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Monday
Jul112005

Tip VIII: Be Smart with Numbers

Dealing with numbers is always a tricky thing. When you write a feature story that involves lots of numbers, make sure you tell the story in a way that allows people to understand the significance of those numbers.


Relativity
Remember that number, in of themselves, have little significance to readers. Their value to your story comes from their relative values, not their absolute values. So, when you must refer to numbers in a story, make a point to compare them to something else. Here's an example:

“The Bakun Dam would flood 69,640 hectares of forest.”

That sentence above means nothing to the average reader who would have no clue how big 69,640 hectares is. Now, let's have a look at this next sentence.

“The Bakun Dam would flood 69,640 hectares of forest, an area roughly the size of Singapore.”

Now, it's easy for anyone visualize just how big Bakun Dam is. Get it?

Rounding Off
Unless you are writing a financial article or report, you don't need to use precise figures. Rounding off is a good practice that makes your story flow better.

So, it's okay to say “nearly doubled” or “about three times as much as” and remain both accurate and understandable.

For example, if 32.56 per cent of students flunked the final exam, it'd be perfectly fine to say that “about one in three students failed to make the grade”.

Similarly, if someone has been working his trade for 29 years and six months, it’s fine to say, “Mr. Lee has been selling his famous assam laksa for nearly three decades."

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