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Three Steps to Editing Tables

Some copyeditors spend a large portion of their editing time dealing with tables and figures. Other copyeditors rarely come across them. Either way, there’s so much involved in copyediting tables and figures that style books often devote entire chapters to them. Every so often, we should review what we know and seek out tips for editing them better and faster.

I learned early in my career that editing tables and figures first, during a separate pass, was an efficient way to work. At the time, I was editing reports that had more tables than text, all of them heavy with numbers. If I copyedited the tables and figures first, I could spot the big data issues that might mean rewriting the copy, saving the author and me time in the long run.

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Here’s my process:

  1. Edit all the tables as a batch for:
    • Title consistency
    • Numbering order and consistency
    • Table formatting style and consistency
    • Sources or copyright
  2. Edit each table individually for:
    • Data presentation (e.g., Would the information work better as text or a figure?)
    • Data accuracy
    • Language mechanics (grammar, style, etc.)
    • Number style
    • Table formatting (e.g., Are there too many columns? Is the table too small? Is the data in an illogical order?)
  3. Edit each table’s reference in the text for:
    • Table call-out style
    • The text matching what the table says
    • The table’s position within the text

Editors are naturally drawn to language arts, so the wordsmith in you may initially want to avoid editing anything mathematical. But when you open your mind to tables and figures, you have an opportunity to enhance and broaden your editing skills. Better yet, you’ll grow your potential clientele and become a more marketable editor.

A version of this article originally published on January 8, 2013, on


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