After editing, data may be processed further to produce a desired output. The computer software used to process the data will depend on the form of output required.
Software applications for word processing, desktop publishing, graphics (including graphing and drawing), programming, databases and spreadsheets are commonly used. The following are some examples of ways that software can produce data:
- Spreadsheets are programs that automatically add columns and rows of figures, calculate means, and perform statistical analyses. They can be used to create financial worksheets (such as budgets or expenditure forecasts), balance accounts, and analyse costs. Charts and graphs can be created to show the significance of a selection of data. They can be displayed in a number of ways: bar graphs, line graphs, and circle graphs/pie charts are just a few examples of the visual data that can be produced.
- Databases are electronic filing cabinets. They systematically store data for easy access, and produce summaries, aggregates or reports. A database program should be able to store, retrieve, sort and analyse data.
- Specialized programs can be developed to edit, clean, impute and process the final tabular output. This method offers the full service in one module and can be used each time the same survey is completed and entered within the system. These programs will then produce publishable final results.
Computer output may be used in a variety of ways. It can be stored for future retrieval and use. It can be laser-printed onto paper as tables or charts, or even put onto transparent slides for overhead projector use. The output can also be saved onto electronic medium for use in portable and desktop computers. Lastly, data can be sent to others as an electronic file via the Internet.
Output is usually governed by the need to communicate specific information to a specific audience. The only limit to the different forms of output you can produce is the different types of output devices currently available. To help determine the best output type for the information you have produced, ask yourself these questions: For whom is the output being produced? How will the audience best understand it?