Today we will look at an example where the teachers who tell students to look for the key features by looking only for what is big and small are actually correct. HOWEVER, it is very, very important to understand that this is not always the case, as we saw in the dramatic examples of the past 2 days.

This bar chart represents the water use given in percentage in a number of different regions in 1995.
Water use08a

The horizontal axis just has a list of regions, which does not allow us to identify a trend. However, there is more than one way to group this data, for example, we could look for a big gap between Agricultural water use and Industrial water use (Africa, Asia, Latin America) and those regions where there is a small gap (North America and Europe). We can also do it just by looking for the regions where Agricultural use is high and those where Industrial use is high. It makes no difference which way we do it.

Latin America

These regions also had a very low use of water for industrial and domestic purposes

North America

In these regions domestic water use accounted for the lowest level of consumption with Agricultural use a little lower than industrial use . In fact, it was about 15% lower in North America and 33% lower in Europe, in relative terms. We will look at how to calculate these figures later as we have mentioned “relative terms” many times over the last month.

One way to write the big picture view might be:

“Overall, Agriculture accounted for the highest amount of water use in Africa, Asia and Latin America while use of water for Domestic and industrial purposes in these regions was very low. In addition, the data shows that Industrial use of water was highest in North America and Europe with the proportion of water used for Agriculture a little lower and Domestic use very low in both countries.”


When you look at this bar chart, it almost looks like there are trends shown BUT when you look carefully, you realise that no trends can be identified here and you must find another way to group the data. (If this chart is drawn to show the regions in order of their use of water for Agriculture, it is very easy to get trapped and think there is a trend).

Water use08

After trends, we always look to see if we can describe differences in MAGNITUDE and in this example, that is exactly what we do.

Notice that we DO NOT USE NUMBERS in the big picture statement. We do not want to confuse the reader and make them think we are giving details for the graph, so we avoid using numbers BUT in these magnitude questions, this can lead to language that is not entirely precise e.g. “a little lower”. Nevertheless, we will solve this issue in the details section by giving very precise information about the magnitudes we are describing.

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(Data source: )