You are here

Presenting Data: How to Communicate Your Message Effectively

Ed Swires-Hennessy
John Wiley
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Robert W. Hayden
, on

This book discusses the presentation of data to a lay audience in the form of graphs, charts and tables. The mathematical prerequisite is a good eighth-grade education. The statistical prerequisite is familiarity with reading the types of tables and graphics that appear in the mass media. In particular, coverage includes bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and time series plots — all topics commonly seen in an introductory statistics course, or a Common Core high school curriculum.

The intended audience for the book is anyone who has to present their conclusions in print or on the Internet. In an academic setting, some possible audiences that come to mind are current or future researchers, colleagues in other departments, or administrative offices that produce quantitative reports on, say, enrollments or expenditures. Many of my colleagues in Business ask their undergraduate students to write such reports and this would be an excellent reference for those students. It could also be a valuable resource in a writing across the curriculum program — a realm where science-oriented materials are in short supply.

In a typical study, the researcher might use a wide range of graphical and numerical tools to determine what the data are saying. Once the researcher decides what the message is, it might then be communicated to a non-specialist audience with the simple and commonly seen sorts of graphics discussed here. The fact that the author also discusses tables is welcome because most statistics textbooks treat the reading of tables as self-evident.

The writing style is informal and generally well suited to the intended audience. Two minor flaws are sometimes clumsy sentences and an unusual number of peculiarly British usages. Here is one example of the former.

By getting producers to perceive data as a user means that a product of data will not present users with what they have but what they need in a form that any message can be easily acquired.

The advice offered is sound and up to date. Notable are a number of comments on using Excel. This popular software package often requires a lot of manual work and adjustment to give a quality of graphic that would be automatic in a dedicated statistical analysis program. Unfortunately, Excel is most commonly used by unsophisticated users little able to recognize the need for adjustment, so the assistance offered here is welcome.

Highly recommended to a very wide audience.

After a few years in industry, Robert W. Hayden ( taught mathematics at colleges and universities for 32 years and statistics for 20 years. In 2005 he retired from full-time classroom work. He now teaches statistics online at and does summer workshops for high school teachers of Advanced Placement Statistics. He contributed the chapter on evaluating introductory statistics textbooks to the MAA's Teaching Statistics.

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