REVIEW: Understanding and interpreting cross-tabulations

About Graham R Gibbs

Reader in Social Research Methods at the University of Huddersfield. National Teaching Fellow.

Recognising and interpreting Cross Tabular Data

By Brendan Burchell (University of Cambridge), developed by James McHugh

Reviewed by Graham R Gibbs

This reusable learning object (RLO) teaches students how to recognise cross-tabulated nominal data, interpret it by calculating appropriate percentages and, using these percentages, draw appropriate graphs. The RLO is in three sections and each starts with some dialogue (with the text shown on screen too) and an animation. The first animation show how a list of cases, each with two nominal variable values (in this case music bands with their genre and the cause of death of band members who died – these data are, in fact, imaginary) can be summarized into a cross tabulation. The second section shows how the counts in the cross tabulation can be converted to percentages and what determines the choice of how to do this. The third section show how these figures can be displayed as simple bar charts to promote easy comparison of the results. After each animation there is a chance for the user to practice what they have just seen, usually by dragging and dropping.

The RLO is well constructed, and works well on all browsers and operating systems. It runs using Adobe Flash. The content is accurate and well constructed and the exercises well matched to the preceding dialogue and animation. It has a set of control buttons, though no pause. There is no date on it, but it was developed some time between 2002 and 2008. It was produced in the context of materials for teaching health studies, but is suitable for use on any subject course teaching about cross tabulations. The dialog and animations last about 6 minutes and the exercises take about the same time – depending how quickly and how well you do them.

There is no discussion of statistics such as chi square, so this RLO is probably best suited to an introductory course on data analysis before any discussion of statistics. The animation parts could be used in a lecture, but probably the RLO is best used by students themselves in a lab setting or on their own machines.

There is no information on license and there seems to be no way to use the RLO other than by accessing the website, so one assumes that it is free for educational use but it is not possible to re-use or adapt it in other situations.

The actual RLO is on the Universities’ Collaboration in eLearning website.

Other methods related RLOs can also be found on this website. See,

these include:

Participant and Non-Participant Observation

Why a Questionnaire?

Levels of Measurement

Levels of Measurement – What you can and can’t do Arithmetically

Power and Sample Size

Probability associated with inferential statistics


Gibbs, Graham R (2011) ‘Understanding and interpreting cross-tabulations’. Review of Burchell, Brendan (nd) Recognising and interpreting Cross Tabular Data, Methods Website <>

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