Ways of Interpreting Data

Two people may interprete the presented data in different ways.

The human mind is extremely complex. Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have filled libraries with books written about it. When one group produces data, another group has to interpret it. Data are the results of an experiment, or the information collected from a process, or observations. The interpretation of data is based on the workings of the human mind. Since the human mind is not 100 percent objective, the interpretation of data may not be 100 percent accurate.

1 Correct Interpretation

In order to understand misinterpretation, the correct way to interpret data must be understood. Data interpretation must be approached without personal bias or preconceived opinions. A researcher forms an initial opinion, called the hypothesis. He runs an experiment based on the hypothesis. The data collected prove or disprove his original hypothesis. For example, a researcher states that the sky is blue because of nitrogen. He runs an experiment, and the data collected reveal a high concentration of ozone. In his conclusion, he states the original hypothesis was wrong, and the facts collected indicate ozone is the colorant gas. By interpreting data objectively, the correct conclusion is reached. Unfortunately, having a 100 percent bias-free and objective frame of mind is difficult.

2 Subjectivity

Suppose you are writing a technical manual and in a step you state: "Move the part up a little bit, and sideways a little bit." The words "a little bit" are extremely subjective. To one person, this may mean 1 inch. To another, this may mean 1 foot. Furthermore, "sideways" does not specify to the left or right. Two different people will interpret the data you presented completely differently. Stating "move part number 30 to the left one inch" eliminates the error in interpreting the data. For data to be effectively interpreted, it has to be objective and accurate.

3 Background and Experience

According to Drs. Anne E. Egger and Anthony Carpi at Vision Learning, people base the interpretation of data upon their background and prior experience. Since backgrounds vary widely, the interpretation varies widely as well. Drs. Egger and Carpi stated that even scientists (who are supposed to be objective) can interpret the same set of data and reach differing opinions depending on their backgrounds.

4 Abnormal Mental States

People with an abnormal mental state will interpret data in abnormal ways. Researchers M.R. Broom et al, writing for the British Journal of Psychiatry reported their findings in 2007. The findings were that people with delusional attributes jumped to conclusions quickly after interpreting only a little bit of data. Furthermore, they did not tolerate ambiguity. For example, a person with severe paranoia may read that the law enforcement does wiretaps. He may stop reading there, never reading that this is only done by a search warrant and court approval. He jumps to the conclusion, based on incomplete data, that he is being wiretapped.

5 Cultural Background

In 1968, researchers Marshall Segall et al presented a series of optical illusions to people of different cultural groups. The conclusion reached was that different groups perceived the illusions in various ways. This experiment illustrated that a person's cultural background influences how data is interpreted.

Tony Oldhand has been technical writing since 1995. He has worked in the skilled trades and diversified into Human Services in 1998, working with the developmentally disabled. He is also heavily involved in auto restoration and in the do-it-yourself sector of craftsman trades. Oldhand has an associate degree in electronics and has studied management at the State University of New York.