also use patterns to help distinguish different columns, or different markers (such as circles, squares and crosses) when presenting line graphs. But you should not use coloured graphs.

3.     Amount of information. Don’t be tempted to put too much information in a single graph. You can always use more than one! Think about what you want the graph to say, and include just enough information for it to make that point. You can also group several graphs together, such as in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2:  Mean (and standard error of) number of items recalled in correct serial position.

4.     Graph format. There are many types of graph format for you to choose from. Figure 1 is a bar chart, whereas Figure 2 is a line chart. There are also pie charts, stack charts, and many more. Play around and try out different formats when presenting your data, then select the format that best makes the point you are trying to make.

Images and Diagrams Specifically


1.     Purpose. Diagrams can be very useful for explaining models and theories that you wish to include in your dissertation. But they are not a replacement for explaining and discussing those models/theories in English. Rather, the diagram helps to make things clearer, and can be referred to in your description. An example diagram is given below (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Schematic representation of the working memory system (adapted from Gathercole and Baddeley, 1993).

Images are particularly useful when you need to refer to a sign from BSL or another sign language. You can create these by scanning in a photograph, or copying an image file you located on the Internet. An example image is given in Figure 4.

2.     Copyright. If you use an image or diagram that you have obtained from someone or somewhere else, then you must attribute it. This means you must indicate the source of that image/diagram. This has been done in both Figure 3 and Figure 4. You must also ensure that the image/diagram is not copyrighted, or that copyright permission has been obtained where it is needed.


Figure 4: The BSL sign NUMBER (from Brien, 1992) and its Stokoe notation.  The symbol U refers to the location of the sign (chin), A specifies that the handshape is a fist, T denotes that the palm is oriented towards the signer, ^ that the fingers would point upwards if the hand was extended, and x. that the hand makes contact with the chin repeatedly.


Tables are used to present information. That could be theoretical information, or data from your research findings. Here we will focus upon the latter – presenting your data. As mentioned previously, it is not usually appropriate to present your raw data in the Results section. Why? Because the information would be meaningless or difficult to extract. Tables require you to do some of the work for the reader. In a table you present a summary of your data. Typically this will include mean, standard deviation and sample size statistics (for quantitative research projects). An example of a well-formatted table is given below (Table 1).

Table 1: Item and order errors by list similarity for native and non-native groups.


Item errors


Order errors









Native signers








































Non-native signers

































Note that the title for the table appears above the table itself (unlike for figures). The table is also well labelled. The first column denotes the experimental condition, with data for native and non-native signers presented separately. The table provides information on means (M), standard deviations (SD) and sample size (N) for two measurements – item errors and order errors. These measurements are also clearly labelled and separated in the table. As the table is well-formatted, it is easy to (a) obtain the required information quickly, and (b) compare different conditions, groups and measurements.

You should always present your data in a summarised form that helps the reader to understand your findings. Often this will take the form of one or more tables. As for figures, tables are not a replacement for describing what you have found in English. Nor should you use a figure to replace a table – figures should be used in addition to a table if they help highlight some aspects of your data.


References were covered before when we looked at writing style at the start of the Unit. Here more information will be presented, that will hopefully answer most questions you have about formatting references. The formatting protocol used for this Unit is that laid down by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA format is widely used within academia, and the APA Style Manual has comprehensive details on how to reference properly, as well advice on how to present figures and tables. The full title of the APA Style Manual is:

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: Fifth Edition.

[This edition may not be available in the Arts & Social Sciences Library, but the Fourth Edition certainly is, and you can refer to that.]

Not a Bibliography

The first point to make is that you include references only where you have read the text and reported an aspect of it in your dissertation. The Reference section of your dissertation is not a Bibliography where you list all of the work you have read.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Secondly, we need to distinguish between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are those books/articles that you have read yourself. Secondary sources are books/articles that other people have talked about in books/articles that you have read. For example, you make have read the book by Gathercole and Baddeley (1993) yourself. Alternatively, you may have read a book by Hitch (1999) that talks about the work of Gathercole and Baddeley (1993). The first is a primary source, and the latter a secondary source. You should read as many primary sources as possible. This is because secondary sources are someone else’s interpretation of what another author has written.

Primary and secondary sources are cited in the text differently, and presented in the Reference section differently. This is important because it allows the reader to know which work you have read yourself, and where you are relying upon the interpretation of another author.

Citing in the text:

Primary sources are cited as discussed in an earlier lecture in this Unit. For example:

Gathercole and Baddeley (1993) propose that working memory is a modular component.
It has been proposed that working memory is a modular component (Gathercole and Baddeley, 1993).

Secondary sources indicate where the source was obtained. For example:


Gathercole and Baddeley (1993, cited in Hitch, 1999) propose that working memory is a modular component.
It has been proposed that working memory is a modular component (Gathercole and Baddeley, 1993, cited in Hitch, 1999).

Citing in the References section:

Primary sources are referenced as discussed in an earlier lecture in this Unit. For example:

Gathercole, S. and Baddeley, A. (1993). Working memory and language. Hove: LEA.

Secondary sources indicate only the source of the information. For example:

Hitch, G. (1999). Recent advances in the study of memory. Cambridge: CUP.

Course Notes

It is never acceptable to reference course notes from a Unit in the B.Sc. or M.Sc. programme (either from CDS or any other teaching institution). If there is a piece of information contained in course notes, and you wish to include it in your dissertation, then you should contact the Unit coordinator of the relevant Unit and seek information on the source of that information.

Internet Sources

Sometimes you will locate information on the Internet that you wish to include in your dissertation. This will usually take the form of a web page or an email from someone you are corresponding with. Particular care should be taken with information derived from web pages. It is often hard to assess the reliability of the information, and quality is also an issue. Most books and journals are peer reviewed. This means that other academics have read the work and deemed it of sufficient quality for publication. This is rarely the case with research or information published on web pages. If you do choose to include web pages as references, then there are ways in which they should be cited and referenced. The Publication Manual of the APA has more information on this.

Email correspondence, and other forms of correspondence, can legitimately be cited and referenced. For example, if you received Jim Kyle’s opinions on a piece of research in an email or letter, you can include those opinions in your dissertation. In the text, such correspondence would be cited as follows:

Not all authors agree that the results reported by Hitch (1999) are interpreted correctly (Jim Kyle, personal communication).

In the reference section, the personal communication would be referenced as follows:

Kyle, J. (personal communication). Incorrect interpretations of Hitch’s data.

In this instance the Subject: of the email or the heading of the letter is given.

Final Word on Referencing

Referencing is quite straightforward once you have, and understand, a system. It is important to be consistent, and provide the relevant information. Your dissertation supervisor should help you with this, and there is no substitute for practice and corrective feedback. In the past students have managed to use the Publication Manual of the APA successfully. It appears daunting at first, but with practice and experience you will find you need to refer to it less and less.