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Discussing the Results of a Survey

In the following newspaper article the author discusses the results of a survey about British people’s reading habits. The results themselves could easily be presented as a table or graph, but readers would still need to interpret the information. The author helps us to do this. Read the article and then do the tasks that follow it.

For further practice in writing about graphs/statistics, there is a very useful exercise at the site.

Brits are still bookworms

Adapted from an article by Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian, 15 November, 1999

Fears that the novel is dead and that youngsters would rather spend time on the internet than reading a book have been swept away by the biggest ever survey of British reading habits.

More than 75% of young adults enjoy fiction and long for the time to read more, according to the 50,000 people who replied to a national study commisioned by Waterstones, the booksellers.

It also reveals that readers are much more experimental than was previously thought, with 96% of respondents prepared to try first novels. Most were willing to read a book without knowing anything about its author.

There is no evidence that computer use has weakened the power of books. "We may talk about a wired world," said Jonathan Davidson, of the libraries charity, the Reading Partnership, "but just look around any bus or train carriage and you will see amazing subjects being tackled at 7.30 in the morning. Most of us still prefer a book to a bright screen."

Stress busters

The poll found that a third of people read to relieve stress and nearly all had cried or laughed out loud in public because of something they were reading. Nine in 10 had had their views changed by a book.

Escapism - being drawn into another world - is still the overwhelming attraction of books, particularly for women, the study found.

Teenagers were most secretive about their reading, enjoying the solitary pleasures of literature.

Nine out of 10 adults love to talk to others about what they read while 97% would buy a book because of a personal recommendation.

Most people also liked novels with contemporary settings, and claimed they never stuck with the same favourite authors. The under-16s are the most conservative, with half sticking to the same old reliables, before branching out later in their teens.

The list of the most popular authors threw up some similar surprises. American travel writer, Bill Bryson, topped the list and Shakespeare beat Jeffrey Archer. JK Rowling of Harry Potter did better than Salman Rushdie, but the ancient Greek, Homer, beat them both. Women make up roughly one third of the most read authors, with Maeve Binchy the favourite.

Younger people are more likely to finish a book than adults. Even though nearly half of all readers read a few books simultaneously, most finish them all and 78% re-read books.

Books as presents

It also made little difference to enjoyment whether a book was borrowed from a library or bought. Virtually all homes had books, the survey found, with few people considering them a luxury and most wishing they could afford more. All but a tiny percentage loved to give and receive books as presents.

"The great thing about this survey is that it proves reading is not an isolating, solitary experience," a spokeswoman for Waterstone's said. "People love discussing books with their friends, it is something that unites people and they enjoy sharing those experiences. Reading emerges as one of the true pleasures of everyday life."


Read the report and then answer the following questions.

  1. According to Paragraph One, what did many people fear before the survey was done?
  2. How many people took part in the survey?
  3. According to the second section of the report, how many people said that a book had changed their opinions about something?
  4. Which group of people most enjoyed reading alone?
  5. According to Paragraph Nine, half of under-16s read "the same old reliables" What kind of books does the author mean?
  6. Who is the most popular author in Britain?
  7. According to the Waterstone’s spokeswoman, how do books unite people?


The tasks below help you to see how the author has organised his report and also to notice the special language used for discussing survey results.

  1. Paragraph One tells us that many people (including youngsters) still enjoy reading. What do you think is the purpose of this information?
    1. To give us the answer to the first question in the survey
    2. To tell us why the survey was done
    3. To give us a surprising finding so that we will want to read on
    4. To tell us who paid for the survey
  2. There are two quotes in the report.
    1. Who are the speakers?
    2. Why do you think the author has included quotes?
      1. Readers might get bored with a long list of statistics (numbers, percentages). A human voice helps to reinforce some of the findings and keep us interested.
      2. If readers did not hear a human voice, they would refuse to believe the survey results.
      3. Every newspaper article must have some dialogue in it.
  3. The report is divided into three sections.
    1. What are these?
    2. Why do you think the author has used sub-headings?
  4. The report discusses "the biggest ever survey of British habits". What two other words are used in the report to replace the word survey? (Look in Paragraphs Two and Five.)
  5. In Paragraph Two, the author refers to "the 50,000 people who replied". What word does he use in Paragraph Three to refer to the same people?
  6. There are three main ways of referring to numbers of people. The following table contains an example of each. Find others and add them to the table.
  7. % (percent)


    … out of …

    • More than 75% of young adults (Par. 2)
    • .
    • .
    • a third of people (Par. 5)
    • .
    • .
    • Nine out of ten adults (Par. 8)
    • .

  8. How does the author express the idea of more than half? (Look in Paragraph Three or Nine.)
  9. What three expressions does the author use for nearly 100%? (Look in Paragraph Five and the second last paragraph.)


Now look at the results of a survey of teenage reading habits in the USA and write your own commentary for a magazine. Remember to use the kind of language you have noticed in Section B above.


Frankie Meehan