The idea that everything around us can be analyzed and understood through numbers is not new. From science to sports and culture to the cosmos itself, statistics sheds new light on our past, present, and future. As a science, it is defined as the practice of collecting and examining huge batches of numerical data for the purpose of drawing conclusions from representative samples.
Whether we know it or not, all of us have at least some experience with statistics, even if we never studied it in high school or college. For example, whenever we watch a presidential election or play fantasy football, the outcomes of any matchup are based on statistical models that help predict likely future outcomes.
Because it is a science that focuses on the underlying mathematics, most students have problems with statistical reports
. They simply don't know how to write them because writing is rarely taught in traditional statistics classes. As a result, they often throw together a few graphs and charts and do their best to explain the results of their project in their own words. That is not the way to write a proper statistical report, at least not today. What do we mean?
You see, in the old days, statistical analysis was completed with comparatively primitive methods and tools, which meant that compiling and analyzing numbers took up most of the researcher's time. But with modern computer programs, analysis comprises a very small part of the overall project. As a result, teachers and experts alike expect to see statistical reports that answer serious investigative questions, rather than simply throwing a whole bunch of numbers at them.
Why the writing is important
Even though numbers take center stage in statistics, it is the stories they tell us that makes the pursuit worthwhile. All of the magic happens when we analyze the numbers and find out what we can learn from them. Of course, this is only possible if we ask the right questions and transform a purely mathematical practice into a more comprehensive investigation. To do so, we must learn how to compose a standard statistical report.
Step 1: The Abstract
The purpose of any statistical project is to add to a new or established body of learning through experiments, data, and research. As important as the numbers themselves may be, they are of little worth if you cannot put them in the proper context and communicate their significance to others.
As its name suggests, the abstract is a very short, very general paragraph or two that summarizes all of the important elements of your report, such as the research methods, results, and final analysis. A couple hundred words should be more than enough to describe your project simply and succinctly.
Step 2: The Introduction
This is the section where you must win your audience over and convince them that your project has merit. Begin with a purpose statement, which explains why you decided to pursue the report. You must also talk about your expectations for the project before you began it and what your original hypothesis was, if necessary. Once again, you should be clear and concise and use language that the layperson can easily understand. When you get into the analysis stage where statistics must be examined, then you can use technical terms. But at the outset, your report should be less formal and easy to read.
Step 3: Include a Literature Review
This is step that some new statistical writers
regrettably skip. The literature review is nothing more than an examination of other research that has been completed on similar projects. It is imperative because it helps establish that your report is a worthwhile one, since other noted researchers have pursued it in the past. If possible, locate a reported that was published in a noted periodical by a doyen in the field.
Step 4: Discuss the Methods
Shifting to a more scientific mode, the methods section gives you the opportunity to explain the experiments you used to collect the data that will either prove or disprove your initial hypothesis. You should be as specific as possible in this section and talk about data collection, results tracking, and any adjustments that were made throughout the project. Make sure that you include and resources, materials, or software you used in your research.
Step 5: Compile the Results Section
Anything of consequence that you discovered during your experimentation and research must be included in this section. Fact, results, findings, and measurements, whether in numeric, chart, or graph form should be added. However, if the charts or graphs are lengthy and complicated, it is often best to save them for the appendices. It is also important to note that you should not editorialize or analyze any results in this section of your statistical project. This section is simply about giving readers the numbers they need to either agree or disagree with your main point.
Step 6: Make Your Conclusions
Now that they have seen the numbers, you must let your reader know what they mean to you. Your analysis should be dispassionate and should include results that help corroborate your hypothesis, and also those that may negate it. Explain to the reader what impact, if any, these finding may have on subject, field of science, or even on the average person. Will they have an effect, no matter how miniscule, on their lives?
Finally, you will want to determine if additional study is required. In most cases, it is best to be humble and self-effacing in the end, since few statistics projects are perfect and answer all of the questions they set out to solve.
Step 7: End with the Appendices
Remember to include all findings, from graphs to charts to interview text in the appendices. Survey questions are also considered statistical information, and must therefore be included in this section. Do not worry about length when it comes to the appendices, as they are often the longest sections of statistics reports.