The Most Persuasive Way to Present Data
How statistics are calculated and presented has a huge effect on how audiences interpret information and make decisions. A recent study about medical decisions based on drug efficacy data highlights the critical importance of how you turn your data into stories, no matter what industry. The research shows that different stories, all of them true and all of them based on the same data will lead to sharply different assessments and decisions. An article in the New York Times summarized one scenario tested by the researchers:
If your doctor tells you that highly reliable studies have shown that taking a certain pill will cut your risk of getting a serious disease in half, would you take it?
Suppose he adds that the risk is 2 percent for people who do not take the pill, but your risk will be reduced to 1 percent if you do. Would you still take it? And what would you do if he told you that only one of every 100 patients who take the drug will actually benefit from it?
The doctor could have said any of these things, all truthfully, because they are just different ways of describing the same data.
The researchers showed that the data’s persuasiveness and understandability, and the subjects’ views of efficacy varied dramatically for each of these three ways of presenting the data. Moreover, education or expertise among those being presented with the data made no difference, with both physicians and patients responding in the same ways.
Data have no meaning without an implicit or explicit story to communicate that data. And indeed the story tells the audience what to do with that data and how to interpret it. That is what is happening in the research described above, and that is why good research is far more than collecting data, generating tabs, producing charts, and writing phrases that presumably summarize findings. Good research must turn data into stories, so that your clients and audiences understand the questions, see and grasp the answers, and then act upon the research in smart and effective ways.
Need help? Turning data into stories is central to our approach for the most complex, esoteric, or even the most mundane studies. Versta Research can help you get your research heard, understood, and used.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.