Question & Answer

How to Format Long Tables in APA: Do We Repeat the Column Headers, Table Title, or Both?

Question & AnswerIn the previous APA manual, the guidelines for table titles in long tables that continue onto multiple pages was clear: Repeat the column headers on each page but do not repeat the table title.

In the 6th edition of the APA manual, the guideline is the same, but for some reason the manual makes you decipher the rule instead of just stating it.  On top of that, the manual uses multiple table title formats (one style for internal indexing, and another style that we are actually supposed to follow). It is no wonder then, that the rules on formatting table titles and repeating titles or column headers are misread so frequently.

Still, a close reading of the manual shows that APA’s style preference is clear (see Sample Table 5.15, pages 147-148 in the manual). Take a close look at these two images from these pages. Note the annotations in blue and the explanations below the images.

APA Sample Table 5.15: Example of a Long Table, Part 1
Part 1 of Sample Table 5.15 the APA Manual (6th ed., p. 147). This shows two titles: APA’s indexed title (just for internal organization in the manual) and the sample table title (which is the guide for formatting). Scanned, cropped, and annotated by Rocky Citro. All Rights to the original material to APA.


APA Sample Table 5.15, Part 2
Part 2 of Sample Table 5.15 the APA Manual (6th ed., p. 147). TNote that the actual table title is not repeated (just the internal-indexing title, which does not apply to our papers). Scanned, cropped, and annotated by Rocky Citro. All Rights to the original material to APA.

So What’s the Verdict on Titles & Column Heads in Long Tables?

It’s a little tricky because there are two table titles on the first page of the table. But remember, the large bold title is just an internal indexing method of the manual, not how you are supposed to format the table title in your paper. Otherwise, we would be bolding the table titles, putting a period after the table number, and putting the table number and table title on the same line in our manuscripts.

So here are APA’s stances on the issues mentioned above:

APA’s Clear Stance on Formatting Table Titles for Copy Manuscripts

Put the table number on one line, with no italics, and then the table title on the next line, and do italicize that. All lines are double spaced (both between the number and title and for runover lines in long titles). So the title should look like this:

Table 2

Some Title That Runs Onto Two

Lines just for an Example

APA’s Clear Stance on Repeating Column Headers for Copy Manuscripts

On the second and subsequent pages of long tables, just repeat the column headers, not the table title. No continued statement is used. The table title should not be repeated on subsequent pages, as shown above.

APA’s Internal Indexing Method Explained

Page 7 of the Introduction of the Manual, in the section entitled Format Aids, explains why you see two table titles for the sample tables in the chapter:

“Examples of points of style or format that appear throughout the book are in a contrasting typeface. This typeface is intended to help you locate examples quickly” (p. 7).

This means that, throughout the manual, you will see formatting that you shouldn’t actually reproduce in your papers. For instance, most of the textual examples in the manual are single spaced, but we double space text in our copy manuscripts. The manual explains that certain formatting is clearer for final, published manuscripts (for instance, the bold table titles above).

How This Applies to Final Manuscripts

APA’s explanation of the internal indexing method in the guide also explains why universities should not follow much of the formatting in the APA Manual for dissertations and theses because the formatting is simply not designed for final manuscripts. Unfortunately, many schools still follow the APA Manual without tweaking the guidelines. This creates dissertations and theses that are really difficult to read (for instance, double spacing block quotes makes sense in a copy manuscript, but does not make sense at all in a final manuscript and really detracts from readability).

As a side note, APA editorial style does make sense for both copy manuscripts and final manuscripts. This includes issues such as grammar, punctuation, hyphenation, number expression, and so forth.

With respect to table titles, there is no question about what to do for copy manuscripts (e.g., journal articles submitted for peer review), as explained above.  But for final manuscripts it makes sense to single space the title, which I think makes sense because the double spacing is awkward and wastes space. Other schools choose to put the table number and title all on one line to save more space, which also makes sense. In either case, it is a good idea to put an extra space or two before and after tables to set them off from the text, or at least boldface the table title if it’s going to be on one line.  So a couple of options might look like this:

Table 2

Some Title That Runs Onto Two
Lines just for an Example

Table 2. Some Table Title

As for repeating the column headers, that is also a decision for each school. Remember, for your copy manuscripts, you should not repeat table titles and you should repeat column headers. But for dissertations and theses, consult your school’s guidelines. Some schools prefer that students repeat the table title and column headers, some prefer a continued statement, some prefer just the column headers. Whatever the preference, the school’s manual should state the preference clearly for students. This will not only make their lives easier, it will also make the format reviewers’ and professors’ lives easier because there will be no question as to what should be done. For a final manuscript, an argument could probably be made for either style (repeating or not repeating the table title), but repeating the column headers seems like a minimal requirement to help keep the reader on track.

Of course, whenever possible, try to keep your tables to one page, and not only will you not have to worry about the issue, but you’ll make it easier for your reader to process your data.

Published by

Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.