# What are some best practices for the typography of tables and figures?

I put captions above my tables and below my figures. I use the booktabs package (and no vertical lines) for my tables.

Do I show both tables and figures (graphs) for the same data? If so, in what order?

In general, should I use [h], [t], or [b] at all? When I should I use them? Is it okay for several floats to stack up on a page by themselves?

Is it necessary to have a list of tables and a list of figures? If so, where? At the beginning (after the table of contents)? At the end of each chapter? At the end, before the index? (My particular use case is a thesis, but answers for all document types are appreciated.)

EDIT: Also, where should tables and figures be placed in the source document? Definitely within the same section that references the table or figure, but in general before, in-between, or after the paragraphs in question?

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My general rule of thumb for all of your questions would be: consistency. As to question #4, I think it is more usual to put the lists of tables and figures after the table of contents, but there may be other convenient solutions. Regarding question #3, most classes handle the problem by setting a maximum number of floats and how much of the page they can take, which should do most of the work; then you should fine-tune things in your final draft by specifying [h], [t], [b] or [p] where needed (wrong placement, extra white space, etc.). –  ienissei Sep 2 '12 at 13:09
Geoffrey Jones submitted a nice piece a while back explaining why captions above tables and below figures is the preferred layout style. Worth a read I think (not only because it mentions dolphins). –  Kilgore Sep 4 '12 at 0:05

If you are writing a thesis, look at the style your university is demanding (or else you will be shooting your own feet)

Nevertheless, these are my opinions:

General

You are doing it right by putting captions -- above for tables and below for figures. And use of booktabs and ditching vertical lines adds to the taste.

Showing both tables and graphs for the same data may be subjective. If you want to display the exact values and also the trend of variation, both will help. If you have too much data, then showing them through a graph will be a better idea (Reviewers don't read/like too much data). Further, space constraints influence this issue to some extent. Personally I am against showing both.

Thesis (report or book)

In a big document like thesis, it will be better to put the figures and tables close to where they are mentioned in text. By using the options [htb] you are giving latex more freedom to adjust float placement (at which latex is good). Stacking several floats in the same page is only a matter of personal preference and as long as it doesn't destroy readability, I don't find any thing wrong in it.

Also, it will be better to have a LoT and LoF if you have a large number of those things. It will make navigation much easier. They are generally put in the front matter (place where your certificates, preface/abstracts come), after the table of contents.

Article

If you are submitting your article to a journal/conference, beware of the style they want. If it is the case, you don't have freedom but to use their style file.

As space may become a constraint here, putting both graph and table should be avoided. Whatever is written above for figures is still valid for floats, here also. Now the inclusion of LoT and LOF will become a matter of personal preference. As your manuscript may not grow beyond, say, 20-25 pages, I feel that they won't be necessary.

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Me personally, I have better experience with float placement [tp]. Generally I find [h]-placed floats disturbing (it breaks the text flow) and bottom-placed ones look strange (which is really only a personal feeling), as well, a single page with both [t] and [b] floats is a non-sense (when this happens). Of course except Figure/Table attachment, where the rules are different. –  tohecz Sep 3 '12 at 7:55

1. Captions below or above?

Figures have captions below, table and all other objects have the caption above.

Argumentation for this: for tables it is important to know what kind of data you are handle with. So it is better to place the heading at the top of the table (specially the table is two ore more pages long). In a figure the image is more important than the heading. You want see first the picture. If it is not clear you might have a look to the heading.

I personally do not like side heads, because they usually generate too much white space. This results in poor greyscale and does not facilitate the reading.

If you are using package hyperref use the package option hypcap=true (links on figures will show image and caption). Use booktabs and do not use vertical lines.

2. Show both data and image?

It depends on the data and images: if the reader needs to have an overview I would show the figure in the text (table could be in ithe appendix), if the data is needed to recalculate your given formulas I would show the table in the text (figure could be in appendix). If table and figure are importand for the reader show the more importand one first.

3. Usage of [h],[t],[b] and [p]?

Use [h] not without [t] or [b] ([ht]), that would throw a warning. Use them for your final work (everything is written, now you have a look to good typography).

Because each image or table has to be referenced in your work, give all references to tables and figures like this: See table~\ref{tab:name} and see figure~\ref{fig:name}. Because table and figure are floating never reference them with "see the table above" (you can't be sure it will stay there!).

Use \clearpage or \cleardoublepage to force floats to be printed before the next chapter starts. If possible do not have only floats on on page (include more text) and do not use [p].

4. Position and sequence of lists in document

It depends on the style of your university. But in general I would always print a list of figures and tables. If the list or lists are very important for your work, i would print them at the beginning of my work, if the are not so important, you can print them later.

One possible sequence could be:

• Title,
• Dedication, Preface,
• Contents,
• List of Figures, (either here)
• List of Tables, (either here)
• other lists, (either here)
• List of Figures, (or here)
• List of Tables, (or here)
• other Lists, (or here)
• Bibliography,
• Index
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I'd be much obliged if you could provide a concrete reference backing up your statement that figures should always have captions below and [other floats] above. –  Marc van Dongen Sep 2 '12 at 17:53
@Marc In German the heading of a figure is called "Bildunterschrift" (means heading below the figure) and the heading of a table is called "Tabellenüberschrift" (heading above table). In German books like "Lesetypografie" (ISBN 978-3-87439-800-8) or "Detailtypografie" (ISBN 978-3874396424) you can read this. I'm not sure wheather it is the same in English. –  Kurt Sep 2 '12 at 18:11
@Marc: You can argue like this: for tables it is important to know what kind of data you are handle with. So it is better to place the heading at the top of the table (specially the table is two ore more pages long). In a figure the image is more important than the heading. You want see first the picture. If it is not clear you might have a look to the heading. –  Kurt Sep 2 '12 at 18:29
Thanks for the explanation. Perhaps you can add this to your explanation. Also I suggest you don't write that tables always have captions above and figures always have captions below because because it seems a personal advice. As a matter of fact, I don't think it's true that your advice is the norm. For example, it excludes captions to the side. –  Marc van Dongen Sep 3 '12 at 5:44
@Marc: I do not have the book of Bringhurst to have a look in it. Perhaps you have? I added the explanation in my answer. As you know typographie is very special: at last you can do what you want if you really know what you are doing? So it can be very beautiful to use captions to the side but then this needs to support the typographical character of the rest of the book/thesis layout. For a universal framework of a layout I would always use captions positioned below the image and other captions above. –  Kurt Sep 3 '12 at 19:44

Don't fiddle with the placement options for floats unless you know exactly how the algorithm works - i.e. you have read and understood Lamport's description. And iff you fiddle with them, do so after you have finished the content, i.e. when you are fine-tuning your document.

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Yes, you don't want to spend time trying to force a float to appear at a certain position, then later find it has moved to some spurious position because you have added stuff above it. –  User 17670 Sep 3 '12 at 11:18
@User17670: So why no upvote? :-) –  Martin Schröder Sep 3 '12 at 14:50