Director’s Desk:

Where’s the Consistency?  

When Academic Program Handbooks and the APA Manual Disagree

You’ve made it this far with APA and for the most part the manual has been consistent in presenting definitive style and format rules. Once you get to the dissertation, however, the APA manual seems nearly silent.  The APA Publication Manual, the overarching arbiter on publication formatting in the social sciences, actually defers to university academic program handbooks on many dissertation formatting issues. Straightforward enough, right?  But just when you feel you have it, your academic program’s handbook will concede to the dissertation committee.  Although at first glance the program handbook might seem definitive and exacting, its rules and conventions for format nonetheless reflect a general expectation or norm regarding the dissertation. The dissertation committee and its chair will always make the final call on subtler protocols, and be prepared that readers’ preferences will vary among faculty.

Here’s one example of the ambivalence seen in academic program handbooks. Placement of tables and figures poses a unique problem in APA dissertations. On one hand, the program handbooks permit them to appear within the text, but on the other, these same handbooks also advise that tables and figures appear at the end of the dissertation. Which is it? Some would suggest including any relevant figures and tables within the text of the dissertation subsection deriving from the researcher’s empirical research. Others would advise placing any figure or table that has been reproduced from another source in an appendix so that the scanned PDF image won’t wreak havoc when inserted onto the direct page of the document.  

Generally (and I mean generally, since the dissertation chair will always have final authority), there are two criteria that determine the placement of both tables and figures: necessity of the information and the amount of space the table or figure occupies. These are somewhat qualitative criteria requiring intuitive judgment calls, so ask your faculty advisor or a WEX editor if you’re having difficulty deciding.  Our general guidance is as follows:

On Necessity: If a table or figure provides information that is “immediately” required for the reader to understand a point made in the text, then it should appear within the dissertation text. If, however, the table or figure is merely used to elaborate or illustrate a point in fastidious detail, it should appear at the end of the dissertation. 

On Space Occupied: Take a look at your tables and figures to assess the overall space they occupy. If the height of the table or figure exceeds a half or full page and would interrupt the text, it belongs in an appendix.

Hope this clarifies where to place a table or figure. We’re here to help should you have any other pressing question about writing the dissertation.  Send us your questions: