How to hunt down numerical comparisons
When I wrote an annual report about charitable giving in Kansas City, I wanted to compare the $770 million Kansas Citians gave to charitable organizations in one year to make that number more meaningful to the audience.
To track down the comparisons, I:
- Used the Business Journal’s Book of Lists to report that $770 million was “more than the annual revenues of Blue Cross/Blue Shield” and “more than the combined annual budgets of the metropolitan area’s three largest school districts.”
- Checked the Bureau of Labor Statistics to find the city’s average wage. After a few minutes with my calculator, I was able to report: “To achieve that amount, some 24,000 people would have to work full time for a year at Kansas City’s average hourly wage of $15.59.”
- Did the math. From the Book of Lists, I learned the size of the student body of one of the city’s largest school districts. I divided $770 million by the number of students. The result: in the neighborhood of $35,000 per student.
- Asked: “What would that buy that students might want?” (That helps you sync your metaphors with your topic.) My answer: some kind of car. That year, Jeeps were popular, so I …
- Googled “how much is a jeep” to find out what kind of Jeep I could get for $35,000.
As a result, I was able to report that:
The $770 million Kansas Citians give to charity each year is more than enough to buy every student in the Kansas City, Kan., School District a brand-new Jeep Grand Cherokee.
I know, I know. When you think about statistics, you hear:
Blah blah blah data set blah blah blaw standard deviation blah blah blah data analysis blah blah blah summary statistics blah blah blah distribution of your data blah blah blah measure of variability blah blah blah raw data blah blah blah inferential statistics blah blah blah measures of central tendency.
Me too. But anyone who’s mastered seventh-grade math can add some statistical evidence to most stories. All it takes is some extra time with your BFF and research assistant Google, the calculator on your phone and a few minutes to figure out how to figure it out.
That’s important. As Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute says:
“Every time you feel your fingers reach for the top row of the keyboard, ask, ‘What’s it like?’”
Resources for writing descriptive statistics
Need a starting point for your statistical analogies? Check out these resources:
- Aneki.com. Rankings and statistics on hundreds of topics, from America’s leading causes of death to the world’s best airports.
- Business Journal’s Book of Lists. Find annual revenues of top local companies and more.
- CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics FastStats. Find out how many people visited an emergency room or died at work in 2019.
- City-Data. Get everything from satellite photos to resident stats on U.S. cities and states.
- Finding Data on the Internet. Journalist Robert Niles’ list of helpful links to “reputable data on everything from public safety to campaign contributions”
- Google. You can’t beat it for finding, say, a list of the top-paid U.S. CEOs, the budget of Uganda or things that are worth $770 million
- Google’s Dataset Search. “If you’re looking for data, your search should start here.” — The Poynter Institute
- The Polling Report. Find out how many people think what.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dig up average hourly wages and more.
- U.S. Census Bureau. For those times when you just need to know that the world population is 7,742,206,702