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“. . . extending for dozens of pages”

Kaiser writes:

I have read a fair share of bore-them-to-tears compilation of survey research results – you know, those presentations with one multi-colored, stacked or grouped bar chart after another, extending for dozens of pages.

I hate those grouped bar charts also—as I’ve written repeatedly, the central role of almost all statistical displays is to make comparisons, and you can make twice as many comparisons with a line plot as a bar plot.

But I suspect the real problem with the reports that Kaiser is talking about is the “extending for dozens of pages” part. If they could just print each individual plot smaller and put dozens on a page, you could maybe get through the whole report in two or three pages. Almost always, graphs are too large. I’ve even seen abominations such as a fifty-page report with a single huge pie chart on each page.

As Kaiser says, think about communication! A report with one big pie chart or bar plot per page is like a text document with one word per page in very large print.

3 Comments

  1. the challenge (for me at least) is that inevitably, someone wants to be able to look up – for themselves – the precise value of y at some point x on subplot z. Possibly for every value of x on every subplot. without resorting to electronic data.

  2. John says:

    I think there are several issues here. There are multiple uses of survey research but normally there is a key research question or questions that the survey is attempting to answer. The questions in the survey are designed to answer the bigger question but often some analysis (data analysis as well as other forms of data interpretation) is required to go from the survey results to the bigger research question. What I often see is a mind numbing presention of survey results, including every conceivable cut of the data, as if the survey results are the end goal and not the bigger question. Don’t get me wrong, for some clients, the data itself is critically important and in some cases (political polling on the horse race, for example) the survey result is the end result. That being said, the current trend that I have observed is that the end goal of the client is not always taken into account. This leads to these very long presentations of the data that are not effective. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Rima says:

    Totally agree with John. The problem is not the graphic but the outline of the presentation, and whether the message in the graphic supports any points in the presentation. The presentation/paper should focus on making “main points”, then the graphics would serve to support these points.

    I have often seen reports showing all and every analyses and graphics produced by the analysts as a proof that they worked really hard on the data. However tables and graphic are meaningless if they are not selected and used to bolster an argument. The appendix is a good place to put tabels and figures that are there as a mere reference or repetition of the main points.