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%.… Read the full article

Turn numbers into things

Clarify data by giving it context

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

Bigger than a butterfly? Add context to make numbers meaningful. Image by Nathan Dumlao

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.

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Colorful numbers

Startling statistics make compelling leads

Research shows … that nearly half of commuters text and drive … that one in three patients enters the hospital malnourished … and that 66% of women won’t kiss men with moustaches.

Startling statistics make compelling leads

By the numbers Surprise readers with startling statistics. Image by Stephen Coles

Statistics like these grab attention and make your point.

But you don’t have to tell PRSA’s Silver Anvil Award winners. They use statistics to sell their ideas:

From the sad …

AT&T uses startling stats in its release “Nearly Half of Commuters Admit to Texting While Driving”:

Nearly half of commuters self-reported texting while driving in a recent poll, and 43% of those who did called it a “habit.”

Commuters are texting and driving even more than teens — 49%, compared to 43%.

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Make size and scale visual

How tiny is tiny? How huge is huge?

How small is small? One-third the size of a ladybug? The size of a sprinkle on an ice cream cone?

Make size and scale visual

Smaller than a ladybug? Help readers ‘see’ size through metaphor and simile. Image by Florence Landry

Analogy, metaphor, simile and other comparisons can help your readers literally “see” the size and scale you’re communicating.

Help readers see

A J-school friend of mine, The Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Helliker, used that approach in his Pulitzer Prize-winning explanatory series on aneurysms:

A radiologist scrutinizing film for gall stones can’t help noticing if an aorta, typically the diameter of a garden hose, measures as large as a soda can.”

OK, now I get it.… Read the full article

Give numbers context

How can you help people see 6,000?

When 6,000 power poles went down in New Orleans during a series of ice storms, Entergy Senior Communications Specialist David Lewis needed a way to make that number tangible in an executive speech.

Give numbers context

Match game When is a jar of matches worth 6,000 words? Image by Jeff Turner

So he bought 6,000 wooden kitchen matchsticks and put them in a clear plastic container. Then he had the speaker display the matches when making his point about the broken poles.… Read the full article

Vital statistics

Add color and credibility to your copy with numbers

Which personal finance story would draw you in? One that starts:

Are you saving enough for retirement, no matter how young you are?

Vital statistics

Name names, number numbers Draw attention to your message with numerical detail. Image by Nadine Shaabana

Or one with this lead, from Northern Update, the marketing magazine of Northern Funds:

A 45-year-old couple making $80,000 a year today will need $4 million at retirement to live comfortably through their 80s.… Read the full article

Statistical indexes

Add a ‘Harper’s Index’-style piece

One easy way to add graphic stories to your publication is through a “Harper’s Index”-style statistical list.

All you do is:

  • Gather stats from your organization or industry
  • List them — or hand them over to your designer for a simple layout
  • You can even pull the stats from stories within your publication and use them to promote content

Just make a list

“Harper’s Index” is simple — and delightful.… Read the full article

Numbers count

Numerals in headlines quantify value, draw readers

Next time you hit the Safeway, take a look at the magazines displayed at the checkout counter. Chances are, you’ll find that they’re packed with numerals.

Numbers count - Add numbers in headlines

By the numbers Headlines with numerals perform better in email, social media, magazines and on the web. Image by Clyde Robinson

There’s a good reason for that: Headlines with numerals, like Top 10, promise quantifiable value. And that draws readers.… Read the full article

Start your story with a stats lead

Grab reader attention with numbers

Stumped for a story starter? Try a statistics lead. Yes, writing with numbers can be tough. A bunch of boring figures can make readers’ eyes glaze over wherever you place them.

Start your story with a statistics lead

Strength in numbers A startling statistics lead can surprise or challenge your readers. Image by William Iven

But startling statistics — underline the word “startling” — can make a great lead. When writing your next lead, surprise and delight readers with a statistics lead like these, from two intranet stories:

Show size and scope.

Read the full article

Why reframe the data?

Change perspective to improve decision-making

People in one study rated a disease that kills 1,286 people out of every 10,000 as more dangerous than one that kills 24.14% of the population (Yamagishi, 1997). But in fact, it’s about half as dangerous.

Why reframe the data?

Get the picture The frame you choose for your statistic changes the way readers see it. Image by Ryan Johns

Why? The way you present, or frame, the information changes the way people — even experts — perceive it.… Read the full article

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