Numbers, for the unexperienced, can be confounding. But numbers tell us so much! Data and statistics give us insights into human behaviour in a way that qualitative analysis fails. But numbers in themselves do not carry meaning. Then where does the magic lie? We say that it’s in knowing how to represent them within a larger argument. That’s what this article is about. How does a student represent data in a dissertation? That’s what we are answering today.

The important thing to remember while writing data into a dissertation is that only you know the numbers, your readers do not. So the goal is to find a way that the numbers are accurate, comprehensible and make sense to the average reader. 

The way to tackle this is formatting and visualization. There are conventions/standardization techniques to be followed. Note that we’re not teaching you how to study statistics, but are simply guiding you on how effectively you can use them to highlight your research. If you’re an HSS student with zero knowledge of stats, or a STEM student looking for a refresher on stats and formatting, stay and read. 


Two types of stats 

  1. Descriptive:  These are stats that merely summarize findings and don’t necessarily imply for larger groups / You’re likely mean (average value) along with a measure of variablility (standard deviation(s) or standard error of the mean ) in these types of calculations. 
  2. Inferential: These are stats that provide as samples for larger groups. For example, if you claim that 33% of people vote for candidates based on their ethnicity, that does not necessarily mean that you have studied everyone who votes, but that you are simply projecting the findings of your sample group on to the larger community that you are studying. 

What to write AROUND the stats 

Numbers, by themselves, don’t mean anything. So, for the reader’s benefit, you have to make it very clear as to why the numbers are there, and what their significance/implication is.

  1. What: Literally, what do the numbers signify? 
  2. How: How did you arrive at the number? Did you refer another source, if yes, CITE YOUR SOURCES. 
  3. Why: Explain the methodology that allowed you to determine these numbers. 
  4. When: Date your stats, the more recent they are, the more credible they will be. Time frame also provides context. 
  5. Who: Who are you studying? State your sample. 
  6. Where: Specify the geographic location and expanse of your study.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Keep in mind that you’re writing for an audience. Your guiding question should be “Will the reader understand these numbers?” Condense or elaborate your findings accordingly.