Summarizing Information Verbally, Numerically, and Graphically
"Should I just summarize in words what I did in my study, or should I include statistics or tables or graphs? If so, what sorts of statistics or graphs, where, and why?"
As noted in the introduction to Stage III-B, the purpose of summarizing data is to simplify an otherwise incomprehensibly complex mass of information so the substance of the information can be readily grasped. This chapter describes three popular forms of summaries--verbal descriptions, statistical reports, and graphic displays. Under each of these forms, we illustrate typical alternatives along with some of their advantages and limitations.
Narrative summaries are statements about one or more qualities that the author of a study suggests are shared by a collection of phenomena, such phenomena as objects, places, people, organizations, institutions, events, social movements, ideas, periods in history, and more. As will be noted in Chapter 12, summarizing merges into interpreting. Thus, summaries are often indistinguishable from interpretations.
The placement of summaries can vary from one research project to another and even within the same study. For instance, a summary is usually offered at the beginning of a thesis or dissertation in the form of an abstract of the project's overall aims, methods of investigation, and outcomes. Such an introduction is then followed by the main body of the document which details the evidence in support of the opening summary. In other cases, the data collected for answering a research question are laid out first, followed by a summary of the conclusions that seem warranted by those data. Mini-summaries are often located throughout a document, representing conclusions drawn about individual sections of the presentation. Then a macro-summary is usually placed at the close of the thesis or dissertation as a final chapter that pulls together the principal generalizations extracted from the entire work.