Table titles help readers understand the connection between tables and the rest of the document. They can also make tables easier to understand when viewed by themselves. Due to these important functions, all our primary style guides offer detailed guidelines for how to write table titles. So today, we’re going to compare the differing guidelines provided by three of those guides:
- The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago Style)
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style)
- MLA style from the Modern Language Association1
These three style guides do agree on two issues:
- A label (the capitalized word table and a number) appears before the title
- The label and title appear flush left above the table
Table 1, at the bottom of this post, summarizes the differences between these three styles—because what’s a post about table titles without a table?
If you don’t follow a specific style guide and are wondering which one you should use, see “Which Style Guide Is Best for You?” Spoiler alert: Chicago style is the best choice for general writing, business writing, and writing geared to traditional publishing.
Chicago-Style Table Titles
According to The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago style), the table number can be a regular numeral or can feature double numbering beginning with the chapter number (e.g., 12.5 for the fifth table in the twelfth chapter).
The number can be followed by a period (preferred) or by a “space and typographical distinction.” Whichever format you choose, be sure to use it consistently throughout your document.
Both the label and the title appear in regular font on the same line.
The title can be capitalized sentence-style or headline-style. But once again, be sure to use the same format throughout your document. Whether you choose sentence-style or headline-style capitalization, don’t end the title with a period.2
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Style Guide Alert: The student version of Chicago style, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (commonly called Turabian after its author), only formats table titles with sentence-style capitalization. Turabian mirrors all of Chicago style’s other recommendations for table titles.3
APA-Style Table Titles (and Figure Titles)
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA style) recommends using bold font for the label and italic font for the title.
Although APA style doesn’t mention double numbering (where the table number begins with the chapter number), the Publication Manual itself uses double numbering, so we can safely assume this format is acceptable.
The table number isn’t followed by a period. Instead, the title is written in headline-style capitalization on the next double-spaced line, also without an ending period.5
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MLA-Style Table Titles
MLA style from the Modern Language Association uses the same format for table titles as APA style except that MLA style formats the label and title with regular font. In addition, long titles that break to a second line are given a hanging indent.6
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by Event and District
We will discuss table titles in appendixes in an upcoming post.
The title for Table 1 follows Chicago style. Click the table for a larger view in a separate browser tab.
- The MLA Handbook does not address table titles, so all MLA style information comes from the MLA Style Center website, which is the handbook’s official online extension.
- The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 3.50, 3.54, 3.55.
- Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 9th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 26.2.2, 26.2.21.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 7.23–7.25.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2020), 7.9–7.11.
- “Tables and Illustrations,” Formatting a Research Paper, The MLA Style Center, accessed October 24, 2019.