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Guide to Research Using Journal Articles: Reading Tables

Ever wonder why your instructor requires you to use articles from journals in your research paper?


Reading Tables

The figure to the right represents a table which presents data in a textual (letters/numbers) format.

According to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association there are five different functions of data displays:

  • Exploration
  • Communication
  • Calculation
  • Storage
  • Decoration

For research paper purposes, you are mainly interested in the meaning/conclusion the authors are trying to communicate.

 When confronted with a table, what should you know about interpreting the content?

  • Look at the entire table
  • Read the labels (title, column heads and stubs, etc)
  • Read any keys/legends, captions or notes/explanations
  • Look for a narrative explanation of the table in the body of the text (often within the Methods or Results section of the article).

It may help to actually write out any discrete (individual) statistics which seem to relate to your topic and add a quick narrative to assess whether you understand the number and how it relates to your research.

Quick review of basic statistics abbreviations:

  • n= (number of participants/subjects, occurences expressed, for example, as n=50)
  • mean (M) (standard average, for example, the mean of 4, 5, 6, 7 is the added total of the four numbers then divided by four 22/4=5.5)
  • median (middle value in a list of numbers from lowest to highest value, for example, the median of 4, 5, 6, 7 is between 5 and 6 or 5.5)
  • mode (value most frequently found in the collection of data results, for example, the mode of 4,5,5,6,6,6,7,7,7,7 is 7)
  • standard deviation (SD) (shows how much variation there is from the "mean" (or expected/ budgeted value). A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very close to the mean, whereas high standard deviation indicates that the data are spread out over a large range of values).