Don’t make your readers’ eyes glaze over
“Great clots of numbers dropped into a story with a steam shovel create a wall of abstraction.”
— William Blundell, author, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing
Don’t create a wall of abstraction. Reduce statistical clutter, increase readability and make numbers more understandable. Here’s how:
1. Use no more than three numbers per paragraph.
Paragraphs packed with numbers just make your readers’ eyes glaze over. They look hard to read, so your audience members may decide to tune out before they even attempt the text. This paragraph, for instance, has six numbers:
Rising rates are a problem because they make homes less affordable. For example, a standard 30-year mortgage loan of $250,000 at 5.5% will cost a homeowner about $1,419 per month. Raise the interest rate to 7.5%, and the monthly bill is $1,748 – a payment level that would put a chill into many a homeowner’s budget.
Limit yourself to two or three numbers per paragraph. Count toward your total:
- Spelled-out numbers like “two”
2. Communicate numbers visually.
To cut clutter, take some of your numbers out of the paragraph and place them into a simple table:
Rising rates are a problem because they make homes less affordable. An increase of just 2 percentage points on a 30-year home loan can raise the monthly bill to a payment level that would put a chill into many a homeowner’s budget.
30-year house mortgage
Monthly mortgage payment
How can you help readers get the numbers?
If your readers are like most, they have, on average, below-basic numerical literacy, according to a massive international literacy study.
Learn to make numbers interesting and understandable at Rev Up Readability, our tight-writing workshop on Dec. 6.
There, you’ll learn to avoid statistics soup and data dumps; how to make numbers more emotional; how to create meaningful — not discombobulating — charts and which key question to ask every time your fingers reach for the top row of the keyboard.
Save up to $100 with our group discounts.