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Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Government Digital Service
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When to use tables and how to make them accessible.

When to use tables

Tables should only be used to present data.

Don’t use tables for cosmetic changes to layout, eg to present a list because you think it looks better that way.

Consider the alternatives

A table may not always be the best way to present your content.

A simple table can often be replaced with a:

  • series of bulleted lists with headings and subheadings
  • single bulleted list, using commas to separate the information

See instructions on how to publish tables.

How to make tables accessible

Use headers

Tables must always have a header row, which explains the content of the columns. Headers appear in bold and help people who use assistive technology to understand the table’s structure. You must capitalise headers.

Help the user

Carry out any calculations, eg include totals or differences between amounts at the end of columns or rows.

Make your table easier to read

Try to use more rows than columns. A tall, narrow table is easier to read than a short, wide one.

Put important information first

Put the information that most people are looking for at the top or in the first few columns.

Convert tables to barcharts

In html publications you can convert tables into barcharts which are accessible to users with screen readers. Users can switch between the table and bar chart view.


Keep text in cells concise and clear, and follow the style guide. You can depart from GOV.UK style to:

  • truncate the names of months to save room, eg Jan, Feb
  • use a dash to show a span between numbers, eg 500-900
  • use numerals throughout (don’t use ordinals, eg first, second, 10th)

If you don’t need to use exact numbers, consider rounding large numbers with decimal places, eg £148,646,000 = £148.6 million.


The size of a table affects how easy it is for people to read it and understand it.

The minimum size for a table should be 2 columns and 3 rows (including a column header), but if your table it this small it may be better as normal text.

About a quarter of users currently access GOV.UK on their mobile and that number is growing.

Four column tables can be comfortably displayed on a smartphone screen, depending on how much text you have in the table cells. If it looks like too much, think about splitting your data between tables.

If you’re dealing with a huge amount of data that can’t be split, it might be better presented as a CSV (spreadsheet).

See instructions on how to publish tables.