What is Tabulation?

Tabulation is a way of summarizing and presenting data in an organized manner, in rows and columns based on certain characteristics. In simple words, it is the tabular presentation of data.

It helps in making comparison between various entities and also assists in further statistical analysis and interpretation. It is a rational listing of the relevant quantitative data in columns (vertical) and rows (horizontal), so as to enable classification of data and facilitate comparative study.

Objective of Tabulation

The objectives of tabulation are:

  • To simplify complex data: With the help of tabulation, one can present the given data in a systematic and condensed form by entering only relevant details in the table and not entering the unnecessary ones. The aim is to avoid bulk information, in a simplified and meaningful form.
  • To present trend: Data presented in tabular form indicate the pattern or trend, which is difficult to understand in tabular form.
  • To facilitate comparison: Data is entered in rows and columns which helps in making a quick comparison between different entities.
  • To act as a reference: With the help of the table, one can easily identify the important details and use them as a reference.
  • To economize space: Condensation of data by presenting it in tabular form saves a lot of space without compromising the quality and quantity of data.

Parts of a Table


Table Number

A table must be numbered not just for identification, but also for reference. This number can either be given on the center or corner of the table, but above the top of the table title.


The table should have a short but self-explanatory title so that it can express the nature of data contained in the table, explain the geographical or physical location of data, ascertain the time of obtaining data, determine the source of data for reference. The source is usually provided at the bottom of the table in brackets. It should always be clear and unambiguous.

Captions and Stubs

A column heading is called a caption, whereas a row heading is termed a stub. Further, where two or more columns or rows have similar headings they can be merged under a shared heading, which helps in avoiding repetition. This form of arrangement is termed a sub-caption or sub-stub. Also, each column can be numbered for reference and for comparison. The caption must be written at the center of the column.


It comprises numerical information, which needs to be organized as per the descriptions provided for each column and row. The data is written from top to bottom in columns whereas from left to right in rows.

Rules and Spacing

It must be noted that an ideal table is properly ruled and spaced. This means that vertical lines are drawn to divide columns however, horizontal lines are not drawn in general, except when the total is made, which needs to be separated from the main body. Also, horizontal lines are made at the top (just below the title) and bottom of the table.


Another name for headnote is prefatory note is headnote which can be provided just below the title. It elaborates the table description and is enclosed with brackets.


Whatever is written below the table, i.e. just below the last horizontal line, is termed as a footnote. This helps in further clarification or providing extra information or give some explanation or explaining the meaning of any abbreviation used.


If the information is not available, then N.A. or dash (-) can be used to indicate it.

Source Note

In case secondary data is used, a source note must be provided to indicate the source from where the data has been table. This also takes the form of a footnote. The main purpose behind the provision of source note is to enable the reader to refer to that source if he wishes to do so.

Types of Table


Based on the Extent of coverage

  1. Simple Table: Also called a one-way table or first-order table, It is the simplest form of a table. In such a table, data comprises only one characteristic of the variable.
  2. Complex Table: Otherwise known as the manifold table. In these tables, the data comprises two or more two characteristics of the variable. It can be of two types:
    • Two Way Table: In this table, the variable which is under consideration is sub-divided into two groups, based on the two of its inter-related characteristics.
    • Three-Way Table: In this table, the variable under investigation is further subdivided into three groups depending on three of its inter-related characteristics.
  3. Cross Classified Table: Tables in which entries are classified in both directions – row-wise as well as column-wise, is termed as cross-classified tables. The two methods of classification are in a way that each category of one classification can take place with any category of other. These tables can be prepared for multiple characteristics also. These tables are used for the purpose of analysis.

Based on Objective

  1. General or Reference Table: In such a table, the material information is shown in detailed form so that it can be used for the purpose of reference on the same topic. The size of such tables is usually large and is found in the appendix for reference. Data reported by different ministries, government agencies, autonomous bodies, related to population, employment, public expenditure, etc. are classic examples of such tables.
  2. Summary Table: Otherwise called a special purpose table or text table or analytical table. It presents data associated with specific problems. These tables are smaller than reference tables. It helps in outlining the relationship amidst different characteristics.

Based on Nature of Data

  1. Original Table: Also known as classification tables. It comprises data that is collected from the primary source, i.e. in its original form. A table of time series data is an example of the original table.
  2. Derived Table: When the table is derived from another table, it is called a derived table. It presents figures such as totals, percentages, averages, ratios, etc. A table of trend values computed from time series data is an example of a derived table.

Rules for Tabulation

  • The main purpose behind using a table is to condense the voluminous data so as to make it more understandable and reader-friendly. One must keep in mind while creating a table that the table must not be overloaded with data to ensure its simplicity and easy interpretation.
  • It should fulfill the purpose or objective of the investigation.
  • It must be complete in all respect concerning measurement unit, time period for which data belongs, abbreviations used, footnote, source note, etc.
  • The data presented should be consistent and accurate. One must go through the data again after the creation of the table so as to ensure that it is accurate and properly recorded from raw data.
  • It may comprise totals, ratios, and percentages, for a proper understanding of data indicated in it.
  • It should not be prepared in a hurried manner. Due care needs to be taken to make sure that the format is appropriate, concerning the nature of the data presented. It must look attractive and presentable so that the reader finds it interesting to go through it.

Method of Tabulation

There are two methods of tabulation:

  1. Manual Method: In the case of the small field of investigation and a few characteristics the tabulation can be done by hand.
  2. Mechanical Method: If the field of investigation is large, machines can be used which saves time and labor in the preparation of the table. With the help of computers, tables can be created quickly and that too with accuracy.

Wrap Up

Tabulation helps in making the data more intelligible and appropriate for statistical analysis. It also helps in highlighting the main characteristics of the data in a simplified form. Also, errors can be detected easily.

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