In many contexts, tables are the best way to represent sets of related pieces of data. However, in some contexts, other approaches are better choices.
List or table?
Tables and lists are both ways to present a set of similarly structured items; sometimes it's not obvious when to choose one presentation over the other. To decide which presentation to use, consult the following table:
|Item type||Example||How to present|
|Each item is a single unit.||A list of programming language names, or a list of steps to follow.||Use a numbered list, lettered list, or bulleted list.|
|Each item is a pair of pieces of related data.||A list of term/definition pairs.||Use a description list. (Or, in some contexts, a table.)|
|Each item is three or more pieces of related data.||A set of parameters, where each parameter has a name, a data type, and a description.||Use a table.|
Places not to use tables
- Don't use tables to lay out a page; use your site's standard CSS instead.
- Usually if you have only one row of material, a table isn't the best choice for how to present it. But in some contexts (especially for consistency of layout in reference docs), it may be.
- If you have only one column in your table, turn the table into a list.
- Don't use tables to lay out code snippets.
- Don't use tables to lay out long one-dimensional lists in multiple columns. For example, if you have a long list of function names, don't try to save space by splitting the list in half and presenting the two halves as a two-column table. Use tables only to present two-dimensional data—that is, material that semantically makes sense to display in rows and columns.
- Avoid tables in the middle of a numbered procedure.
Multi-paragraph table cells
Any table cell can contain more than one paragraph.
To create multiple paragraphs, use the
<p> element rather
than using the
<br> element. (The HTML specification
describes which uses of
are legitimate and which aren't.)
Example of a table with some cells that contain more than one paragraph:
Used as a placeholder.
Usually the first placeholder in a series.
Used as a placeholder.
Usually the second placeholder in a series.
- When introducing a table, use a complete sentence and try to refer to the table's position, using a phrase like "the following table" or "the preceding table."
- Don't put a table in the middle of a sentence.
- If your table refers to footnotes, place them immediately following the table.
- Don't add styling to the table element.
- Don't merge cells. Don't use
- Sort rows in a logical order, or alphabetically if there is no logical order.
Table column heads
Where possible, use table CSS that adapts to different viewport sizes.