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Interpreting statistics

Interpreting statistics or graphically presented data also requires critical thinking. It is worth thinking through the following key questions – Who, What, How and Why:

Who?

  • Who compiled the statistics?
  • Who will make use of these statistics? Who may benefit from this data?

What?

  • What units of measurement are used?
  • What variables or categories are used?
  • What is being shown in the statistics?
  • What decisions (or even assumptions) may underpin the questions asked, the statistical processes used, and the analysis provided?

How?

  • How big was the survey? For example, in a small group, very small actual differences or changes can appear very significant when presented as a percentage.
  • How was the data collected?
  • How was the data analysed? (What tests were used?)
  • How are axes on any graphs labelled?
  • How do the statistics relate to the text? Do the statistics support what is being said about them?

Why?

  • Why have these statistics been produced? What was their purpose; how have they been used?

Presentation of statistics - visual communication and meaning

You may want to consider whether the selection and presentation of the data could be conveying hidden messages or cultural associations

  • Use of colours - some colours may help emphasise certain aspects of the data, making them physically stand out or may convey an implicit message of relative importance
  • Use of graphs, tables, pie-charts and other visual forms of data presentation – which materials are given greatest emphasis?
Interpreting statistics

 

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Further reading

Using statistics

  • Methodology issues
  • Maths and numerical skills

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