2 ways to put numbers in context

In honor of Pi Day on March 14 (Pi is approximately 3.14159 — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter), today's Coffee Break Course celebrates math.

When reporting on numbers, give them some context so you can present a broader picture to your readers. For example:

  • Cost of Living. Adjust for inflation so that the value of money from different decades can be more accurately compared. Say a chocolate candy bar cost 20 cents in 1965 and $1 in 2004. If you do the math, 20 cents in 1965 is equivalent to $1.18 in 2004 dollars.
  • Weighted Averaging. Writing a city budget story is routine local news coverage. A common element in budget stories is the average raise for different categories of employees. But what if one group of employees contains 15 people and another has 30 or 60? Is it fair to make comparisons between these groups using a simple average? Better to learn how to calculate a weighted average, then decide for yourself.

Taken from Math for Journalists: Help with Numbers, a self-directed course by Debbie Wolfe at Poynter NewsU.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.

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