Presenting statistical information effectively: two useful guides

Presenting statistical information effectively: two useful guides

Research nearly always involves measuring and counting: drawing inferences based on quantitative data is one of the distinguishing characteristics of science.  This article is about two useful guides for the effective presentation of quantitative data, whether as tables or as charts.

Making data meaningful,1 published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, is in two parts, namely Part 1, A guide to writing stories about numbers (28 pages)1 and Part 2, A guide to presenting statistics (58 pages).

The two-part guide is "intended as a practical tool to help managers, statisticians and media relations officers use text, tables, graphics and other information to bring statistics to life using effective writing techniques" and is packed with examples that show how the guidelines explained in the book can change poor writing into clear and effective writing. More than a dozen experts—drawn from seven countries and two international organizations—collaborated in writing the guide, which, despite the range of contributors, speaks in a single voice—clear, practical, and authoritative.

User-friendly presentation of statistics,2 published by PARIS21 (Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century) and Statistics Norway, is meant not so much for individual researchers as for agencies that publish statistical information. Yet, I recommend it strongly because of three chapters, namely Chapter 2, Comparing numbers: making the numbers talk; Chapter 3, In columns and rows: constructing tables; and Chapter 4, From table to graph: why and how?

The theme of these chapters is expressed succinctly: "Statistics gives a numerical description of society by means of numbers put together in tables or graphs. The purpose of placing numbers together in this way is to compare them in order to uncover differences, correlations and trends. To compare numbers – after having made them as comparable as possible – is the central theme of all statistics. And user-friendliness means to present the numbers in a way that encourages and enables the users to make comparisons."

Researchers will find both the guides a rewarding reading.

1 www.unece.org/stats/documents/writing/

2 www.ssb.no/int/pres_stat/pres_stat.pdf

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