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Presenting Data: How to Communicate Your Message Effectively




Presenting Data: How to Communicate Your Message Effectively

Ed Swires-Hennessy

ISBN: 978-1-118-48959-8 September 2014 152 Pages


A clear easy-to-read guide to presenting your message using statistical data

Poor presentation of data is everywhere; basic principles are forgotten or ignored. As a result, audiences are presented with confusing tables and charts that do not make immediate sense. This book is intended to be read by all who present data in any form.

The author, a chartered statistician who has run many courses on the subject of data presentation, presents numerous examples alongside an explanation of how improvements can be made and basic principles to adopt. He advocates following four key ‘C’ words in all messages: Clear, Concise, Correct and Consistent. Following the principles in the book will lead to clearer, simpler and easier to understand messages which can then be assimilated faster. Anyone from student to researcher, journalist to policy adviser, charity worker to government statistician, will benefit from reading this book. More importantly, it will also benefit the recipients of the presented data.

‘Ed Swires-Hennessy, a recognised expert in the presentation of statistics, explains and clearly describes a set of “principles” of clear and objective statistical communication. This book should be required reading for all those who present statistics.’
Richard Laux, UK Statistics Authority

‘I think this is a fantastic book and hope everyone who presents data or statistics makes time to read it first.’
David Marder, Chief Media Adviser, Office for National Statistics, UK

‘Ed’s book makes his tried-and-tested material widely available to anyone concerned with understanding and presenting data. It is full of interesting insights, is highly practical and packed with sensible suggestions and nice ideas that you immediately want to try out.’
Dr Shirley Coleman, Principal Statistician, Industrial Statistics Research Unit, School of Mathematics and Statistics, Newcastle University, UK

List of Tables vii

List of Figures ix

Introduction xiii

Preface xvii

Acknowledgements xix

1 Understanding number 1

1.1 Thousands separator 2

1.2 Decimal separator 3

1.3 Level of detail in comparisons 4

1.4 Justification of data 5

1.5 Basic rounding 7

1.6 Effective rounding 9

Notes 16

2 Tables 17

2.1 Position of totals in tables 17

2.2 What is a table? 19

2.3 Reference tables 19

2.4 Summary tables 22

2.5 How tables are read 24

2.6 Layout of data in tables 25

2.7 Capital letters for table titles and headings in tables 29

2.8 Use of bold typeface 30

2.9 Use of gridlines and other lines in tables 30

Notes 31

3 Charts (bar charts, histograms, pie charts, graphs) 33

3.1 How the user interprets charts 33

3.2 Written aims for charts 35

3.3 Scale definition and display 37

3.4 Difference between bar charts and histograms 49

3.5 Pie chart principles 51

3.6 Issues with pie charts 55

3.7 Graph principles 63

3.8 Issues with graphs 64

3.9 Pictogram principles 79

3.10 Comparative charts: Multiple pies, multiple bar charts, double scale graphs 82

3.11 Graphics 88

3.12 Three-dimensional charts 90

Notes 92

4 Numbers in text 93

4.1 Numbers written as text 94

4.1.1 Correct numbers 94

4.1.2 Clear numbers 94

4.1.3 Concise numbers 95

4.1.4 Consistent numbers 96

4.2 Ordering of data 97

4.3 Technical terms 98

4.4 Plain language 100

4.5 Emotive language 102

4.6 Key messages 103

Notes 105

5 Data presentation on the Internet 107

5.1 The early years 110

5.2 Statistics on CD-ROMs 113

5.3 Data on the Internet 116

5.4 Charts on the Internet 120

5.5 Text on the Internet 128

Notes 130

“Highly recommended to a very wide audience.”  (Mathematical Association of America, 1 January 2015)

“Presenting data is, of course, more than a good table or an informative graphic. The words that describe the data must also be correct, clear, concise and consistent, and the author devotes a chapter to ensuring that the expert’s hard work is not undone by commentary that is too technical or too laboured to be understood by non-expert audiences.”  (The Royal Statistical Society, 1 February 2015)

“This book must be mandatory to any data analyst and statistician, and indeed anyone who presents numeric data. The word "numeric" is important, as non-numeric data are not discussed in the book.”  (ENBIS News, 10 December 2014)

“The words that describe the data, and the messages it may have, must also be correct, clear, concise and consistent, and the author devotes a chapter to ensuring that the expert’s hard work is not undone by commentary that is too technical or too laboured to be understood by non-expert audiences.”  (Significance, 1 February 2014)

"The book is easy to read and can be consumed in a single train journey. It is also easy to look at and the illustrations and graphics occupy as much space as the text. The author has indeed put his money where his mouth is and the graphics both illustrate his points and makes them alone. The highlight for me was in the chapter on tables where the author reduces a table containing seven columns and five rows to a two by two table which beautifully makes the point when previously it had been lost in a forest of figures...

This is an excellent book and I would recommend it as essential reading to anyone who is writing a thesis or dissertation, making a presentation or writing a paper. That’s all of us." (Occupational Medicine, 15th February 2016)