# Empirical Study

## Data Analysis and Interpretation

Look before you leap. Begin analyzing your data by listing all the research questions you would like to answer using the variables you have. Start with the most important questions and then go to the minor ones. If you have collected information on a lot of variables, don't try to include them all. Keep in mind the main purpose of your study and stick to the questions that pertain to it. It can also be helpful at this time to rough out the tables and graphs you plan to include and to start planning the "story line" for your results section. This will provide a roadmap for your analysis.

Choosing statistical methods. Once you have a clear idea of what questions you want to ask, choosing the right statistical technique will depend on characteristics of your experimental design and the kinds of variables you will be using. Answers to the following questions will steer you toward the correct analysis:

1. What is the scale of measurement for each variable?
• Nominal variables record the number of subjects who fall into each of several mutually exclusive, non-ordered categories. Race, sex, and cause of death are examples of nominal variables.
• Ordinal variables represent measures that are ordered along a single dimension, but where the step size of the measure is undetermined. Tumor stage is an example of an ordinal variable.
• Interval variables represent measures ordered along a single dimension where the step size of the measure is constant. Examples are temperature, parity and hospitalization costs.
2. If the variable is on an interval scale, is it normally distributed?
• Some variables, such as age at first childbirth, body weight, and many physiological measures are normally distributed. Most individuals cluster around the middle values of the range with fewer at the extremes. Other variables such as parity or PSA are characteristically skewed. Most individuals cluster at one extreme of the range then numbers dwindle progressively toward the other extreme.
3. Are observations independent or correlated?
• Observations are independent when different study groups have undergone different treatments, i.e. a case-control study, parallel groups study.
• Observations are correlated either when a single group undergoes 2 or more treatments at different times (pre-post study) or when study and control groups are matched for certain characteristics.

Performing the analyses. Although Excel has the tools for many statistical operations, it's easier and more foolproof to use a statistics program instead. SPSS can read Excel files directly and does analyses quickly and easily. The library computers have SPSS or you can buy it yourself from the bookstore for about \$75. You can get statistical help from UW Statistical Consulting Services (http://www.stat.washington.edu/consulting/) or from the Student Resource Office in the Medical School.