Data presentation skills: A researcher’s guide

In every research, data presentation plays the most inevitably crucial role in representing the outcome of the study. It is the result, finding and evidence to substantiate every study.

It is not enough for our data to just sit in our hard drives.  These valuable information needs to be shared and communicated in the best way possible.

Why do we have to do data presentation well?

Visual tools are the first “thing” for the readers and reviewers, who are often busy to read. In effect, when it comes to the needs of a reader to just briefly scan through a research paper (due to time constraint), tables, figures, charts, and diagrams are the best visual aids to let the reader know what the research is about.

Imagine the hassle of reading a heap of words and numbers where you can just neatly organize them into a table?

Hence, a well-presented data also speaks for the researcher himself. It can depict the proficiency of the researcher in utilizing appropriate visual tools.

This creates great impressions on readers and to lure the readers to read more on the content.

In addition, visual aids can indirectly enhance the memory of readers. Thus, the art of presenting data is of utmost importance to be mastered.

The visual aids must be self-explanatory.

It has to be understandable so as to inform the readers about something important about the study. To know the validity of the table, we need to evaluate whether this table/figure stand on its own.

The purpose of putting up a table or any figure should be significant. Avoid putting up a pie chart just to show the distribution of male and female respondent. By the way, a pie chart is a NO-NO in research papers. Hence, save it for gossip magazines.

Apart from that, not all readers can understand abbreviations. If a reader has to look for the list of abbreviations or read the text to understand an abbreviation, the quality of the research paper can be doubted. Therefore, the full-form of abbreviations should be written on a line below a table or figure for the reader’s easy reference.

The title of each table and figure must be descriptive enough to tell what the data is representing.

In data presentation, the title for each table and figure has to be informative and descriptive. The title should be clear and specific. Do not let your readers guess what the tables and figures are trying to show.

For example: “Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

The placement of titles is also something one should be particular of. For tables, the title should be above the table. This is to ease the readers to read the title as they are reading the title bar on top of the table. Meanwhile, for figures, the title should be below the graph or chart. This is for the readers to easily read the title as they are scanning the axis bar.

Present the data in an organized pattern.

One definitely cannot simply present the data as he wished. Take the bar chart below as an example:

data presentation bar chart

(Retrieved from: http://abacus.bates.edu/~ganderso/biology/resources/writing/HTWtablefigs.html)

Thus, the items on the x-axis should be arranged in a pattern. It can be according to alphabetical order or according to the trend (increase or decrease in number).

[Note: no dot after “Figure 1”]

Meanwhile, for tables, it should be simple with only 3 (or more if the table is too big, but try to minimize the number of lines) horizontal lines. There could be alternating shadings for rows if the table is too big. Always line up the decimal points in one straight line.

 

clear table

(Example of a clear table)

Relate the text to the tables and figures

Before a wordy title, always insert a label or number for that particular table or figure for referencing.

For example: “Table 2 Mean reaction times and percentage of errors by facial condition and sex of participants”

There is not necessary to put a full stop (.) or colon (:) after “Table 2”.

After that, make sure the table or figure serve their purpose. Always remember to relate the text or analysis of result to the table or figure shown. Tag the table or figure using their respective labels as such:

Table 2 shows that…

……… (Table 2).

Avoid repeating data.

While presenting the data in text form, avoid writing down all values from the table in word form as it is redundant. Try using one sentence to summarize the findings from the table.

Most importantly, great data presentation skills can depict how professional a researcher is. The tips above are not all, but something people do not usually notice or put emphasis on.

Take a small step to change, and great impact on your research skills will follow!

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