Statistics from A to Z: Confusing Concepts Clarified - An interview with author Andrew Jawlik


  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 10 Apr 2017
  • Copyright: Graphs and tables reproduced by permission of John Wiley & Sons from the book Statistics from A to Z: Confusing Concepts Clarified

Wiley was proud to publish Statistics from A to Z: Confusing Concepts Clarified by Andrew Jawlik.

Statistics is confusing, even for smart, technically competent people. And many students and professionals find that existing books and web resources don’t give them an intuitive understanding of confusing statistical concepts. That is why this book is needed. Some of the unique qualities of this book are:

• Easy to Understand: Uses unique “graphics that teach” such as concept flow diagrams, compare-and-contrast tables, and even cartoons to enhance “rememberability.”

• Easy to Use: Alphabetically arranged, like a mini-encyclopedia, for easy lookup on the job, while studying, or during an open-book exam.

• Wider Scope: Covers Statistics I and Statistics II and Six Sigma Black Belt, adding such topics as control charts and statistical process control, process capability analysis, and design of experiments. As a result, this book will be useful for business professionals and industrial engineers in addition to students and professionals in the social and physical sciences.

Jawlik received his B.S. in Mathematics and his M.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Michigan.  He has held jobs with IBM in marketing, sales, finance, and information technology, as well as a position as Process Executive. In these jobs, he learned how to communicate difficult technical concepts in easy - to - understand terms. He completed Lean Six Sigma Black Belt coursework at the IASSC - accredited Pyzdek Institute. In order to understand the confusing statistics involved, he wrote explanations in his own words and graphics. Using this material, he passed the certification exam with a perfect score. Those statistical explanations then became the starting point for this book.

Alison Oliver talks to Andrew Jawlik about the writing book and his own career.

thumbnail image: Statistics from A to Z: Confusing Concepts Clarified - An interview with author Andrew Jawlik

1. Congratulations on the recent publication of the book Statistics from A to Z: Confusing Concepts Clarified which aims to be an easy to use and understand guide to understanding statistical concepts. How did the writing process begin?

I had always been interested in improving the quality and efficiency of processes. So, when I retired, I decided to study for a professional certification as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. The course included a lot of statistics.

Despite being a former math major, I found the statistics to be particularly confusing. So, I spent a good amount of time looking up statistical concepts in other books, websites, and online videos. Then, I wrote my own explanation for the statistical concepts, using a lot of conceptual drawings and diagrams. Since the final exam was open-book, I was able to use this material. I finished an hour early with a 100.00% score.

I later showed some of this material to Thomas Pyzdek, co-author of The Lean Six Sigma Handbook and the president of the institute where I got my black belt. He agreed that there was a need for a book which addressed the "sheer terror many people experience with statistics". And he encouraged me to write it.

2. What were your main objectives during the writing process?

I wanted the book to be easy to use and easy to understand. My book is alphabetically-arranged, like a mini-encyclopedia, for easy lookup on the job, while studying, or during an open-book exam.

To make things easy to understand, I use what I call "graphics that teach", such as concept flow diagrams, compare and contrast tables, and even cartoons. Here are some examples:

Concept Flow Diagrams:

Compare and Contrast Tables


3. This book covers 60+ concepts which are all covered in one or more articles, ensuring that everything are presented in “bite-sized chunks.” Please could you explain the outline of the articles and what led to this guide?

There are 75 articles in the book, usually 5 - 7 pages long. The great majority of concepts are covered in one article. Each article begins with a 1-page summary of about 5 Keys to Understanding. So, everything you need to understand about the concept is visible in 1 page and in about 5 items. Here is an example:

Then, the remainder of the article expands on each of these Keys to Understanding in turn. Finally, at the end, the article directs you to:

Related Articles in This Book: Alpha, α; Alpha, p-value, Critical Value, and Test Statistic – How they Work Together; p, p-value; Inferential Statistics; Power; Sample Size – Parts 1 and 2

4. If there is one piece of information or advice that you would want your reader to take away and remember after reading your book, what would that be?

Almost everybody struggles with statistics. If you are confused, it is not your fault. Statistics is confusing, even for intelligent, technical people. Use this book to gain an intuitive understanding of confusing statistical concepts.

Even professors who teach statistics say that the human mind is not wired to understand probability, on which statistics is based. So, even they find it difficult at times.

In addition to that, my book's first article explains how statistics sadistically makes things unnecessarily difficult: different terms are used to mean the same thing conversely, a single term can have very different meanings experts disagree on key concepts.
These things are clarified in the book, and with a handful of Keys to Understanding and Illustrative Graphics that Teach, confusing concepts are clarified.

5. Who should read the book and why?

The book's scope includes 1st and 2nd semester college statistics, plus the process statistics in Six Sigma Black Belt training. So, it would be beneficial to students taking those courses. Also, professionals in the physical and social sciences and in business and engineering who need to understand statistical concepts.

As we said earlier, statistics is confusing for almost everyone, so almost everyone who occasionally uses statistics may find that they can use this help.

6. Why is this book of particular interest now?

I don't know that it's of more interest now than at any other time.

7. Were there areas of the book that you found more challenging to write, and if so, why?

Design of Experiments: Multiplying coded levels in order to calculate an interaction for confounding. (Even writing that is confusing.) It's not easy to give an intuitive understanding of why that should work.

8. What is it about the statistics that fascinates you?

Sometimes it seems like it has been made intentionally confusing.

Different authors and experts use different words and abbreviations for the same concept. For example, variation, variability, dispersion, spread, scatter. Or y variable, dependent variable, outcome variable, response variable, criterion variable, effect -- these are all the same thing.

Conversely, one term can have 2 different meanings. For example, "SST" usually means "Sum of Squares Total". But some authors say SST is for "Sum of Squares Treatment" -- which is what they call Sum of Squares Regression. If we used their nomenclature, we would have SST = SST + SSE, which of course makes no sense. So, they rename SSTotal into something else -- WHY?

We learn in elementary school not to say a double negative like "I don't have no money". But in statistics, a double negative is not confusing enough. It has to have a triple negative -- I fail to reject the null hypothesis. This is like saying "I don't not have no money."

And experts disagree on fundament things. Whether to use an Alternative Hypothesis or not, whether confidence intervals can overlap somewhat and still indicate a statistically significant difference whether you can accept the null hypothesis.

9. What will be your next book-length undertaking?

I don't have anything planned right now. I'm currently making one You Tube Video every other week, based on content from the book. These are slide shows with narration. See the YouTube channel, Statistics from A to Z -- Confusing Concepts Clarified, or the "Videos" page on the book's website,

Also, once a week, I post a Statistics Tip of the Week on my blog, (, on Twitter (@statsatoz), and Facebook (statistics from a to z). And occasionally I post to the same places a "You are not alone if you are confused by statistics." Here's an example.

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Published features on are checked for statistical accuracy by a panel from the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics (ENBIS)   to whom Wiley and express their gratitude. This panel are: Ron Kenett, David Steinberg, Shirley Coleman, Irena Ograjenšek, Fabrizio Ruggeri, Rainer Göb, Philippe Castagliola, Xavier Tort-Martorell, Bart De Ketelaere, Antonio Pievatolo, Martina Vandebroek, Lance Mitchell, Gilbert Saporta, Helmut Waldl and Stelios Psarakis.