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Writing with Descriptive Statistics

Summary:

This handout explains how to write with statistics including quick tips, writing descriptive statistics, writing inferential statistics, and using visuals with statistics.

Contributors:Reuben Ternes
Last Edited: 2010-04-21 07:46:44

Usually there is no good way to write a statistic. It rarely sounds good, and often interrupts the structure or flow of your writing. Oftentimes the best way to write descriptive statistics is to be direct. If you are citing several statistics about the same topic, it may be best to include them all in the same paragraph or section.

The mean of exam two is 77.7. The median is 75, and the mode is 79. Exam two had a standard deviation of 11.6.

Overall the company had another excellent year. We shipped 14.3 tons of fertilizer for the year, and averaged 1.7 tons of fertilizer during the summer months. This is an increase over last year, where we shipped only 13.1 tons of fertilizer, and averaged only 1.4 tons during the summer months. (Standard deviations were as followed: this summer .3 tons, last summer .4 tons).

Some fields prefer to put means and standard deviations in parentheses like this:

Group A (87.5) scored higher than group B (77.9) while both had similar standard deviations (8.3 and 7.9 respectively).

If you have lots of statistics to report, you should strongly consider presenting them in tables or some other visual form. You would then highlight statistics of interest in your text, but would not report all of the statistics. See the section on statistics and visuals for more details.

If you have a data set that you are using (such as all the scores from an exam) it would be unusual to include all of the scores in a paper or article. One of the reasons to use statistics is to condense large amounts of information into more manageable chunks; presenting your entire data set defeats this purpose.

At the bare minimum, if you are presenting statistics on a data set, it should include the mean and probably the standard deviation. This is the minimum information needed to get an idea of what the distribution of your data set might look like. How much additional information you include is entirely up to you. In general, don't include information if it is irrelevant to your argument or purpose. If you include statistics that many of your readers would not understand, consider adding the statistics in a footnote or appendix that explains it in more detail.

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