How many charts and tables in a book?

An author asks:

About the tables and charts in the book, do you have any rough rule of thumb on how many tables and charts would be sufficient or too much? In the dissertation, I had 8 charts and 14 tables and I am looking to cut those numbers considerably. Also, do you have any general advice on what kind of tables and charts to keep and what to discard?

Many years ago, we published a study of entrepreneurship in Vietnam that included over 200 tables. This was quite a nightmare to typeset and not exactly easy reading. I’d never do this again and doubt that many other publishers would be game to take on such a mammoth task, either.

Mind you, ultimately, it all depends on the field and subject. This was an intense economic analysis, a type of study in which masses of charts and tables are almost expected. In contrast, one would expect a political or historical study to have far fewer charts and tables. As such, ‘merely’ 8 charts and 14 tables may be OK for such a study. The question is, however, is that number OK? Accordingly, ask yourself

  • What is the purpose of this table or that chart?
  • Can its meaning be worked easily enough into the text instead?
  • Is a table really the most effective way of presenting your information, or is a chart/graph a better communication tool?

In line with my ongoing obsession with readability, I would argue that you only include those charts and tables that illuminate the text. In addition, avoid like the plague any charts or tables that are oversized and/or have excessive detail, also those that are only meaningful if reproduced in colour (more about these points in later posts).

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