Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

How to use numbers in a story

July 24, 2017

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How to start writing with numbers like a pro. ("Math" image by "pixapopz" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)
Writers new to business journalism need to start using numbers in their reporting. Here's a cheat sheet. ("Math" image by "pixapopz" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

Numbers add information that is vital in helping readers understand the story you’re telling. If you’re new to business journalism, here are five easy tips that will help you use them wisely.

Memorize the big ones

Learn the big statistics in your field. For example, among the numbers residential real estate reporters should know by heart: current mortgage rates, local median sales price per square foot, appreciation rates and inventory

Present numbers in context

Don’t just take a number you’re given at face value—dig deeper to find how similar numbers compare. For example: The stock market is up 22 points. Did it recently have a downswing, and it’s now returning to normal? Has it already been rising, and this is an additional increase? How does this rise compare with recent or historical increases?

Don’t go overboard

Use no more than three figures per paragraph. And try not to include numbers in more than one or two consecutive paragraphs. This makes it easier for your audience to understand the significance of what you are talking about without becoming overwhelmed with statistics.

Use easy-to-comprehend examples

Real-life comparison that put numbers in perspective will help your audience visualize figures. Use familiar examples to help readers understand a number’s significance. “That is as big as two football fields.” “That is twice the amount of the average American’s weekly paycheck.”

Put numbers in context

As soon as you say something is rated second—second largest, second oldest, second most popular—you must also identify which is the first in that category.

 

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