Turn numbers into things

When writing with statistics, ask ‘What’s it like?’

When the late, great Kansas City Star columnist C.W. Gusewelle wanted to help readers understand the fragility of monarch butterflies as they migrate south for the winter, he wrote:

Turn numbers into things

But what does it mean? Add context to make numbers meaningful. Image by Maite Tiscar

Consulting the literature, I find that the average weight of an adult monarch may be expressed as 0.0176 of an ounce, about the same as a good-sized snowflake.

I don’t know whether I appreciate the analogy more or the four decimal points of precision!

Both make the point: It’s not enough just to communicate the numbers. You also need to help readers see them.

The best way to do that: Turn numbers into things. In other words, clarify data by giving it context.

Here’s how:

Help readers see the numbers

Related stories

“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than for illumination.”
— Andrew Lang, Scottish poet, folklorist, biographer, translator, novelist and scholar

Take the ‘Numb’ Out of Numbers

Make statistics understandable and interesting

“Numbers without context, especially large ones with many zeros trailing behind, are about as intelligible as vowels without consonants,” writes Daniel Okrent, former New York Times ombudsman.

Don’t do a number on your readers

Don’t do a number on your readers Help readers ‘see’ your statistics with our tips and techniques for making numbers more compelling. Image by rawpixel.com

Indeed, poorly handled, statistics can make your readers’ eyes glaze over.

At Cut Through the Clutter — our two-day concise-writing master class on August 17-18, in San Francisco — you’ll master the art of making numbers understandable as well as interesting.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Avoid statistics soup and data dumps using three simple steps.
  • Help readers understand your numbers by asking one key question every time your fingers reach for the top row of the keyboard.
  • Make numbers more emotional by turning them into people, places and things.
  • Create meaningful — not discombobulating — charts and graphs.
  • Find free tools that create attractive charts for you.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn the latest best practices in tight writing. This is the only concise-writing workshop we have scheduled for 2017.

Save $100 when you register by July 17.

“This workshop was incredibly valuable. I think the stats and research will help when talking to executives about why things should change and how that will be helpful.”
– Karla Best, communications specialist, Noblis

Polish your skills at these Master Classes

Learn to Master the Art of the Storyteller, Catch Your Readers, Get Clicked, Cut Through the Clutter and more

Register for Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked - Ann Wylie’s online-writing workshop in Portland on July 27-28, 2017

Portland | July 27-28

Register for Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie’s concise-writing workshop in San Francisco on Aug, 17-18, 2017

San Francisco | Aug. 17-18

Register for Master the Art of the Storyteller in New York: Ann Wylie’s creative-writing workshop in New York on Sept. 25-26, 2017

New York | Sept. 25-26

Register for Catch Your Readers in Kansas City: Ann Wylie’s persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017

Kansas City | Nov. 16-17

Register for Write For The Web and Mobile: Ann Wylie’s online-writing workshop in Miami on Dec. 11-12, 2017

Miami | Dec. 11-12

Rather bring Ann in to train your whole team?

Catch Ann on the road

Save when you book a workshop while I’m in your neighborhood

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Geneva: July 6
  • Johnson, RI: Aug. 7-11
  • Kansas City: Nov. 16-17
  • Memphis: Nov. 2
  • Miami: Dec. 11-12
  • Minneapolis: Oct. 3-4
  • New York: Sept. 25-26
  • Plano, TX: Oct. 19-20
  • Portland: July 27-28
  • Roseville, CA: Oct. 24
  • San Francisco: Aug. 17-18

Keep up with my calendar.

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