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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

The Limits of Prepared Reports
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Validity Depends on Use
Publish reports provide results prepared by analysts working on the statistical projects that created the data.
  • Other scholars may offer different interpretations of the data.
  • Web based tools allow researchers to create their own tables which reflect their needs and answer their questions rather than being limited to material selected for a printed report.

Selected Material Reflects Implied
While the tables and charts included in a statistical report may seem to be simple renditions of results, in fact, they represent a selection of material.
  • If a researcher finds this material fits his or her questions, the material is useful and on point.
  • However, each researcher brings their own set of analytical questions to the data. 
  • To the extent that tables do not respond to those particular issues or questions, the material may be less useful. 
  • It is not a question of the abstract validity of the tables or the reported results, but rather its fit with the questions a researcher brings.

Alternatives
Researchers using the web can now go beyond the material found in published sources to:
  • Specify the particular type of tables they want or
  • Access public use files to calculate new tables
They might also decide to:
  • Collect their own data to supplement the reported results.
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