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5. Data Basics: Proper use of data

Now you have your data.  You can examine the data you have gathered and make an interpretation.  Sometimes, you can do so easily.  Take the list of students from Page 2 of this tutorial.  You can easily identify the number of males and females in the class.  A little more complicated math can give you the average age and GPA for students in the class.

But things aren’t always that easy.  What if…

You may find yourself using special software in such situations.  OSU’s computer labs have software to help you with analysis, including Excel, SAS, and SPSS. 

Many people may have a tendency to look for data to prove their hypothesis or idea.  However, you may find that the opposite happens.  The data may actually disprove your hypothesis.  You should never try to manipulate data so that it gives credence to your desired outcome.  While it may not be the answer you wanted to find, it is the answer that exists.  You may of course look for other sources of data – perhaps there are multiple sources of data for the same topic with differing results.  Inconclusive or conflicting findings do happen and can be the answer (even if it’s not the one you wanted!).

And like any other information resource, you should cite any data you use from a resource.  If you found the data in a book, on a web page, or in an article, cite the data like you would those formats.  If you used a database or downloaded a file, the citation style’s guide/manual should have directions for how to properly cite the data. 

Here are some examples of citing data:

Data from a research database:

Data from a file found on the open Web:

Pop Quiz


View the Data Detective quiz to see if you can determine what do do in a given situation.



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