The what and why of statistics
Statistics can help provide concrete examples of a larger trend, give the basis for an important chart or graph, or make theoretical arguments tangible.
There are two main branches of statistics:
- Descriptive--concerns the numerical or quantitative data alone, and can help draw conclusions about a sample, rather than a population.
- Inferential--concerns the conclusions drawn about an entire population which are infered through the results of a random sampling of a population
Be aware of bias in statistics! Numbers can be manipulated, and charts and graphs can be arranged to give a certain impression. Always double-check your facts!
If you're not sure what kind of statistic you need, or what subject area your research falls under, or if you just need some general statistics, try one of these fantastic resources.
For U.S. statistics; lists topics as well as individual government agencies.
- Statistical Insight (ProQuest)
Provides access to a wide-range of statistics produced by governmental organizations. Great place to go for current statistics on almost any topic.
- Statistical Resources on the Web
By the University of Michigan. Tons of starting places, divided by topic area (agriculture, health, education, economics, etc.). Very easy to use.
- American FactFinder
Hosted by the U.S. Census. Also a good source for data about agriculture, education, employment, health, law, etc. Their website features valuable links to other official statistical resources, both domestic and international.
- Statistical Abstract of the United States
A national data book of statistics that reflect the social and economic condition of the United States. Updated annually, this book also includes a guide to other statistical resources and some international information.