This one is probably fairly obvious for native speakers, but I'm always confused. I am writing an article and I want to say that such and such methodology is described in/on a table, a figure or a scheme.

  • Excellent, I am wondering if this is extensive to other verbs with similar meaning? E. g. "illustrated in/on", "presented in/on", and so forth? I am always referring to printed material – Gus Mar 20 '14 at 15:15

When used alongside the word 'described', the preposition 'in' would be the equivalent of either 'via' or 'inside'.

So, in the example you've given, the correct answer is 'in', because the methodology is described via (i.e. through the means of) the table/figure.

An example of its equivalence with 'inside' could come about if, say, a publication had run an article on the methodology, in which case you would likewise say that 'the methodology was recently described in The Notable Journal.'

To use the preposition 'on' with the word 'described' is to convey the medium by which the description was made, e.g. 'the methodology was recently described on paper in an issue of The Notable Journal.'

Notes: I'm English. As far as I know usage is the same in US English, but I'm not totally certain of it.

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  • The comparison between on and in makes sense to me. But does it applies repeatedly? I'm in doubt how to make a more specific reference: ... is described in DocumentX __in__ table/page/section Y or ... is described in DocumentX __at__ table/page/section Y? – mMontu Feb 4 '15 at 12:01
  • @mMontu this may be a bit late to help you, but 'in' sounds correct for the cases of the table and the section, but 'on' is preferable when referring to the page. I don't know if the reason is purely idiomatic or if it is a product of the reasoning outlined in my answer, i.e. a page is a physical medium for information, in that the words are literally printed on it. 'At' doesn't sound right in any of those cases. – 568ml Feb 17 '15 at 21:40
  • I used 'at', but I will avoid it on the next time. Thanks! – mMontu Feb 19 '15 at 10:13

"In" rather than "on" would be right. But I'm not sure "described" is the best word. A table obeys a certain logic, but doesn't actually describe the logic. I would say something like "the methodology is inherent in the table", or "embodied in the table", or "can be inferred from the table".

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Since the table here is a row by column arrangement which contains information, described in will be used. This is because the information is in the table. If the table was a flat surface with legs (physical table), the correct form would be described on.

In general, the preposition on and at is used when we address a table.

Eg. Food is on the table. We are sitting at the table.

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The description being part of the table/figure/scheme, the natural choice of preposition would be in: described in.

In certain cases such as a web site, one would say "described on the web site"; or sometimes a specific page, "described on page no.**".

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