Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

5 tips for using numbers in your story

September 8, 2015

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Photo via Jorge Franganillo on Flickr

As a business journalist, numbers are everywhere. From prices to sizes, they provide information that is vital for your stories. Here are some tips from a March, 2014 Reynolds workshop that will help you better utilize numbers in your reporting:

1. Numbers are in every story.

Even if your title isn’t “business journalist,” chances are you’ll need to cover numbers. From government spending to population statistics to business acquisitions, they add information that is vital in helping readers understand the story you’re telling.

2. Present numbers in context.

Numbers tell you the facts, but you need to place them in context for your audience. Don’t just take a number you’re given at face value – dig deeper into how similar numbers compare. Also, find out how the figures you’re using are actually calculated. Learn what numbers are most important for your beat so you can understand what fluctuations in them mean. For example:

  • The stock market shows that it is down 22 points.

  • Did it recently have a huge upswing, and it’s now returning to normal?

  • Has it already been declining , and this is yet another drop?

  • How does this drop compare with recent or historical drops?

3. Use numbers responsibly in your writing.

Once you realize the beauty of numbers, it’s easy to go overboard with them. Use them as a tool to back up your main points. Simple tips include:

  • Don’t use more than three figures per paragraphs.

  • Try not to include numbers in more than one or two paragraphs in a row involving numbers.

This makes it easier for your audience to understand the significance of what you are talking about without becoming overwhelmed with the statistics you’re presenting.

4. Use examples and comparisons from real life.

It helps to put numbers into perspective. Helping your audience to visualize figures relative to concepts they already understand can help them in understanding the significance.

  • “That is as big as…”
  • “That is twice as large as…”

5. Use infographics to visually represent the numbers.

Using infographics helps to make your figures more accessible and easily understandable for your audience. They can also make your story more compelling.

For more tips on integrating numbers into your story, check out this Slideshare.

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