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Durham University

Department of Physics

Figure, Tables & Graphs


Figures and tables in a lab report have a particular standard of presentation, much higher than that of figures you would put in lab book.

These pages are a summary of what can be found in the report writing guide. You can find other sources of information at the bottom of the page.

You may use any software you desire for producing graphs. At level 1 students will usually use Excel or other spreadsheet software, but at higher levels you may choose to use Python instead.

Some key points worth noting:

  • If possible, have any tables and figures at the top and/or bottom of a page
  • Do not wrap text around figures or tables
  • Consider whether various results can be combined into a single graph.
  • All figures and tables should have a caption and a figure or table number at the start of said caption(e.g. "Fig.3:" or "Table 2:").
  • Captions should be short and sufficiently informative that someone with the necessary knowledge would be clear about what the figure or table represents without having to refer to your report.


Some key points worth noting regarding graphs:

  • Design your graphs so that they are easy to read and clearly show all key features
  • Graphs are figures, and should therefore have a figure number at the start of their caption ("Fig.1:", not "Graph 1:")

Here is a checklist you can use to check your graphs are compliant.

  • Things your graph should have:
    • Axis labels with units
    • Error bars
    • Tick marks at sensible intervals
    • A white background
    • Maximum and minimum values so that the most of the space is filled
    • Large enough font to be readable
  • Things your graph should not have:
    • A title - Figures do not have titles, this information should go in the caption
    • Gridmarks
    • A border around the whole graph
    • A legend, unless absolutely necessary. Again, this information should preferably go in the caption
    • The equation of your line

Fig 1. shows 2 graphs that have been produced using Excel, one good and one bad. They have been annotated to highlight the differences.

Fig 1: Diagram showing the difference between a good and a bad graph


Like figures, tables must have a caption and must be numbered. Tables are not figures and do not get called Figure 1, Figure 2, etc… They should be called Table 1, Table 2, etc… Removing useless horizontal or vertical lines will improve the presentation of your tables. All the entries, including the headings, should fit comfortably in the width or height of the columns or rows; long headings should thus be avoided. Below you can see a few other things to take note of when using tables.

Don’t include tables of data when the information is adequately given in a graph or by a few words of text; this is redundant and wasteful of space. Below is the same data presented in two formats; if presenting your data in a graphical form enhances the ability to convey information (as is the case here) you do not need to include the table of data, just the graph.

More Information

For more information and examples of good graphs and tables, you can have a look at the following resources.

Note that those marked Level 1 will, for the most part, still be relevant to higher years: