Comments about Assignment #4

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					                       General Comments about Assignment #4

The Graphs.

A few weren’t as clear or distinct as they should be. Understand that the point of any graphic
should be to convey information quickly, clearly, and accurately. Here are some examples of good
graphs in terms of clarity of information from semesters past:
Pretty good and clear, but get rid of the line key on the right; it is a waste of space.


Here are some good examples from this year’s bunch:
The graph itself is nice and clear, but (a) it should have started in 1982 and (b) the “Number
Executed” key on the right hand side is unnecessary. Also, mentioning Texas would have made it
clearer.




Fairly clear, but I would have deleted the .41% on the pie itself and just let the number stand in the
key.
Here are not as successful incarnations from years past:




I don’t know that a pie graph is the best way to convey this information. Beyond that, I think the
percentages should have been rounded to one decimal place and should have been on the pie and
not in the margins around it.

In addition to missing a title, a pie graph should always use percentages, not raw numbers.




Why only for four years? Also, an unnecessary key.
Some less than clear examples from our bunch:




This could have been effective except that the spacing and the font is all messed up, making it utterly
unreadable.
In addition to needing a graph title, this needs to have the percentages on it.




Not bad, except the percentages should be in the graph, not the key and, for “Others,” it should
read <1%.

The main point about all the graph is that they can never tell the whole story. They can only hint in
any interesting way at the whole story, which bring me to: the paragraphs themselves.



The Paragraphs.

The Titles: the titles should be interesting, provocative, descriptive—not “Executions by County.”
That’s a good title for the graph itself, not for the paragraph. You want people to read the
paragraph, right?

Here are some examples of great titles:

                •   Houston, We Have a Problem—with Executions
                •   It’s a Race to the End
                •   The End of the Line, Statistically
                •   Everything’s Bigger in Texas
                •   A Time to Kill?
Starting out: Please, for the love of anything holy, don’t immediately reference the damn graph. The
graph is supposed to be there to help out the paragraph, not the other way around. A strictly
matter-of-fact approach might be good, something like:

                “As of October 1, 2012, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has executed 487
                inmates.”

or you can be a little more provocative, starting in with something interesting:

                “Year 2000 may not have brought the dreaded Y2K disaster, but, for Texas, the turn
                of the century marked a watershed in executions.”

                “Contrary to many preconceived ideas, Caucasian offenders, and not Blacks or
                Hispanics, have received more lethal injections in Texas since 1982.”

There is actually no need to mention the graph overtly, really. And if you do, it should be in passing
or parenthetically.


Numbers: What graphs can never do is give all the data. But, in the paragraph, you can and must.
Give total numbers, percentages, anything bearing on the data.


Analysis: This is especially where people seemed lost. The key to analyzing data is asking the right
questions. In dozens of assignments, not perso asked the simple question: “why 1982”? Geez,
people. That should have been your first question.

If you had the executions by race data set, why did no one ask themselves: “well, what is the total
racial breakdown for all people in Texas”? or “why are there more Black death row inmates, yet
more Whites have actually been executed?”

If you had the executions by year data set, you certainly should have asked “why 1982?” But there
are certainly many, possible anomalies that appear on the data set. You should have speculated why
some years perhaps had none vs. why others seemed out of control. You may not have an answer to
that (actually, you don’t have an answer to it), but you should have been able to explain why the years
fluctuate and why simple conclusions will not be easy to suggest as explanations.

If you had the executions by county data set, you first had to make a decision. You couldn’t show all
the Texas counties on a graph since there are so many. But whatever system you used to organize
the data, you had to explain. For example, if you chose to group counties by region, where does
that region delineations come from? How can I, a reader, see what country is in which region?
How are the region designations complicated? Whatever system you chose, be prepared to
illuminate why it is efficient and appropriate to the task.
Last Words.

Please, please, please pay attention to the “Rules of Written Discourse” for this course. Particularly,
stop with all the first and second person. Rarely do real scholars use “I” and “you.” And when they
do, it is for a very particular reason—reasons you will never have in this course and rarely have in
your whole academic or professional lives. Just remember—no one cares about you—they only care
about your research.

				
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