Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Statistics aren't inherently helpful"

Quick, is 10,000 good or bad?

As always the answer depends on the context. In the book "Made to Stick" Chip and Dan Heath make this point several times using a variety of examples like movie popcorn.

Usually I'd consider these fighting words, but they are in fact very true. Without providing both context and scale people can't understand a number or statistic. Successful communication of quantitative information depends on relating with the audience in their terms.

Ways to improve understanding:
What was it then and what is it now? "before the ...." or "in the age of ....."
How does it compare to a common task? "faster than a speeding bullet"
What does it mean in everyday terms? "more fat content than 3 hamburgers"

1. Never report numbers without their context.
2. Put data on a scale the audience relates two; usually personal and human.
3. Keep it Simple and Jargon Free

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