Wednesday, July 11, 2007



From time to time it will be necessary to use quantitative data in your papers. For instance, when you are writing about the results of a survey you’ve designed to determine the percentage of the Portland State University population that own degus. A degu is a kind of rodent that is halfway between a hamster and a chinchilla in size. It isn’t important right now. Look them up later. They’re pretty neat. After you’ve collected your data you will need to communicate it to your readers. Below are some tips for making that communication effective:

1. Be Selective – Don’t use charts, graphs, or tables to take up space. Choose carefully how to display quantitative data and where in your paper it is appropriate to include the information.
2. Be Clear – Provide enough information in a chart, graph, or table that it can be read and understood on its own. And, when including multiple pieces of data in visual form: standardize. Make them look similar. Use the same fonts and place data in the same positions. Be consistent.
3. Discuss – Refer to your data in the text of your paper, but don’t just repeat the facts and figures. Let the visual data do its work. In the text, your job is to expand on the information and put it in context. Use the data from the charts, graphs, and tables to support the claims you are making in your paper. For instance, if you find that the vast majority of degu owners at PSU are male and between the ages of 26 and 30, apply that statistical information to your argument- men in their late twenties have a tendency to make unconventional choices at the pet store.
4. Look Again – Review the work you’ve done with quantitative data. Do the tables and charts stand alone, as well as fit appropriately into the larger context of the paper? Is your analysis supported by the data presented in your graph? Does it enhance the larger argument you are trying to make? If it doesn’t, do you need to revise your argument? Or, find new data?

*By the way, if you are ever in need of information about the degu ownership habits of PSU students you shouldn’t use the information contained here. We made it up.

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