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  Investigating Data Interpretation

Many student experiments are designed to demonstrate a particular principle discussed in lecture. All of these exercises should work since they have been tested prior to your arrival in the laboratory. This isn't how scientific research is performed.

In this lesson you will formulate and answer your own research question. Your question can be a water quality issue you have always wondered about, a class topic you wish to explore in greater detail, or an issue that has been in the news recently. Be sure that WOW data can provide an answer to your question. Your final presentation is a scientific poster. The "reporting results" section provides specific instructions for formatting your final presentation.

Knowledge Base
Begin by reviewing what you know and what you would like to know about water quality. Use the WOW data visualization tools as aids in your reflection about water quality relationships. The Profile Plotter may be especially useful in helping you see possible relationships among water quality parameters.

Initially, focus on no more than two variables. Record your thoughts, impressions, and ideas on paper. Review these periodically. Think about relationships among data. Think about relationships among the data and other external environmental factors, such as rain, wind, sunlight, etc.

For example, look at the following series of data visualization images from the Profile Plotter that are shown below. What relationship(s) among the data might you hypothesize based on these images?

profile plotter

profile plotter

profile plotter

Experimental Design
After reviewing more of the WOW data and working with the WOW data visualization tools, use your reflections to form a hypothesis.

Write a procedural plan for testing your hypothesis using WOW data. Identify the data you need. Which WOW lake or lakes will you use for your data collection? Consider how to explain the rationale for your decisions about experimental design.

Data Collection
Use the WOW site to collect the data you need. Remember your experimental design should include detailed instructions for other researchers who might want to examine the same data and check your results.

Other resources available include class notes, handouts, books in the library, and the Internet. Additional resources are available on the WOW site. Clearly reference any resources used in the data analysis in your final report.

Data Management and Analysis
Remember that all experimental data consist of measurements that have one, rightmost uncertain digit. Although the RUSS unit is a sophisticated robot, it is still only a measurement tool. Be sure to consider how much you believe each of the digits in any measurement.

Sometimes, data are found that defy the observed pattern. These are known as data outliers. Rather than dismiss them as unimportant, try to determine their cause. (e.g.: Is the probe working properly?) Sometimes outliers lead to new and interesting interpretations of the data. Were there any outliers in the data you collected? Be prepared to explain how you chose to handle outliers in your data analysis.

Endless tables of numbers can be difficult to understand. A better method is to present the data in a visual or graphical format (i.e.: Excel). Remember that graphs don't have to display the origin. Often subtle and important variations are only observable if the graph axes are modified to expand the data in question (Figure below).

two graphs showing different origin

Also, take advantage of Excel's multiple graphing ability (Figure below). It can be very useful to display more than one graph at a time in order to determine relationships between sets of data.


Interpretation of Results
Consider the following questions as you plan your poster and final presentation.

  • Was data collected by RUSS possibly affected by external factors?
  • Is there sufficient data to answer the research question?
  • What is the best way to display the data?
  • Are there additional experiments to conduct?
  • Did you find any outliers? How can the outliers be explained?
  • Are there unanswered questions?
  • Is there a new research question?

Reporting Results - Poster Format
Posters are frequently used as means to display ongoing research and experimental results. At scientific conferences, researchers gather in large auditoriums to display their own work as well as examine the work of others. As individuals circulate throughout the exhibits, they strike up conversations and exchange ideas.

You will display the results of your RUSS data analysis on a poster (Figure below). The lengths of various sections will vary from one poster to the next. Each poster will consist of no more than six 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper glued to tag board (2 rows, 3 columns). Individual pages are arranged to be read from left to right.

poster example

All posters must contain the following, clearly labeled sections:

  • Title - An adaptation of the assigned research question.
  • Authors - Name(s)
  • Introduction - Introduce the research question, the data analyzed, and the analysis plan.
  • Results and Discussion - Display only necessary data. Data presented must be discussed in the text. Discuss data trends, correlations, and outliers.
  • Conclusions - Summarize the data analysis and compose the answer to the research question. Are there additional experiments to conduct? Are there unanswered questions?

Formatting Notes

All text must be in 24 point font except section titles that appear in 36 point font. Lines should be double spaced with 0.5" margins (top/bottom/left/right). Left justify all text. Use the spelling and grammar checker. Hand written notes and comments are not allowed.


All graphs must be clearly labeled. Use these labels when referring to graphs in text (Example: Figure 1, Figure 2). Graph axis titles must be included and correctly positioned. Hand written notes and comments are unacceptable.


Data tables must be properly titled. Columns and rows should be correctly labeled. Hand written notes and comments are unacceptable.

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date last updated: Friday October 08 2004