## Don't be scared of tables

##### Jan 26, 2006

I see the colors, I see the inside/outside text, I see the random distribution of slice sizes: I see variety.  But I prefer a simple, boring table.

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Or how about a barchart/dotplot?

Hear, hear, Hadley. I'd make it a Pareto chart, since the table is sorted by percentage of speakers.

Although, for ease of use by the reader, the numbers in the chart should all be right justified. Then you can tell at a glance the relative magnitude of each number.

That was always standard practice before the computer age. Now we see that most tables are mush because nobody does it anymore, including most leading publications, and, apparently, this otherwise wonderful blog.

Tom - I also blame it on the computer age. Was trying to get Excel to allow me to right justify *and* leave space on the right hand side. Then I gave up.

And yes, bar charts, etc. are alternatives, all preferred to pies.

Word justifies numbers in tables nicely, with the proper settings, but Microsoft disappoints with Excel.

I hear the latest version of Excel will have "professional-looking" charts, by which they mean "look like they were produced by a professional art department". A little attention to true professionalism would be a good idea, as in "look like they were produced by a professional statistics department".

update on my complaint of 2006: I've found a way to combine decimal alignment of numbers in Excel with left or centre justification of the text block: it's all in the number formatting. In the case above, formatting the numbers in Excel as ?0% instead of 0% would have introduced a space one digit wide to the left of all figures less than two digits, allowing for the effect Kaiser was seeking.

This isn't always the best solution where you want a flexible format for numbers whose magnitude you can't predict, but for a table like this that you want to present, where you can already see that all the figures are one or two digits, it's ideal.

Derek: couldn't replicate this... I thought the problem is to right justify but also have an indent from the right side.

Kaiser -

What the format does is allow the center-justified number to be aligned by decimal point.

Another trick is to right-align the column (set it to right, don't rely on the default) and use the indent setting, which indents from the right if you are right aligned.

Derek -

That's a wonderful distinction between artistic professionalism and statistical professionalism.

I'm not getting the right-indent feature from Excel 2000 under Win2000. I'll try Excel 97 under XP Home later, but I don't think it works for me there either. Which is a pity, because it would be cool.

In an email I wrote to Kaiser earlier today, I said you can simulate right indent by adding "_M", "_W" or some similar nice broad letter on to the number format, to create an invisible letter.

Thanks for the compliment about the "professional-looking charts" thing, but I thinking I'm paraphrasing Tufte there :-)

I only stumbled upon the right-indent behavior recently, so I tried the various versions of Excel at my disposal. It does not work in 97 and 2000, but does work in 2002, 2003, and 2007. So Derek, if all you've got is 97 and 2000 at your disposal, you won't be able to use it.

I don't recall that quote from Tufte, but it's something he may well have said.

That explains it as I'm running 2000 as well.

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