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Interpreting Tables
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For dates before August 26, 2000

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Latest update: September 13, 2000

Sample Interpretations

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Teaching Series
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, September 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

Materials Needed and Instructions

The online interpretive materials you will need to use to accompany this essay are at Nan Chico's Starters. I suggest that you use the techniques we teach in Intermediate Level Taskbar Use to put up Nan Chico's Starters on one browser screen, and then put up this essay in a separate browser screen. Put up also a separate browser screen for First Guided Interpretations of Tables. If the use of the taskbar is new to you, then put up the instructions on Intermediate Level Taskbar Use in a fourth browser screen, and click back and forth among the browser screens with the buttons on your taskbar.

Nota bene: If you are learning the intermediate level use of your taskbar for this exercise, it is important that you record that in your class journal so that you will remember to include that in your learning record for the class.

This essay coordinates with First Guided Interpretations of Tables.

How to Work Together and Still Write on Your Own

This essay is designed to aid you in small group discussions of interpretations of Table 1. You should work only with those who are physically present or who are actually communicating with you by e-mail. (You should copy such e-mail to me, as one of the records of your work in the class.) This is meant to be an actual discussion, and will serve you best if you proceed in that manner.

Groups should be amorphous and changing. To insist that someone be present at a specific time and place in a present-day metropolitan area is structurally violent. Few of us can in fact comply. Please do not hold yourselves to structurally violent constraints to which I do not hold you. If someone is not able to work with you, they will work with whomever is available when they can do so. Be flexible; be understanding and respectful to one another.

Although I want and expect you to work together, I would like each of you to write your own interpretation. For detailed instructions on how to do this, please study Understanding Plagiarism in Essay Answers.

Share your interpretations. Help each other. Although I want you eventually to turn this work in through the plagiarism site, we will help each other learn how to share work, and still not engage in plagiarism. I will help, too. Take advantage of this first exercise to practice. Then you'll never need to worry about plagiarism again. (You can find extensive information on plagiarism on our site.)

Table 1. Animated GIF Table

Table 1

The year changes quickly in this animated gif, so you may want to stop the animation by clicking on the STOP button on your browser. To start the animation again, and to watch the table configuration change over time, click the RELOAD button. Unfortunately this process starts the whole file up again. But it's a minor inconvenience. You should stop and reload the table until you get a sense of what the animation is doing.

Annual Changes

Notice that the central column of numbers seems to represent years. What year does the graph appear to start with? How many years does the GIF cover?

Can you be pretty sure that the graph is illustrating annual changes? or is there something else those numbers could represent?

Shape of the Distribution is Changing

Notice that the shape of the table first appears as a pyramid. But then the shape begins to change, first slowly, then drastically. What is the shape changing to?

What kinds of social data are likely to be represented as a pyramid? What do you think it means that the shape changes? What does the shape change to?


What could these variables be? What might vary like this? What variables would be distributed like a pyramid?

Symmetrical Shape?

Is the shape symmetrical? What does that mean? What do those red lines represent? What variables would we want to picture symetrically like this? Education? IQ? Wealth? Gender? Age? Which of these could possibly be 14 on each side of the center dividing line? What could 14 mean?

First Guided Interpretation of Table 1

Now, I would like you to stop and review all you have learned just by looking at the table. This is why we use tables and graphs. They help us get a sense of the whole picture quickly and efficiently.

Then we follow one of the first rules of good research: always give clearly a written explanation of every table or graph, so that a reader who does not rely very much on his/her visual sense will not have difficulty grasping the story your data tell. We all learn and understand differently. Do not be structurally violent to your reader. If he/she is more comfortable with a verbal description, make sure you have a verbal description available. Now go to Statistics Exercise 1 and discuss in small groups how you will write your first interpretation.