Use more tables
|While almost every technical paper includes some figures,
surprisingly few contain tables. It is true that, in some
typesetting systems (e.g. LaTeX) tables are not so straightforward
to create as they are in HTML, which I'm using to write this page.
Nevertheless, tables present a golden opportunity for the author who is
not a native speaker of English to present information concisely
without the hassle of constructing full sentences.
The 'normal' use of tables, to present numerical data, doesn't need
explaining, but even in this basic context tables could be used more
often. And I will now suggest a couple of two ways to use tables more
|Virtually every article in a consumer magazine
such as Which? contains a table that rates different aspects of
the products being surveyed. It is a hugely efficient way to present a
comparison. And the author who is writing in a foreign language
benefits because it reduces the need for grammatical constructions to a
minimum. Some excellent technical authors have used 'comparative
analysis' tables, but nevertheless they are still quite rare. Why? I
don't really know.|
|I will show you what a table of this sort
might look like, taken from the Introduction of a fictional
|Naive heuristic||(discussed in
Ref. 3) ||Infeasible: no implementation
|Predictive||Hamm & Egg (2)
||1995||Slow on chi(ps) dataset (4)
||Fails on aligned data and singularities||Basis of first usable
|Corrective||Kim & Chee (5)
||1998||Slow (authors' tests) ||Fails on aligned
||2002||Under 20s on chi(ps) dataset
||Fails on aligned data|
|Modified predictive||Hamm et al. (3)
||2003||Over 1000s on chi(p) dataset
||Remarkably reliable ||Uses interval arithmetic|
authors) ||30s on chi(ps), but faster than P-C on
larger datasets ||Fails on some singularities||Requires
time to create lookup
Table 1. Relative performance of recent
approaches to the 'breakfast' problem.
|Logically, a table of this sort could have
another column to explain the various different methods. But in
practice the amount of text required makes this infeasible. However,
the explanations can still be presented in a structured way by
itemizing them in a definition list. A large slice of your literature
review can then be compressed into a short paragraph something like the
| ||Several approaches to
the 'breakfast' problem have been published in the literature. The
significant approaches are described below.|
|The itemized discussion of each technique
follows here, and then the table is introduced:|
| ||It has been difficult
to achieve an acceptable combination of speed and robustness. The
significant attributes of recently developed methods, and of the method
reported in this paper, are compared in Table 1. (The
chi(ps) dataset is due to Cook et
|Since formulae and equations are (more or
less) universal, they are friends to authors writing in a
foreign language. But unfortunately equations still have to be explained.
This can be quite awkward, leading to ugly sentences that start with a
lower-case variable, many terms in brackets ("for all X" etc), and
excessive use of 'arranging' words, such as "respectively".
These problems can be avoided by using a table to itemize and
explain variables. Here it is applied to a very simple example, the
equation of a circle.
||(x - a)2 + (y - b)2 - r2 =
The constants a and b are respectively the x and
y coordinates of the centre of the circle, and r
(r > 0) is its radius.
|Using a table:||
(x - a)2 + (y - b)2 - r2 =
The coefficients in this equation are explained in Table 2.
Table 2. Coefficients of the
equation (1) of a circle.
|This is a trivial example (HTML offers little
support for typesetting equations) and the second version takes up
substantially more room; nevertheless it is conceptually simpler. The
advantages of using a table grow as the complexity of the equation
increases. Furthermore, the 'cost' of a table can be spread over
several equations which use similar sets of variables.
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