A tally sheet, also called a check sheet, is used as a form for collecting information through observation and counting. It is used to count how often something has happened or will happen or to count items. Tally sheets can be as simple as using a sheet of paper and pencil, or as complex as a computerized program. They are a simple and efficient way to collect, organize and analyze data. They are used to count many things including votes, inventory and survey results.

Determine the problem or event to observe. A tally sheet can be used to track data on a specific event or problem. This issue must be defined before the data is collected. Typical data that might be collected on a tally sheet are the number of cars that pass through a given intersection during a particular time frame, the number of pedestrians who pass a particular point in a sidewalk or the people who enter an office. More detailed information may sometimes be collected, such as the gender of people tallied. The tally sheet offers a way of collecting data in an organized manner.

Develop precise descriptions of what will be counted. A list of examples or descriptions should be created. Only information that you want included is listed. This also consists of determining how the information will be counted. The team creating the tally sheet should also give instructions to the data collectors as to how the data should be recorded and counted.

Decide the duration of your data collection effort. Before beginning the data collection process, it should be determined when the information will begin to be collected, and how long it will be collected for.

Create the tally sheet. A tally sheet can be handwritten or done through a computer spreadsheet program. Either way, a tally sheet should include the data that is being observed and the possible descriptions of answers. For example, if the tally sheet is being used to collect information about all of a clinic's patients during a month, it might count just the number of patients who walk in the door, or who see a doctor. It can be more detailed, estimating age categories and the patient's stated reasons for the visit. Each tally sheet should indicate the date it was used, so that patterns can be identified.

Begin the tally. In the clinic example, when patients go to the reception desk to sign in, they complete a very short survey. A person who is 22 years old enters for cold-related reasons. The age bracket this person fits into, and the reason for the visit, is checked with a check mark or an “X.” If the tally sheet is being used to count an item or an event, each time the item is counted, a I is placed in the appropriate spot. After four have been counted, the tally sheet would read IIII. When the fifth one is counted, a diagonal line is placed through these four lines to indicate 5. This makes it much easier to tabulate the tally sheets.

Complete the tally. A final tally will show how many people in each category visited the clinic for each specific reason listed on the sheet. The tally marks are counted and listed on a summary sheet in numerical form. The information is often further summarized by calculating percentages and other statistical information. The summarized data is then used to make decisions or projections.

Tally sheets are frequently used as the source of data for more complex research. A medical practice, for example, may conduct surveys for several months to gain the kind of information necessary to tailor its services more exactly to the needs of its patients. A thorough analysis of traffic on a particular roadway may be necessary to justify widening it. A retailer might base the decision to open a store in a particular location on the amount of foot traffic in that location.