Student working at computer

Understanding data

Find out how to use data tables and graphs, and what to do with the information you extract

Essential things to look for in a table or graph

 

Find... Possible thoughts for later analysis
What exactly is being shown – people, objects, events? Does what is shown / measured allow wider conclusions to be drawn?
How are they measured – what units? Are absolute numbers used, or are these proportions, like a percentage?
Where (geographically) does the data come from? How might the data be different if it came from other places?
When was the data generated (and to when does it refer)? How up-to-date is the data (if it needs to be)? How might the data be different at other time periods?
Who (possibly individuals but more likely an organisation) compiled the data? How authoritative is the compiler? Might they have any bias, or be trying to persuade?

Prompts for describing and interpreting or analysing data

  • What is the range of data (i.e. highest and lowest values)?
  • Can you see any trends? If so, what kinds?
  • Are there clusters of data (i.e. groups of similar values)? How do the clusters compare with each other?
  • Are there anomalies that do not fit in with trends or clusters?
  • How does your data compare with similar data from other places, or to similar data at a different scale?
  • How does your data compare with similar data from other time periods? And most importantly… What cautious explanations (if any!) might be given for any patterns you find?

And most importantly: 

  • What possible explanations, if any, might be given for any patterns you find?

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Using data

You may want to use figures, tables and charts to explain your results or the research of others. You should introduce the most significant data relevant to your study aim use a good structure when describing data.

Possible data commentary structure

  • Introduce the general subject of the data and the main trend and describe any obvious features. This might include the range of data, such as highest and lowest values.
  • Write about any trends and clusters of data or grouping of similar values. How do the clusters compare with each other? You can compare and contrast aspects of your data to define significant features.
  • Discuss the reasons for singular anomalies which do not fit into patterns.
  • Contrast your data against measured research with similar aims to explain the anomalies.
  • Make deductions, implications and reasons for any significant features as long as it is supported by cited research.

(Adapted from McCormack & Slaght, 2008.)

Useful questions for data analysis

Consider answering some of these questions:

  • What exactly is being shown. This might include people, objects, events?
  • Does what is shown allow wider conclusions to be drawn?
  • What kind of measurements of units are used?
  • Are absolute numbers used or are these proportions?
  • Where (geographically) does the data come from?
  • How might the data be different if it came from other places?
  • When was the data generated (and to when does it refer)?
  • How up to date is the data (if it needs to be)? How might the data be different at other time periods?
  • Who (possibly individuals but more likely an organisation) compiled the data?
  • What kind of bias is there? Who is the author trying to persuade?

References

McCormack, J and Slaght, J. (2008) Extended Writing and Research Skills Reading: Garnet

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Download this page as a PDF for using data notes.

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