abstract depiction of data

Making sense of data: Six strategies for making sense of data in the media 


The series described below, presented by our partner  SAS, explores the role of data in understanding our world. SAS is a pioneer in the data management and analytics field.  

Data can be a powerful tool. It helps us to understand the world with more precision and greater clarity.  Data is often the foundation for research, news articles and social media posts. Authors rely on data to help tell their story or prove their point. Because of its power to influence our understanding and decisionmaking, it’s essential that we learn how to confidently and critically consume the data we encounter.  

If data is so intertwined with our daily lives, how then do we gain the skills to make sense of it, ask the right questions and draw the right conclusions?  

We will address these questions and more in this blog series and cover a number of data analysis and presentation topics.

Diving into charts and graphs

When we talk about data visualizations, we’re referring to charts and graphs that help people visually make sense of large amounts of data rather than comparing raw numbers. Charts and graphs make it possible to see patterns and trends more clearly. At times, however, they can create confusion due to the way they’re presented. They can be misleading even if the underlying data is accurate. We’ll explore some of the common decisions that graph designers make when presenting information and how these decisions may impact what you see and understand. 

Exploring statistics in the media

Whether it’s climate change or economic growth, statistics are often used to reinforce and better explain issues we face. Yet, there are many ways to use statistics to represent similar information. The type of measure or statistic used can significantly alter the story being told, so it’s important to be careful and understand the numbers. We’ll look at commonly used statistics and how they are often presented to help you understand what those numbers really mean. 

Understanding complications with data collection

Even though data represents relevant issues, it is largely impossible to capture a completely accurate picture of the world around us. Instead, researchers rely on data collection methods to gather a close approximation. Unfortunately, the tools used can unintentionally skew the results. Therefore, it is important to understand the context of data creation. We’ll discuss key questions about the data collection process  so you can determine what conclusions you can draw from the data. 

Evaluating claims made from data

Data is often used to justify claims or statements about our world. However, it’s important to consider the context in which that data was collected to understand whether those claims are justifiable. We’ll look at two areas of concern – when authors use data to make comparisons and when research funding may introduce bias. 

Special look at issues with infographics

Infographics are designed to be visually appealing tools that can communicate a lot of information. But their focus on visual design often makes them hard to interpret correctly. We’ll discuss some common issues with infographics and how they tie into the principles we discussed previously.  

Spotlight on data in social media

Social media is a powerful tool for communication, and many people are creating their own content to share messages broadly. However, individual content creators may be more likely to post data and graphs that are misleading. One reason is that the flashiest stories are often shared the most rapidly and widely. We’ll discuss how social media encourages users to forgo the guidelines discussed in previous posts. 

That’s a lot of information about data to cover, but it’s important. Data matters, and we’re excited to start the journey to understanding it better with you.

Test yourself: Take our data quiz (here or below)!

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