Creating Data Tables in Biology: Types & Examples

Instructor: Dominic Corsini
This lesson will introduce you to a few basic types of data tables used in biology. It contains several examples and provides the foundational knowledge for building both simple and complex data tables.

How to Collect Data

A few years back I found myself pondering how we collect data. I was aboard a ship in the middle of Lake Erie. However, I wasn't floating above the waves. I was dressed in full SCUBA gear and underneath 70 feet of water! I was a graduate student who was working on his thesis in aquatic ecology. More specifically, I was researching the fish communities that utilized Lake Erie's shipwrecks as habitat. Sound like a fun time? Of course! But no graduate student in the world ever got ahead without doing one thing very well: collecting organized data!

How do I go about it? What should my tables look like? What information should I record? All these questions floated through my mind as I floated amongst the fish. After pondering my situation for a bit, I came to a simple realization. I needed to create some tables.

Data Tables

First, let me begin by saying that data tables in biology aren't something you should be worried about or intimidated by. Tables are simply a method people use for organizing information (usually numerical) in an organized fashion. Over the past decade I've seen lots of students struggle with this skill. However, once you get comfortable with it, tables become a great organizational tool.

Ultimately the type of table you'll want to create is dictated by the data you're collecting or trying to display. Sometimes you'll see tables classified as text tables or statistical tables, but each is similar in format (basically rows and columns). The main difference is the type of data shown: text versus numbers. All data tables tend to follow this row and column format, but vary in complexity.

For our first example, let's pretend you're collecting data on the height of people in a classroom. In this case a simple T-chart would be a great choice for collecting and displaying your data. This type of table organizes information into two columns. The first column contains the name of your subject, and the second contains their height.

Sample t-chart
Figure 1

Another way to think about the T-chart is to consider the first column as a list of the known information (or independent variable). In the example above it's the people in your classroom. The right column is the unknown/discovered information (or dependent variable). That's the height.

Notice how I've also included the units for how I measured height (centimeters or cm). Units are really important in biological data tables. Without them, your information won't be represented clearly. So we need to make sure they're always included.

Building Complexity

T-charts are a simple way to show basic data. But what if you want to organize more complex information? For that you'll build a slightly larger table. In this example let's pretend you're testing how temperature influences the breathing rate of goldfish. We'll call one 'breath' an 'oscillation.' Just as with the example above, you still have a known item (independent variable) and an unknown (dependent variable). However, you also have to include fish on your table. So now you've got three items. How do you best show this data?

In this case a T-chart simply won't due. You have three pieces of information to display and T-charts are only effective for two. So you'll need to add more columns. In this case, one additional column will work.

Figure 2

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