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How to Present Data in Your Content for Greater Impact and Clarity

posted by Michael Epps Utley Michael Epps Utley
How to Present Data in Your Content for Greater Impact and Clarity

Including numbers in your materials is a great way to prove — and not just make — a point. Statistics, metrics, rankings, and other data types add credibility to your materials. These numbers are also an excellent way to organize and present information, making it easier to understand.

The issue: Often, numbers are just plopped into content. This results in disconnects that can confuse audiences instead of drawing them in.

This checklist will help you make numbers in your materials sing rather than land flat.

1. Make Numbers Human

ORIGINAL: More than 80 percent of contractors surveyed recommend metal roofs.

UPDATED: Four out of five contractors surveyed recommend metal roofs.

WHAT CHANGED: The new version transforms the percentage to a number of contractors.

RATIONALE: Converting percentages into numbers of people or things allows readers to envision who or what is being counted.

PRO TIP: When writing a percentage, ask yourself whether it would be more real and powerful if people could envision the people or things measured.

In this example, the percentage could have been converted to 80 out of 100 contractors. But that significant number is hard to visualize, so use simple math to reduce the percentage to the smallest relative whole number possible. The phrase four of five contractors is much easier to envision.

2. Use Percentages to Convey Trends or Outliers

ORIGINAL: Approximately four million people in the United States use public transportation to get to work.

UPDATED: About 2.5 percent of workers in the United States use public transportation to get to work.

WHAT CHANGED: A figure instead of a percentage reflects the number of people.

RATIONALE: If you want to show how common/uncommon (or popular/unpopular) something is, using a number can be more effective than a percentage. In this example, four million people seems like a lot. However, when 2.5 percent is cited, it’s clear that relatively few workers use public transit.

PRO TIP: If you want to demonstrate commonality or lack thereof, it’s typically better to cite a percentage. If you want ultimate clarity, use both a percentage and a number: About 2.5 percent (four million) of workers in the U.S. use public transportation.

3. Set Up a Countdown

ORIGINAL: The best movie of the year is Barbie. Check out the rest of our top ten.

UPDATED: The tenth-best movie of the year is Oppenheimer. Check out our countdown to find out what leads up to the year’s top film.

WHAT CHANGED: The original presented the list in sequential order. The revised version starts with the highest number (bottom of the list) and counts up to the number one movie.

RATIONALE: If you reveal the best item in the headline or first listing of a piece, people aren’t as compelled to keep reading.

PRO TIP: Use a countdown to build suspense for your reader, listener, or watcher. People want — and appreciate — a payoff.

4. Add Numbered Lists

ORIGINAL: Starting a new business is exciting and sometimes a little scary. To do it right, you must come up with a unique idea, write a business plan, get funding, and figure out how you’ll promote it.

UPDATED: Starting a new business is exciting and sometimes a little scary. To do it right, you must:

1. Come up with a unique idea

2. Write a business plan

3. Get funding

4. Figure out how you’ll promote it.

WHAT CHANGED: The to-do list clarifies how tasks should be completed.

RATIONALE: By adding the numbers, prospective business owners can see how completing the individual tasks in order will lead up to opening day. When you educate people about a process or something that must be done in order, use numbers.

PRO TIP: Even if you’re not outlining a process or list, consider leveraging numbers. Labeling concepts with numbers — and including the ultimate number in the headline — creates an expectation for people about how much they’ll learn. Plus, numbered lists are more straightforward to scan.

Now that you know the right ways to do it, it’s time to start leveraging figures in your content.

Are you using sketchy metrics? Our article will help you know for certain.

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