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English Language Support: Describing Data

Describing data

Using data is an integral part of academic study. Graphs, charts and tables are generally included in both presentations and written assignments. They are used as evidence to support the points the speaker or writer is trying to make. However, all the data in the world won’t help if your audience can’t understand you when you present your analysis. In this course you will focus on using the correct language for describing data and will practise analysing and evaluating graphs, charts and tables. 

Tips and techniques

  • Presentation is important!  t’s not so much about making it ‘look good’; it’s more about making it ‘understandable’. Think about the language you are using. 
  • Choose the right words!  Making sure you use the right vocabulary to describe trends and to compare between two or more things. 
  • Choose your chart carefully!  You need the right chart to convey your message to your audience, whether it’s in a piece of writing or in a presentation. Line charts demonstrate trends, bar charts emphasize differences and tables show complex information and are used to communicate precise values and make comparisons across groups. Think about which one is the right one to use! 
  • Don’t mix charts if there is no reason to do so!  Just because you have multiple data to illustrate, try to place charts together of the same style. Think about data displays on pages, perhaps side-by-side bar charts would be easier to understand than a side-by-side bar chart and a table. Don’t cram multiple data series onto a page, it can become confusing for the reader to follow and for you to describe. 
  • Watch your colour use! Think about how you use colour. If you are using multiple charts with the same values, keep the colour consistent. This may help your audience understand your chart more easily. Don’t create a ‘rainbow’, just because you think it looks good. Keep it simple! 
  • Practise makes perfect!  Practise describing data you are going to use in a presentation or in your writing with a friend. Friendly feedback is always important. 

Recommended books in the library

There are no specific books in the library on ‘describing data’ but there are many websites on this area. 


General book with data analysis exercises in: 

Cambridge Academic English – An integrated skills course for EAP – Upper Intermediate by Chris Sowton 

ISBN: 0521165261 

Publication Date: 2012-02-09 

In this book there are sections on describing graphs and using numbers effectively. 

Recommended online resources

Business English: How to describe graphs and trends in English  

This is a useful video presentation on the language needed to successfully describe trends and fluctuations.  Click here to watch 


Describing data – Frequency tables and bar charts 

This video discusses ways to present all types of data, line graphs, bar charts and tables and gives you tips on how to adapt your data to fit any form of display.  Click here to watch  


Phrases and collocations for describing graphs 

This simple IELTS worksheet provides you with the language for expressing your data in an essay or report.  Click here to watch  


Vocabulary for presenting data 

This worksheet provides the vocabulary and lead-in phrases for presenting data from graphs and charts. It also gives valuable tips on what you should and shouldn’t include in your writing when describing trends.  Click here to watch 



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