Re: Alignment of figures and tables

Subject: Re: Alignment of figures and tables
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Jennifer laiks <jlaiks -at- prioritycall -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 06:33:16 -0500


Don't worry about how most people do it. Just do it my way <g>

There are essentially two styles of layout available on a printed
page--static or formal symmetry and dynamic or informal symmetry. (Lack
of any symmetry implies simple ignorance, not revolutionary design

In static symmetry, elements are centered. End of story. In dynamic
symmetry, elements are aligned on a grid system. Perhaps a large
vertical white space on the left is in balance with a more horizontal
gray text block on the right, to cite a common example. Then black
sideheads interrupting the white column are in balance with white
horizontal breaks in the text block. You get the idea.

Against that background, let's look at your questions. Answers,
interspersed below, assume the dynamic symmetry convention:

Jennifer laiks wrote:
> We are setting up new style guidelines for our books and wondered how most
> people lay out figures and tables on the page. Do you center small figures
> or left-align them with text?

Might left-align on text column or right-align on text column. If the
figure does not have callouts, I probably would not center it. If it
does have callouts, then I might center the illustration portion in the
text column and arrange the callouts to align with at least one side of
the text column.

If it is very small, say less than a third of the text column width, I
might center the figure, but only if it has a legend.

If I were using a grid system (in a large-format book), there would be
more choices of left alignment than just the text-column margins, so I'd
pick one of those.

Do you center the captions or left-align
> them with the figures?

Captions are headings. If your headings are left-aligned on the page,
your captions should be left aligned on the figure column (which might
be page width or text-column width.

Legends are left-aligned on either the page margin or the text column,
depending on whether the figure is within the text column or wider.

This brings up another matter. Layout generally proceeds more rationally
and with less angst if you observe the convention of giving figures
numbers and placing them at the top or bottom of a page, then calling
them out in text with figure numbers. This is much preferable to
referring to "the illustration below" or "the illustration above." The
occasional use of in-column small figures is okay, but overuse should be
discouraged. Placing figures in the middle of the page is not a great
idea unless you are working in a large-format grid system with a
professional designer.

Do you treat callouts as part of the figure graphic
> when you left or center align?

Both. If the figure is small, I try to fill out the text column width
with callouts. If the figure is of moderate size and has a strong
rectangular edge, I left-align the figure on the text column and then
bring some of the callouts out into the white space at the left and
right-align others on the right of the figure. I then align the legend
on the text column, under the figure itself, with the left-side
callouts. If the figure does not have a strong, straight left edge, then
I just treat the combined figure and callouts as a single graphic
element and align the legend at the left page margin.

> The questions regarding tables are the same. Do you left-align or center
> them? Do you left-align the headers or center them over the tables?

Left-align, either on the text column or the page margin. Left-align the
table title. Inside the table, left-align the stub header and stub
column, center all other headers and straddles. Treat data columns
according to the type of data (in terms of left, decimal, or center
alignment). By the way, the right way to align numeric columns is this:
the numbers should of course be decimal aligned amonst themselves; but
the whole decimal-aligned numeric column should be centered under the
column heading.

Have fun,

Uncle Dick

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