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HomeGuidelines > 1. Trim that Text! > 1g. Move repeating categories of information into tables.                                              





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1g. Move repeating categories of information into tables.

  • If you spot the same categories appearing over and over, make them into columns. Now, what are the rows in your table?
  • If the message seems to be some kind of a trend, what are the data points? What is the x axis, and the y?
  • If the text seems to be comparing sets A and B, whether these are sets of numbers or ideas, check to see if there is an A for every B. If so you have a complete table.
  • Two column tables work best. Three are OK. Beyond four or five columns, you risk losing data on one side or the other, on the screen.


A table can present data more concisely than text can, and it is more accurate than graphic presentations. A table facilitates comparisons among data because of the arrangement of the data into rows and columns. Overall trends about the information, however, are more easily seen in charts and graphs.
Brusaw, Alred, & Oliu(1997)

The conventional sentence is a poor way to show more than two numbers because it prevents comparisons within the data.

Tables are preferable to graphics for many small data sets. Tables also work well when the data presentation requires many localized comparisons.

See: Brusaw, Alred, & Oliu (1997), Horton (1990), Tufte (1983)

Other ways to trim that text

1b. Use short words.

1c. Make some sentences short.

1d. Make most paragraphs short.

1e. Delete marketing fluff.

1f. Move vital but tangential or supplemental material.

1g. Convert repeating categories of information into tables.

1h. Beware of cutting so far that you make the text ambiguous.






Original paragraph

Steel shipments rose dramatically during the first five years of this decade, then declined over the last three years, as estimated by the American Steel Institute. Steel used for automobiles rose from 14,610,000 short tons, in 1990, to 20,123,000 in 1995, and if trends continue, will dip to 14,475,000 for 1998, putting us behind the high point of 1990. Similarly, steel for construction rose from 9,664,000 tons in 1990 to 11,836,000 tons in 1995, then sank below 1990 levels, in estimates for 1998. Other market sectors showed 1998 slightly ahead of 1990, but still substantially behind 1995. For instance, rail manufacturers of freight cars and passenger cars bought 2,525,000 short tons of steel in 1990, then bought 3,805,000 short tons in 1995, and only 3,098,000 in 1998. The only sector showing an advance over 1995 levels are the growing number of steel distributors, who bought 11,125,000 short tons in 1990, then moved up to 14,813,000 short tons in 1995, and soared to 16,025,000 short tons in 1998.

167 words

Revised paragraphs

Steel shipments rose dramatically from 1990 to 1995, then fell in most market categories to levels below 1990 (in autos, and construction), or at least below the swollen figures of 1995 (railroad cars). The only group that continued to increase shipments beyond the highs of 1995: steel distributors.

          Steel Products Net Shipments by Market Classes, in thousands of short tons

Market Class 1990 1995 1998
Steel for converting and processing 2,928 3,932 3,443
Independent forgers 841 1,250 1,048
Steel distributors 11,125 14,813 16,025
Construction 9,664 11,836 8,913
Automotive 14,610 20,123 14,475
Rail 2,525 3,805  3,098

95 words or numbers

Audience Fit

Resources on brevity

Taking a Position on Brevity

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Brevity













If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Yes, get those serious numbers out of the text.  I may not look at the table, but I will eventually look at a chart, after reading the caption.
To learn Very helpful. Tables isolate the data and make it easier to study.  Ditto charts and diagrams.
To act Much faster if I have to pick one item, or compare two or three.
To be aware Relevant data backs up your argument best if you separate the numbers out in their own world.
To get close to people Unless you are trying to relate to a scientist or an engineer, numbers are not going to build intimacy.  If you must provide them, move them out of the text, as a courtesy.

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