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Volume 4 Issue 6 June 2012

Researchers Corner

Interpretation of Data is Tricky and Challenging


Here is an interesting piece of data found in a recent news magazine: The number of jail inmates per lakh population in USA, China and India, respectively, are 730, 170 and 30. This summarized data can lend itself for a variety of interpretations and inferences. Even though it is processed and presented in a usable and appealing form and secondary data taken out of context, it is quite tricky and challenging to interpret and draw inferences on such data.

The interpretation of data is required for better appreciation of findings, to make others understand the real significance of findings, to understand the abstract principles that work beneath findings, to link findings and results with that of others, to arrive at generalization after repeated testing of hypothesis, to take decisions based on implications of results, to predict concrete world of events and to maintain continuity in research, i.e. is to help further studies.
Tips and Precautions for Interpretation of Data Interpretation is an art and requires great skill and dexterity Make optimum use of data and techniques No over or under or misinterpretation No out of context interpretation Look for generalization but no false or even broad generalization No hurry, have patience; Wrong interpretation would lead to inaccurate conclusions Be impartial, have correct perspective Consult someone having insight into the study Look for relevance in extraneous information / data Make correct use of statistical measures Interpretation and analysis are highly interdependent

As an additional exercise, consider the case of per capita automobiles and number of pedestrians killed (An approximate one of two decades old):
USA Pedestrians killed Cars per 1000 persons 5 950 Germany 40 500 India 75 100

Interpretation follows statistical processing of data & precedes report writing. While interpreting one has to keep in mind (i)

Objectives and hypothesis of the study (ii) Scope and limitations of the study, techniques, methods deployed and (iii) Precision and reliability (significance) desired. The complex task / theme with huge data need to be divided into sub themes and arranged in a logical order (like chapter scheme). After explaining summarised data through tables, charts, diagrams and statistical tests and identifying extreme cases and tendencies, one has to draw inferences with conditions, if any. Any additional and/ or qualitative data has to be combined in support of the inferences. It is necessary to compare the finding with theory and other similar studies after realization of objectives and hypothesis of the study. Of course, summarized findings followed

by implications of the results and findings with suggestions for further research and unanswered questions, if any, has to follow the interpretation.

Interpretation of Percentages: We have seen two examples of how percentages are worked out in the wrong direction in May 2012 issue and some tips in this regard for interpretation are: Percentages (ratios & proportions) should be computed in the direction of causal factor, if any Percentage should run only in the direction in which a sample is representative Do not average percentages ( without weighing by the size of samples) Do not use very large percentages (e.g. 1200% increase) Do not use too small a base (e.g. 33 1/3% for 1 in 3) Interpretation of Correlation Coefficients: Similarly, while interpreting values of correlation coefficients (r, rs), the convention is to use the following: < 0.2 Slight and almost negligible

0.2 - 0.4 Low or definite but small 0.4 - 0.7 Moderate or substantial 0.7 - 0.9 High and marked > 0.9 Very high / dependable

Interpretation of Mean and Standard Deviation in Normal Distribution: (example, =4.5 and =0.5) 68.27% of observations fall between values ( +1 ) 5 and 4.0 ( -1 ) 95.45% of observations, fall between values 5.5 ( +2 ) and 3.5 ( -2 ) 99.73% of observations fall between values 6 ( +3 ) and 3 ( -3 )

M S Sridhar
sridhar@informindia.co.in