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Style Chapter 14: Statistics
vandanagoyal wrote in visionindia2047

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881) 
 
Using statistics in your writing is  very tricky. When writing an opinion, their use should be minimal. Limited and selected use of statistics could benefit your writing but an injudicious overuse could kill it.
 
Here is an article destroyed by statistics. A taste of the Russian pie at Live Mint.com by Poonam Madan is an example of how an article peppered with statistics which reader cannot relate to, impresses no one. It only exposes the writer's lack of first hand knowledge of the subject.
 
Good writing should have very few numerals. Words work better because passion is best expressed in words. A writer without knowledge of a subject uses overdose of statistics to impress. The effect usually is the exact opposite. Writing with statistics needs to find the crucial balance between presenting facts to a casual reader unfamiliar with the subject and stuffing an article with them.
 
Opinions based on statistics do not need to detail them. They just need to be cited so that the reader can make his own interpretation. Statistics are used to support a persuasive argument and enable the reader to reconstruct your argument . If the article gives a point of view that readers may see with skepticism, it may then be supported with evidence.
 
Statistics cannot replace facts and logic. Statistics are considered manipulation of truth. You can't persuade anyone if they are convinced that you are manipulating them.
 
Readers relate better to empty numbers if they are given a comparison. For example this article from National Geographic gives daunting numbers, 'The human heart beats 100,000 times a day propelling six quarts of blood through 60,000 miles of vessels- 20 times the distance across the US from coast to coast.' But it goes down well even with readers not familiar with the intricacies of human body because the converted distance gives it a perspective. 

Similarly in this headline from the Daily Mail, '£2trillion - the terrifying total of our national debt... that's £33,000 for every man, woman and child in Britain.' the comparison makes an empty grand amount of 2 trillion into a  frightening reality that strikes a chord.

Be especially wary of using  numbers that are not from a known source. Such numbers maybe poorly researched or completely wrong. It also gives a better credibility to the article if you can name the source. For eg.' Interleague games averaged 34,900 fans per game, 15% more than intraleague contests, according to Forbes.'


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