1 Getting the most from charts, graphs and tables
Do you sometimes feel confused about how to create a chart, graph or table?
Are you not always sure which of these to choose to illustrate your set of data?
Why do we produce charts, graphs and tables anyway?
Spend a few minutes writing down what you think are the reasons why we choose to present data in this way before you read on.
One student has said:
If an exam or assessment question asks me to draw a chart or a graph, my heart sinks. I don't like tackling tables either. I only ever draw a graph if I absolutely have to.
This course assumes that you have some experience in drawing conclusions from tables and graphs, understanding basic statistics and answering questions associated with charts, graphs and tables. The basics are covered in our other course,, but it is not essential to have read it before you start this course.
On any one day, if you look at a selection of newspaper or magazine articles, you will find that a number of them include a chart, graph or table. This is because a chart, graph or table is a way of making some information that the author wishes to convey to the reader more obvious. Charts and graphs are generally used to help illustrate the point that the article is trying to make, whereas a table is a useful way of presenting a lot of data in a clear and organised manner. All three can provide a summary of the situation under discussion so that even if the person looking at the article doesn't actually read all of it they can still get a feel for the argument that the author is presenting.
If you are a student, the number of charts, graphs and tables that you will be asked to create will depend on your course. Many courses do not require you to do this at all, but others will expect you to be able to produce a chart, graph or table if necessary. Some courses with little mathematical, scientific or technical content still require you to analyse data presented in one or other of these forms and draw conclusions from them. This course is primarily aimed at those who are not confident about their ability to do these tasks and who wish to develop these skills.
This is a practical course. Section 2 first asks you to reflect on why you decided to study this course and what you hope to gain from it, which may vary widely depending on your circumstances. Sections 3–6 respectively look at creating tables, line graphs, bar charts and histograms, and pie charts. Section 7 is on analysing data. There is a technical glossary, and also some suggestions for further sources of help.
We anticipate that after you have worked through this course you will feel more confident about your abilities to produce charts, graphs and tables and to analyse data. Remember, though, that things do not happen instantly and that, as with any skill, it often takes time and practice to master it completely. If this course gives you a better understanding of how to present data, then it will have achieved its aim.