Numbers and Quantitative Reasoning

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 2
Module code

Module overview

The contemporary world is awash in numbers, but many of us remain cautious in using them, if not actively scared. What does it mean to be literate in such a world? How can we learn to think with and about numbers in making decisions? How can we marshal the power of numbers in argument? This course aims to help you do this, strengthening your ability to reason with numbers. It is not a mathematics course and we will not spend our time in mathematical calculation. We will encounter some very basic statistical concepts, but most of our discussion will focus on how numbers are used in everyday life. By the end, you will be able to think more clearly, reason more sharply, and argue more effectively about the numbers that surround us—and even to enjoy yourself as you do so.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

1. Interpret and critically analyse sets of qualitative and quantitative data.
2. Represent data sets graphically and interpret their meaning.
3. Evaluate the use of data in public discourse.
4. Write using an appropriate academic format including the use of Harvard style referencing.

Explain how the learning outcomes fit with the programme(s) for which the module will be available:

The knowledge and understanding delivered in the module and the skills to be developed have been determined with the programme aims in mind – including the overall aim of preparing students for UG study at SOAS. Qualitative analysis, numbers-based reasoning and competency with numbers are among programme aims.


  • Seminars: 2 hours per week

Scope and syllabus

  • Introduction: the power of numbers, the problem of innumeracy
  • Summarizing numbers with integrity
  • Using numbers in argument
  • Presenting numbers in graphics
  • Basic probability and statistics 1: samples and surveys
  • Basic probability and statistics 2: inference and intuition
  • Basic probability and statistics 3: correlation and regression
  • Presentations
  • The social nature of numbers
  • The responsible use of numbers in an innumerate society

Method of assessment

  • AS1 (100%) 2250 words – Portfolio

Suggested reading

  • Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot. The Tiger that Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers. 2008 (req)
  • Edward Tufte. Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions. 1997 (req)
  • Jane Miller. The Chicago Guide to Writing About Numbers. 2nd ed., 2015 (rec)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules