Frequency statistics count the number of times an event has occurred among the subjects of a study or the number of subjects that display a particular quality. Frequencies represent the most elementary approach to analysing categorical data. Basic survey research, for example, uses frequency statistics to report how respondents answered individual questions. Calculating frequency statistics requires no advanced statistical knowledge---just basic mathematical skills, including the ability to calculate percentages. In many cases, you do not need spreadsheet or statistical software, such as Excel or SPSS, to calculate frequencies; however, such software can save time and will be helpful with large sets of data.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Scratch paper
- Basic calculator
Count the number of subjects in your study population. If you are analysing the results of a survey, for example, you will need to know how many responses you received. If you surveyed 1,000 people, then 1,000 is your study population.
Decide what research questions you want to ask. You may want to know the breakdown of responses to different survey questions or know about the demographic characteristics of the study population. In a survey about participation in elections among 1,000 registered voters over the last four years, for example, frequency statistics can tell you the number of times respondents voted in past elections. Frequencies also can tell you how many men and women answered your survey, as well as provide a breakdown by ethnic group. Whatever event or characteristic you want to study, frequency statistics will tell you how many times it occurred or appears in your study group.
Tabulate the number of times the behaviour or characteristic of interest occurs or appears among the subjects of your study. Depending on the number of subjects, this may be as simple as marking on scratch paper, such as checking the number of women among your survey respondents. For example, your survey of 1,000 voters may reveal 510 women and 490 men.
Divide the number obtained in step 3 by the total number of subjects in your study to obtain percentages, using a calculator if necessary. Using the example from step 3, dividing 510 (number of female respondents) by 1,000 reveals that women comprised 51 per cent of your study group.
Display your frequency results in a chart, with rows and columns. The rows can represent categories of interest, such as men and women. Let the columns consist of the number of respondents in each category and the corresponding percentages, respectively. A row at the bottom of your chart can display the totals. Make sure your totals match the number of subjects in your study and that the percentages sum to 100.
Tips and warnings
- Although calculating frequencies is a simple process, spreadsheet or statistical software can perform these steps quickly and often guide you step by step through the process. In addition, software packages such as Excel can produce graphics, such as a frequency histogram, that display results visually.
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