Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Tabulation is the process of recording data in a grid with two or more rows and two or more columns.

explanatory context

Frequency Distributions


The most common kind of frequency distribution is the univariate frequency distribution. This is obtained by dividing the range of values covered by a set of observations on a single variable into class intervals. These class intervals are then set down consecutively in increasing or decreasing order and the numbers of observations falling in each are tabulated.

Frequency distributions are sometimes drawn up on more than one variable simultaneously. Thus a bivariate frequency distribution, for instance, would demonstrate for each class interval on one variable how many people fall in to the various class intervals on another variable.

Cumulative frequency distribution

A distribution obtained by starting at one end of a range of scores and for each class interval in turn adding the frequency in that class interval to all the frequencies that preceded it. This enables one to see how many observations fall above or below any particular value of the variable. Such a distribution is represented graphically as an ogive.

Cumulative relative frequency distribution

A cumulative frequency distribution of the percentages of the total cases falling in each class interval of a distribution.



Crosstabulation is a useful data analytic technique in the social sciences for showing the extent to which two or more groups differ in respect of a particular variable. It breaks down data to allow comparisons.  Data referring to a particular construct (variable) can be broken down by reference to one or more other variables through successive crosstabulations.

So, for example in an opinion poll, instead of simply providing a table for the entire sample of who votes for a particular party, crosstabulation would permit the break down of voting preferences by other variables such as gender, class, trade union affiliation, etc.

Crosstabulations are typically presented with four items in each cell representing the raw data, the row percentage, the column percentage, and the total percentage. (This is the traditional way hat SPSS crosstabulations are presented.)

Interpreting crosstabulations can be misleading, and it is important that when interpreting crosstabulations that inferences are made about the way the independent variable impcts on the dependent variable and not the other way round!

See also DATA ANALYSIS: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION Section 10(Downloads a Word document into your downloads folder)

Contingency table

A contingency table is a table of joint frequencies for two variables classified into categories.

E.g. a contingency table showing respondent's social class against father's social class would tell us how many of our sample who are in the middle class also have fathers who are in the middle class, how many of our sample who are in the middle class have fathers who are in the working class (i.e. are socially mobile), and so on.

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also

pictorial representation


Researching the Real World Section


copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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