UCLA Labor Center

Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics are utilized to describe the basic features of the data in a study. Descriptive statistic data provide simple summaries about the sample and the measures utilized within quantitative methodologies. Descriptive statistics are especially helpful in simplifying large amounts of data and can be a component of  quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research.  This page will help you contextualize how you can use descriptive statistics within your research project. In addition, we have identified tools and resources that you can access to summarize your quantitative data.  

Descriptive Statistics and Inferential Statistics

Are descriptive statistics and inferential statistics one and the same?  In short, no. Descriptive statistics are used  to describe  quantitative data sets whereas inferential statistics are utilized to draw quantitative conclusions (i.e., probability, differences between groups, etc.).  Descriptive statistics are especially helpful when researchers are presenting large amounts of data and need to succinctly summarize aspects of quantitative findings.

Descriptive statistics can be illustrated developing graphical summaries (see below). Tables, figures, and infographics are tools that researchers can utilize to not only simplify data but help narrate compelling researcher. For example, you can access the I AM A #YOUNGWOKER report to see the ways in which descriptive statistics are utilized to inform about how young workers struggle today.  Click here to access the report.

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You can also watch the way in which the descriptive data from these charts and graphs were utilized to create the I am a #YoungWorker animated video. 

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To further understand the difference between inferential and descriptive statistics, you can watch the tutorial below:

Graphical Summaries

Graphical summaries present diverse aspects of the data, focusing on the value of the data and/or the frequency of the data.  In other words: what values does the data (aka variable) take on and with what frequency?

Graphs summarize and illustrate different  types of data (i.e., categorical, continuous, and ordinal).  Different types of graphical summaries lend  themselves to different types of descriptions and visualizations.

Click here to learn more about the different types of graphs.

Click here to learn how to create dynamics charts and graphs in excel.

You can also watch the graph and summaries excel tutorial below (and follow along by downloading the excel file here):

Pivot Tables

Among the different types of descriptive tables and graphs you can develop to visually represent your data, pivot tables are an especially useful tool. Pivot tables can automatically sort, count total or give the average of the data stored in one table or spreadsheet. In addition, you can interact with the data by dragging and dropping fields geographically.  

You can watch the pivot table tutorial below to learn how to create you own pivot table (and download the data set here  to follow along with the tutorial):


Common Descriptive Terms

This is a tutorial video that reviews foundational concepts to understanding descriptive statistics. The video below will illustrate how you can represent a set of numbers with one number that indicates the “center” of your quantitative data.  The terms utilized in this video–mean, median, and mode–are defined below as well as access to the mean, median, and mode calculator. 


The average and more specifically– the sum of a data set divided by the number of data (i.e., (80 + 90 + 90 + 100 + 85 + 90) / 6=89 1/6).


The number in the middle. In order to find the median, you have to put the values in order from lowest to highest, then find the number that is exactly in the middle (bold): 80 85 90 90 100  since there is an even number of values, the median is between these two, or it is 90. Notice that there is exactly the same number of values before the median as after the median.


The value that occurs most often. In this case (80, 85, 90, 90, 100), there are two 90’s, the mode is 90. A set of data can have more than one mode.

Click here to use the Mean Median Mode Calculator

Click here to access the statistics glossary and define  commonly used terms utilized within quantitative research

Descriptive Statistics Tools & Resources

Did you know that your excel program was capable of supporting descriptive statistics analysis?  Excel can help you organize large quantitative data sets and produce different types of graphs and and summaries.  Watch the tutorial below:

I Need More Tools & Resources

Click here to access descriptive statistics tools

Access tools for your descriptive study here


Information for this page has been has been adapted from:

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.