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 had a lot of information? Sometimes data can be very complicated and may include thousands (or millions…or billions…or more!) of data points. Suppose you only have a date and the high temperature for Columbus - but you have this for 20 years’ worth of days. Do you want to calculate the average highs for each month based upon 20 years’ worth of data by hand or even with a calculator?
- You want to be able to prove a relationship? Perhaps your theory is that social sciences students do better in a certain class than arts/humanities or science students. You may have a huge spreadsheet of data from 20 years’ worth of this course’s sections and would need to use statistical methods to see if a relationship between major and course grade exist.
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:
- APA: Department of Agriculture (USDA) (2008). "Crops Harvested", Crop Production [data file]. Data Planet, (09/15/2009).
- MLA: “Crops Harvested", Department of Agriculture (USDA) [data file] (2008). Data Planet, (09/15/2009).
Data from a file found on the open Web:
- APA: Center for Health Statistics, Washington State Department of Health. (2012, November). Mortality Table D1. Age-Adjusted Rates for Leading Causes of Cancer for Residents, 2002-2011. [Microsoft Excel file]. Washington State Department of Health. Retrieved from http://www.doh.wa.gov/
- MLA: Center for Health Statistics, Washington State Department of Health. Mortality Table D1. Age-Adjusted Rates for Leading Causes of Cancer for Residents, 2002-2011. Washington State Department of Health, Nov. 2012. Microsoft Excel file. Retrieved from http://www.doh.wa.gov/
View the Data Detective quiz to see if you can determine what do do in a given situation.