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APA Tables and Figures 2


APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (6th ed., 2nd printing).

Contributors: Joshua M. Paiz, Elizabeth Angeli, Jodi Wagner, Elena Lawrick, Kristen Moore, Michael Anderson, Lars Soderlund, Allen Brizee, Russell Keck
Last Edited: 2017-06-21 11:21:04


Figure Checklist

As tables supplement the text, so should each figure.

Types of Figures

Graphs are good at quickly conveying relationships like comparison and distribution. The most common forms of graphs are scatter plots, line graphs, bar graphs, pictorial graphs, and pie graphs. For more details and specifics on what kind of information, relations, and meaning can be expressed with the different types of graphs, consult your textbook on quantitative analysis. Spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft Excel, can generate the graphs for you.

Scatter plots are composed of individual dots that represent the value of a specific event on the scale established by the two variables plotted on the x- and y-axes. When the dots cluster together, a correlation is implied. On the other hand, when the dots are scattered randomly, no correlation is seen.

This image shows a scatter plot graph with horizontal lines and marks show different point along the lines.

Image Caption: Scatter Plot Graph

Line graphs depict the relationship between quantitative variables. Customarily, the independent variable is plotted along the x-axis (horizontally) and the dependent variable is plotted along the y-axis (vertically). See example Figure 1...

Bar graphs come in three main types: 1) solid vertical or horizontal bars, 2) multiple bar graphs, and 3) sliding bars. In solid bar graphs, the independent variable is categorical, and each bar represents one kind of datum, e. g. a bar graph of monthly expenditures. A multiple bar graph can show more complex information than a simple bar graph, e. g. monthly expenditures divided into categories (housing, food, transportation, etc.). In sliding bar graphs, the bars are divided by a horizontal line which serves as the baseline, enabling the representation of data above and below a specific reference point, e. g. high and low temperatures v. average temperature.

This image shows a bar graph.

Image Caption: Bar Graph

This image shows a more complex, color-coded bar graph than the example above.

Image Caption: Bar Graph by Type

Pictorial graphs can be used to show quantitative differences between groups. Pictorial graphs can be very deceptive: if the height of an image is doubled, its area is quadrupled. Therefore, great care should be taken that images representing the same values must be the same size.

Circle (pie) graphs are used to represent percentages and proportions. For the sake of readability, no more than five variables should be compared in a single pie graph. The segments should be ordered very strictly: beginning at twelve o’clock, order them from the largest to the smallest, and shade the segments from dark to light (i.e., the largest segment should be the darkest). Lines and dots can be used for shading in black and white documents.

This image shows a color-coded circle (or pie) graph.

Image Caption: Circle (or Pie) Graph

Charts are used to represent the components of larger objects or groups (e. g. a tribal hierarchy), the steps in a process (as in a flow-chart), or the schematics of an object (the components of a cell phone).

This image shows a chart that illustrates the communication flow chart between the sender and receiver using discourse, message, and medium.

Image Caption: Chart

Drawings and photographs can be used to communicate very specific information about a subject. Thanks to software, both are now highly manipulable. For the sake of readability and simplicity, line drawings should be used, and photographs should have the highest possible contrast between the background and focal point. Cropping, cutting out extraneous detail, can be very beneficial for a photograph. Use software like GraphicConverter or Photoshop to convert color photographs to black and white before printing on a laser printer. Otherwise most printers will produce an image with poor contrast.

This image shows a picture of a bathroom.

Image Caption: Photograph

Preparing Figures

In preparing figures, communication and readability must be the ultimate criteria. Avoid the temptation to use the special effects available in most advanced software packages. While three-dimensional effects, shading, and layered text may look interesting to the author, overuse, inconsistent use, and misuse may distort the data, and distract or even annoy readers. Design properly done is inconspicuous, almost invisible, because it supports communication. Design improperly, or amateurishly, done draws the reader’s attention from the data, and makes him or her question the author’s credibility.

The APA has determined specifications for the size of figures and the fonts used in them. Figures of one column must be between 2 and 3.25 inches wide (5 to 8.45 cm). Two-column figures must be between 4.25 and 6.875 inches wide (10.6 to 17.5 cm). The height of figures should not exceed the top and bottom margins. The text in a figure should be in a san serif font (such as Helvetica, Arial, or Futura). The font size must be between eight and fourteen point. Use circles and squares to distinguish curves on a line graph (at the same font size as the other labels). (See examples above.)

Captions and Legends

For figures, make sure to include the figure number and a title with a legend and caption. These elements appear below the visual display. For the figure number, type Figure X. Then type the title of the figure in sentence case. Follow the title with a legend that explains the symbols in the figure and a caption that explains the figure:

Figure 1. How to create figures in APA style. This figure illustrates effective elements in APA style figures.

Captions serve as a brief, but complete, explanation and as a title. For example, “Figure 4. Population” is insufficient, whereas “Figure 4. Population of Grand Rapids, MI by race (1980)” is better. If the figure has a title in the image, crop it.

Additionally, if the image is reproduced from another source, include the citation at the end of the caption. 

Graphs should always include a legend that explains the symbols, abbreviations, and terminology used in the figure. These terms must be consistent with those used in the text and in other figures. The lettering in the legend should be of the same type and size as that used in the figure.

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