Each table or figure should be a complete unit of communication, containing enough information so that a reader can grasp its essential message without referring to the text. For this, the title must be adequate, the headings complete and explanatory, and the data arranged logically. All symbols and images within the graphic aid should be explained. If necessary for understanding, experimental details should be given in the legend. If appropriate, matters such as degree of magnification and type of stain should be included.
Do not take chances on losing readers to frustration. During the editing stages, show your illustrations to someone who knows little or nothing about your research. Then listen, and be prepared to address the sometimes-surprising questions your illustrations may raise.
Paradoxically, while visual aids must be independent of the text, they also must be indispensable to its story As mentioned before, readers almost always look at illustrative material first. Good visual materials should spark reader interest, and interested readers will have questions. To be effective, use the text to answer these questions. The text, in turn, must refer specifically to each table and figure by number and clarify why the information is needed. The statement that "Table 1 gives results" falls short in this regard, and simply wastes space. Instead, use the text to summarize or explain, as in "Affected animals had significantly lower weights (Table 1)."
Consider the set of tables and other illustrations in a document as a sequence. Together, they should tell a story - the message of the paper. However, avoid saying "as shown in the table above/below" because the position and page number of a table is not determined until typesetting by the printer.
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