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2.4: Tables

  • Page ID
    201920
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    In this section, we provide guidelines and recommendations for formatting tables.

    What are tables?

    In this context, tables refer to data tables, which include row and/or column header information to categorize content. (Tables that do not have headers are called layout tables.)

    File types include: DOCX, HTML, PDF

    Are your tables simple or complex?

    A simple table includes a maximum of one header column and/or one header row. A complex table includes more than one header column and/or header row, and may include merged or split cells.[1]

    We recommend you make every effort to keep data tables as simple in structure as possible. The more complex the design of a data table, the less accessible it will be for some students using screen-reading technology to access their textbook materials. Screen readers move left-to-right, top-to-bottom, one cell at a time, and because a screen reader does not repeat a cell, merging or splitting cells can affect the reading order of a table.

    However, you can use merged or split table cells if they are formatted correctly. Check out this web page to learn more: Tables Concepts

    Who are you doing this for?

    This work supports students who:

    • Have a form of cognitive disability, like Ann
    • Are blind or have low vision, like Jacob

    Ann has a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to concentrate.


    What do you need to do?

    In the same way that your content hierarchy needs headings and structure (see Organizing Content), tables need a properly defined structure to be accessible. This means that you must add row and column headers to define the different sections of data. Screen readers read tables horizontally—cell by cell, row by row—and row and column headers help give context to the data in each cell for students who are blind, have low vision, or have a cognitive disability.

    Create simple tables

    A simple table includes:

    1. A table title or caption
    2. Maximum of one row of column headers and/or maximum of one column of row headers, with the appropriate scope assigned
    3. Avoid using merged or split cells
    4. Adequate cell padding for visual learners
    Example 1: How to Create a Simple Table

    The table below is a simple table. Reviewed against the preceding requirements list, this table:

    1. Includes a caption (Spring Blossoms)
    2. Has one row in which cells are tagged as column headers (Colour Family, Bulbs, Shrubs, Trees), and one column (beginning on the second row) in which the cells are tagged as row headers (Pink, Yellow)
    3. Avoids the use of merged or split cells wherever possible
    4. Has adequate cell padding to provide space buffering around the data in each cell. (Cell padding in this table is set at “10”).
    Spring Blossoms
    Colour Family Bulbs Shrubs Trees
    Pink Tulips Flowering currant Ornamental plum
    Yellow Daffodils Forsythia Star magnolia

    For a student accessing the table through a screen reader, the first row of data following the column headers will be presented along the lines of:

    • Row 2, Colour family, column 1, Pink
    • Bulbs, column 2, Tulips
    • Shrubs, column 3, Flowering currant
    • Trees, column 4, Ornamental plum

    Marking cells in the first row and/or column of a table as header cells allows a screen reader to interpret the structure of a table and how cells relate to each other. This, in turn, ensures that someone using a screen reader can navigate through a table and understand what column/row a given cell is in. If a table doesn’t have headers, the screen reader will recite cell information starting in the upper left corner and continuing left to right, top to bottom.

    How to mark cells and rows as headers

    As with section headings, it is not enough to bold or enlarge text in table cells that you want to be marked as headers.

    If you are familiar with HTML, you can go into the text editor and change tags to tags. Row-header tags are given the scope="row" attribute and column-header tags get a scope="col" attribute.[2] 

    For those not comfortable with HTML, here is how you create table row and column headers in LibreTexts

    Tables are adding by via the menu "Elements" in toolbar and selecting Table of directly via the editor toolbar (see below).

    Table.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): How to add a table from the editing tool bar.

    You can choose the number of rows and columns you need (can be changed later). This gives you an empty table structure that you can start to fill out. If you want to delete a row, select an entry in the row you want to delete and click on the x that appears to the left. If you want to add a row above or below, you can do that by clicking the > that appears above or below the x respectively.

    If you are copying a table from a website you will likely be able to copy its structure via a simple copy-paste.

    Right click on the table and select table properties. Here you can choose whether the first row and/or column is headings and add a caption to the table. Making the first row/column headings is useful for screen readers and strongly recommended if possible. Allow table to be responsive, this ensures proper viewing on all types of viewing devices.

    clipboard_e35c4df27cc13dd28e86e54b99b7c5382.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Table properties for Libretexts tables.

    Always be Responsive

    It is a good idea to select the "make table responsive" section (see Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)) of any new table so that it will be easily viewable on mobile devices and computers.

    Add a [Skip Table] option

    For large data tables, it can be a good idea to add an anchor below the table which will allow people to skip the content of the table. See Table 2.4 for an example.

    Table 2.4. Main Sociological Research Methods [Skip Table]
    Method Implementation Advantages Challenges
    Survey Questionnaires and interviews Yields many responses, can survey a large sample, data can be generalized, and quantitative data are easy to chart. Can be time consuming, can be difficult to encourage participant response, and captures what people think and believe, but not necessarily how they behave in real life.
    Fieldwork Observation, participant observation, ethnography, case study. Yields detailed, accurate, and real-life information. Time consuming, data are often descriptive and not conducive to generalization, researcher bias is difficult to control for, qualitative data are difficult to organize.
    Experiment Deliberate manipulation of social customs and mores. Tests cause-and-effect relationships. Hawthorne effect, artificial conditions of research, and ethical concerns about people’s well-being.
    Secondary data analysis Analysis of government data (census, health, crime statistics), research of historic documents, and content analysis. Makes good use of previous sociological information. Data could be focused on a purpose other than yours, data can be hard to find, and taking into account the historical or cultural context of texts.

    As shown, this link is best placed in the table caption. That way, someone using a screen reader will hear the caption of the table before being given the option to skip the table.

    For more information about creating same page links in LibreTexts see Anchors in the LibreTexts Construction Guide

    Media Attributions


    1. Penn State, "Tables," Accessibility, accessed March 28, 2018, http://accessibility.psu.edu/tables.
    2. "Tables with Two Headers," Web Accessibility Tutorials, accessed January 17, 2018, https://www.w3.org/WAI/tutorials/tables/two-headers/.

    2.4: Tables is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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