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1 2.2 Reading a table

Tables are a common way of presenting information. We use tables to display key information, usually numbers. Tables can form a summary of information, or they may be a starting point for a discussion.

Tables can look quite formidable when a lot of information is presented all at once and finding your way around one can be difficult.

So how do you interpret a table?

The Sciences Good Study Guide (Northedge et al., 1997) advises that you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the table about?

    The title of the table should tell you what it is about.

  2. Where has the information come from?

    The source of the information should be stated.

  3. What do the rows and columns represent?

    The labels for the rows and columns should tell you what they represent.

  4. What do you want to know?

    This will depend on your reasons for reading the table. You may want to look up a single piece of information, or you may be looking for overall patterns.

  5. What are you expected to remember?

    Tables often contain a great deal of information. You may not need to remember any of it. Usually, it's the overall trends that are important.

Table 1 Purpose for using the Internet (source: adapted from the National Statistics Survey, 2004)
Purpose of Internet use by adults, in Great Britain in April 2004, who had used it in the last three months
Purpose of access      %
Finding information about goods or services78
Searching for information about travel and accommodation68
Using email85
Telephoning over the Internet / video conferencing7
General browsing65
Finding information relating to education37
Buying or ordering tickets / goods or services50
Selling goods or services10
Personal banking and financial services37
Playing or downloading games13
Using chat rooms19
Playing or downloading music27
Reading or downloading online news32
Listening to web radio / watching web television16
Downloading other software24
Downloading images27
Looking for a job / sending job application22
National Statistics Survey (2004) Percentage of adults who have used the Internet in the 3 months prior to interview by purpose of access (Great Britain): Individual Internet Access [online] [accessed 22 September 2006]

Activity 4 (self-assessment)

Study Table 1 above carefully and then answer the following questions.

  1. Where has the information in the table come from?

  2. In the rightmost column, 8 rows down, you will see the number 10. What does this represent? Write a sentence to explain what this tells us.

  3. What is the highest number in the table? What does this represent?

  4. What is the lowest number in the table? What does this represent?

  5. What percentage of people who used the internet said they used chat rooms?


  1. The source is the National Statistics Survey.

  2. Of the people who had used the internet in the 3 months before the survey, 10% had done so for the purposes of selling goods or services.

  3. The highest number in the table is 85%. This is the percentage of people who had used the internet in the 3 months before the survey for email.

  4. The lowest number in the table is 7, which means that of the people who had used the internet in the 3 months before the survey, 7% had done so for telephoning and/or video conferencing.

  5. Of the people who had used the internet in the 3 months before the survey, 19% had done so to use chat rooms.