Writing about data: three rules


Lies, damned lies and statistics is the old saw about how numbers and data are abused to make a point.

Our job, on the other hand, is to make a point clearly and precisely.

When working with numbers and data, follow a few simple rules.

Rule 1: Define your purpose. You have data. So what. What does it show? What point do you want to make? The figure opposite for example makes no useful point whatsoever.

Rule 2: Demonstrate or show or summarise your data using the most efficient visual device. Should you use a table or chart or something else?

Rule 3: Most readers don’t care about the fine detail (that you love). All they want is the information that allows them to do their job well. Just because you can generate huge quantities of numbers, in an Excel spreadsheet say, doesn’t mean that you should. See rules 1 and 2.

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