Tables are often used to display data clearly, particularly when it is important that the data are displayed accurately, such as on a food label, or when a lot of data needs to be displayed in a concise form, such as on a bus or train schedule.
The table shown below is from the Irish Tourism Fact Card for 2003. There’s a lot of information here to sort out, but imagine how confusing it would be if it was a list!
Employment in the Irish Tourist Industry (Numbers Employed by Sector)
|Tourism services and attractions||33,910||34,568||34,852||34,749||0.5%|
So how do we start to understand what is shown in a table?
The first thing to do is to look at the title. This should explain clearly what the table contains. This table contains the number of people employed in the Irish tourist industry, divided into sectors.
[“Fáilte”, pronounced fall-sha, is an Irish word meaning “welcome”.] Next, check the source of the data. Have the data been collected by a reputable organization? Can you check how the data have been collected? This is an important step: if, for example, the data are only based on a few results or have not been collected properly, then you may not wish to rely on the values given in the table. The source of these data is given below the table, a survey conducted in 2004 by Fáilte Ireland, the Tourist Board for Ireland. This is an official organization, so the data are likely to be reliable.
The next step is to examine the column and row headings. What information is being given? Raw numbers, or percentages? What units are being used? Do you understand any abbreviations used and how the table is constructed?
The column headings are the years 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Note that the year 2000 is missing; this could affect your interpretation of the figures.
The final column has a confusing heading. Can you work out what it means? Look carefully at the symbols used. It is the percentage change between 2001 and 2003, given as either a positive or a negative number. Between 2001 and 2003, for instance, the number of people employed in hotels in Ireland fell by 0.2%.
The rows give types of tourist facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, with the total for all types given in the bottom row.
Finally, you can look at the main body of the table to find the information you need.
For example, to find the number of people employed in restaurants in 2001, move along the row labeled restaurants, and down the column labeled 2001. Where this row and column meet, the value is 41,827.
This means that, in 2001, 41,827 people were employed in restaurants.
Reading a Table
Before you go on to use the information in the table, here is a summary of the steps in reading a table.
- Read the title.
- Check the source of the data.
- Examine the column and row headings, particularly the units used.
- Check that you understand the meaning of any symbols or abbreviations.
- Extract the information you need from the main body of the table.