Make numbers count

Reframe stats to boost understanding

Which is more dangerous? A disease that kills 1,286 out of every 10,000 people it strikes? Or one that kills 12.86% of its victims?

Writing with statistics: Reframe the numbers

The right frame Would the meaning of your number change if you expressed it differently? Image by Sylwia Pietruszka

The former is about 20% more dangerous, said a group of college students, according to an article in Money magazine. In fact, 1,286 out of 10,000 is just a different expression of 12.86%.

“If you tell someone that something will happen to one out of 10 people,” Paul Slivic, University of Oregon psychologist, told Money, “they think, ‘Well, who’s the one?’”

To make statistics more compelling, make them more emotional.

When writing about people, use whole numbers instead of percentages.

Here are four other things to consider when choosing a frame for your data:

How should you choose a frame for your data? … >>>

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

Take the Numb Out of Numbers

Make statistics understandable and interesting

If your readers are like most, they have, on average, below basic numeracy, or numerical literacy, according a massive international literacy study. So how well are they understanding your quarterly results?

Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie’s clear-writing workshop on April 17-18, 2018 in New York

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

Avoid statistics soup and other bad numbers tricks that make your readers’ eyes glaze over.

At Cut Through the Clutter — our two-day hands-on clear-writing master class on April 17-18 in New York — you’ll master the art of making numbers understandable as well as interesting. 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.

PRSA members: Earn 4 APR maintenance points!

Save $100 when you register by Feb. 17.

Register now.

“This is my second Wylie workshop, and they have been the best professional development I have ever attended. I’m leaving with a tool box of techniques backed by research that I will implement immediately.”
— Kelsey Wharton, science writer, Arizona State University

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