Math for Journalists
Communicating statistics is sometimes harder than doing statistics. While statistics is all about formulas and logic and precision, words and sentences are all about communicating layers of meaning that are often ambiguous and nuanced.
For this reason we often recommend a quick, online refresher course called “Math for Journalists” for our PR, marketing, and journalism colleagues. Even for those who are good at math, who wouldn’t benefit from an updated review of the difference between such terms as “percent” and “percentage point”?
The course is offered by Poynter’s News University. It takes just three hours (maximum). Best of all, it’s free. It covers some of the critical ideas and terminology that writers should master in order to communicate statistical facts.
The course is divided into five small modules:
1. A refresher on how to perform calculations, including the order of operations and how to prioritize nested parentheses.
2. Untangling percents and percentages when writing about such things as percent of total, percent change, and percent vs. percentage point.
3. Understanding different types of averages including when and why to report medians, or even modes, instead of the usual arithmetic means.
4. A review of how to compare numbers using ranks, ratios, and rates.
5. A final unit on other types of numeric data often reported in news articles, like indices and weighted averages.
When it comes to statistics and stories, deciphering what the data are saying is one challenge. Then figuring out how to say it in clear and truthful language is another. That’s the reason that turning data into stories is such a important challenge and why so few people do it well.