Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading

Q. I’m a technical editor at an architectural and engineering firm and am working with a project manager (an architect) on a long document with 100+ tables. He insists on putting the table title below the table (below the table notes, which he wants to enclose in a box). He says he doesn’t like how the title above the table looks. CMOS 3.54 refers to “the title, which appears above the table,” but doesn’t give the reason for the placement. I have told the project manager that the overwhelming convention is to put the title above the table, have cited published guidance (e.g., CMOS) to put it above, and have told him that the likely reason is that tables are most often read from top to bottom, but he won’t budge. What is the reason CMOS recommends putting the table title above the table? Maybe he would consider your rationale.

A. Titles of tables are put at the top for the same reason chapter titles and subheadings precede their content: to announce what’s coming. What’s more, the column heads of a table often make sense only when combined with information that’s provided in the title, such as “in dollars per year” or “in miles per gallon.” Hiding that information at the bottom of the table might necessitate adding it to each column head, where space is limited. While there may be instances where a table title at the bottom works just fine (especially if the graphic design emphasizes the title), in general it’s more helpful at the top.