How to Write a Report Using Samples

In science, marketing, engineering, sociology, and many other fields involving research, one often has to write a paper using samples and data. Unfortunately, many people are not used to incorporating data into their writing. In school, many of us grew up writing essays, with no graphs, tables, or pictures. Those of us who were not taught how to display and describe data, and how to use it to form an argument, often run into problems when asked to give a presentation involving real world situations.

Display your samples in a way that someone can easily see what they are about after a brief glance. A picture or photograph is often the best way to do this. If your sample is represented as numerical data, you will need to make a graph. There are many programs available to help you do this. The most common is Microsoft Excel. If you highlight your data, and select one of the graphs in the Insert menu in Microsoft Excel, you can quickly create a variety of graphs.

If you are comparing different categories of things, for example, processing rates of different computer models, try putting it into a bar graph.

If you are looking at correlations or changes over time, use an x-y scatter plot.

If you are comparing ratios and proportions, try a pie chart.

There are many different types of graphs, and only you can figure out which is the best way to represent your data.

Label your pictures so they make sense. On x-y scatter plots, make sure you label the scale, what the x and y axis represent, and the units of measurement. The same applies to bar graphs---label what each bar represents, as well as the units of the y axis. In pie charts, label what each pie section represents and what percent of the pie it is. For pictures, or where large explanations are needed, use a caption, or a small block of text explaining the diagram. Label the first image you will refer to as "Figure 1", Label the second as "Figure 2", and so on.

Write your paper. The first time you refer to your data, call attention to the graph by writing "(See Figure 1)" in parenthesis. Explain what Figure 1 is showing and what the larger implications are. Label the second image Figure 2, and so on. You may also use Roman Numerals--figure i, figure ii, if you prefer.

Insert your diagrams into your document. If you are using Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, simply copy your diagram from Excel and paste it into Word. Use text boxes to insert captions if you haven't already. You now have two options. You can put all the diagrams in an Appendix at the end. Or, you can right click the image, select "Format Autoshape", and select "Square". You can now put the diagram in the paper itself. Your words will move around to accommodate the image. This method takes more effort, but is often easier to understand for the reader. the Appendix method has the advantage that the formatting of your document will be less likely to significantly change if you transfer your report to another text editor.

Include the following information in your writing where applicable: What is the sample? How was the data for the sample collected? How is the graph to be interpreted? What conclusions can be drawn from this data?

As always, write in complete, precise sentences, and use accurate terminology. In scientific writing, it is best to write in third person, although first person is occasionally acceptable. Don't use abbreviations except for units of measurement. Always use past tense when referring to data, because the samples and research have already been done. To improve readability, use active rather than passive voice. Always cite your references, especially the sources from which you got your data, if you did not collect it yourself, or you will be guilty of plagiarism.

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