Researchers often use averages to describe data. The
average (or the mean) of a data set can be used to
identify the central value of the group, or what is
typical. While valuable, it’s also important to
understand the range of data—the highs and lows. What
might we miss by focusing on the average?
This short brief uses three examples to demonstrate how
focusing on averages without also considering the data
range can conceal important information: 1) average rural
hospital profitability, 2) distance from closed rural
hospitals to the next closest hospital, and 3) HIV
prevalence by county. The examples look at conclusions
that might be drawn from commonly used indicators.